Salento was just the prescription we needed for the unrelenting heat, humidity, and mosquitoes of the northern coast of South America. It's a quaint, little town in Colombia's major coffee-growing region where the people are so welcoming and friendly. The main square is reminiscent of Swiss chalets with some serious Caribbean flair - you couldn't escape the colors even if you tried.
The quiet of the early morning lasted only until the town slowly awakened and the plaza came to life. Restaurants and street vendors ready to break the fast of any passerby opened their doors to rich, flavorful dishes and freshly squeezed fruit juices. Shops touting a wide range of hand-made artisanal goodies flooded with tourists from the world around.
We approached a line of parked vintage jeeps, equally lively in their color palette, hopped in a light blue one, and made our way to a peaceful hacienda just a short distance from town. No vacancy available, we smiled at the tent we'd been lugging around, asked for their camping area, and settled down.
The afternoon was spent visiting a coffee plantation where we learned about the attributes that make it organic. As an alternative to pesticides, the sweet nectar of pineapple plants are used to divert pests. Plaintain trees, aside from providing sustenance, retain a substantial amount of water in their trunks, serving as a natural source of irrigation in the dry season. Avocado trees provide shade and their roots help to prevent erosion. Harvesting is done by hand, taking a month or two to complete, depending on output. The family-owned plantation produces an average of 4 tons of Colombian and Arabic beans per year, 70% of which are distributed domestically and internationally, while the remainder is reserved for personal consumption and direct sales. Harvested, cracked, washed, dried, roasted, ground, and finally brewed, we were shown step by step the process by which the aromatic, delightful cup of caffeine-packed goodness that we all love and enjoy is created.
Nearby is the Valle de Cocora, accessible by foot and horse. We hired a bright red jeep to take us 11 kilometers through the winding, uphill road to the entrance of Parque Nacional Natural de Los Nevados. Steep and ridden with mud, we opted for the shorter trail to the Quindío wax palms, indigenous to the area and Colombia's national tree, growing in abundance, despite the constant overcast skies. Tall and lanky, they reach into the clouds, forming an oasis of otherworldly beauty.
The evening we headed out was Día de Las Velitas. The lighting of candles and lanterns mark the start of the holiday season. As the bus pulled away, we saw families observing this tradition in front of their homes and along sidewalks. Holiday cheer was in the air and we were reminded that Christmas was just around the corner.