Friday, April 4, 2014

Back to Salento, Colombia


Home. Many describe home as they have a job or their family lives. Being a nomad for a year causes me to change the way I think about home. Everyone has to have their own home.  I defined home as where my backpack is resting. Home for the next month was Salento, Colombia. A small town with a population of 3000 in the Quindido region of Colombia. I was excited to stay in one place for a month and be a local. I wanted to make new friends and experience the town as a local.  This was a side of travel I had not experienced since my time in Laos. So, I rented a place in Salento for $250/month and settled down.

I was excited to return to Salento and make a life for a month, just living. I realized I was tired and ready to read, write and improve my Spanish. I arrived in Salento at 5:00 PM and luckily no rain. As I walked to my house I saw the key in the door and Carla (my landlady's dog) waiting on the step to welcome me.
I opened the door and put down my bags. Ahhhh! Home. I unpacked and made myself at home in my little cabin. Luz Elena and Adrianna were not home so I locked up and walked to town to get some groceries and then returned home to cook a warm dinner, I ate by candlelight and salsa music. I enjoyed the serenity.
The next morning I sat at my table writing and looking out at the lush mountain view. I was at peace and happy.
I had a month to enjoy this time and contemplate when to return home, make travel plans and think about my future. I was going to need some time to come to terms with returning to the "real world." Where had the past year gone? I loved every moment of my travels and do not want to end this amazing adventure. But it is time. My budget is almost spent.
I was sitting at the table, looking out when Adrianna came over to ask me how I slept and what my plans were for the day. I did not have any plans. I told her I was going to enjoy the tranquility of the area. She smiled and her mother came to visit with fresh bananas. I loved them immediately, it was the Colombian hospitality and warmth that I had experienced multiple times. There home was surrounded by beautiful orchids. I watched as they worked in the gardens, laughing and dancing to the music. They were happy and enjoying a beautiful day in Salento.
Luz Elena and Adriana- my landlords in their beautiful garden
In the afternoon, I walked to town to find wifi service. I did not have internet access at my house which made it difficult to do research for travel and work on my blog. The wifi service in Salento is limited. I tried a few places around town and knew the best service was at Brunch but, I needed a cup of coffee. I went to my favorite place, Jesus Martin Cafe. They have the most delicious coffee in town but no wifi. The café is comfortable and plays relaxing music. The owners told me they would have wifi in a few weeks, I had high hopes it would arrive before I left. No luck.  Jesus Martin was a place to watch the locals and Colombian tourists.
I bought a bag of coffee to make at home but I could not replicate the adorable designs made by my favorite barista. Seriously, a bear!
Salento is alluring with the town square and  beautifully colored buildings. The town is quiet during the week but comes to life on the weekends when the chiva tours arrive from Armenia and the weekend Colombians arrive from the cities to enjoy the beauty of the countryside.  
One of the most relaxing and entertaining activities is having an evening beer in the park. Colombia allows you to drink alcohol on the streets and parks and it is an activity that I enjoyed. I learned to go to the local supermarket (Super Cocoroa) and buy a beer and sit anywhere in the park. The locals love to stop and chat with tourists and asked my opinion of the country and cities. They all laughed when I told them I was a paisa (local born in Medellin). It was obvious I was full of it but they appreciated that I was willing to try to pull their leg. Paisas are notorious for stretching the truth and telling a lie. Several would go buy a drink and join me. It was a great meeting spot for other tourists. Army or police officers would stop and talk to me. I was becoming a local and enjoyed it more when other tourists would join on the fun. This was our meeting spot in the evenings or on sunny afternoons. I always found friends at the plaza.
Christopher and Allison enjoying a Poker in the Plaza. 
The town of Salento is aimed toward tourists with numerous souvenirs. The main shopping street is quaint with bright colors and store owners inviting you in to shop in their stores.
Shopping on Camino Real- ponchos and trout diners
When I arrived in Salento, I fell for the street dogs. One of the most difficult thing to see as I have traveled is poverty with begging children and street dogs. There are no begging children in Salento but there are plenty of street dogs. I met Pollita (little chicken) on my first day here. She was very skinny and was recovering from an operation (spay). I asked the locals about her and learned that a German woman had taken care of her, found her a home and had her spayed. Unfortunately, the home did not last when the German woman left town and Pollita was put back on the streets. I started buying dog food to feed the homeless dogs each day. I also always asked for the remainder of my meal for the dogs. Why not?
Pollita (left) and another dog enjoying some food.
My other favorite street dog was Lucas. He was the king of the town until a German Shepherd kicked his bum a few weeks ago. He was owned by an Alaskan that lived in Salento for 6 years. When his owner died, he was put on the street. He is a big old sweetheart and I fed him each day. He got to the point where he met me on the corner a block from my house and would walk with me to town because he knew I would give him my leftovers. He is a smart dog.
Lucas, such a big sweetheart
I was sitting in a café enjoying some music and a friend leaned over and told me that a guy was putting Pollita in a bag. What?!?!? Nobody treats Pollita badly when I am around. I went out to see what was going on. The guy explained that he had fallen in love with her sweet personality and was adopting her and taking her to live in Filandia. He had named her Xena and even bought her a collar with her name on it. I was elated!! My sweet little girl had found a home! I felt like it was a huge success! One dog was off the streets and had a home.
Pollita ready for a motorcycle trip to her new home.
Living in the small town meant I met several of the locals. Each day I passed Olivia's house and waved to her and her neighbor. As time passed, they came out to talk to me and invited for coffee and to practice my Spanish. We discussed families, food and places to visit in Colombia. Olivia was always so nice and wanted to make certain I had a plan for each day. As I got to know her better, I made certain I saved beef bones for her dog Guapo. I appreciated the kindness of the locals and their patience with my Spanish. I will miss these beautiful friends and their dogs.
Olivia and Guapo

