Posts tagged ‘latin america’

March 30, 2013

Smitten with Salento

birdwatching & coffee sipping at Sacha Mama, Salento

If there’s a place encompassing my idea of perfection in Latin America, it would be the town of Salento. In this little coffee town of Quindio, Colombia, everything is just right.

the lovely town of Salento

The town itself is quiet, but not sleepy. People there are super friendly, but not in your face or pushy. The colonial-style buildings are colorful but not flashy. The main street in town is lined with local artisans selling beautiful handcrafted goods (woven sweaters and ponchos, copper jewelry, pottery, sculptures, planters, etc) – not plastic keychains and cheap souvenirs. They grow the best coffee in the world, and they’re in love with it. Aside from the pure coffee that is grown, roasted, and brewed by the people who know coffee best, local shops sell coffee-infused everything – cookies, caramel (cafequipe), liquor, chocolate-coated beans, you name it.

I never expected to encounter a landscape so utterly ideal and flawless – but here it is. Any direction you look, lush green mountains roll into the distance, scattered with palms and tropical flowers and trees, dairy cows and horses. Needless to say there is ample space to hike and run and stretch your legs, which will surely be strong and toned with all the steady hills and winding dirt roads. If this were a town in the States, no doubt it would be taken over by young outdoorsy hippies like many Colorado, Oregon, and California towns these days (not to be stereotypical ;) But instead it’s populated with local artisans, coffee farmers, cowboys, and the small population of backpackers who come (often staying longer than planned) and go.

The climate is like none other I’ve encountered. There can be intense sunshine, cool fog, rain, lightning, and silver-lined, pillowy clouds all in one day. The tropical vegetation suggests it is humid and wet, but in fact the air is a perfectly comfortable not-cold, not-hot, not wet nor dry. It’s obviously the coffee plant’s ideal climate as well. The horses and dogs are hearty and well-fed. The cows here look genuinely happy – but really, how could they not be?

happy Salento cows

Valle de Cocora

Valle de Cocora, home to the world’s tallest palms

It doesn’t hurt that the hostel I stayed (and then volunteered) at – set amid a 200-acre picturesque dairy farm – feels more like a big cozy house than a hostel; like a communal living space where everyone cooks together, plays together, and lounges together. It’s safe enough to walk the 15 minutes home down a dirt road by your lonesome after dark (and that’s not just me being risky, it really is safe). I’m usually cautious about carrying valuables with me, but this is the first place in Latin America I’ve felt good about taking my ipod with me on a run (in Colombia of all places, to all you skeptics ;)

And as if I couldn’t enjoy my stay in Salento any more, there is a cafe that will deliver brownies filled with a thick layer of homemade peanut butter, right up to the door of the hostel.

Pedro's coffee, from jungle to cup

Visiting Pedro’s finca, Sacha Mama, where we harvested, processed and brewed our own coffee, from jungle to cup :)

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February 25, 2013

Even a trip to the ATM is an adventure, plus ‘The Best Thing I Ever Ate’

Gato Negro Cafe

the “gato negro” in front of Gato Negro Cafe

I really should have assumed that there would only be one ATM in the little fishing village of Taganga, Colombia, and that it would probably be broken. But I didn’t, and it was.

The closest one was in Santa Marta, a nearby bustling city I did not really have intentions of visiting. But I was out of money and kind of wanted to eat again during my last two days here so…. off to the city it was.

Public transportation to Santa Marta is in the form of big clattering vans, and unfortunately being the first one in, I got to ride in circles around town while the driver honked and yelled at people until it filled up. After a while I was starting to get the feeling my driver was a little insane. Sure enough after yelling something at another driver he pulled up next to, he jumped out and proceeded to shout and bang on this poor guy’s van. While more incomprehensible yelling followed, me and the Colombian man inside noticed our van rolling forward and heading straight for a wall. We yelled for the driver, who nonchalantly hopped back in just in time to jam the emergency break on, and jumped back out to continue his yelling. It was going to be an exciting ride.

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March 21, 2012

A taste of Guatemala

Traveling. It’s like me and chocolate…. give me a taste and all I want is more. A measly 7 days of escape from the middle of my busy final semester of college when I’m already suffering from major senioritis was just not enough to satisfy my wanderlust.

And speaking of chocolate — in some unimaginable way I don’t think I had any chocolate (or sweets, for that matter), until Allyn and I realized the absurdity of this and subsequently devoured a brownie sundae on my last night, immediately followed by a second one.

I had actually noticed our lack of ice cream on the trip the day before I had to leave, and made clear to everyone my determination to find some good helado. Specialty helado shops were everywhere to be found, yet we always seemed too busy or too full from the meal before to stop in. And still this was the case on that day until it was about 9:30 and we were all ready for some helados… only to find every helado shop in the little lake-side village of San Pedro to be closed. NO! We ended up settling with cheap ice cream bars from a freezer in a tienda. I was not happy.

Then as we meandered back down the dirt paths of the town to our hostel, lit by the full moon and nuzzled by the warm breeze, Allyn says to me, “I know something that will make you feel better about eating your ice cream.”

“What?” (could that possibly be..?)

“I think this is the only thing that hasn’t worked out for us on this trip…”

It was true. And I felt instantly better about eating my sweet, 5-quetzal Sarita ice cream. Things could be worse.

It was a bittersweet trip all around — enjoying every moment while knowing our time is so limited. Much emphasis on the sweet though ;

We began from all different spots on the East Coast — Boston, D.C., Charleston SC and Florida — and met up for a spring break adventure, starting with a flight to Guatemala City. We wasted no time and headed straight to Antigua, a cobblestone-covered, colorful colonial city (please excuse my annoying alliteration) nestled between three volcanoes. After a couple days of wandering the streets, stuffing ourselves with street food, watching the elaborate processions held each Sunday during Lent, and hiking nearby volcán Pacaya, we smushed into the back of a pickup truck with 9 other travelers + their bags and headed up the mountains to Earth Lodge, a magical avocado farm complete with tree houses, unlimited hammocks, and incredible family-style vegetarian dinners.

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