Our next destination was Salento, a small village nestled in the Mountains of the coffee region, south of Medellin. The main draw of the region being the Cocora valley famous for its 60m tall, eerie looking wax palms. These palms are the national tree of Colombia and grow exclusively in the high altitude of this area. The wax used to be used to make soap and candles; the outer part of the stem for building houses and water supplies; the fruit for food for livestock and the fronds were used by Christian worshippers on palm Sunday. This overuse of the wax palms prompted the Colombian government to protect the remaining trees which are now a source of pride for the locals as well as an attraction for visitors.
We reluctantly packed our bags to leave Medellin, a city we had both fallen in love with. Vowing to come back soon we climbed onto the bus that would take us to Salento. After seven hours travelling through more stunning scenery we arrived at our quirky hostel on the outskirts of the village. We were pretty shattered following the journey so tucked into one of the hostel’s famous curries and then headed to bed to get some rest for our hike the following day.
We got up early, dressed in or hiking gear and headed into town in search of the jeeps that would take us up to the Cocora Valley. We arrived at the square and noticed to our disappointment an already full jeep about to pull off and resigned ourselves to wait for the next one. Oh how wrong we were: we were soon bustled towards the jeep and told to stand on the small step jutting out the back and cling on for our lives. Against our better judgement the crazy Colombian man lifted us up onto the back and we were soon speeding off up the hill. After we had accepted our fate and relaxed our hold slightly we realised there was something quite exhilarating about whizzing through the hills with the wind in our hair.
We jumped off the jeep at the start point of the trek, our knees feeling only a little shaky after the journey. Yet again we realised we had come prepared with only three lines of instructions for the five hours of walking through jungle, mountain and forest; we’d managed last time, surely we can do it again? After very nearly going wrong at the first turn we were on our way and soon realised the track was a very well trodden route.
We began with a nice gentle incline through open fields, the jungle-filled mountains looming ahead of us. Louise, unable to contain her excitement at being in the mountains skipped off ahead while Ellen befriended some northern English girls also starting out on the trek.
It could have been Louise’s excitement setting off her weather controlling powers or just our luck in general, but twenty minutes into the trek the heavens opened yet again and what would have been a nice walk through the jungle became a treacherous puddle-hopping mudslide. Louise, in her element was loving every minute and kept exclaiming at how beautiful the river was. She clambered like a monkey along the somewhat rickety bridges over the now gushing water. Ellen, on the other hand, was not so enamoured by the experience; her mood becoming increasingly worse as the slope became steeper.
After Ellen had been through all the evolutions of grumble (grumble-bee, grumble-dore, grumble-saurus-Rex, grumble-stiltskin etc etc…. you get the picture) and a fairly strenuous climb we emerged out of the jungle to encounter a completely different landscape. The scenery opened up into green plains dotted with the out-of-place looking wax palms. As the mist rose around them the whole landscape appeared quiet, eerie and strangely romantic. Louise, not dampened by the rain or Ellen’s mood pressed on into the midst of the forest. As the rain began to ease and the clouds started to lift we were able to fully appreciate the stunning scenery around us. Hummingbirds started to flit between the flowers and Ellen finally couldn’t help but enjoy herself realising she would never be in a place quite like it again.
We completed the trek in record time, 3 hours, and headed back to the jeeps and to our hostel to change out of our soggy clothes.
That night we treated ourselves to dinner at a restaurant we had been recommended by some travellers back in Santa Marta. By complete coincidence our salsa friend from Medellin, Leonie, happened to be walking past as we were ordering so she joined us for dinner too. We tucked into perfectly cooked fillet mignon with various different sauces including blackberry and coffee infused reductions. Three delicious courses later we were amazed that our bill only came to the equivalent of £30. Embarrassingly, Ellen’s card was declined despite her being sure she had sufficient funds for the meal. Louise stepped in to pay. As we were setting off to leave, Ellen received a notification that her card was unable to process the £300 payment she had just tried to make. We suddenly realised what had happened and managed to eventually explain to the staff that we had been charged several million paesos, 10x the required amount. The staff, finding the whole situation pretty hilarious (the poor young waiter looked very embarrassed) processed our refund and we went on our feeling very relieved!
That weekend was a public holiday in Colombia so Salento was teeming with holidaying locals meaning all the bars were filled with people celebrating. We headed to a bar with live music for a few cocktails before heading to one of the bars on the main square where the dancing seemed to be kicking off. The music was an eclectic mix of Latin salsa and 90s Europop. The locals soon welcomed us into their dancing and the evening became a strange mixture of them teaching us to salsa and us teaching them the moves to the YMCA; still it was great to have another evening dancing with the locals.