Grog, Gunpowder & Coffee

Salento is in the heart of Colombia’s Zona Cafetera which says it all really ay. Oh well, sleep is for the weak. I got here two nights ago from Medellín after dark, checked into The Plantation House and met a few people who’d already been there for varying lengths of time. Apparently it’s one of those places that’s hard to leave. Hmm. Really? Isn’t it just a bum fuck little village? And a cold one at that, for the first time since I got to South America (apart from that one, brutal day at the top of Roraima) I rugged up in a scarf and two jumpers, my long trousers and… hang on… what’s that white mist in front of my face? Is that… it can’t be… is that my breath? Shit, I’d forgotten what that looked like!

I mean, if this is the view from town you can imagine how awesome this place is once you get out and about.

Anyway, I crashed out early enough and woke up the next morning but every attempt to get out of bed was foiled every time I pulled the covers back and the cold air hit me. I mean, it’s not like it was sub-zero or anything but when you’ve just spent a few weeks sweating like a blind lesbian in a fish shop, anything less than 24°C calls for hot chocolate in bed whilst you wait for a 6 bar oil heater to warm your room. I wished I had fluffy slippers and a warm dressing gown and my mrs so I could steal her body heat. I settled for making a break to the kitchen after about an hour and a half of whimpering under the covers in search of promised free coffee but I was stopped in my tracks when I tripped up over my jaw that hit the floor when I saw the view beyond the hostel. Salento is stunning! I could already see why people get stuck here.

There’s also a surprising amount of things to do here and not all of them are expensive, one of the best value ones being a day trip to Valle De Cocora. COP$3000 in a jeep one way then you can walk til your feet drop off should you so desire. Or you can hire a horse if you wish to spend an hour or two on a huge animal that could throw you off and trample you to death if it decided that no actually, it didn’t want to cross the freezing cold river today thankyouverymuch. Me and Corey, a guy from the hostel, opted for walking even though it involved an incline that just didn’t give up but we wanted wax palms and views so on we went as the clouds started to roll in. Wax palms were taken care of, we saw heaps of them but as it became apparent that the higher we went the foggier it’d be we re-evaluated. Neither of us were that keen on walking without some kind of reward. We seriously doubted there’d be beer at the top. There certainly wouldn’t be a view… ah nah, fuck it. We headed back down to catch a jeep back to town just as it started to rain.

Valle de Cocora. Even when it’s foggy and rainy it’s still a bit of a stunner.

Now there are two options when the rain rolls in in Salento; you can head home and spend the afternoon in the hostel staring at the walls or you can go to the local Cancha De Tejo. Allow me to explain the fabulous game of Tejo. At either end of a lane there’s a crate at an angle filled with clay and in the middle of this clay is a metal circle. At the top and the bottom of this circle there is a triangle containing gunpowder and you stand at one end of the lane and throw a metal weight at the clay, the aim being to hit the bulls-eye. And if you hit the gunpowder triangles just right… BANG! It’s. So. Cool.

Cancha De Tejo Los Amigos.

It’s free to play as long as you’re buying drinks from the bar and there are two levels of difficulty; the 30ft lane with the 1kg weight for the locals and the 15ft lane with the 500g weights for children and gringos. We had a good go on the smaller lane before we nipped home for a feed and a shower then headed back later for some more attempts to blow shit up. We bought a small bottle of aguardiente (a Colombian sugarcane drink which is the direct result of bottling evil) from the bar and headed to the lanes with the larger weights but just played half the length of the big lanes. Could we be any more Colombian…? Erm, yeah, if we could drink that shit without grimacing or actually managed to hit the bloody target. It’s so much harder with the bigger weights… And that’s when we decided to turn this into a drinking game. Hehehe.

If you totally missed the crate you had to take a shot though we quickly lowered that to half a shot when it became apparent that we basically sucked. On the smaller lane it’s kinda like pool, the more you drink the better you get. On the big boy’s lane you just get worse and start fearing for the light fittings as weights fly far off the intended target and locals look on in amusement. And when you turn a game involving gunpowder into a drinking game, making it go bang becomes the be all and end all. Soooo… yeah… we made it easier for ourselves by simply adding more triangles. Oh, and eliminating the need to throw anything by hitting it with a large, metal stick used for patting the clay down. That says it all. Backpackers can’t be trusted with explosives.

