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Coffee Region- Chinchina, Salento.

More caffeine for the soul.

semi-overcast 14 °C

We took off from Manizales to head south towards Salento. On the way we stopped to spend the day at a working coffee plantation called Hacienda Guayabal in the small town of Chinchina. The plantation itself covers entire hillsides and is next door to other plantations with the same spread, so all you see when you arrive at the top of the hill where the small hotel and reception is, is rolling green hills covered in darker green coffee plants.

We arrived and the tour was already in progress so we hopped on board to learn all about coffee; how it grows, how its processes, and who does it all. It turns out it takes almost 7 months to grow a baby coffee plant to the point where you can put it in the ground, and even then if won't produce coffee seeds (green coffee beans covered in a sheer husk and a tougher bright red one on the outside) for 2 years. Only the female coffee plants are used for coffee production as the males produce about 1/4 of what a female plant- characterized by larger, rounder leaves- can produce. Coffee plants have about a 28 year lifespan and will produce about 25 pounds of coffee in their life. Aside from a wealth of knowledge about coffee growing, we also say where and how they harvest, (all the time but the biggest crop is in Nov-Dec and again in March), husk (in a huge stinky compost bin), sort (with water- the good beans sink the bad ones who have had their meat eaten out by insects float), and dry (in a huge 2-tiered basin where they bean are rotated by hand so that they dry evenly).

At the end of the tour, we got to taste the coffee produced on that farm. They roasted it for us right there, ground it and pressed it. One of the main differences in the coffee we were drinking at the plantation and the stuff we buy at the store is which type of beans it is made with. Mass produced coffee is a mix of large "flavor" beans and smaller "aroma" beans which grow side by side on the same plants. Starbucks and Juan Valdez (the local version of the 'Bucks) serve a blend which is 50/50 flavor/aroma. We tried 100% flavor-bean coffee. Its stronger, slightly bitter and more earthy tasting. They also told us that despite the blend, about 80% of coffee's flavor comes from the roast.

The tour was really interesting, gorgeous, given by a farmer who has lived on and then worked coffee plantations his whole life and was just so happy living and breathing coffee. We has spent much longer than we anticipated but it was well worth it.

That afternoon we made our way down to Salento, a small town just outside Armenia (the capital of Quindio), and our last stop on the coffee region tour. This time of year many Colombian cities are "en fiesta" or in party. Salento, although a small town, was no exception. Their main square perched atop the hill the city is built on was in full party mode. The music blasting from every tent lining the border of the main square could be heard all over the town (which is a total of about 20 square block and a mix of cobblestone streets, paved and dirt roads. Its a cute little adventurous backpackers paradise famous for its "trucha" or trout fished out of the local river and served up al gusto!

We arrived at our hostel- a really cool former plantation house run by a Brit, Tim, and his Colombian wife, Cristina. It was a really homey place and perfect for us. Our first day we actually trekked back into Aremenia (a 40 min bus ride back down into the valley) to check out the botanical gardens and the Mariposario or butterfly house- check out pics on Shutterfly in the Coffee Region album to see. In the evening we wandered the packed streets of Salento among the street vendors, Artisans and restaurants.

Day 2 was much more adventureous; we rented Wellington boots, "Wellis" as we were calling them, caught a jeep from the town center and headed to the Valle de Cocora, famous for all the Palmas de Cera or wax palms (Colombia's National Tree) that cover the hillside. You can rent horses or walk and we decided to hike it. The trailhead is in the valley floor and heads out for about a little over an hour along a muddy trail walking you right through the middle of the valley. You are surrounded by cows, streams, green hills, wax palms and the impressive cloud forest that borders the whole valley. After enjoying our rubber boots, maybe a little too much, we hit the cloud forest. From there it is supposedly 2km up to Acaime, a national park up in the mountains where you can see hummingbirds, butterflies, and all manner of flora. This so called '2km' is more like 4, all uphill, takes you across quite a few creeks, mud patches (no worries thanks to the Wellis) and Indiana Jones bridges, and its gorgeous! Green, cool, and straight out of some National Geographic article about Colombian jungles.

We finally reached the top, luckily the signs point you in the right direction even if they don't come close to having correct distance measures. We rested, took in the view, and enjoyed the fresh air before continuing on. From Acaime, you have the option of going back the way you came through the valley, or hiking up another mountain peak with better views and making a big loop. We had all day, so we chose the latter.

The hike up to La Montana, the view point, was quite a bit steeper, equally poorly marked and still worth it. The view from the top is of the entire valley and cloud forest you just spend 3 hours hiking. Its amazing. The pictures of the valley and palms say more that I ever could. Once you reach La Montana and you have been greeted by the world's largest rooster you can make your way back down the mountain where we passed a cattle drive (causing a slight traffic jam because a landslide had made the path just wide enough for the cows to pass), giant redwood-like trees, and hiked right beside the 200ft tall palm trees. The whole day was awesome and we didn't feel too bad about ourselves after having accomplished such a feat.

The next day we had originally intended to visit the Coffee Park- essentially Colombian Disneyland dedicated to coffee. However, we didnt really feel like being that touristy and it was not really in the stars to get our there so we instead stopped at this little town just down the mountain from Salento called Boquia. Marty tells me it reminds him a lot of his family's cabin in Plumis, CA, and we just took a little hike along the river before lunching on fresh rainbow trout and obleas of coffee arequipe (Obleas are 2 giant wafers held together by any assortment of arequipe -Colombian dulce de leche- jams, cheese and cream). Delicious!

We had ended our adventure on a good note and were headed back to Bogota having accomplished quite a bit in the last 3 weeks. To see how it all really looked, check out the pictures at http://beyondbogota.shutterfly.com

Posted by tuffchix 08:02 Archived in Colombia Tagged ecotourism

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