After five incredible days in Jardin we didn’t want to go, but we knew we had to move on at some point. Although we were sad to leave, we were comforted by the fact that every traveler we had met had talked up Salento, our next destination. People had stayed for a week or more and loved every second of it. We had heard nothing but rave reviews for the town, so we figured it would be just as great of an experience as Jardin was. This made leaving Jardin a little less bittersweet.
After eight hours and three buses (four buses if you count the one that broke down), we stepped out on to Salento’s main square, and we were, well, underwhelmed.
First of all, the square was under construction. Ripped up concrete and the sounds of jackhammering (common throughout Colombia) didn’t add to its appeal. Even without the construction, the square and town was nowhere near as adorable as in Jardin. Within 30 seconds of getting off the bus we were asked for money and then pressured to switch hostels by someone else. We hadn’t experienced this anywhere else in Colombia and it caught us a bit off guard. Finally, as we looked around the square, we saw Gringos everywhere we turned. At this point, we kind of gave each other a look that said, “Why did we leave Jardin?” I swear, if it hadn’t been so far and difficult to get back there, we would have jumped on a bus immediately.
Fortunately, after spending some time there, and readjusting our expectations, Salento grew on us.
Instead of your typical taxis, Salento has Willys Jeeps to navigate the many dirt roads around the town. Since we had the backpacks, we splurged and took one to our hostel which was a few kilometers outside of town. It was a fun and bumpy ride.
We stayed at an amazing hostel, La Serrana, that was actually a little eco-farm. The views were outstanding and the hostel was so relaxing, that just hanging around seemed like a great use of time. All the people at the hostel were great, and one night we all chipped in and created a fabulous Mexican dinner.
One evening, Joe and I climbed the 240-something steps to a “mirador” over the town. The sunset just keep getting better and better with time.
Once the weekend came, Colombians came from the surrounding areas to Salento and it went from a sleepy town filled with Gringos, to a fiesta-like atmosphere with people everywhere and music bumping.
Construction stopped in the square and a wide variety of food tents were set up. One night, we tried a local specialty which was kind of like trout fondue. Basically it was trout, other seafood, and mushrooms, smothered in cheese, cheese, and more cheese. We got a huge thin plantain chip to eat it with. It was delicious, but one was enough!
With Colombian elections coming up in a few weeks, we have been bombarded by election information everywhere we turn. There are posters, banners, painted houses, flyers, t-shirts, songs blared from cars, and countless other methods of promotion.
As we were finishing our cheesy trout, a commotion started in the square. Of course, we had to check it out, and it turned out to be a parade for Juan Miguel, a candidate for Assembly. It was amusing to watch the enthusiastic parade go by, and we even got a thumbs up from Juan Miguel himself. Joe kept trying to remind Kristen that political events are what we should be avoiding, but it was all good-natured, and felt safe.
In Salento, we were most looking forward to exploring the Valle de Cocora, a green lush valley filled with very tall wax palm trees. To avoid the seemingly regular afternoon rain, we got up pretty early and headed over to explore.
After a 30 minute jeep ride, we started hiking and were instantly mesmerized by the numerous greens and insanely high trees. We kept singing the Jurassic Park theme song to ourselves.
In an attempt to take a shortcut, we got somewhat off of our desired path. After trudging up a steep hill for an hour (literally, over the mountain we were trying to avoid), we found the trail we planned to take originally.
Once we finished hiking up the right trail, we were treated to great views with clouds rolling in and the most robust hummingbirds we had ever seen.
Since it looked like rain was rapidly approaching, we decided to take the easy way back (a.k.a. the way we should have come up). The clouds would quickly roll in and out providing a different look to the trees.
We timed it perfectly, because it started to lightly rain as we were finishing the hike. When we returned to the start of the trail, we arrived to a typical Colombian Sunday afternoon party. Music was playing, people were eating and drinking, and the Colombian soldiers (with machine guns still on their backs) were in charge of painting a Colombian flag on everyone’s face. I guess that’s a part of basic training around here. Everyone was having a great time, as usual.
On our final morning in Salento, we got up REALLY EARLY (4:30 am) to try our hand at milking the cows. We weren’t very good at it, but the farmer was really patient and encouraging. We were only able to do about 1/20th of what the farmer did, but it gave Joe some satisfaction as he added milk to his coffee later that morning.
Luckily, we were treated to a great sunrise after we finished.
Overall, Salento ended up being a pretty decent stop. We learned not to build a place up too much before arriving, and then to give it a chance once you get there. This is a good lesson to learn for our future travels.
On to Buga, and to what everyone has said is the BEST beer and pizza in all of Colombia!
Oh dear, we’re doing it again.