Salento and Cocora Valley

As we hadn’t been on a paid campsite for a while, we were happy enough to pay and fill up our water tanks and use their hot shower. Not only did we need the services, but being in walking distance to the town was a bonus. This little village is a popular tourist destination for the valley nearby but also for the coffee that the region produces. It was also the inspiration behind Disney’s Encanto, which is clear to see in the colourful streets and mountain scenery.

We enquired about the price of horse back riding and were told that it cost 10$ to go out on the horse. That’s about the cheapest horse riding we’ve seen so far and I was pretty excited to get back in the saddle after about 12 years!

We opted for a 2-3 hour tour which would take us through the coffee plantations and down to the river and set off with our guide Diego. It was an easy ride that left the town by a small dirt road and wound down slowly towards the valley. The horses needed no prompting, it was clearly a well known route to them and so we chatted and took in the lovely mountain scenery.

After a little way we reached the bottom of the valley and turned off the dirt road into the valley. We wound our way along the bottom, crossing the river multiple times. The horses seemed to be enjoying themselves too, plunging headlong into the river and racing each other to the next crossing. It was beautiful and we were the only people there to appreciate it.

After we had finished following the river, we picked up another dirt track that climbed back out of the valley again to re-join the road we had come in on. It was a short steep track and for once it was nice to not be the one doing all the work to climb up it. We reached the top and tied up the horses for a break while we went for a nice local coffee.

As we drunk a rather amazing cup of coffee we watched the wild birds eating pieces of banana of the bird table in front of us, with the blue misty backdrop of the mountains behind. It was a rural paradise.
From the coffee plantation it wasn’t far to finish off our trip and return to the campsite with rather sore legs and bums.

Then we met another couple who put that into perspective. A British couple, who had cycled in six months down to Colombia from Alaska, now that was a kind of sore legs on another level. While we do carry bikes that we use occasionally, the thought of doing the trip we are doing on a push bike fills me with slight horror. Where will I store my cold beers? How do I charge my laptop? Where’s the toilet when you’re caught short after that overly spicy street food? So many more things to consider…

People might think we live a stripped back way of life but its luxury compared to a bike. On the other hand they probably don’t have to deal with engine replacements or the cost of fuel. Still, while I’d pick our rust bucket any day, I have enormous respect for anyone who can travel like that.

After enjoying our time in Salento, it was time to drive the short distance to the Cocora Valley and find a spot to stop down there. We had heard mixed reviews about staying at the car park for the park entrance, with some people being charged a lot of money for not a lot. We decided we would try it out though, especially after someone quoted us a ridiculous price for camping in the village and wouldn’t let us stop at all unless we had breakfast there.

In the end, a smiley lady on the park gate told us it was a pound to park all day and £4 to stay the night. Perhaps a little pricey considering there are no facilities but it was a beautiful spot surrounded by the wax palms and looked like it would be a quiet night so we didn’t mind. Despite the fact that it was a bit miserable that afternoon, we headed out to go for a short hike to a nearby waterfall, rather than sitting in the van.

It was a simple route down the river, where you had to pay to enter the land at the entrance. It seems like lots of different people own parts of the valley and the amount you pay is dependant on whose land you enter and where.

We walked onwards in the drizzle, it would have almost felt like a hike in the Scottish Highlands, with the hills rising up around us and the roar of the river nearby. If it hadn’t been for the fact that it was a bit too hot to wear a waterproof jacket and there were quite a lot of palm trees. We ate a late lunch at the waterfall, sitting under a huge overhanging rock out of the rain.

Just a little way above us and along the path, a sign warned not to linger on the path as there was a risk of landslide. That’s the difference between here and England. England would close the trail, too dangerous, one might possibly get hurt if one was incredibly stupid. Here, there’s just a sign that tells you to get a move on. If you’re stupid enough to stand under the landslide, then so be it.

If we had continued along the path, we would have crossed the river and then began to climb the circular route around the valley which we planned for tomorrow. For today though, we turned and headed back to the van. After a rainy walk, hot chocolate was in order, despite the fact that it had brightened up a bit.

As darkness fell we hoped it would stay clear, but once again the skies darkened and the rain was back. We would have love to get that great shot of the milky way with the silhouettes of the palm tree in front and Ruby dwarfed by it all, what we got instead was a steady drizzle.

It was however the peaceful night we had hoped for, one other van shared the car park with us but silence reigned. It was beautiful, and unbroken, until 6am when someone decided that the car park needed to be strimmed. They love nothing more than an early morning power tool in Latin America, if it uses petrol even better.

Still, while we may have been rudely awakened, it was to a brilliant day. The rain had gone and we had a bright blue sky. It was the perfect day for a hike, a nice 10km up around the valley to see its spectacular views and hopefully some hummingbirds. We packed up a few things and set off for the hills.

