After learning that there a was a 5.4 magnitude earthquake not far from Bogota on our last full day in the city (we didn't feel it, as the bus we were likely on at the time was not without its own violent movements, but many people that we spoke with did), we were happy to move on. It was slightly disconcerting that we were moving on to a region that is known to have lost most of its historical infrastructure to its own series of devastating earthquakes over the years, but the beauty of the region and change of pace from big city life made us feel at ease.
Now, I'm not a coffee drinker, but thankfully the town of Salento and the surrounding area has much more to offer than just coffee. The main attraction in Solento is the beautiful Valle de Cocora, a lush cloud forest which can be reached via a 30 minute jeep ride from the main plaza. We were told the highlight of a hike through the area would be the Wax-Palm trees, a national symbol of Colombia and a tree which soars above all others in the cloud forest. The man at our hostel went as far as to tell us that the trees grow to a height of 200 metres. As I think the pictures show, the trees were both beautiful and impressive, but probably top out at around 60 metres. The 200 metre quote more likely reflected a simple error than a penchant for exaggeration, but I was briefly tempted to take the gentleman aside and explain the incongruity. A guy could end up being pretty embarrassed if he is bragging that objects are three times longer than they actually are.....
The hike itself was as impressive as one could have hoped for. In addition to the Palms, the route featured several river crossings, constantly changing views due to the mists and some beautiful wildlife. We saw several different types of exotic hummingbirds (the man at the hostel claimed that there were over 100 in the area, so, applying the tree formula, it's probably closer to 30), which was exciting because hummingbirds would slot into my Top 5 Animal List along with Golden Retrievers, Koalas, Dolphins and Three-Toed Sloths in some order. (Editor's note: In that list, Koalas would have the most to lose if I actually got to see one in real life and they were as cranky as advertised, and Dolphins would have the most potential upside if one of them saved my life during a shark attack.) Two downsides to hiking in a cloud forest at close to 3000 metres? 1. The clouds would obscure some of the most brilliant peaks in the area, giving only brief glimpses of what was available and then covering them again before a picture could be had. 2. It was wet, and the mud proved to be incredibly slippery on some of the steeper climbs.
In true Kristin and Kevin hiking fashion, we ended up doing the toughest part of the hike twice, unnecessarily. Following Kristin's "innate sense of direction", we hiked the top of the mountain lookout (which was the half-way point in the circuit), descended to do the side trail we should have done prior to the mountain lookout, and then headed back up the mountain lookout for a second time. I am sad to report that, as a result, Kristin has been relieved of her duties as Official Trip Navigator and is now completely unemployed. She has since shown interest in the position of Official Trip Photographer and that application is pending.
Finally, I can now answer the question that I was asked a few times previously about whether I would start drinking coffee when I got to Colombia. The answer is no. This is partly because of general stubbornness and partly because we learned that Colombia actually sends all of its best beans out of the country and keeps the second-grade beans for local consumption. Maybe that is why Colombians seem to put more milk than coffee in their "cafe".
Our pictures from Salento are here. Check them out, especially if you like big Palm Trees.