Colombia Update #7: Salento

photo[16]The expedition is nearing its conclusion!  Our group of Explorations students and teachers has headed  from Medellin up to the mountain town of Salento, where they are staying at a coffee plantation, studying the process of coffee growing and processing, and learning about the ecosystems in which coffee is grown.  Kiira writes:

Our group arrived in Salento after a windy bus ride through the coffee plantations at the heart of the Zona Cafetera. By this point in the trip, students have become accustomed to the loud radio music that nearly all Colombian bus drivers prefer, and the weaving and passing of other buses, motos, trucks, bikes, and whatever else is on the road as we make our way to our next destination. Empanadas, bananas, and mangoes made for good travel food along the way.


photo[3]Salento is a small mountain town whose primary export is coffee, but more recently the town has become a hot spot for travelers due to its proximity to the Parque de Los Nevados and the Valle de Cocora. On our first day here we woke up to cups of hot coffee made from beans  grown and roasted at our hostel, after which we headed down to the plaza to catch a jeep ride up the valley for a day of hiking.


photo[2]We hiked from Salento up through pasturelands full of friendly cows before entering the jungle on our way to Acaime nature reserve. After making our way across small suspension bridges and following a small creek to a pass, we made it to La Casa de Los Calibris – the hummingbird house. The couple who run the reserve greeted us with cold drinks, and watched as our eyes widened to the buzzing air around us. Nine species of hummingbirds were zooming between numerous bowls of sugar water, and all we had to do was sit back and watch with awe! Interpretive signs in Spanish gave us a deeper appreciation for the biodiversity of the region.


photo[8]After we had our calibri fix, we hiked up and over into the next valley, the Valle de Cocora. En route we stopped at a mountain top finca for a lunch of hot chocolate and fresh cheese, which we ate as clouds and thunder rolled in overhead.


photo[4]The wax palm is the national tree of Colombia, and we had the chance to see them towering high over us as we walked down through cow pastures and farms back to town. Once endangered due to overharvesting for their flammable wax, this reserve, as well as others in the area, have been created to honor them.  Our group had a fun time admiring their grandeur as we hiked.


photo[14]Our second full day in Salento was equally exciting. That morning we visited another nature reserve, getting a tour from our guide Nicholas, who helped to establish part of the jungle outside of town as a preserve. His local knowledge about plants and about the conservation movement in Colombia added depth and context to our tropical ecology readings. Walking through the dense green foliage was the high point of the day for many students.


We made it back into town for our daily bandeja, the local dish that includes enough food for a working man on a finca in the mountains and includes rice, beans, a fried egg, avocado, sausage, bacon, and a fried plantain. We have been eating well!  Top things off with frozen jugo con leche (think fruit milkshake) and most of us were ready for a siesta. Alas, that was not in the cards – we headed out next to tour the coffee farm that also happens to be where we’ve been staying during our time in Salento.


photo[10]Tim, the charismatic owner of the farm, covered everything about coffee production — from growing conditions, to grading and selling the beans, to roasting and drinking the coffee. It was a treat to tour the farm and then roast our own beans before freshly grinding and brewing cups for us all.


photo[11]After another bandeja it was time for bed, and all was quiet at the hostel. Tomorrow we will travel over and into the Andes to our final stop on the journey, Bogota.


photoEveryone is in good spirits and the students are ready to start processing all the amazing experiences that this trip has thrown their way!

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