Salento; Popayán; Ipiales
08.03.2015 - 15.03.2015
To say I am lacking in inspiration for this entry is an understatement - I have sat here for two hours and written one paragraph (since scrapped). The idea of describing at length what I was doing nearly three weeks ago it is fair to say does not fill me with glee.
In my last entry I had just spent a load of money on music downloads. Before I came away I uploaded my entire music collection to my iPad, expecting that I'd have a load of time on my hands, but in actual fact I've hardly listened to any of it. In that time I've watched about four films and not read a single book - a good thing as there's always been something more interesting to do.
After Medellín I set off down to a place called Salento that Irish Paul had recommended to me. The journey started well as I was sat next to a very attractive Colombian girl called Luisa on one of the comfiest buses I've had so far. It took a turn for the worse when I missed my last connecting bus to Salento and had to wait two hours in Pereira bus station, go somewhere else then take a pricy cab. My hostel had very dodgy wifi and only one toilet but apart from that it was OK.
Salento is a sleepy town popular with visitors for its nearby coffee plantations and lush green valley. As with a few colonial towns I've been to on this trip, it had a Cerro de la Cruz so, as usual, I climbed up the cerro and took a photo of the town from next to the cruz.
In the afternoon I found a cafe with wifi (or 'weefee' as they say over here) and stayed there for a few hours sampling supposedly some of the best coffee in the country. It wasn't bad but it was no Nescafé Alta Rica.
For the second time on this trip I was likened to Jason Statham, this time by a Lithuanian couple called Danas & Gintarė (a.k.a. Dan & Tara) who were staying in the same room. Not sure I can see the similarities: on the one hand a charismatic balding yet handsome tough guy irresistible to women and, on the other, Jason Statham.
Dan, Tara and I got up at the crack of dawn to go to Cocora Valley. Every day a number of Jeeps gather in the town square ready to transport visitors there, for a small fee. On this occasion there were more people than spaces in the Jeeps, so a few of us had to stand on the back and cling onto the roll bar as we were driven along the valley's windy roads for 45 minutes.
We followed the main trail around the valley, which initially was within overhanging trees meaning we couldn't actually see much. This trail took us past a 'hummingbird cafe' (similar to the one I went to in Monteverde with Bobby Ball) where we stopped for a 'free' drink and lump of cheese - after paying a 5000 peso entry fee. Like in Monteverde, a coati turned up and posed for photos. Unlike in Monteverde, this one had a cyst near its genitals.
After a couple of hours of mainly uphill hiking we reached the trail's main 'mirador' (look-out point), which was so disappointing that we thought we'd gone wrong; overgrown trees meant nothing was visible except a pile of corrugated iron. So, against our better instincts we took a further uphill trail and a great decision that turned out to be. It was a hard slog (my Health app reckoned we walked 28km in total and took 35,000 steps) but the final few kilometres took us through a beautiful section of the valley, as green as a snooker table and full of extremely tall wax pine trees.
Whilst we were at Cocora, an earthquake (6.5 on the Richter scale) struck northern Colombia & Venezuela. Everyone in the Salento area felt it except me as I was pretending to be Jason Statham at the time and attempting to push over this pine tree:
That evening we went to a strange restaurant that was more of a conservatory on the side of someone's house. The owner was a nice chap but he kept coming over and earnestly explaining to us and others how fantastic each dish was and boasting about the freshness of the ingredients. He was absolutely right, the food was delicious but I was glad to get out of there before I heard once again about his amazing mushrooms.
This restaurant/conservatory gave an excellent view of the sunset and I took this time-lapse video on my fancy new phone:
Dan & Tara have their own photo/video blog called Off To Somewhere where he takes the pictures and she writes the words. Dan is a professional photographer and he took some great valley time-lapses and hummingbird photos. He is also paid by photography companies and magazines to edit pictures and I saw him touching up a gay couple, so to speak, and removing 'camel toes' (the technical term used by people in the industry) from swimsuit models. Painstaking work but it just about funds his travels for six months a year. It did set me thinking it would be good to have a job where I could work from anywhere in the world, which ought to be possible in my line of work.
I took a tour of a coffee plantation the next day, an activity that had been available to me lots of times throughout Central America but had always been bottom of my 'must do' list. This, however, was likely to be one of my final chances. It took an hour to walk there and then two hours for the tour to begin, but I wasn't complaining as I took the opportunity to lay in a hammock with a great view of the surrounding countryside.
The tour was as interesting as I expected, i.e. mildly. Our guide was on the opposite end of the enthusiasm spectrum to my Medellín tour guide Pablo, i.e. not at all. He twice told me how tired he was. Part of the tour involved walking through the plantation picking ripe coffee berries, which are red and contain two beans coated in a sweet viscous liquid that gives the local coffee its distinctive sweet taste.
Later I found a pub with a tejo alley. Tejo is a Colombian game similar to a cross between darts and bowls where competitors throw a metal disc at a clay target, points being allocated to the person whose disc is closest to the centre. The bullseye also contains four triangular paper packets filled with explosives that detonate on impact, causing a few brown trouser moments to those not paying attention. An American girl and I took part in thrilling encounter with a Dutch couple, losing 27-26 in a match that went down to the final throw.
On my way down to the border with Ecuador I stopped over in a couple of places called Popayán and Ipiales. Popayán was billed as a lovely colonial city similar to Cartagena, but in reality it was nowhere near as nice from what I saw. Not a dump by any means but one day was enough.
On the bus down to Ipiales I met an interesting character from the US called Pat. Pat was 62 and full of tall stories like his ex-wife was a Russian model, he was related to the Kellogg cereal family, he'd danced with Michael Jackson and something about one of the Bond films. He trod a very thin line between being an avuncular eccentric and a seedy old man - he carried a pocket full of sweets around with him that he said he used to woo girls.
I stayed in a seedy-looking hotel, the sort of place you booked by the hour, and sure enough a couple on the floor above kept me awake with the sound of their raucous shagging.
There wasn't much to see in Ipiales town centre, but a short taxi ride away in Potosi was a breathtaking Gothic church known as Las Lajas:
After visiting the church I caught a bus across the border to Quito, the capital of Ecuador, a journey on which we were kept 'entertained' by three Jean-Claude van Damme films dubbed into Spanish one after the other.
Well Quito is in a different country so here is a perfect time to stop. Plus, the drop-down box doesn't let me choose more than one country.