Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Salento. Clean air, Tejo & verbs

We arrived in Salento on a Sunday evening, the biggest night of the week it transpired, and it felt like 50% of the 7k population were in the bars and plaza.  A mountain town in the middle of the coffee growing region Salento is full of brightly painted buildings, residents in cowboy hats & ponchos, billiard bars and brightly coloured jeeps (called Willys). It felt somewhere between the set of a Western and rural Latam. 

It also felt cold which was a nice novelty. Hoodies and trainers on we set off to find the local Tejo bar.  Tejo is a game where you throw a metal puck (a Tejo) at 4 targets placed on a metal ring set in clay. The targets are paper triangles filled with gunpowder so with enough force and a good aim the Tejo bashes into the target and the metal ring and an explosion goes off.  More fire = more points. 
The Tejo hall was like an old skittles ally: full of old boys (with obligatory hats and ponchos) playing very seriously from 8 metre throw-lines while we novices stood 3 mts away and whooped every time any points were scored.  The game is free to play - the only condition is that you drink beer while you do so. No great hardship. 

Food next so we found a stall in the plaza selling the local delicacies: bandeja paise (mixed random meats thrown together in a dish with an egg), and patacones (plaintain, mashed and rolled to plate size, deep fried and served with cheese/chilli etc). 

Arteries clogged we retired for the night a bit giddy to need covers on our bed instead of a noisy and largely ineffective fan (unless the objective of them is to look precarious and pull clumps of plaster out the ceiling, in which case they're excellent). 

Next day we hiked a famous loop that takes you through woods, over many highly questionable rickety bridges (some of which are 2 felled trees laid next to each other- this is not a bridge in my opinion), through a Hummingbird sanctuary, up a bloody steep hill to the money-shot view: lush green mountains surrounded by clouds and wax palm trees. The tallest palms in the world they grow up to 60m high and look quite surreal in these surroundings.  

Hundreds of them line the rest of the walk and were distracting enough to get us through the fields of bulls, under the barbed wire and back to catch a Willy home. Minimum 10 people in the 4-seat Willies before they'll leave so 4 people have to hang off the back for the 25 min ride, while the other six forget the concept of personal space. 

At the hummingbird sanctuary we had another local delicacy : hot chocolate and cheese. The cheese is a bit like halloumi and is broken up into the chocolate where it gets stringy rather than melty.  Enjoyable but not sure I'm desperate for a second bowlful just yet. 
Declaring chocolate/cheese combo as dirty (from the man who'd eaten unidentifiable bits of unknown animals the night before) Chris had yet another rubbish cup of coffee.   Despite growing the best beans in the world, Columbians drink instant coffee with a lot of sugar, or the crap beans they can't sell elsewhere. Sad, but when they grade the beans 1-5, grades 1-4 get exported and the cheap rubbish stays at home. 

We stayed another 5 days after that and got ourselves a Spanish teacher for 3hours a day for an incredibly good $120 dollars for us both.  Marcia is a teacher at Bogota Uni but teaches gringos in the holidays so unlike some student teachers who're just starting out, she really knew how to teach. A 5ft 0 powerhouse of energy, bling and irregular verbs she was excellent for us and by the end of the week we'd watched a couple of films in Spanish, and chatted with a Chilean woman for 2 hours without too much frustration. 

There is still so much to learn and without the discipline of a bossy Latino woman checking our homework each morning we won't continue at the same rate but it's getting easier all the time. Off on the night bus(es) to San Gil. A mere 15 hrs away. 

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