And how can I forget Maria and her dogs. I met Maria on my way home one day. She had fresh bread she sold to the market. She invited me to visit her home and have coffee. We became friends quickly and she helped me with my Spanish. I loved her happy outgoing nature and laughter.

Maria, Pauly and Salvador
Colombians have a passion for music and time spent with family and friends. Throughout Salento, it was common to find locals playing music in cafes and bars.
Walking home one night, friends and I met Jihro and his musician friends. They invited us to come and listen to them play. It was a fantastic night of music, laughter and friendship. Being in Colombia, the dancing eventually started. I wish I had Colombian rhythm and hips that could move like theirs. They told me everyone can dance but I really do not have the moves...and I admit it!
The following weekend was Carnival. Jihro had organized local musicians to play and have a parade on the Camino Real. The costumes were fantastic and I saw all of my musician friends. We laughed and danced and shared a few beers to celebrate.

Carnival fun with Jefferson
Salento is surrounded by beautiful landscape and amazing hiking opportunities. As I walked the hills, I realized why the Colombian women have sexy legs and tight is the hills! I walked a few hills every day to try to get that sexy look but it did not work. I spent my time exploring the surrounding area. One of my favorite hikes was the Santa Rita Cascada (waterfall).  I went with my friends Christopher and Allison. I had met them in Medellin and told them I had a 2nd bedroom and offered to let them stay with me for a week. I was thrilled when they arrived in Salento and moved in with me. So, I was excited to have them hike to the Santa Rita Cascada with me. We took the bus to Boquia and walked through fields, along the river and to the Santa Rita farm where we paid $1 to continue to the waterfall. We followed the trail through an old train tunnel.
The area is lush and green from the daily rainstorms. Absolutely beautiful. I felt like Indiana Jones as I kept and eye out for snakes. Luckily, I did not see any. We crossed tree trunk and plank bridges (not my favorite) before we finally arrived at the waterfall.
We all decided to take a dip. I stepped into the water and my ankles went numb. Brrr! It was freezing. Christopher and I went waist deep but Allison was the brave polar bear and went for a plunge. Then the rain started. We were wet and cold as we walked back to town. It was a great day and a beautiful hike.
When in Salento, you have to play tejo. During my month stay, I played 3 times. Honestly, I stink at it but it was enjoyable each time. I admit, I like the explosions when the gunpowder explodes. When I realized my friends Georgie and Mosan (UK) had not played I insisted we went for a night. We were explained the points system and Victor demonstrated his talent from 20 meters. Then we took our turns. Yes, I hit the wall and the floor before finally hitting the clay. Mosan and Georgie had it down in no time. And who can come to Los Amigos without noticing the animal parts hanging at the bar? Is that...? Yes it is! I need a photo!
Wow! Those are some big.......!
Another fun night at tejo. Old Juan invited us to return for the tejo tournament. We added it to our calendar and came back towards the end for the celebration. As we entered Los Amigos Bar, we realized the party was over.
Half the bar was passed out. I found a table and sat down with the guys. Shhh! Maybe I could barrow the bottle of rum?  Ha, ha! We found our friend Old Juan and he had enough to drink also. Georgie and I helped him across the bar to a chair.  
Most of my time in Salento was spent enjoying life and getting to know the locals. I walked town in the mornings talking to the locals and taking photos. The town is a farm area and many of the farmers come into Salento for a night of French billiards and beer. They dress in gum boots, hat, a folded poncho over the shoulder and a hat. A few of them accessorize with a whip or a machete. I loved the cute old farmer look. This was one of the men that always waved to me. He stopped to pose for a photo, waved and blew me a kiss before continuing down the street.

