Up In The Clouds

As Jake mentioned in his previous post, he, Rachel and I spent last weekend in Salento, a small town in the coffee growing region of Colombia, or the Eje Cafetero.

On Saturday morning we woke early and ate a heavy breakfast of rice, beans, arepas, eggs, and of course, coffee, in preparation for our day-long hike into the mountains surrounding the Valley of Cocora (we had been warned that this hike would be more strenuous than the last one we took).  When we arrived in Salento’s main plaza to catch a ride to the valley, we were surprised to find ourselves out-numbered by other gringos and backpackers, all vying for a place on the “Willy.”  The Willy was a four-wheel jeep that carted tourists to and from the park, most crammed into close quarters inside the jeep, with a few brave souls hanging off the back.

Willy

Jake and I hung off the back of the “Willy” on the way back to Salento after  the hike. I loved feeling the wind in my hair and seeing all the animals grazing as we whisked by, covered in mud.

We arrived and, after drinking delicious, fresh-squeezed mandarin juice and slathering ourselves with sunscreen, we set off into the valley.  The valley is incredibly beautiful, tucked between steep mountains dotted with palmas de cera and featuring many shades of green.

Wax Palm

Palmas de Cera or “Wax Palms” are Colombia’s national tree and can grow to up to 150 feet tall

The valley is also at the base of a cloud-forest, which means that rain clouds roll in quickly and turn the trail into one big muddy mess. Before we even started climbing, we had all fallen into a mud puddle at least once.

Beginning of Hike

Not too muddy yet…

Mud

Barbed wire or mud up to your calves? You choose.

Once we got to the edge of the cloud-forest, we followed the trail back and forth over a river that occasionally turned into a waterfall or combined with the trail, forcing us to jump between rocks or carefully cross suspended bridges.

Waterfall  Stepping carefullyBridgeWaterfall breakAfter climbing for two hours, we reached Acaime, a nature reserve at the top of the cloud forest, where there is a little family-run farm.  There they serve you coffee, aguapanela, or hot chocolate with fresh cheese while you rest from the hike up.  Acaime also featured a   hummingbird sanctuary and I have never seen so many of them up so close.  While I was drinking my coffee, one of them kept coming over to my bright red backpack, probably mistaking the color for a tropical flower.

Humming bird fall

I fell as I took this picture because of the stone path that was slick with condensation from the clouds. But look at the bird on the right – totally worth it!

Humming birdThe last leg of the journey was the most difficult.  It had started to rain and the rest of the trail was steep and winding up the mountain.  I fashioned a trash bag into a plastic babushka, but was sweating from the exertion, so I had to take it off and just let myself get wet.  Despite the rain, I felt that this was the most magical stretch of the hike (although Rachel may disagree…).  As we climbed, the tropical plants gave way to pines and eucalyptus trees and at the bases of the trees, there were huge, bright red mushrooms with white dots on their caps.  If gnomes and fairies exist, they definitely lived in this forest. Unfortunately, I didn’t take out my iphone because of the rain, so no photos of whimsical woodland creatures.

When we made it to the top, we were all exhausted and relieved to be out of the woods.  We came upon the “ranger station,” which was really just another family farm where they registered hikers who emerged from the forest, before letting them headed back down to the valley to catch a Willy to town.

top

View from the top

top of the hill

Rachel may have been more tired than Jake at this point.

The rest of the trip was downhill, on a wide dirt road, with beautiful vistas of the entire valley.  The clouds cleared at the end of the hike and we found a patch of grass to sit on and marvel at the view. Rachel said that the grass smelled like fruit, and laid down her exhausted body and pressed her face into it.

That night we celebrated our successful, six-hours-long journey and soothed our aching bodies with live music and canelazos.

Canelazo

Oh, and chocolate cake too…

PS: We’re headed into the campo tomorrow – where we won’t have our computers and probably won’t have internet access – and planning to stay through Sunday.  Have a great weekend everyone!

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