Monday, March 7, 2016


I had been staying places longer than I originally planned, and I felt like I really needed to start moving a little faster. With that in mind, I planned one night in Salento. As I was checking into the hostel, I heard the woman at the desk tell another guest who had only booked one night but who "might stay longer," that everyone says that, and everyone ends up staying longer. Turns out that would be me as well.
It was a short ride to Salento - which I was grateful for with the late start and the little bit of lingering pain in the finger. But even so, I still made a stop on the way. I mean, how could I not stop at the giant cow?

This is a lot of effort for a little dairy stand on the side of the road.
After some strawberries with fresh cream (delicious!) I continued the last little bit down the curvy road, passing quite a few people on bicycles as I went. I had picked out a hostel already, so I headed straight there.

The hostel was... well, fancy, I guess is the best word for it. Everything looked freshly painted, there were glass doors and a porch with an absolutely heavenly view, the mattresses were firm and seemed brand new, each bed had a gigantic cozy comforter, and the bathrooms had copper fixtures. And yet, the price was less than $10 a night for a room in the 4-bed dorm. I'm not sure if they're keeping prices low to start and then upping them later (they're still relatively new, I believe), but it seemed like a good deal for how nice the place was.

So after seeing the hostel, and then stepping out onto the balcony and enjoying the view... I could already see staying a few more days. I took advantage of the early afternoon arrival to go for a walk around town, and walked up to the viewpoint on the other side of town in case I did end up leaving in the morning - I didn't want to miss it.

On the way, I walked by a place that had a sign out front advertising soup in bread bowls, "American-Style." Alright, I'll give it a shot. I headed in to the restaurant, called simply "Brunch," and ordered a bowl of broccoli cheese soup because I didn't understand the other soup they had. Luckily for me, they screwed up my order and brought me the other one: cream of peanut butter soup. In a bread bowl. With their own home-made peanut butter. Yes, it was as delicious as it sounds (if you're American - if you're not, you're probably wondering why anyone would want to eat that). After seeing more of the menu, I made plans to come back in the morning at the very least, and maybe a few more times if I decided to stay longer.

When I got to the viewpoint, that's when I knew I'd be staying at least another day.

The view of the town in the other direction wasn't bad either.
The buildings in town are really cool too. This is the main shopping road.
Saw this guy just hanging out in the street.
Alright, so I'm staying longer. What am I gonna do while I'm here? I went back to the hostel to enjoy their half-price-craft-beer happy hour (yes please), and while I was sitting there I saw the girl who had checked in at the same time as me (another maybe-just-one-night-er) sitting at a nearby table, so I invited her over to sit with me and we chatted about what there was to do, and about travels in general. Ioanna (she says, "just say it like 'you wanna,' it's close enough") was from Cyprus, but didn't take nearly as much offense as the only other Cypriot I've met in my lifetime when I accidentally referred to her as Greek.

We spent the evening chatting along with a few other guests at the hostel, and took advantage of the free salsa lessons as well. But once that finished up, we mostly called it an early night with plans to meet up in the morning - and of course, all planning on staying a few more days than we originally intended. I wanted some time to relax, so I slept in the next morning, and then made my way over to Brunch again for some breakfast - this time ordering some corn beef hash. This restaurant, while it wasn't even remotely close to local food, was really hitting the spot for me. You could plop the exact same restaurant down in San Diego and I'd probably go there once a week and never get tired of it.

In the afternoon Ioanna and I had planned on going on a coffee plantation tour, but when the time rolled around she wasn't feeling well, and I wasn't really feeling up for it either. The previous afternoon I'd asked the owner if I could play the guitar that I saw sitting inside the restaurant, and he had hesitantly said yes. This time he wasn't around, so I asked someone else in the kitchen, and took it out on the patio. I ended up taking requests from four Argentinian girls and a Swiss guy, and learned a few songs on the fly while they belted out the words.

Since the coffee plantation was out, I ended up going with the Argentian girls to a waterfall they'd heard about. We caught a bus just down the road a bit and then hiked through some gorgeous hills, over some rickety bridges, and through a tunnel to get to a waterfall.

Through the (very muddy) tunnel.

One of the "bridges." The left handrail is propped up by a stick halfway across.

The other bridge, with a sign that said "no more than one person at a time."

Swimming in the waterfal.

