Adventures in Coffee Country

Trip Start Jan 04, 2010
Trip End Mar 23, 2010

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Where I stayed
Finca Alejandria

Flag of Colombia  , Quindío,
Tuesday, February 23, 2010

On the recommendationn of a friend from Colombia (Alan) we booked a flight to Armenia, which is a jumping off point to explore the Zona Cafetera (coffee country). We had little idea of what to expect but everyone we spoke to about the region (who knew of it) raved about its natural beauty.

Thanks to Carlos we were able to book a cheap flight, which took only 35 minutes versus an 8 hour bus ride. We arrived at Finca Alejandria, a working coffee plantation and inn, mid-day and spent the afternoon enjoying its facilities, including a pool and a ping-pong table to mention just a few. However, the highlight was a tour by the owner of the plantation were we saw banana, papaya, avocado, orange, lime, cocoa (chocolate) and coffee trees as well as pineapple and pumpkins growing on the ground. What an amazing diversity of fruits and all no more than twenty meters from our room! Our finca was quite large but for the entire day we didn't see another guest (we learned later that February is low season), However to our surprise when we entered the open-aired dinning room that night there was another table with guests. As fate would have it, they were a mother and daughter from Calgary and Vancouver respectively. For the next couple of days we enjoyed spending breakfast and dinner with them, sharing travel stories and enjoying a little taste of Canadiana which was great after being away for so long.

Our second day we decided to explore the Cocora Valley, which people claimed was one of the most beautiful places in the world. To get there via public transportation was a little bit of an adventure but even after getting on the wrong bus, getting an unexpected city tour of Armenia, we still made it to the lovely little town of Salento (the jumping off point to the Cocora valley). We had a quick bite to eat at a local restaurant in town, quite a feast including soup, trout (a local specialty) rice, veggies, plantains, salad, beans and potatoes and of course freshly squeezed juice for $3!

After lunch we hopped into the back of a Willy, a restored WWII-esque jeep with some Colombian flare (silver stallion hood ornament and racing stripes), and the main mode of transportation to the valley. A bumpy half hour ride up the mountain led us to a spectacular view of the valley and the beautiful wax palm trees, Colombia's national tree that reach up to 60m high! We decided to do a tour of the valley on horseback. We headed off just the two of us with our guide, Hernando (who was on foot). We had a spectacular ride through the valley seeing some of the most breathtaking scenery we'd ever seen in our lives. The terrain was quite challenging for the horses, climbing up and down narrow rocky paths and crossing running rivers. One particularly scary moment was when Mike's horse passed Shannon's horse, who was extremely competitive, resulting in the two horses racing side-by-side in a narrow path barely wide enough for one horse. Both of us let out some yelps, and a few swear words, and we finally got them to settle when Shannon's horse re-gained the lead. On our way up in the first hour and a half, we rode through a lush valley,beautiful rain forest, and running rapids. We dismounted the horses and hiked up about another 0.5km to an eco farm known for its 18 varieties of hummingbirds. Here we enjoyed a local specialty of hot sugarcane water and cheese (a rare combo indeed, but something that is typical there). After our snack we re-mounted our horses once more and made our final ascent to the cloud covered mountain top at over 3000 meters. Our ride down was equally as beautiful but much less technically challenging for the horses. As a result they were able to maintain a trot for most of the journey. The horses may have enjoyed the speed of the trot but Mike found the bouncing particularly painful. Lesson learned, never wear loose-fitting boxers while riding a horse. We concluded our day with a return trip on the Willy jeep, then bus, and finally taxi to our finca where we were greeted by a thunderstorm. At the same time as the storm the owner's dog Tuti disappeared. For the entire evening the staff searched the plantation but there was no sign of her. It made for a little bit of a sad night but we had faith she would be found.

The next morning Tuti was found to the relief of the other Canadians. It turns out their driver had accidentally run over her paw the previous morning. They were feeling guilty thinking they may have done more damage than just nip her paw. They were thinking that they may have killed her.

Anyway, all was good and we headed off for a canopy tour where we flew over banana and coffee trees by zipline. Very fun and just enough speed and height to get the heart pumping. After ziplining we went to a coffee plantation to learn about the coffee-making process. The tour was similar to that of a wine tour but much more in-depth. First they dressed us up in traditional farming clothes, then showed us a traditional dance and concluded with a machete fight where Mike lost and had to give up Shannon to our tour guide. Next was a tour of the plantation and an overview of the entire process from seed to hot beverage. What was really cool was that you actually participated in the operation from planting seeds to picking and drying the beans to finally grinding and brewing the final product. We had an amazing guide who was no more than 18 and spoke no English but was able to speak slowly and clearly enough that we could understand almost everything. We highly recommend the Zona Cafetera to everyone (very safe, amazing scenery and activities and friendly people) though speaking Spanish is an asset as almost no English is spoken here.

Tomorrow...we fly back to Bogota and will meet back up with some more school friends.
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