Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Solento AKA coffee region

Travelling through Colombia definitely seems to have a pattern to it - spend a weekend in a fun city having muchos fiesta before spending the mid week in some stunningly beautiful piece of the countryside and then on to another city for another long weekend. Not a bad pattern it has to be said and at this point the pattern was in full sync. Dave, Sebastian and myself headed out from the Calidad House and Cali in general to a small place called Solento in the coffee region.

To get there it was only a few hours on a comfy bus (most of them are pretty good here) to Armenia (well known for a large earthquake a few years back) and then on. The only problem is we missed the last onwards bus, but a bit of haggling, a taxi con lots of crazy driving and techno on loud, a good feel by the police at a checkpoint, 30 odd mins, and a lot of fun later we arrived in little SOLENTO. A pretty town with a nice plaza and the best restaurant, food wise, I've been to in SA (thank you Lucy's) and for reasons I will not go into, an English fire engine. The only hostel is called the Plantation House. Owned by an English guy and his wife, it has a stunning setting looking over the stark lush green hills covered in coffee plants and various palms. The only downer is a lassie type dog with a foot fetish.

We had a really chilled out 3 nights there re energising and taking in the surroundings. We also had two exceedingly worthwhile trips. The first of these was out to a coffee finca (no idea of spelling - basically a COFFEE plantation). Only an hour or so walk away, we were taken around a plantation owned by some really friendly locals, shown many plants and how everything is done. This was really nice, but the highlight of the trip beyond a soaking jeep ride home, was a bit of a Europe/South America clash of football cultures during a kick around with some local kids - I put my own poor showing down solely to altitude and nothing to do with any possible lack of skill - great fun!!

The second excursion was off to a national park I believe to be called Cocora or something similar. This was really special. The Colombian national tree, the wax palm, grows to absurd heights over the sharp hills (I believe to 60 m odd and from the ones we saw I have little reason to doubt this) which combine to creat quite a backdrop. With Mill (commy teacher cool welsh guy, with more than a fetish for Brava and a poncy Kevin Pieterson stripe in his hair - sorry it is poncy) and Dub (french diving ex-rugby playing dude) hired some horses to do a bit of a trek. After a bit of a struggle we managed to acquire some horses that were quite unlike others I have ridden in SA - they were damn fast and generally healthy. A trek through this landscape up towards and then into the CLOUD-FOREST was something else. After crossing the first river these horses did a great job climbing up slippery stone and mud paths through the forest. The atmosphere was dark, cloudy and quite mysterious. The plants at these altitudes are interesting and at times a little alien. I did not even mind getting soaked through.

The largest adrenalin experience on this trip was undoubtedly the ride back (even beats the prison). All the horses were quite happy to giddy-up, but it seemed Mills and mine were most keen. This meant a literal FULL GALLOP for God knows how long along a thin bumpy path with intimidating barbed fences on either side. Hanging on for dear life with strange shouts of exhilaration and possibly a little anxiety whelping out from the two of us, as the horses carried us (it would not be fully accurate to say we were riding them at this point - that I believe necessitates control) through a valley with the wax-palms clinging to the steep hill-sides. When we finally pulled them up the others, at some pace themselves, were still 5 odd minutes behind and when they did catch up all our horses wanted to do was go full gallop up the final ascent of the return trek. So much fun - this is my third time on horse in SA and it will certainly not be the last - I'm more than considering one of the big treks in the Andes.

This was of course followed by suitable relaxation and chilling back in Solento (and an interesting experience with the local youth). More of similarish nature was planned (a quick note on plans - I have always liked to think them up and constantly change them but on some coercion by those around me and with more time then before I am slowly learning to use them less - things seem to work out better that way) for the next day but on waking up to considerable rain the momentum shifted to Medillin, the next weekend city on the current route. A quick little bus and a flagged down bigger one got us to Perriera. From there the journey was an interesting meant to be 6 hours (was about 8 or so) on to MEDILLIN. All was going well until a wee whole set of landslides resulting from torrential rain caused a real bugger of a delay as we were, as one might say, champing at the bit for the Friday night out. The worst effected I believe was Mill and the beers picked up at a couple of waiting places did not help mattes sufficiently as they were quickly gone through before we entered the big city - Colombia's second and famous for being the coke capital of the world.
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