Ever wonder just how high the Andes are? In my mind, they looked a lot like California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Climbing up, up, up for an hour or more, it seemed like our bus finally got to the top of the pass only to come around yet another corner and look down on a smaller and smaller Medellin. At an elevation of nearly 5000 feet itself, it seems incredible to climb slowly another 5000 feet or more in order to leave the valley.
Although there is not a great distance between Medellin and Salento and technically an elevation gain of only 1500 feet, it was a long day of travel due to crossing high mountain passes on our route. We had expected the trip to last only five hours to Pereíra, then another hour to Salento but the bus stoped so that we could enjoy a lunch stop. Once we reached Pereíra, passengers insisted on descending at irregular stops and the ayudante had to remove their luggage from the locked compartments. Eventually, we made it to the bus terminal on the opposite end of town with fewer than 5 passengers remaining out of a full bus.
It turned out that this type of delay was consistent whenever we rode a bus other than an express!
Pereíra appeared to be a typical small city and the river that ran through it added was pleasant to look at. We were quite surprised to see a statue of a camel in the middle of town and never did understand anyone’s explanation of its significance. It may have been a symbol of the program of the current mayor; residents shrugged and looked away.
Once at the terminal, before we even had a chance to use the rest rooms, our ayudante took our luggage and led us to a bus departing for Salento. He gave us a big smile and waved as we squeezed in, the locals kindly making room so that we could sit down in a full bus. They wanted to know where we were from, where we were headed – and why! – and what we had enjoyed about their country. It is very unlikely that we were the only Americans they had seen, but instead just part of the friendly welcome we found all over Colombia.
It took only an hour to get to Salento, backtracking for half the journey. (Note to you: ask the driver to let you off on the road to Salento and flag down a local bus. Save yourself an hour or more.) Once the bus entered the town limits, passengers asked us if we wanted to get off. Perplexed, we said we would stay on to the town center and then walk to the Plantation House. They all laughed and told us our hostel was only a couple of blocks away; why go into town and walk further? The driver stopped, the ayudante found out luggage, and off we went, following the directions of the passengers.
Even so, because the street was under construction, we wondered whether we had lost our way. Not so, even children knew our destination and kept pointing ahead.
Finally we arrived at the Plantation House to a warm reception and a ready room. Other travelers greeted us warmly and showed us the town map on which Tim, the owner, had marked shops, cafes, restaurants, the local espresso shop, and more. It appeared that we had made a good choice. Little did we know that we would make friends here with whom we would spend time off and on for the rest of our days in South America! Or that we would enjoy the coffee-growing tour of a lifetime.