Living in my neighborhood were several children that welcomed me immediately. They stared the first day I arrived, I would too if I saw a crazy blonde girl with a huge red bag. Valentina was shy but always waved from her doorway. Is she stylish or what? So cute with her little blue boots and hands on her hips. I printed a photo for her and gave it to her grandfather. He got tears in his eyes when I told him it was for him. He did not have a recent photo of her.
Beautiful Valentina
A brother and sister lived across the road from my home. They always laughed when the saw me. Eventually, they would talk to me or bring their kitten to play with me. One day I made mud pies with them and Valentina. It was fun but made me miss my nieces and nephews. Kids really do make life fun!
Neighbor kids 
My final week I had to go around and say goodbye to my new friends. It was sad to be ending a month in Salento but I had a few other places to explore. I went to Bar Danube with Mosan and Georgie to meet our friend Juan Carlos. I was happy to see my favorite bartender. Check out his mustache, this is the mustachioed Colombian I had seen in pictures. He tried to get me to buy a bottle of Aguadiente. A bottle!?!?! No! I can't tolerate a shot of that firewater. I think we disappointed him when we all ordered beers.
Bar Danube is where all the farmers went to play billiards. We sat waiting for Juan Carlos to arrive. Colombians have their own time...usually 45-60 minutes later than agreed upon time. We sat watching the men play billiards and quickly realized this guy is the best in town.  
I decided that his undershirt on the outside must be his lucky shirt - not sure why it was on the outside but it was a good look with the gum boots. Eventually, Juan Carlos arrived to tell us his stories. This guy was the funniest person I had met in Salento. It may be due to the fact that he had great drinking stories. I really found the humor when he tried to work at Brunch but got busy watching a movie with me and forgot to work. Might have been due to the fact that he went to a grocery store to buy a liter of beer (because it was cheaper than the restaurant) and filled up a glass for me.  I never saw him do any work, he just watched movies. Eventually, the owner explained it was not going to work and he needed to find a job somewhere else in town. Juan Carlos was always good for a story. Sometimes it was how he lost his shoe, his 60 & 70 year old roommates, girlfriends or town gossip. He was a lovable goof that always had plans for a night of fun.
Another character that I met in town was the local butcher. He walked around town with me the first week asking questions about my life and where I had traveled. We bonded when I came around a corner and he was dancing on the curb. I stopped and watched for a few minutes before he noticed. If he saw me with my camera he would ask if I would leave it so he would never forget me. Everything was a joke and we spent many hours laughing and joking outside his shop. On my final week, I said goodbye as I sat with him and his brother on the bench.  

The last person I needed to say my goodbyes to was Maria. We had spent so many moments talking in town or over coffee. I had bonded with her over her homemade baguettes that she baked and took to the market each day. When she told me where to buy the best cheese, it became a lasting friendship. I made numerous sandwiches with her fresh bread, sliced tomato, double cream cheese, fresh fruit and wine. Simple and delicious! 
Maria's homemade bread
Mosan, Georgie and I scheduled a going away lunch with Maria. Since she had hosted me to several cups of coffee, we offered to make a goodbye lunch and bring it to her house. We brought wine, roasted vegetables, a beet and tomato salad, cheese, bread and fresh fruit.  
We sat on her porch enjoying food and friendship. We had all loved our time in Salento and this was the perfect goodbye with Maria. She told us stories of her time in Spain and Colombia. She gave us a tour of her garden and the apartment she was renovating for tourists. As we said our goodbyes, she told me I am welcome to visit and stay with her anytime. This felt like saying goodbye to family. In the short month in Salento, all of these people became a part of my daily life. They looked after me, laughed with me and shared their village and lives with me. I was leaving Salento happy for the time I had spent and sad to be leaving.

Salento is similar to my hometown. It is a farming community. The men meet at the coffee shops to gossip and discuss life and work. The people are warm and inviting. Salento will always feel like home. I left a piece of my heart there and I will return one day. I packed my bags on March 24 and headed to Pereira.

Goodbye Salento!

1 comment:

  1. was amazing see your post, when I check all your pictures and did read about your adventure I feel so excited because this is my born town and now I'm opposite of the world in India. But I want be there walking in street and seeing my people. Im so glad because your shared that with everybody. Regards