We hiked down and relaxed by the waterfall. I was the only one who went in, and I didn't stay long because it was so cold. The girls sat around and talked for a while, and rather than try to decipher their Argentinian accent, I headed up in the brush and made it around to the top of the waterfall, where I sat and relaxed for a while. It's always much quieter at the top of the waterfall than down at the bottom where the water makes so much noise... there's probably a proverb buried in there somewhere.

We headed back to the hostel around dinner time, and the owner came running out to me. "You took the guitar!" Um, no I didn't. "Well it's not here! And you also didn't ask if you could play it." No, I asked if I could, just not you. And if it's not there, someone else took it... are you sure it's not there, because I can see the case from here? Sure enough, the guitar was in the case. "Oh, well, one of the waiters told me it wasn't in there." To myself I thought, if you were so worried, why didn't you take the thirty seconds to look?

After managing the owner's little crisis, I spent the evening hanging out at the hostel again. With such a beautiful view, a great patio, and food right there, why go anywhere else? A few of us talked about going out and partying but it seemed like not many people had the energy for it. Ioanna and I met Carola from Switzerland that night, and ended up making plans to go to Valle de Cocora together the next day.

Ioanna and Carola and I woke up and went to get some breakfast at (yes, again) Brunch. After stuffing myself with a Belgian waffle, I also ordered a packed lunch from them, and then we headed to the square to catch a jeep. Breakfast took a little longer than we expected, so we had to get a "private" ride instead of the normal scheduled one, but that worked out just fine.

There was another group of three people who were heading the same direction, so we all six split a jeep together and headed to the valley. On the way we got to know the three others: Jacob, from Atlanta (another American!); Christoph, who, despite getting his Korean looks from his mother's side is actually from Germany; and Karin, who, like all Dutch people I meet, was taller than me.

We got dropped off and started trekking off into the hills. After going for a little while, someone asked if we were going the right way - it had seemed like it the whole time, but now we weren't quite sure. Everyone looked around to see who had a map... and as it turned out, none of us did. Even though they had them free at our hostel and at breakfast, none of us had grabbed one, I guess all assuming that someone else had one. So someone pulled out their maps on their phone - not super detailed for the area but had some trails marked. We noted that the trail we were on didn't look to go the right way, and might even be part of the 3-day hike some people do. We opted not to continue on a three day hike with less than a day's worth of provisions, and continued up to a turn-off we saw that appeared to cut back over to the main trail.

Well, it did get back to the main path, it turns out - but not until it snaked a trail up and then back down a rather steep hill. Switchback after switchback, we hauled our way up the hill and then back down the other side, climbing over a gate on each end that blocked off the path, and hoping that didn't mean we were on someone's private property and were going to get shot for trespassing. But we finally made it back down to a real trail where we ran into some other hikers for the first time that day. They confirmed that we were back on the official trail, and we headed down towards the valley.

When we got there... it was stunning. Green rolling hills with enormous palm trees sticking up out of it, and clouds wafting low through everything, giving it an eerie quality.

Beautiful views.
Sometimes we'd see a hill like this, and then it would just completely disappear in a cloud.
We found a little spot on the side of a hill to sit down and have our lunches, and opened up our pack lunches to discover a note!

As if I didn't like this restaurant enough already.
After eating our lunches (I had a PB&J, some fruit, and a peanut-butter-chocolate cake), we continued down the hill and out into an open field, where we plopped down and relaxed for a while. Someone had brought a bluetooth speaker, so we sat and listened to music, ran up and down the hill, practiced our handstands, and took pictures in front of the trees.

Click for bigger, and see if you can spot Jacob at the bottom.

The group. From me going clockwise: Karin, Christoph, Ioanna, Carola, and Jacob.

Big open field. Perfect for running around and making loud monkey noises.
We finally decided to walk back, and made our way down through a gate that we'd completely missed on the way up - also noting that anyone coming up through that gate had to pay a small fee to get in, so we missed that too I guess. We caught a jeep back down the hill, and then all headed back to our hostels to shower off the sweat from our harder-than-it-needed-to-be detour.

I spent the afternoon once again on the patio with the guitar from the restaurant and the four Argentinian girls, with them giving me songs to play and me learning the chords as fast as possible while they sang the words. I also did a few of the raps that I've been practicing, with the girls belting out the choruses, which led to the uptight restaurant manager coming over and asking me to please stop playing because the restaurant already had music playing over the speakers inside. I can see this guy being a good restaurant manager, but he was striking out as a hostel manager in my opinion.

