The Zona Cafetera is exactly what it sounds like, the coffee-producing area of Colombia. I took a bus out from Medellín to Salento and stayed at a great, British-owned hostel called the Plantation House. Spent the rainy afternoon walking around the sleepy town, climbing the huge staircase to get a view of the central plaza, sampling the local arequipe (delicious dulce de leche, or caramel), and reading in my cozy bed.
In the early morning a few of us from the hostel headed out to the central park to get a jeep ride bound for the Valle de Cocora. It's a beautiful trail that climbs up through cloud forrest, passes a reserve with more humming birds than I've ever seen before, and would have great views except that it's generally so socked-in. The most impressive part of the hike though, are the begining and the end, where you walk throught the famous wax palms. They're up to 70m tall, perfectly straight palms with a small tufts of fronds at the top, and they stick straight up out of very short bright green grass all throughout the valley and along the ridges. When the sun breaks thought the clouds, it casts amazing shadows of the palms down the hills and silhouettes the ones on the ridges.
But, I need to detour and tell the "Horse Story," so here goes:
Okay, at one point we needed to go 1k back down the trail we had come up to meet up to the trail for La Montaña, and ran into a group of ten pack-horses along the way. Most of thr group slid down a very speet, very muddy hill to pass the horses, but three of us were high enough up that it was just easier to wait and let them pass there where there was room. But one of the men with the horses told us just to walk through them, so we did. At least we tried; two of us got totally stuck in the mess of them. The path was about wide enought for two horses (plus all the supplies they were loaded down with) and then there was a 6m drop off the edge. So, I yelled a the guy that we were stuck and he made his little clicky noise to get the horses moving. Unfortunately, they were really moving and smashed me so hard I couldn't breathe. They kept pushing so hard that they knocked one of the horses off the edge, and I was convinced I was going down with the next horse! The few people who could see from the bottom said that it landed on it's head, got back up looking confused, and then the second man came over hitting it with a stick to get it back into line. Wow, after all that, the men tried to arange the horses to pass and it took a good ten more minutes for that to happen. The best part-the man just smiled as he passed. Errrgh!
I had been hanging out with a guy from Ireland, one from Scotland, and another from England, who had taken to calling me "Zibby Fox" on accound of my handwriting, and the nick-name had turned into quite the joke. By the end of the day I was "Zibby Fox-Horse Puncher," and they all claimed that I had pushed the horse off the edge. Haha, it was like ebing with three little brothers. Anyway, after a huge group dinner and some anise flavored aguardiente, we went to play what I like to call olombian Bowling. Also known as Tejo. There was a huge group of us there playing and it turned into a rowdy, good time. It's a large dirt-floored room with a metal roof and some plastic sheets for walls, with three long courts/lanes. The point of the game is to throw a weight underhand from one end to the other, where there is a flat filled with clay propped up at an angle. You get a certain number of points fr just landing in the clay, more for landing in the bull's eye, and even more it you hit one of the packets of explosives on the metal ring that indicated the bull's eye. It really is the COlombian equivalent of bowling.
My last morning in Salento I went for a long, beautiful walk out of town in a direction I hadn´t visited before. The hills are a collage of banana trees, perfectly gridded coffee plants, small gardens, and trails worn into the grass by grazing cattle. The sun was coming up and lighting each hill differently, there was a river on the side of one ridge, and beautiful flowers along the road. A beautiful way to wrap up my tme in Salento!