. Armenia really is alas rather a god foresaken place , the ugliest city I have seen in Colombia ... not totally surprising as it was largely flattened by an earthquake ten years ago and needed to be rebuilt cheaply. Outside the hotel there was a mass of very persistent beggars , dodgy looking characters , drunkards , prostitutes on the street corners and a few street vendors from whom we grabbed some quick food before retreating to bed in the hotel. In the morning Armenia
seemed only marginally more friendly at breakfast time in a little nearby cafe so we wasted little time in getting the bus to Salento ... and what a world away it turned out to be ! Salento is simply stunning , with picture postcard scenery , a delightful and colourfully painted little town and the hostel from heaven that is the Plantation House. The Plantation House is really almost perfect ... a rural setting on the edge of Salento with a great view out the back and a country farmhouse style feel ... kitchen , open fire , comfy lounge , internet and many friendly travellers staying there to make for a nice ambience ... various dogs and chickens happily wander into the hostel from outside and walk around the place. On the first day when we arrived , the four of us took a walk to a Coffee Finca that shows you around and explains the whole coffee making process from collecting beans , shelling them , soaking & drying , roasting and grinding before you finally get to sample a cup ...
. alas the final cup of coffee wasnt that great but as usual the people in the Finca were warm , welcoming and keen to show you around. They actually had a whole range of plants growing on the farm with many types of fruit - I was rather expecting they would have just the coffee plants. The hour or so walk to the Finca from the little town is really stunning and the scenery is definitely up there amongst the best on my trip. On the second day two of my new amigos needed to leave & move onwards towards Ecuador as they were short on time ... so myself and Noa , one of the Israeli girls who was able to stay on longer , took a day trip trekking in the Corcora valley. We caugh a little jeep from the main plaza of Salento which took us for about 30 minutes to the valley , starting on nice smooth paved road but then getting into some pretty rugged & bumpy terrain. Itīs a five hour trek in the valley to the edge of a nature reserve or if you are really keen you can walk for another couple of hours - but an Aussie guy we knew from the hostel had done this full walk and said it really wasnt worth it , even if we had the time in the day which we didnīt. The first part of the walk for about an hour and a half is in the open countryside of the valley and is really pretty scenery , after which you get into cloud forest which reminded me very much of the "Los Quetzales" trek back in Boquete in Panama. It was intermittently raining and the trail was really muddy in parts so we spent most of our time trying to find ways to scuttle around the mud ... with limited success as I managed to put my feet deep into the mud on several occasions ... challenging enough in walking boots so it was very amusing to meet an Australian couple on the way doing the trail in their flip-flops ... the guy managed to trip & get an electric shock from the electric cattle fence ... but they were a fun couple & found it all hilarious. Salento had been very pleasant indeed for a couple of days but I came down to earth with a bang when I woke up in the middle of the second night feeling really unwell & had to rush to the bathroom to experience the dreaded travellers curse of vomiting and diarrhoea..
. this kept me awake for most of the rest of the night & in the morning I was feeling really horrible - washed-out , dizzy and with stomach pains. Overall on this trip I have been blesssed with very little medical problems ... only the usual few mozzie bites , a little sunburn every so often and a frequently bashed head from carelessly bumping into low ceilings ... there was only that one time , a week into my trip in Mexico when I had what Iīm sure was a food-related bug. This latest bout in Salento felt exactly the same as then so I think it was a food bug again - but rather odd because we had cooked our own food (pasta) in the hostel on the previous day so really surprising to have caught something from that. So the third day & night in Salento wasnīt much fun - spent pretty much either lying on the sofa or in bed feeling terrible ... forced myself to get up at about 4pm as I hadnīt yet been up to the Mirador viewpoint in the town and I wanted to see it in the light before I left. The views were really spectacular - you walk up some steps at the edge of town , which take you again past the 14 stations of the cross (similar to Monsserate and the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira) to get to the top where you can go to a little viewing platform and see right through the valley ... stunning ! Despite having to endure an ongoing stomach ache it was definitely worth the effort to get up and see it. The following morning I felt quite a bit better , had recovered my usually gluttonous appetite and so I headed onwards down to Cali together with Noa , my new Israeli friend , who is travelling in similar direction to me.
Finally escaped Bogota's grasp to head onwards to the Zona Cafetera and a little town called Salento which is held in very high regard by travellers who have been there and reputed to have some of the best scenery in Colombia. Shrugged off a Friday night hangover to get up and catch a Saturday morning bus which really wasn't a fun journey (again) . We had a small cramped bus with very little leg room for me and we sat in the Bogota Saturday traffic for almost a couple of hours to actually get right out of the outskirts of the city. The journey took nearly ten hours instead of the supposed seven so it was 10pm before I arrived in Armenia , the city you need to connect to in order to get an onwards bus to Salento. I got chatting to a few other travellers on the bus who it turned out were heading for the same destination as me , The Plantation House in Salento - a Dutch guy and two Israeli girls. We had missed the last bus to Salento so we looked into taxis from the bus station but they seemed too expensive so we went and found a hotel in Armenia to stay for one night before heading on to Salento in the morning