Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Colombia : The South... Salento & Periera

So it has been several months since my last post.  And it has been nine months since the time I was experiencing the sights that I'm about to post on.  Slacker.  So what has been going on?  Well, I'm currently in Iquique, Chile seeking advice from a KTM mechanic here.  The bike rallied strong but now the ticking cam chains have become so loud I can no longer ignore them.  So rather than chance breaking down in the middle of nowhere Bolivia, I decided on a fast paved route south through Chile's Atacama desert.  I managed to make a novice mistake and leave Arica without topping off my tanks, which lead to running out of gas in the driest desert in the world.  Nice move.

But none of this has anything to do with why I am so behind the times on this here blog.  Mostly, lots and lots of traveling and less than par internet connectivity has left the blog in Colombia while I have long gone south.  In exchange for getting way behind on my blog, I've gained love.  Strange trade I know, but somehow I managed to fall in love and gain a passenger in this haphazard parade of South America.  This little lady, Ms. Laura M. Cartier has added such a new dimension to my journey it is impossible for me to imagine being without her.

Laura suggested that I attempt to get caught up by sticking to photos.  So with no further ado, I pick up here in the amazing Valle de Corcora, in the southern Colombian town of Salento...

Most tourists who visit Salento, Colombia are headed to the Valle de Corcora.  This is a view looking towards the entrance of the park.  Hiking trails are abundant here and if one hiked far enough, they'd end up in the Parque Nacional Los Nevados. (See earlier post.)

The Valle de Corcora is famous for its incredible wax palms.  These trees are the national trees of Colombia.  Reaching over 80 feet in height they are an amazing sight to see.

Though not a wax palm this tree reaches similar heights and makes a great silhouette with the setting sun in the distance.

Salento is a beautiful little colonial town nestled between coffee country and the mountains.  I was fortunate to spend a fair amount of time riding in the hills surrounding town and met some great locals.  Not far over the pass towns are still controlled by the FARC guerrillas so I couldn't venture too far into the mountains.  I didn't have any issues though, and the people that I met were super friendly and happy to take a moment to chat.  

This father and son were preparing some reclaimed wood for a construction project on their property just above town.

A view of the spectacular two-track road heading up and out of town.

More wax palms and mountains on the other side of the pass from Salento.  I spent several hours here soaking up the solitude.  While the Tolima region is a known FARC occupied area, I certainly didn't feel the effects.  

The Salento area is primed and ready for adventure tourism.  Here a singletrack trail begs for mountain biking or dirt biking.  I met several local Colombians who come from surrounding areas in the region to practice both sports.

A local boy and his younger brother deliver lunch to their family in the fields on my way back down into Salento.

A local farmhand waits for a ride in the central plaza of Salento while camouflaged military men converse behind.

Another local Colombian near the plaza in Salento.

Taking care of Jesus before Easter...

John, Anna, and Peter... my English crew.  We all met in Medellin a week earlier but had lots of fun in Salento.  We stayed at Plantation House hostal.  It wasn't spectacular in any way but served as a good base for exploring the area.

A local man watches as we attempt to play Tajon.  Similar to horseshoes the players throw lead discs at a  box filled with moist clay.  A folded up triangle of paper contains gunpowder and rests on the edge of a metal ring in the clay.  The idea is to get your disc to embed in the clay.  Anywhere in the box is worth 1 point, in the ring is worth 2 points and if you make the gunpowder flare up by hitting the paper triangle just right makes 3 points, I think.  Since we gringos were sucking so bad at this local sport and doing much better at downing local 'Poker' beer, we only succeeded at making the gunpowder flare up once.  But like any sport that involves drinking beer, we had lots of fun trying.

Peter McNeill is a charismatic character that has a story for every moment.  His English accent decorates his stories making each and every one a wild ride.  I was sad when he and John and Anna had to go.  But on their way out, they rounded back around the block and told me some local boys were on the next corner with a couple of KTM bikes.  So as the adage goes... one door closes, another opens.

Jose, Andres and their wives and I after a tasty lunch in Salento.  These guys had just finished dirtbiking and were loading up their bikes when I came around the corner on Peter's heads up.  They invited me to lunch; typical super friendly Colombians.  We had a great afternoon chilling in Salento eating trout and patacones and drinking aguardiente (sugar cane alcohol that tastes like black jelly beans).  Andres told me that he had a road bike too and that when I was finished with Salento, I should come stay with him and his wife in nearby Pereira.


Pereira is one of the cities that comprises the 'Eje Cafetera' or Coffee Axle.  And to no surprise Andres' business was coffee.  The next couple of days we spent touring the area and visiting his farm that he runs with his brother-in-law.  

We pulled up next to this guy on the way out to the farm.  Though I'm riding with tons of gear on a big huge moto, it was hard not to be in awe of this payload!

Stopping for a fresh pineapple snack.

Baby coffee plant.

Thousands of coffee plants waiting to be planted on a plantation in Salento.

Reject coffee beans drying in the sun.

Ripe coffee beans before and after peeling.

Peeled and washed A-grade coffee drying.

Coffee bush branch full of coffee berries.  A single ripe red berry amongst unripe green berries.  Red and yellow berries are ready for picking.  It requires several rounds of the plants to harvest, as all the berries mature at different times.

Andres' brother-in-law Roberto showing me a fungus that attacks the leaves on their coffee bushes.  This is only one of the challenges of growing coffee.

Token cheesy photo of me holding some ripe coffee berries.

Andres watching Roberto inspect the harvest for quality and looking for signs of insect infestation, another troubling problem the coffee farmers face.

How about a handful of sticky sweet coffee berries and a stellar moustache?

A plantation worker keeping an eye on the feeders that bring coffee from the hopper upstairs to the peelers.

Hoppers feed fresh coffee berries into the giant drum peeler.

Another view of the peeling and washing room.

A washing machine reduces the amount of water needed to wash coffee beans after they've been peeled. The traditional method uses huge tanks of water and requires a person to stir the beans with a huge paddle.  Now, this machine washes the beans with pressure, which reduces the time and water needed to wash the beans.  Now instead of feeling slimy from the sugars that surround the bean in the berry, the beans feel like smooth pebbles from a river.

Washed coffee beans in the drying area.

Dried and graded coffee beans bagged and awaiting transport to market.

It was really cool to see Andres' and Roberto's farm.  They showed me more land that they'd just purchased from a neighbor lady who'd recently been widowed and would no longer be able to work her land.  They also showed me their goats, that they used to mitigate weeds around the bushes and create fertilizer.  And they again showed me the aguardiente bottle.  We sipped our anise flavored liquor while watching the sun go down.  I listened to the plantation workers gossiping and felt lucky to have such a personal tour and view into the world of Colombian coffee.  Maybe Juan Valdez wasn't here but his spirit certainly lives on in El Roble.

Andres and I with our motos at his house in Pereira.

Guard dogs... 

Next up... A quick visit to Lago Colima on my way to Cali and beyond.


Unknown said...

Great to have you back online! Sorry we missed you and Laura when you were in MN.

Unknown said...

In Vail - snow is awesome, opening the new High Noon lift tomorrow and 12" forecast for Sat. Has been the best early season snow in a long time......