Cali is known as the home of salsa in Colombia, which is known as the home of salsa worldwide. But before that; as soon as Jane and I arrived at El Viajero hostel we ran in to Brent, who I’d met twice before – once in Puno and again in Guayaquil – but never stuck around long enough to meet him properly. He’d buddied up with two Australian girls, Ness and Nicky, and together we ended up being a travelling Aussie mob for almost 6 weeks. Poor Mette, our Danish mascot, couldn’t understand a word we said to each other.
To dance salsa properly in Cali you need to have been born in to it. Hips, arms, feet, torsoes all move independently but together with a fluid grace we had no chance of matching. Still, we went to the hostel’s free lesson and afterward took what we learned to a little salsa bar around the corner. The locals graciously allowed us to be there but danced circles around us and frequently borrowed our partners, leaving them breathless and impressed. It was a lot of fun despite our several pairs of left feet.
Cali is another dangerous city though so after our salsa adventure and an afternoon strolling through downtown not carrying valuables (hence no photos) our newly formed posse moved north to Salento.
Salento is an absolute gem of tranquility in the heart of Colombia, famous for coffee and surrounded on each side by green, impressive nature. The town itself looks like a movie set and in fact was being used as one when we arrived. A little out of town up the hill is La Serrana hostel, overlooking a wide valley of coffee plantations.
From here we walked in to town most days to sample fresh local coffee or eat at Brunch – touristy but delicious, and everyone should try the chocolate peanut butter brownie milkshake because it is mind blowing. On the other side of the hill was Finca Don Elias, one of the most legit coffee plantations in the region. Everything is organic and processed by hand so the output is small but they produce the best coffee I tasted in Colombia.
One night Brent and I went out to play tejo. The game is really popular in Colombia and especially Salento, and involves throwing a weight at small gunpowder packets attached to a soft clay target. Kind of a big kids’ version of cornhole. You drink, you throw weights, something explodes and everybody cheers, you drink. It’s an amazing game.
Outside the quaint colourful town, about an hour in the back of a bumpy Jeep taxi, is the Cocora valley. A winding hike splits halfway, Casa del Colibri (house of the hummingbirds) to the right and a hilltop finca (farm, in this region coffee farm) to the left. Our group split here and I went left. We climbed and climbed through a dense and lovely forest until we found the Finca de la Montaña and recharged with a tazo (bowl) of coffee. Apparently locals drink 8-12 tazos per day. That’s around 15 cups of black coffee. Yep.
We continued on to the main attraction in the Cocora valley, the tall wax palms. Hiking among the earth’s largest collections of these trees felt like a walk through a prehistoric valley. We had a great time quoting Jurassic Park and completely lost the path, so we meandered through a field dotted with palms for a while until we found it.
Salento is still one of my favourite places in South America. The whole place, from the painted town with its coffee carts, tejo, artesan stalls and movielike vibrance, to the rolling green 360º views and even the brightness of the stars, feels like it shouldn’t exist all in one spot. It was hard to leave but eventually we had to move on, so I went to see a friend in Pereira while some others went to Medellín and Jane went to Bogotá.