Tag Archives: Quindío

In and around Colombia’s coffee growing region, part 2

Continuing on from my last post, Sovio, Juan Pablo and Catherine made their way back to Cali that evening and I found myself a nice place to stay in Salento. With a private room, shared kitchen and about 100 cats outside it was a bargain at 25 000 pesos (£6.50!)

The following day I met up with a friendly Mexican guy who we had befriended in Cocora whilst hanging on for dear life to the “willy” jeep. We walked an hour or so to a nearby coffee farm through the green and vibrant countryside of Quindío. There are loads that you can visit in the area and, after all, it would be fairly ridiculous to have travelled to the heart of Colombian coffee production and not learnt how it is they make the stuff. The process from plant to cup is a very complex and lengthy one indeed and made me realise how much I take for granted that I can just have coffee whenever I feel like it. After an unsuccessful attempt at dinner (ketchup can never be a pasta sauce substitute) which I solved by eating everyone else’s food, we went to watch the game in the main square.

The next morning I left Salento and made my way to Armenia, the capital of the department, where I was met by my lovely Couchsurfing host Camilo. I was slightly apprehensive as it was both my first time couchsurfing in Colombia and my first time doing it alone… My fear were proved unnecessary as I had THE BEST time. The thing I most love about couchsurfing (and there are many things I love) is discovering random, off-the-beaten-track places you simply would not have come across of your own accord and being able to slot yourself momentarily into someone else’s reality. Barcelona was one of those places. As you can probably tell, Colombia has its own version of many European countries and cities. Unlike Barcelona (Spain), Barcelona (Colombia) is a tiny village outside Armenia where Camilo’s dad lives. I got a tour of his vivero as well as my first try of mate – a typical Argentinian tea – which was surprisingly bitter. We went back to Armenia in the evening where I stayed with Camilo and his girlfriend in their lovely little flat.

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Beautiful Barcelona

The next morning Ivan arrived in Armenia. His aunt and uncle live nearby and had very kindly offered to host us for a few days in their beautiful home, so we said goodbye to Camilo and hopped on the next bus there! After a week of hostels and sofas, a real house hidden away in the gentle hills of Quindío, with a swimming pool and incredible views of the green fields and distant mountains, was nothing short of paradise. Ivan’s aunt all but forced me to have my photo taken (under the pretext of reassuring my mum that I was alive and well) so here’s me looking awkward as per.

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We stayed with them for the weekend and had a very chilled time hopping from pueblo to pueblo. One of my absolute favourites was the town of Pijao (pronouned pi-how). We got a rickety bus through the hills from Armenia one morning, arriving in Pijao just as the heavens opened. After taking advantage of the rain for a quick bakery pit-stop, we set off on a walk up into the mountains surrounding the town. It felt quite adventurous as we weren’t quite sure where the path would lead us, but having strolled round the town a few times (it’s really not that big) we needed something else to do! The walk itself took us a few hours, up into the forest-covered hills, where we happily discovered about a million guayaba trees. With our pockets, bags and hats overflowing we made our way along the most beautiful path until we arrived at the top and could look out over picturesque Pijao below.

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IMG_4536We also visited the nearby towns of Montenegro, where we enjoyed a nice cup of coffee in main square, and La Tebaida and generally had a jolly good time. The Eje Cafetero is, without doubt, one of my favourite places in Colombia.

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In and around Colombia’s coffee growing region, part 1

This morning I decided to prioritise my blog over continuing the struggle that is “sorting” through a lifetime’s worth of hoarding, i.e. my room, so sit back and relax while I reminisce about Colombia’s stunning Eje Cafetero.

The Eje Cafetero is Colombia’s coffee growing triangle and comprises the departments of Caldas, Risaralda and Quindio, about 7 hours west of Bogota. When originally planning this trip I had intended to spend a weekend in the Eje Cafetero, and not a whole week, however my plans to go to Popayán with a group of friends went awry thanks to agricultural protests blocking the road there. Much to my annoyance (at the time) Salento became our new destination of choice, despite my having planned to go there 4 days later. That admirable British non-confrontational spirit was displayed in bucket loads by your truly and, unperceived by everyone else, saw us actually going to Salento. In hindsight I realise that this was not the end of the world and am merely trying to provide an accurate account, for posterity and all that…

Salento is a charming little town in the department of Quindío and one that makes a convincing case for the most touristy place I have visited in Colombia. All the more so considering that, despite its size (tiny), practically every other building is a hotel/hostel of some description. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a beautiful place and is clearly that popular for a reason, as you can see below.

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On our first night we stayed a little outside the town in lovely cabins in a field. We met a couple from Medellín and effectively crashed their plans to visit the nearby town of Finlandia, which turned out to be an excellent idea! We ate obleas in the main square and then went for hot chocolate and almohabanas – it couldn’t have been more Colombian.

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Juan Pablo seizing any opportunity to break out the selfie stick

The following day we got jeeps (hilariously named “willys”) from Salento to Valle del Cocora, which is probably the most iconic part of the region. As its name would suggest Valle del Cocora is a valley. Yet it is particularly unique in that it is full of palm trees which tower above everything else in the generally non-palm like environment of Quindío and extend rather eerily into the clouds. It is, without doubt, a very unusual and incredibly beautiful place. There is a path that weaves its way many kilometres through the forest and open valley. We chose to rent horses for the first part of said path, which added a lot more excitement to the journey. After several enjoyable hours we left our four-legged friends and made our way on foot to the “Casa del Colibrí” a hummingbird sanctuary high up in the hills. Due to a terrible lack of foresight none of us had brought any food, so we were all very relieved to see that lunch was available up there. Lentils have never tasted so good. We spent a while there watching the hummingbirds fluttering to and fro (we soon abandoned any attempt at taking a half-decent photo of them).

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Afterwards we continued on foot, climbing ever higher and with considerable difficulty given the altitude (we’ll blame the altitude) until we reached the highest point on the path. From there on the way was, thankfully, downhill. We emerged from the forest into the valley, where we could look out over the fields dotted with the soaring palm trees. At one point we stopped on a hill overlooking it all and, lying on the ground with my eyes squeezed shut (simultaneously blocking out the excessive selfie taking of Juan Pablo) all I could hear was the wind rippling in the palm leaves – you could be anywhere in the world, least of all the middle of Quindío. It’s quite disorientating to open your eyes to see those hundreds of palm trees lost in the clouds. Then you sit up, look around and attempt to take in the endless, rolling, green valley in which they stand, and you can’t because it’s just that amazing.

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