January 25, 2022
We really like Medellín. The food, the weather, the people and the beauty make it a place we’ll never forget. But true to our nature, after almost a week, we were ready for the next chapter. Today we’d leave for Salento, located in Zona Cafetera, the prime coffee-growing region in a country known for its coffee.
Our driver picked us up on time in a Renault Lago, which by Colombian standards is a pretty big car, though it’s somewhat smaller than a Toyota Corolla. We headed south through Medellín on a highway that at one point was ten lanes wide, but soon, as we climbed out of the city, it became a typical two-lane road. It was full of traffic, from the ubiquitous small motorcycles to large trucks. The steep winding road slowed the trucks and us (but not the motorcycles who passed even against head-on traffic) and it got cooler as we reached 8,000 feet.
The road twisted relentlessly back down the other side of the pass, everyone trying to pass everyone else as it started to rain. We talked about how lucky we were that the only significant rain on the trip so far was while we were inside a vehicle. Soon, we settled into a valley that followed the churning brown Cauca River, now 6,000 feet lower than where we’d been.
Five hours later, we stopped in Pereira for fuel. Curiously, we were instructed to get out of the car. It turned out that the Renault was powered by natural gas and apparently by law, all passengers have to leave the vehicle while refueling. I wasn’t sure how standing five feet from the car would be any safer during an explosion. Our driver explained that natural gas was US$0.80 per gallon, which was a third of the price of gasoline but there were few places to get it and our car also had a switchable gas tank.
Back on the road, we found that much of the highway along the river was under construction or was being upgraded from recent mudslides and we stopped several times for long stretches. Our driver remarked that once construction is complete, the eight-hour drive to Salento is expected to be cut to only two hours.
When we approached the town of Salento, all vehicles came to a stop. An officer approached our car, asked our driver to show identification, peeked at us in the back seat, then sent us on our way. Our driver explained that all vehicles entering Salento must go through a security checkpoint as part of the town’s efforts to remain the very safe town it’s known to be.
When we finally made it to the town, the driver had to negotiate some narrow steep roads that eventually became mud until we stopped at Hotel Kawa Mountain Retreat, located on a hilltop above the town, where we’d stay for three nights.
It was chilly and still lightly drizzling when we arrived and we were kindly greeted with cups of warm herbal tea. The hotel billed itself as eco-friendly, though it was nowhere near the level of the ecolodge in Minca where we’d stayed a week before. But the hotel was charming, the view of the mountains all around was stunning and the grounds had lush natural landscaping.
Our room was spacious enough but had no air conditioning or heat despite the fact that it got fairly chilly at night at over 6,200 feet elevation. The shower had a hot water faucet though we discovered later that it was somewhat optimistic.
The rain had stopped so after dropping off our luggage, we decided to take a walk before dinner.
It was already about 5:00 pm by the time we’d checked in but we couldn’t resist at least briefly checking out the nearby town. We followed the somewhat muddy dirt path from the hotel to town through the tropical forest.
The short dirt path to town brought us past artsy buildings housing small shops and cafes.
It was nearly sunset, so after a quick stroll we headed back up the hill to our hotel where we had a dinner reservation. Our meal was local vegetarian fare and good, but we knew we could do much better in town.
Before we went to sleep, we loaded up the bed with every available blanket, as the cool damp mountain air had given us a chill.