The three of us left Bogotá and made our way to the countryside town of Salento. By the time we arrived after a taxi, a coach and a minibus the light was fading. We found a hostel with a pretty central garden and Craig managed to negotiate a good price for all of us. Once rested we walked up the steep hill to the towns square and found a small local restaurant. Craig and I each had a vegetarian platter and it was truly delicious. A large plate of rice and beans, egg and avocado, fried peppers and onions with tomato relish and a crispy bread made us very happy especially after another day of travel.
The next morning we had a really tasty breakfast at the hostel, we could understand why the hostel price had been high as there was so much choice including cereal; a luxury we haven't seen too much of in South America. We walked to the main square and found a spot in a jeep to take us to the Cocora Valley a short drive away. The plan was to walk the trail through the valley but after a few minutes Carl said that it looked like a great place to go horse riding as there was a separate bridleway. We asked the man at the park entrance gate who made a call and ten minutes later three horses arrived with a wrangler. The horses were in great condition, something that I insist on before riding anywhere. The horses responded to the wranglers whistles which was incredible to witness, they'd turn or stop based on different whistle combinations.
The trail started fairly flat but gradually as we ascended through the valley the terrain became rocky and more challenging. In the distance were extremely tall wax palm trees rising above the canopy silhouetted against the white cloud. We crossed the river several times, sometimes having to duck under rickety looking rope bridges that the walkers would have to use. The horses hooves clattered on the rocks and splashed water all around. Every now and again the horses would jostle for front position, making me jump as they momentarily sped up along the rough ground. At a few points on the hack I felt out of my depth, the ride was more challenging than I'd experienced before but I tried to remain as confident as possible breathing deeply at the particularly difficult sections. We made it to the end destination in the dense forest and tied the horses to a tree while we walked on foot up a pathway to a wooden shack and hummingbird garden. Included in our park entry price was a drink so we opted for a hot chocolate not realising it included a chunk of cheese too. We were told to put the cheese in the hot chocolate as its a Colombian tradition but it seemed odd so I enjoyed mine separately. We watched the hummingbirds, there were several varieties, each one looked totally different to the other. Without our DSLR we weren't able to capture any especially good photos but the scenery from the shack was beautiful. I always mentally note the variety of plants, trees and leaf shapes I see as inspiration for future drawings. We returned to the horses and rode back; down the valley, over rocks, through rivers and onto the open trail. With just minutes to go rain started to spit spot and so the wrangler whistled and the three horses began to canter up the hill in an effort to return to the stables before the downpour. The horses were home and dry but we weren't, we waited for the downpour to desist to no avail so we made a break for it to the jeep stand. Suddenly we noticed dozens of walkers all arriving to catch a jeep and we all knew we'd have to battle it out for a place. A jeep arrived and a huge group swarmed around it claiming it as theirs as they had a bus to catch later that evening. A second jeep arrived and we decided to stand up at the back and cling on for dear life. The rain was pouring but despite getting drenched the ride was fun and felt adventurous. In the evening we ate dinner at Brunch a quirky place with writing all over the walls.
The following day; was my 29th birthday. The lady working at the hostel must have spotted the date in my passport at check in and surprised me with a stack of birthday pancakes. After packing up our bags we set about getting to the botanical gardens which turned out to be a difficult task. Once finally there we learned that the entry fee was actually pretty expensive although when Craig mentioned that it was my birthday I was given a complimentary ticket. The gardens were also by guide only which seemed unusual and so the leisurely stroll I had imagined for my birthday would not be happening.
We were led around the garden which was more of a well maintained jungle and saw a huge owl perched on a branch in the trees. We climbed to the top of a rickety metal tower to see views of the treetops and butterfly shaped butterfly house which we also visited. One of the butterflies kept flying at Carl's face which Craig and I found hilarious and we managed to entice one onto our finger. We left the gardens by bus and made it back to Salento where I called my mum for a chat which was lovely. On our last backpacking trip five years ago we were in Fiji with no wifi or phone service and I remember feeling so sad that I couldn't speak to my mum. We picked up our bags and walked down the road to a peaceful location where we'd booked a private room for a couple of nights overlooking fields, forest and horses. We went out for dinner and then drinks at a tiny bar with memorabilia all over the walls and ceiling and were recognised by a couple who remembered seeing us on a walk in Chile.
We spent the next day learning about coffee as the region is famous for it. We donned little wicker baskets tied to our hip and went out picking coffee beans, we then crushed them and watched as they were sorted by quality. The workers came at sat down for their lunch, wearing overalls covered in mud. They work so hard for such little cash but you wouldn't catch them complaining. At the end of the tour we were given a cup of pure, fresh, aromatic coffee to taste, it certainly wasn't your average Nescafé.
The landscape around the coffee farm was lush and green, as is everywhere in the Cocora valley. We jumped in a jeep back to Salento, this time I managed to nab the front seat and spent the afternoon swaying gently in the hammocks with a peaceful view of the garden and birds.
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