We had to pay again, a few pounds to enter the walk, as we had decided to do the trail in reverse taking in the viewpoint first in case the weather changed later. We started to climb upwards on a dirt track, it was a pretty hot day but worth it for the fabulous views.

There are several view points on this track that continues up the hill a way. At the last one we got out Steve for some great shots but we had barely got him in the air when someone told us that they didn’t mind, but drones were forbidden. Well he was already there so we continued until a park warden appeared and we had to cut short the photo opportunity. Apparently they are banned because of the condors and the warden waited to make sure we land, while the family next to us self righteously bemoaned tourists, clearing not realising we spoke Spanish. Still, no condors were harmed in the making and we did get a few great photos.

As we continued on up the path, the people got fewer until soon we were walking alone. Then a police bike appeared in front of us. One of them got off to speak, while the other filmed us on their phone. They had been told we had a drone, apparently this was a really big deal. You would think that if they cared so much about banning drones then they might have put a sign up to that effect. After a while they let us go, after we repeatedly said we wouldn’t use it again and we continued on.

As we climbed higher the landscape was changing and becoming more European looking. Wild strawberries grew all down the side of the track as it wound further onwards into pine forests. There were forget-me-nots and buttercups too, it was almost like a walk in an English woodland. The air too was cooler now and it had clouded over, as we entered (no surprises here) the cloud forest.

The circular walk turned off the main path to the left now, but we continued onwards towards Finca La Montana. This was the place to spot hummingbirds and the second we arrived we already saw them flying around a line of Red Hot Poker flowers that lined the side of the path. In fact, I’ve never got such good pictures and I was glad I bothered to bring my proper camera with me to capture them and not just my phone.

We sat in the finca garden and had a hot drink while watching them all around us in the flowering bushes they had planted. It was definitely with the short detour.

Then it was time to get back on the path. We had done the majority of the upwards part already, but that was on a steady and solid road. Now the path turn off across fields where it had become a muddy quagmire by what looked like several horse tours of the area. We picked our way around and continued onwards, the path getting a little hard to find at points.

After a bit more of an uphill slog we were across the fields, out of the pine forest and back into the jungle. Every now and again we glimpsed the cloud covered mountains across the valley through a gap in the jungle and then we began our descent.

It was a day of contrasts from hot sun to cooler cloudy drizzle. We started our descent in rain but by the time we arrived at the river at the bottom we were in the sun again. The last section follows another river back to our original start point.

Back at the van we decided we would head back into Salento for the night, but this time try one of the free spots. We decided to try and make it to the viewpoint where supposedly you could camp in the small car park. It was supposed to be a steep hill, but we roared up it in 1st gear without a problem and confirmed that it was ok if we stayed.

As it was still early, we went and got some food at one of the local restaurants. We had been eyeing up their giant patacones all week. A massive basket made from plantain with all sorts of toppings. We thought we’d try the veggie one as a snack, but when it arrived it was so big that it was more dinner. After a little walk around the town we headed back for the night.

It didn’t start off well with a local guard dog that sat next to us and barked blindly into space at nothing for several hours. Eventually though, he stopped and it was quiet. That was all good until about 3am when people turned up to party in the car park. They parked up their cars next to us and whacked on the music full blast, while serving an array of drinks from their spoilers and dancing around the car park. I supposed we should have known better to stop at a place like this at the weekend. They merrily continued until about 6am, leaving us with no desire to do anything at all the next day. We crawled back to the paid campsite and did nothing, a terrible nights sleep tends to ruin the next day and we probably should have just paid for camping in the first place.

Our motorbike friends had just arrived in Salento today, and we probably would have joined them if they hadn’t had family visiting. Nevertheless we decided to head out and get some wifi and have another wander around the town. We stopped in to check on a nice little vegan restaurant nearby, thinking we might come back later, before heading to a hostel that promised good wifi and a rather nice glass of sangria.

That was a good reward after the little hike we had taken up to the other viewpoint, this one faces out over the town and had several big flights of steps up to it.

After recovering in the bar and making good use of the wifi, we headed back for dinner at the vegan restaurant. It was a new business, only about a month old with a very passionate and accommodating owner. She had bought the little triangle of land that you’d find at a T-junction in the road, and using mainly pallets, created a restaurant there. She had a small but delicious sounding menu and said she was happy to cook at anytime because right now she lived next the to the tables in a tent. We always like to try and support little local businesses and so we went to give it a go.

She spoke excellent English and recommended that a nice fruit tea would be a good start. We then ordered some trout, it the local dish around here, and a kind stew served in a bread roll. While normally we’d probably be the first people to order a beer, it was rather lovely to have this handmade tea, which was incredibly tasty too. When the food arrived, it was equally delicious, huge mouth watering portions that left us wiping the plates clean with any left over bread. All that for less than $20 was an absolute bargain and I sincerely hope that her business does well, because she certainly deserves it.

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