Salento

I haven’t mentioned it before, but I have a lot of luggage with me. It’s not particularly easy travelling by bus (‘backpacking’, if you will) with an enormous wheelie suitcase, a backpack and a Longchamp carry-on. It’s even harder when you have to get a 5 hour minivan across the mountains, followed by a bus which then drops you on the side of the motorway for an hour while you wait for the next bus, then hop on a local bus going back in the direction you’ve just come from, and then get a landrover/cart in torrential rain…

My journey from Medellin to Salento took almost an entire day, and it was made even less enjoyable by the fact that I picked up a stomach bug at some point during the journey (perhaps the enormous bowl of beans I ate during our lunch pit-stop wasn’t the best idea…)

Anyway, at 8pm I finally arrived at La Serrana, a dreamy hostel just outside of Salento in the Coffee Triangle of Colombia. I had been planning on visiting Manizales or one of the other well-known towns in the coffee region, but a friend recommended Salento, and after reading about La Serrana on Trip Advisor, I knew I had to go there. I actually cut my Medellin trip down so that I could spend 5 whole days at this hostel, drinking coffee, hiking through beautiful wax palm forests and relaxing in the cosy armchairs.

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La Serrana is an old ‘hacienda’ (or farm), which has been renovated and made into an eco hostel. It reminded me of many of my favourite places: the organic farm reminded me of Ballymaloe in Ireland, the cosy sitting room and horsey decorations reminded me of the ranch we once visited in America, and the green surroundings, sunny afternoons and relaxing atmosphere made me think of both Scotland in the summer and my beloved Provence.

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I’m sorry, but I have to start with the food.

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Breakfast was included, and you could choose between eggs any style or an enormous fruit salad, accompanied by either tea or coffee. If you were prepared to pay a tiny bit extra, you could order bacon or vegetables to go with your eggs, homemade yoghurt, fresh smoothies made from any combination of delicious tropical fruits, or pancakes with maple syrup.

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Everything was produced on the farm, and you ate at lovely communal tables in the wooden outbuilding. Dreamy!

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Dinner was around £4.50, and you had to sign up in advance. On my first night, we ate barbecued chicken, pork and beef, with various sides dishes which were refilled whenever you needed more. The second night was burger night, and there was an amazing buffet table with unlimited toppings and sauces. Definitely worth your money! It was also a lovely opportunity to get to know the other people at the hostel – mealtimes were really relaxed and happy.

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Anyway…Salento! I was feeling pretty ill when I first arrived at La Serrana, so I tried to force myself to take it easy. Nevertheless, after walking into Salento to stock up on some food supplies, I could not resist climbing up the stairs to the Salento ‘Mirador’ (viewpoint). Although I was feeling fairly awful, the lovely view got me really excited about doing more activities around Salento.

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In the afternoon, I walked 40 minutes downhill to get to Don Elias’ Finca, a famous coffee farm that I’d read about in my Lonely Planet guide. There are many coffee tours around Salento but I really liked the sound of Don Elias’ machineless, organic farm, and chose to do my tour there (a lot of people opt for one of the bigger ones because they offer tours in English). For about £2, I was given my own personal tour of the farm and then invited to drink a freshly brewed cup of coffee. It was really interesting to learn about the three different coffee beans they grow on the farm, and about the various stages of the coffee-making process. I bought a bag of beans as a souvenir, and my suitcase is now smelling absolutely delicious!

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Although I was desperate to do the hike in the Valle de Cocora, I decided not to go on my second day and to wait until I was feeling completely better before undertaking the challenge. Instead, I went on a 3 hour horse trek to a lovely waterfall – my first time on a horse in about 10 years!

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I was finally feeling back to normal by the weekend, and was therefore raring to get to the Valle de Cocora first thing on the Saturday morning. Fortunately, I had made friends with the nice Californian girls in my dorm, so we all set off together to the national park after a massive fruity breakfast. I am so pleased that I waited for the weekend to head into the valley- while the Friday had been a pretty wet and miserable day, the Saturday was sunny and completely beautiful.

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We hiked uphill through a cloud forest for a couple of hours until we got to a wonderful hummingbird sanctuary. There, we drank hot chocolate with cheese and admired the wildlife.

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We then had a tough 1km hike up to the top of the mountain, which I found surprisingly difficult.

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At this point, the sun came out and we had a lovely 5km hike down through the famous wax palm tree forest. It was absolutely stunning!

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Three of us girls had insisted on riding on the back of the jeep all the way back to Salento, a 20 minute drive away. As we boarded the bus, the heavens opened, and we then spent an “enjoyable” half an hour holding on for our lives and trying not to get hit by branches while blinking from the hail in our eyes.

After a warm shower, we were ready for a big dinner and a celebratory glass of wine. Sadly, there were no delicious hostel dinners at the weekend, so we had to either cook our own meals or head into Salento for some local grub. Fortunately, the next door neighbours were this amazing Indian/Swiss couple who lived in the most beautiful, spacious house and cooked delicious Indian dishes to order as takeaways. On Saturday night, we settled down for a hearty Tandoori chicken and a good chat. IMG_3871.JPG

Afterwards, we headed into Salento with the intention of watching a Tejo game, but the hike had taken the energy out of us so we headed to bed after a couple of drinks in the town centre.

On Sunday – my final day – we all decided to take it easy. Finally feeling myself again, I was desperate to go for a run in the wonderful surroundings. The receptionist recommended me a route that enabled me to avoid having to run uphill (the hills around Salento are steeeeep and I would not have enjoyed running up them at all!), but this turned out to be a lot longer than he had said it was, and I had to walk a fair bit towards the end.

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It was absolutely beautiful, though. I ran down past the coffee farms until I got to the river, then along the lanes to another little town, before hopping on a bus back to Salento for a hearty lunch at the famous American restaurant, ‘Brunch’, and a spot of souvenir-shopping.

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I then spent the afternoon doing yoga and reading in the sun with a lovely Canadian girl from the hostel.

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When Monday morning came around, I was really sad to have to leave my beloved hostel and lovely, cute Salento.

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Nevertheless, although I would have loved to stay at La Serrana for longer, I wanted to see as much of Colombia as possible and  was still excited to move on to somewhere new. I was just pleased that I had been able to spend 5 whole days there, where other people could only fit two nights there into their busy schedules! You have to go to La Serrana if you’re ever in Colombia. Honestly, it’s completely perfect!

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