I could probably put Salento in my eyeholes hoe days and not actually ever get bored.

Well it’s obvious init, you’re in the Zona Cafeterafinca while you’re here and it just so happened that Tim, the British owner of Plantation House owned one just up the road and ran tours in English every other day for COP$5000. His finca is called Don Eduardo on account of the fact his name is Tim Edward and Don Tim didn’t sound very Colombian. A valid point well made, Timmy ol’ chap. What I was expecting was a nice, chilled out tour. I didn’t expect to have to battle monsters on the way… ok ok I exaggerate but I’m sorry, something with that many legs has no right to be that size. Yeah, we had to pass a tarantula. Once I’d fought the urge to vomit I got in as close as I could for a photo so there’d be something to compare the size with. I couldn’t get closer than a metre and I swear, if that bastard moved I’d have ended up head first in the mud bath behind me.


Right, this tour. So basically what he does is leads you to the finca, shows you a few things on the way then you sit down while he tells you everything there is to know about growing coffee and it’s actually really interesting. Prepare to be astounded by my coffee knowledge…
Ok, so there are two umbrella types of coffee; Robusta and Aribaca and it’s the latter that’s grown in Colombia on account of the conditions being spot on.

  1. It has to be grown between the two Tropic lines. Yep, got that covered.
  2. There has to be one, preferably two wet seasons. Well given the amount of rain I’d seen since Venezuela I’d say that was sorted.
  3. The soil needs to be volcanic. Ticks the box.
  4. And it has to be grown between pretty fucking high (1200m) and even fucking higher (1800m). Done.
Coffee cherries.

Then literally all you do is stick a bean in the ground and off it goes, even I could do it with my uncanny ability to kill anything green, even cacti. Seriously. I killed a cactus once because I kept forgetting to water it. I killed a desert plant, designed to function without water, by depriving it of water. I should never be allowed to care for any living thing. I digress.

The hopper which removed the cherry skins from the coffee beans.

You can grow either traditional or modern, modern being better for a million reasons I’m too lazy to list here and there are heaps of different varieties of Aribaca, which has less caffeine but tastes infinitely better than it’s Robusta cousin. I should probably steer clear of Robusta, I don’t know if you’ve ever OD’d on caffeine before but I think I overdid it before a couple of bus rides, I’d be sitting there then suddenly my left leg would twitch or shudder, like it was releasing a build up of electricity in my thigh. Not pleasant, especially when you’re trying to sleep. I generally like to retain control of my limbs, I don’t want to wake up one day with my left leg trying to kill me and make a break for freedom.

Drying the beans. The cat is optional.

He went through the entire process from picking the coffee cherry (which contains two beans covered in a slimy, natural sugar. Go on, suck one and see) which gets popped in a big hopper and the beans get soaked in water for up to 72 hours whilst the cherry skins go back into the soil as fertiliser. They they get dried on concrete in the sun and he’s got this mean sliding roof so when it starts to rain you just pull the cover over to protect the beans… Buuuut back to this soaking process. The beans are soaked and the grade 2 beans float and are put aside for use within Colombia and the grade 1 beans sink. They’re good for export.

Vino de café. Coffee wine. I am not sad that this is a thing that exists.

The sugar that’s been soaked out of the beans makes a sweet sludgy thing which they can make a cheap and nasty wine out of. Ha! I love it, not a drop wasted and I had to try this wine of which they spoke so me and one of the guys, Ben, tracked one down at the supermarket. Vino de café. Tim said you can’t get through one bottle in a night it’s so sweet. That sounds like a challenge. It’s drinkable, kind of like Baileys without the cream… sort of… it’s hard to describe. It’s just coffee wine init. A taste all on it’s own. But we did do the bottle albeit between a few of us in front of the fireplace that night. Yup, it’s a little bit too easy to live in Salento.

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Salento, Quindío, Colombia
Stayed at: The Plantation House

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