“Probably going to head up that hill for the day then maybe be on my way.”
I had this exhange each morning at breakfast in Salento. But by the end of each day I had found a something else to try and the following morning before breakfast, I visited reception to tell them that I planned to stay another night in Salento. It’s a town that typically gets zero to two days on the gringo trail but I gave it six. I think since Bogota represents the end of my time in Colombia and is also my next destination, I tried to delay as long as possible.
When I was still in Manizales last week, I had to make some quick plans to leave the house. Juan Felipe had more family members coming to the house than expected and so I either needed to find new accommodations in Manizales or move along to my next destination. First, I checked a few of the spots in the city I still wanted to visit, but they we’re all closed for the day. Then the skies opened up and it started pouring rain. I tried to do some writing in a cafe but I nothing wanted to come out. So, I figured this was a good day to ride some buses.
I picked Salento as my next destination as it wasn’t too far away (like Cali) and I could plan a route from there to Bogota where I has just booked my departure flight to Fort Lauderdale to visit my grandmother. After having a final lunch and coffee at Santo Kaffeto, I ran over to the cable cars to take a ride down to the bus terminal and got soaked in the process. The ride was relatively uneventful but I picked up a few logistic tips on the way: there is no direct bus from Manizales to Salento. There are buses that leave about every 30 minutes for Periera and then you can take a bus to Salento. When I arrived to Periera, I found that the next bus to Salento would not leave for another 2 hrs (they leave about every 3 hrs). In the terminal, they were playing the first Fast and Furious movie in Spanish which was a good way to work on my vocab. When I finally boarded the bus, I found it was completely packed. With no under bus storage, I kept my bag on my lap (another reason I’m happy I packed light). A few bus breakdowns and many chapters of Kafka on the Shore later, I was in Salento.
It was a short walk (Salento is pretty small) to Viajero Hostel where I had booked my only night. I picked up some groceries from the market next door and cooked a quick dinner, realizing that my cooking was becoming slightly more Colombian (rice, plantains, tomato, onion, avocado). I chatted for a while with the manager and bartender of the hostel, finding out that they were only in their fourth month of business here in Salento (but with a few other locations around Colombia and Uruguay). Soon after, a big group of 15 who had all met in the Cali hostel all arrived. The hostel bar started to get busy and the card decks came out. We played Shithead and then I learned Cambio.
I have been thinking a lot the previous few weeks about maintaining right balance of travel. In hostels, it’s easy to get sucked into the fun of meeting people from all over the world, sharing some drinks, and likely speaking in English at the hostel. But then I get a sinking feeling that I’m squandering the whole reason I came to Colombia. On the other hand, I don’t want to go the other way and make a rule to only befriend locals and ignore my fellow travelers. You miss a lot of the people who are traveling for similar reasons to you. You can become immediate friends with your fellow travelers, make plans for the following days together, and you can share experiences of places you’ve been in the past and inspire plans for next year. I met a lot of great travelers in El Viajero… probably another reason that I didn’t want to leave.
On the first morning, our newly formed Austrian/American/New Zealand/Dutch/French/Colombian/British group took a group jeep from the city center to the start of the train head in Valle del Cocora. Considering the weather of the others days I was Salento, we picked a perfect day to hike. We made our way up to Acaime which has a small hummingbird preserve. Entrance is $5.000 but you get a small drink included in your fee… I went for the chocolate con queso for maximum calories. Upon continuing our hike to the palm trees, we traded some riddles which was fun at first but then turned into torture. I don’t like hints and I can’t think of anything else when there’s a problem to solve. Some highlights were…
The man* pushing the wheelbarrow
Dwarves* with hats
Does it touch
The salary question
More dwarves* with hats
*may or may not be naked
Upon returning to the hostel, I found out they had a free yoga class at 530 (more reasons to stay longer). After yoga, we got a group back together at the hostel bar and then went out for a few rounds of Tejo. Oh man, Tejo. Do you know what Tejo is? If not, you should look up a video. For my American friends, it is similar to corn hole. You throw a stone (about a kilo) towards a clay pit. There is a circle in the middle that you get points for landing in. Around the circle, there are small folded paper triangles. Inside the paper triangles is gunpowder and if you hit them with your stone to make an explosion, more points! Also drinking is involved and at Los Amigos in Salento, having a beer or aguardiente in your hand is practically mandatory. (We are now up to 4 reasons to stay in Salento forever) Our group was decent at Tejo, but we also had to play on the “gringo pit”… about half the length as the pros were playing on. Back at the hostel. We enjoyed the bonfire together and played some songs and I crowdsourced ideas of how to plan my 2017.
The following days, I started to get into a routine: Breakfast looking to the mountain as a potential new hike, going for a walk elsewhere until it started raining, returning to the hostel for yoga, making dinner with hostelmates, going out for more Tejo, and then enjoying the bonfire at El Viajero.
I did two more coffee tours. One was at Finca Ocasa which was recommended by the hostel. It was the most organized tour that I’ve done so far but also the most commercial. As an engineer, it was cool to see a representation of a finca that supplies the coffee that is likely purchased in US. But as a coffee snob / enthusiast, I also wanted to spend time at a finca that gives their beans a little more love. I got to scratch this itch another day when visiting Don Elias’s Finca. This finca is all organic and only 4 hectares in size (compare this yo the commercial farms usually between 200 – 400 hectares). We met Don Elias himself and his grandson gave the tour. I actually had plans to visit another finca but on the path I had run into some other travels from Mexico and Spain who were going to Don Elias already. On the walk back from the finca I was coached on some Mexican slang and mezcal tips which I hope to utilize (next year?).
Big desmucilador at Ocasa
After both coffee tours, I went for a (desperately needed) late lunch at Brunch. If you’re in Salento, I’d highly recommend Brunch but be warned: you will enter a food coma in which you might feel like you’ll never recover… especially if you order a burger, beer, milkshake, and peanut butter brownie with ice cream. This food coma prevented me and my new German and Dutch friends from spending one of our nights playing Tejo but we nursed ourselves back to health with some rum teas (not sure if it’s a thing but it worked).
I spent one if my days enjoying the comfort of the hostel since it was a particularly rainy day. I did a lot of cooking (particularly with the Isrealis), played Monopoly, and bonded with new friends over more experimental rum concoctions. A German/Austrian couple that I got along particularly well with were really big into yoga as well and the following morning at 630, I got my first Acro Yoga lesson (something that I’ve been wanting to try for a while). Was really fun to fly but I need some more leg strength and flexibility to be a better base.
After my 5th morning, I started getting made fun of. I had seen several groups come and go through the hostel and I was starting to become the go to person for where to visit a finca, play Tejo, or go for a hike. But I finally did everything I wanted to do, including hiking the hill in the clouds that I looked at every morning from breakfast. I got the opportunity to see how one place changes drastically depending on what group is around: my salsa group, my riddle group, my yoga group, my board game group, my hiking group, my coffee group, and my cooking group.
Nices resturant I found in Salento
Dog-guide up the hill
Dog who wants an empenada
I’m now in Armenia for the night. Came here with my new friend Diego who bartends at El Viajero. Armenia doesn´t have too many attractions that I know of but it does have direct buses to Bogotá which I’ll take tomorrow.
I’m happy to keep moving but it’s a strange feeling leaving my temporary families behind. But if I stay (as I did in Salento) I will be the one left behind. So I keep moving, when I’m ready to keep moving, off to build my home again in Bogotá.