I opted to fly across the border, this time from Quito to Cali. I had stayed the night in a motel close to the airport after flying back from The Galapagos and managed to get laundry done, bags re-packed, and, for the first time since June 4, I watched TV in English including my beloved BBC World News. Incidentally, at the airport, I ran into the group of four whom I’d met at The Secret Garden in Cotopaxi and was planning to climb Cotopaxi with. They told me that the weather that night had been an all-out sub zero blizzard and they’d been forced to turn around after only two hours. While I felt badly for them, it was somewhat of a relief to me and helped soften the blow of getting injured at the worst moment.
My flight went smoothly, stopping briefly in Esmeraldas to go through immigration. I met two Canadian girls from Vancouver and Victoria, Gisele and Heather, who also happened to have the same travel plans as I did – to skip Cali and catch a bus to Salento: a pretty little village in the heart of the coffee region that also offered great hiking in the Valle de Cocoro.
We got on the same bus, being assured that it was an express (I was informed the journey should be no more than 2 to 2 1/2 hours) bus and that it had air conditioning. Once again, the consistency with which unsuspecting (well, in my case I now just expect it) tourists are blatantly lied to in order to make a sale was achieved. Not only was the journey much longer, not 2, not 3, but 4 and a 1/2 hours…but there was no a/c, AND NO WINDOWS. The only source of ventilation was the bus door, which they only opened intermittently as police checkpoints had to be assured that the bus was practicing passenger safety by having the door shut.
It was like sitting in a slow cooker. A new kind of torture. Not a good start to my first day in a new country.
Luckily, the 3 of us left the bus together and were able to find a dorm all together at The Plantation House Hostel. We wearily collapsed after having a wonderful meal together at a small restaurant owned by an American who moved here after working for Microsoft in Redmond for over ten years!
The following day we embarked on a 12 km hike up the Valle De Cocora in the Parque National de los Nevados to see the famous Wax Palms. Wax Palms are the tallest palm trees in the world and seem so tall as if to be unstable. In true South American style (no regard to safety) we rode a jeep to the trailhead, standing on the bumper and hanging on for dear life as it careened along winding mountain roads.
I was happy to discover that my hip only gave me a little bit of trouble – though I am paying for it now several days later as it is still aching daily 😦 The valley itself was a lush green, with a rushing stream, thick jungle vegetation and these numerous rickety Indiana Jones-like suspension bridges that we had to cross as we slogged uphill through the mud.
At the half-way point, we had a welcome break at a Hummingbird center where they offered us hot chocolate and a giant wedge of cheese (strange combo, but delicious) for the cost of admission. The three of us sat there happily, watching the eight different species of hummingbird, munching away on our goodies which included the best peanut butter brownies I’ve tasted that had been acquired that morning at the breakfast joint Brunch.
After another uphill slog, we found ourselves at the Mirador and looked down over the valley full of these towering trees. It was beautiful and many photos were snapped.
Our day ended perfectly with a nice wander around the picturesque old village, a refreshing cold shower, and then goodies and a movie, in ENGLISH, at the same place we’d had breakfast. A coffee shop with its own private in-house mini cinema! I was in heaven, drinking my smoothies and noshing on quesadillas.
I managed to convince the girls the following day to join me in a stay at one of the Haciendas that dot this landscape and indulge in a few more days of blissful relaxation in the countryside. We ended up taking a bus to Manizales and stayed at the Hacienda Venezia which was exactly as I’d imagined it to be: white colonial main building set in lush tropical gardens, coffee bushes surrounding the property on hillsides as far as the eye could see, peacocks roaming the property (ok, I hadn’t envisioned that detail,) hammocks on a wrap-around veranda, and a lovely swimming pool for dipping in and getting cooled off from the afternoon sun.
It was the perfect location for a few days of nothing. And getting jacked up on espresso, which was available free of charge anytime you wanted.