Travel in Salento Columbia
The sun lights up Salento, Colombia. Photo by Flickr/Arden

I have to come to terms with the astoundingly beautiful coffee plantations, whose bright red beans dot endless folds of steep mountain terrain.  I have to get over these coffee tours, coffee bean motifs and the maraca-like rustle of dried beans being raked up in the morning. I will make peace with the fact that I’m in good-to-the-last-drop Zona Cafetera, Colombia sitting on the porch of a hundred year old coffee plantation. And drinking Nescafe.

I drink instant coffee today, tomorrow, throughout this region and just like everyone else.  Despite being the richest coffee growing country in all of South America, Colombia is still poor. That means the good beans, the money earners, get to go abroad while the dry ones stay home. Locals naturally prefer instant to the dregs of the harvest. It’s also a country new to tourism. There have only been about 15 years of relative safety since former presidents Clinton and Bush implemented the controversial Plan Colombia in order to help purge Colombia of its drug cartels. Locals don’t quite get us tourists, with our peculiar safety standards and penchant for a fresh cup of coffee.

Travel to Salento, Columbia

Even the worst coffee snob can forgive all this once they reach the tiny mountain town of Salento. After traveling around Colombia with my two children, I’ve finally arrived at the Colombia I’d dreamed about: the home of my imaginary friend from seventies TV, Juan Valdez.  Humming birds on the veranda. Men with donkeys. Cows mooing under your window. Trail rides on feisty ranch horses that gallop up the river past a defunct rodeo stadium. Bamboo groves so thick and tall, they blot out the sun and instantly dwarf anyone who enters.  Noisy rivers below lined with restaurants offering giant trout meals and bandeja paisa, the traditional meal of rice, beans, meat, egg, plantain, avocado and arepa (flatbread) all for about three dollars.

Despite being billed as the most touristy place in all of the Zona Cafatera, Salento does not sell a single postcard. There are more people on horseback in the center of town than cars. My son notes the rare and lucky coincidence of finding a toilet with a seat and toilet paper. Most tourists here are backpackers, finishing or starting a year of trekking around South America. With their beggars-can’t-be-choosers mentality, instant coffee works.

No matter which way we go, we always seem to be on mountain ridges- hiking, riding, strolling, dipping down into a cold mountain river for a swim, then laying out on hot dark rocks. Roosters crow above you and donkey bells clank below. These ridges make it impossible to avoid a spectacular view.

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