Ioanna and Carola and I met up with another resident of our hostel to go out and get some dinner that night, and we'd planned on meeting the other three from the hike that day in front of the juice stand on the corner of the square. The four of us waited and had a few beers for close to an hour before finally giving up and going and getting dinner on our own. We found out later they'd been standing right behind the stand, and we'd been sitting at a table right in front of it, with none of us seeing the other group! Despite it being the last night in town for Ioanna and Carola, none of us really had the energy to go out dancing like we'd planned, so we went back to our super comfy beds at the hostel for a good night's sleep.

The next morning, Carola and Ioanna got all packed up and ready to leave. I'd decided to stay one more day and was trying to convince them to hang around as well. Carola was actually at the point of doing hugs goodbye with her backpack on when a guy walked out from his hostel room - it was the singer of the band we'd heard practicing back there earlier in the morning. Apparently they were playing at the hostel that night, and then playing some other places in town later. He managed to convince the two girls to hang around just one more night for it, which I'm sure had nothing to do with his dashing good looks.

I spent the day being lazy, leaving to wander around town a few times - including a trip for some coffee at Willy's, which is brewed in the back of a jeep.

Pretty cool looking jeep too.
That evening we met up at the hostel around dinner time, this time managing to get Jacob, Christoph, and Karin to come over to our place as well. We all had some dinner, some nachos, and a few beers, and waited while the "openers" played before Che Parce, the band we'd heard practicing.

The band absolutely rocked - their music was awesome, and I loved their setup - they had one guy playing bass ukulele, which was sometimes set up to sound like a ukulele, and sometimes set up to pull off a pretty decent bass guitar sound, despite the small stature of the instrument.

Some of the openers joined them towards the end of the set for a big jam session.
Once they finished playing, we settled our bill (which required us explaining to the manager that he had double charged us for half of our drinks and food), and then headed out to the bars. Sebastian, the singer/guitarist from the band, came out with us and brought his guitar with as well, so we paraded through the streets while playing guitar and belting out songs.

I took a turn as well for a few songs.
Che Parce was supposed to be playing at the Mojiteria, but the guys who were playing before them were taking a long time, so we eventually wandered our way to a salsa bar to do some dancing.

Group shot on the way to dance!
We salsa danced for quite a while, trading partners and occasionally pulling up someone from the seats to the side to dance with us. On prompting from Carola, I pulled up a girl who looked like she really wanted to dance but just needed a partner, and then proceeded to get schooled - she was very experienced, and while she did seem to enjoy getting to dance some, she seemed frustrated with my inexperience. This is why I want to learn salsa, but find it next to impossible to get into - there's this expectation that the guy always has to be better than the girl, which makes it really frustrating starting out.

After a while we wandered back out into the street and people started heading separate directions - Karin and I agreed that while salsa was fun for a while, something with a little less restriction was better for a long night of dancing. We wandered to try to find some reggaeton, but didn't have any luck. A few of the group headed home to hostels, while Ioanna, Carola and I decided to head with Sebastian back to the Mojiteria.

There was still someone playing, but not long after we arrived, Sebastian took over playing guitar and singing (I'm not sure where the rest of the band had wandered off to at this point). Someone from the crowd came up with some bongos and sat down and started playing, and someone else came up with another percussion instrument. I decided to join the fun too, so I went over and picked up the güiro and started playing along. I spent the next hour or so switching between the güiro and the cajón, which I guess proved my finger was finally doing better as I banged my hand over and over on the side of a box.

When Sebastian finished playing we all headed back to the hostel to get some rest and get ready to leave in the morning - this time for real, as we all had places we wanted to get to the next day. I made one last trip to Brunch in the morning, this time on the motorcycle - which prompted the owner to come by and talk to me, and get a picture as well for his wall of travelers. Us motorcyclists get special privileges the other travelers don't get.

Salento was everything I was looking for on this trip - wonderful natural things, good hikes, cool people, music, delicious food, and a fun little town to just spend time hanging out in and walking around. If I'd stuck to my plan of only one day, I would have missed out on all of that. And I honestly could have stayed another week without getting bored - but I had places to go and things to see.

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