Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Coffee Region and Medellin

Our next stop in Colombia was the small touristy town of Salento. Salento is very pretty with restored buildings in many colours and a very active central plaza. It feels like every shop within a couple blocks of this plaza is tourist oriented, as a bar, restaurant, guesthouse or selling souvenirs. After Cartagena, the Coffee Region of Colombia is the 2nd most popular tourist destination and Salento is the most popular of the towns in the region. We started out there on the weekend and it was packed with Colombian tourists day tripping in from the nearby bigger cities and things got quieter later in the week. For such a popular place there was surprisingly little hassle and we enjoyed our 4 days there. There is a lot to do in the area to fill your time and we could have easily stayed longer.
One of the days we went to Filandia, another colourful colonial town. It is so similar that after the 45 minute ride from Salento we were dropped off in the main plaza and for a second thought that they'd just driven us around the block a couple times and dropped us off back in the same spot. Filandia was nice with more colourful buildings and a tall wooden lookout tower with views over the surrounding countryside. The land is green and hilly and apparently perfect for growing coffee. We certainly saw lots growing all over the countryside and many of the small coffee fincas (plantations) are open for tours or even to stay overnight. We visited one of the small family run fincas within walking distance from Salento and had a quick private tour. I learned lots I didn't know about coffee, picked a few beans and followed it through the process in preparation for export. The free samples of coffee were nice as well. Apparently the area around Salento is not just the perfect temperature but also close to the highest altitude for coffee growing giving it a richer acidic flavour. I dunno, coffee is still mostly just coffee to me but it is always interesting to learn more about one of the world's biggest commodities.

Pretty little Salento
Fresh fruit juice in Salento's plaza

Filandia. Also pretty

Climbing the wooden watchtower in Filandia
Views of Filandia
A small coffee plantation. 
Picking her next cup of coffee...

One of the reasons Salento is more popular than other small villages in the area is its proximity to the Cocora valley, full of Colombia's national tree, the wax palm. We also did a day hike through the valley. It is a loop that takes you past the wax palms (the world's tallest palms that reach up to 60m) on one side and through some cloud forest in a lower section of the valley where you get to cross a few rickety bridges over a little river and can make a short detour to a house surrounded by hummingbirds. It was a beautiful hike of around 5 hours and even with a little rain it was one of our highlights in the country.

Hiking up the Cocora valley
Into the forest and over the stream...


Looking down on the Cocora valley

The very tall and skinny Wax Palm. (It might be related to me...)

From Salento it was a long but beautiful drive to Medellin, made longer by the constant construction traffic we were to experience on every major highway in the country. Weather and war are unforgiving in a place like this and there is a lot of rebuilding to do. Medellin is a prime example of this. Not long ago it was considered to be one of the most dangerous cities on earth. The reputation for drugs and violence lives on though conditions have gotten much better in recent years and those that know Colombia well tell us that it has the potential to be the nicest in the country in terms of climate, culture and livability. I won't say that we liked it, but then we didn't fall in love with any of the big cities in Colombia. It is busy, it is dirty and we limited our time and exposure to a lot of it. Oddly enough, the biggest tourist attraction in Medellin isn't a tourist attraction, it is the public transportation system. Medellin has Colombia's only metro, but that isn't the highlight. It is the cable car system linked from it going up the mountains and connecting some of the poorer neighbourhoods of town. This was the first city to adopt this type of transit model and was the inspiration for the much bigger network that we rode around on in La Paz. There is also a huge escalator system somewhere in other poor neighbourhoods of town but we didn't ride on those. We made it to the centre of town and the plaza Botero where there are a number of sculptures by the local artist Botero. His specialty is the comically obese, often making a mockery of other famous works. There is a museum at the plaza too but we didn't have time for it. We visited a smaller museum of his in Bogota and were highly amused.

At the top of the cable car in Medellin

Botero's version of a roman soldier

What we did from Medellin was a day trip to Santa Fe de Antioquia. This is a small colonial town, the oldest in western Colombia and far less touristy than the other colonial towns we were to later see. In fact, we got quite a few stares while we were walking around. It was small but pretty and had a nice plaza. Unfortunately the construction traffic was so bad getting there that we were delayed arriving and didn't have much time to relax and enjoy ourselves. We still had time to jump in a tuktuk and visit the nearby suspension bridge, the Puente de Occidente. It was built in 1895 by a guy that worked on the Brooklyn Bridge and modeled this one after it. It is kind of random as it is such a nice bridge and in a beautiful setting but has only ever been upgraded to allow for light vehicles (motos and tuktuks) and foot traffic. It was an excuse to get out of the city and we had a nice day doing it. This was also the end of our free time together because we flew from Medellin to Bogota and met up with mom at the airport to start our travels together for the next 5 weeks.

Resting in Santa Fe de Antioquia

Santa Fe de Antioquia 

Puente de Occidente

The bridge surface is still wood



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