Sunday, 4 August 2013


After leaving the Casa de Cislista I was headed for Salento, famous for being both beautiful and one of the main coffee producing regions in Colombia. It was going to take about 3 days cycling to get there. My day out of Medellin was one of the most enjoyable days on the bike in a long time. The first half of the day was nearly all descending for about 40 km through stunning mountain scenery. I had my work cut out keeping my eyes on the road as I descended at speed glancing left and right at the landscape.

Gramophone shop, (pre Apple store)
The following day I did not seem to be at the races at all. I couldn’t put my finger on it as it was not any steeper than recent days, it wasn’t a bad road surface and I had had a decent breakfast but when I later checked out the temperature on the GPS for that day it was over 40 degrees at stages so that probably explained it. I am a bit skeptical as the accuracy of some of those temperature readings but even if it was 5 degrees out it was still a hot one.

A miners protest that I passed. The sign reads something along the lines of: "We are not illegals, we are miners by tradition"

Riot police standing by in the background. I passed a lot of police on the road for the next hour.
The following night I pulled in to a house to inquire if I could camp and ended up meeting what has to be one of the most welcoming families in all of Colombia! Not only did they go to the effort of giving me a lovely dinner and breakfast the following morning but they even took my water bottle, filled it with an orange drink and froze it so that I had a delicious refreshing drink in the heat the next day. Talk about going the extra mile for a complete stranger!

I got an incredible welcome from Wilson, Jairo Clavijo, Natalia, Ricardo and Milena
A fantastic feed including a large jug of juice. Needless to say I finished every grain of rice.
My frozen bottle of juice to help keep me cool the following day... wow, I'm still blown away by the generosity and thoughtfulness!
As is often the case with places that are said to be beautiful, it was another step climb up to Salento and I arrived just after dark on my third day to a hostel. The hostel took tents and had been recommended to me by Sydney, a Swiss cyclist I had met at the Casa de Ciclista.

Similar landscape to Co. Wickla
A horse of course
The following day I spent the afternoon on my pannier free bike cycling through the beautiful Val de Cacora past Salento. It was beautiful alright and kind of reminded me of parts of Ireland like down past Enniskerry in Wicklow, lovely green hills with a river running through the valley. Salento is a popular tourist destination with both Colombians and foreigners alike. On my cycle back out of the valley to Salento I bumped into fellow touring cyclists Jan and Evit again who were debating whether to camp in the valley or stay in Salento. They decided to follow me back to the hostel and ended up spending a few days there, as did I.

Similar landscape to Ireland bar the palm trees. These are the national tree of Colombia.
Main square in Salento

The main tourist street in Salento
A gang of us from the hostel went out later for "una cerveza". We were keen to check out a local Colombian game called Tejo that involves throwing heavy metal objects, gun powder and drinking beer. What’s not to like? We eventually found our way to a Tejo hall which basically had a regular bar to the front and a large covered hall out the back for the Tejo. There were 3 lanes of about 12 metres in length for the beginners like ourselves and then another few lanes of double the length for the hardened professionals. Tejo apparently evolved from a game originally played by indigenous people in Colombia.  You have to lob a metal object (pictured below) the 12 or so metres and try and hit one of the paper pouches containing gun powder. These pouches are propped against a metal ring and this is all contained in a 1 metre by 1 metre clay box. Sounds like fun? Of course it was and we all even managed to get the gun powder to explode which would scare the living daylights out of you when it does go off. Beer, throwing metal weights, explosions, I can definitely see this catching on for stags in Ireland. Actually who needs a stag? A quiet pint would definitely be complimented by a quick game of Tejo!

You have to try and hit one of the gun powder filled pouches with the lump of metal that you lob from 12 metres away
The longer adults lane
The metal objects that you have to lob, the larger one on the left is for the more experienced.
John, my tent neighbor from the hostel getting to grips with Tejo. He is certainly making sure to play by the rules by keeping his foot behind the yellow line and more importantly having a beer to hand at all times.
Before leaving Salento I made sure to visit a coffee Finca (/estate). I visited the Don Elias Finca which was a steep 4 km decent out of Salento. Although I had visited la Florida Finca with Trocaire when I was in Guatemala it was interesting to see this small family run organic coffee finca go through the coffee making process from start to finish. They grew two types of coffee beans on the finca, Arabica and Colombia. On the 4 hectares there were about 10,000 coffee trees which usually produced between 4-5,000 kg of coffee depending on the weather conditions. Half of this they sold to tourists who did the coffee tour and the other half was sold as the dried beans to a local co-operative.  

It all begins as a flower
The flowers die off and along come the tiny beans
They turn into bigger beans
Then they turn into bananas.. no hold on, that's a different plant.
Putting me to work to pick some beans
Freshly picked coffee beans
The picked beans are initially put through this machine which takes off the first skin
The skin or husk of the coffee bean
The husks in one hand, the inner bean in the other hand
The beans are then laid out to dry, about 7 days here if it is sunny and up to a few weeks if it is rainy.
Once the beans have dried out they are put in this large ceramic bowl to roast slowly
Here's some roasted ones we made earlier
You're probably pretty familiar with the rest of the process, the roasted beans are then ground down..
Somebody likes their coffee
Then you add hot water and drink it being careful not to burn yourself... and that's where your cup of coffee comes from.
Laura, a German backpacker who checked into the hostel at the same time as me had decided that she wanted to give the cycling a go and so was going to join me on the roughly 200km cycle to Cali. It can be enough of a struggle on a touring bike specifically designed to carry all my bags and with a great gearing ratio but to cycle the route on a rented mountain bike carrying a heavily laden backpack is literally a backbreaking effort.

Laura, myself and Gonzalo who we met on the road out of Salento. He brought us along a nice flat dirt road with no traffic the first 12 km into the town of Armenia.
Menu del dia, didn't even have to pay extra for the hens foot.
Mmmmm.... Mingin'
I was highly impressed with Laura’s work and she didn’t complain once! Don’t think I would have managed! We were lucky enough to break up the journey when we stayed in Tulua with Carlos and his lovely family. I met Carlos through “” the website where cyclists look after other touring cyclist by providing them with a warm shower and a bed if you are lucky. This was the first time that I had used WarmShowers in Colombia and it was fantastic meeting Carlos and his family who made Laura and I feel very much at home. Carlos invited us out that evening to give us a tour of his home town and for an ice-cream with his friends. Also being a keen cyclist himself Carlos cycled the first 30 km with us the next day in the Cali direction and gave us some handy tips for side roads to avoid the heavy traffic into the busy metropolis of Cali. Thanks Carlos! By about 4 o’clock that afternoon Laura and I had managed to weave our way into central Cali.

Carlos Snr., Carlos and Laura as we get ready to hit the road for the day
Carlos and Laura

Laura and I bid farewell to Carlos as we continue towards Cali

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