My highlights of Colombia’s Eje Cafetero – Part II – Coffee tasting and Pereira’s surprise

After two days in Salento – hotspot number one on the backpacking route in the Eje Cafetero – I didn’t even got as far as taken as sip of the black gold that is known as Colombian coffee. Well, I did in my hostel actually, but is that really the same coffee as the super-de-luxe high priced I-don’t-know-how-roasted delicious Colombian coffee they sell in every tent in Europe with a bearded barista behind the bar? I was about to find out.

But first: after the early morning and 5-hour long hike of the day before, I only wanted one thing – TO SLEEP IN. Which I did. Which made me miss the departure of my newly made friends. Which I regretted. Luckily Facebook and WhatsApp are always there to come to the rescue…even though saying virtual goodbyes aren’t as good as the real thing. Not that I had a lot of time to think about goodbyes, since I was promoted to translator between Lili and the two new Dutch guests that arrived only minutes after my sleepy head showed itself in the kitchen. Seated with a cup of coffee, we discussed the usual where-are-you-froms and where-have-you-beens, until we realized that we all had the same plan for the day: visiting a real Colombian finca. Ready for some more coffee.

A little hour walking from the city centre lays Finca Las Acacias, a small family-run coffee farm. The best about Las Acacias is not even the finca itself, but how to get there: a 45-minute walk through the town of Salento and along a muddy road that takes you deep inside of the hills. Every once in a while to be passed by a Willy tuffing slowly to its destination or one of the always present scooters. – Seriously, I’m surprised I’ve never got hit, half Colombia is born on a scooter I think – Only to be surrounded by blanket of green hills changing with every step you take, from grassland to farms to rows and rows of coffee plants. – Which I didn’t know yet where coffee plants, but hey, we travel to learn, don’t we? And maybe sometimes to get a tan on a beach. Wich was a bit difficult in the coffee triangle – After admiring the views and snapping some pictures, we arrived at the finca and were welcomed – of course – with a steaming cup of Colombian coffee. You don’t need an appointment or make a reservation to tour the farm, just show up and wait a while for some other people before you start the tour. Waiting with a cup of coffee and surrounded by magnificent views is not so bad after all. Anyhow, after half an hour 10+ people had showed up and we were more than ready to learn where our daily dose of caffeine comes from. I’ll be honest. I’m not going to explain the whole shebang to you here and now. First of all, it’s much nicer to experience it all than to read about it here. Second, I forgot half of the tour. – The fact I’m writing this blog with a couple of months of delay might be the reason, even though I do have a pretty lively and detailed memories of most of my trip. Only not of the coffee tour, sorry! – What I do remember, is that it’ll be very hard to find the best Colombian coffee in Colombia. Yes, I drank some pretty decent cups, but all the high quality beans are shipped to my own continent – Europe, in case you forgot -, the US and A,… to be roasted according to the tastes of each country. Which makes me a bit sad, to know what’s considered one of the best ‘coffees’ in the world is mostly exported and for other countries to enjoy…

After an hour touring around the finca, getting to know every stage of the coffee plant and two whole cups containing enough caffeine to reach double my daily dose, I headed back to the hostel to get rid of my now muddy walking shoes. – Not so much luck with the rain that morning – To my surprise I wasn’t the only Belgian in the hostel anymore, instead Brecht from Gent – hurray Gent! – and his Colombian girlfriend Danna arrived, with whom I started chatting almost immediately after arriving back to the hostel. Who also invited me to join them on a discovery tour of Salento. And guess what: that day is still known as the day I climbed the Mirador for the third time, luckily each time I need to take less and less “photo-stops” to make it to the top. Still a magnificent view though. At least I deserved a treat, so I didn’t feel too bad going out eating a little bit more fancy than I was used to so far…which was still in a restaurant in a garage after all. Even though the interior was interesting – uhum, garage -, the food was good, the atmosphere and the talks where even better and it was just nice to chat about Gent and the story of Brecht and Danna. – it’s their story to tell, but I have to let them know somehow much I admire them choosing to be together, even though it musn’t always be easy – With full bellies and sleepy heads we headed back to the hostel, where I still had one thing to do before going to bed….pack my backpack again.

Actually, I had been busy with a decision earlier that day, as in: where next? I wanted to head to Medellín north from the Eje Cafetero, but I had the feeling I was rushing too much, even though nothing was keeping me in Salento anymore. I got some great tips from Lili and Brecht & Danna to definitely NOT miss Chocó and the Pacific Coast, which I could easily reach by plane from Medellín. But something was holding me back, I had the feeling I wasn’t finished with the Eje Cafetero yet and wanted one more stop before heading to famous Medellín. One stranger made me decide, and the next morning I headed for the bus station and the city of Pereira.

Now, I love taking the bus in Latin America. It’s just always an adventure, or you’re propped up in a tiny mini-van with 30 people where there’s place for 10, or the speakers are blasting reggaeton while Jesus is watching over you, making sure you don’t get drilled out of your seat on the beat of the music, or you just meet the nicest people chatting away until you reach your stop. Exactly what happened to me that day. – not the Jesus part, that only happened the next day – Generally, when I was travelling in Colombia, I just went to the bus station, bought my ticket and hopped on the next bus already waiting for me at the stop. This time was no different, only that the bus wasn’t there yet and I appeared to be one of the only ‘strangers’ – yep, let’s call me white even though I’m not that fluorescent illuminating white that some other people tend to be – going in that direction. So when I came to sit next to mr. X – I call him mr. X since I never got to know his name, but I flashed him a smile and ask if the seat next to him was taken – I got to know the famous Colombian friendliness. Curious about where I was from, he started asking me a couple of questions which leaded to a deep conversation about both our lives, his work and life in Pereira, the differences between our cultures and ended with him telling me to be careful travelling on my own and showing me the right way to my hostel so I wouldn’t accidently walk into the wrong neighbourhoods. People go out of their way here to help somebody, doesn’t matter if it’s a fellow Colombian or a stranger, without expecting anything in exchange. – most of them are nice, but of course, there’s always exceptions. Just trust your guts and you’ll definitely meet the nicest of people

Hopping off the bus, headed in the right direction straight to the hostel, I had no clue what was waiting for me. Little did I know I would meet somebody in that same hostel that would change my plans, my trip as a whole drastically, without me ever even thinking about it.

More about what happened in Pereira in the NEXT blogpost: Pereira – How to spend a day at the Termales of Santa Rosa.

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HOW MUCH DID I SPEND?

Since it’s nice to know how much dinero you would need for a couple of days in the Coffee Region, I wrote down how much I spent while I was there. Both in Colombian pesos and euros.

Transport

Bus Salento – Pereira: one way – 7000 COP / 2,0€

Accommodation

3 nights in Casa Lili: dorm – 22.000 COP per night / 6,6€ per night (with the luck of having a private room for 2 nights, while the dorm was full)

Activities

Visit to Finca Las Acacias: one (or if you’re lucky, two!) coffee included – 8000 COP / 2,29€

Food

I don’t really include food here, since it really depends on how you travel, but I will make a monthly roundup where you can see how much I’ve spend with all the homecooked meals, fancy diners or fast papitas-y-nada-mas lunches counted together.

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