valle de cocora

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During our stay in Salento, Colombia (one of our favorite spots so far) we took a Willie (what people call the Jeeps and old Land Crusers that are used like taxis) to the trailhead of the Valle de Cocora which is about 10 km from the center of town. 

“The [Valle de Cocora] was designated a protected park by the Colombian government in 1985 in response to the imminent threat of extinction of the Ceroxylon quindiuense, the Quindío wax palm. The palms were brought to the verge of extinction in part owing to their utility in making wax candles and building materials for farmers, but most of all because they were traditionally cut down annually for fronds on Palm Sunday. The park remains to this day one of the few places in the world that you can find these immense trees which, while quite rare, are no longer under imminent threat. You can find some other ones in botanical gardens, such as the San Francisco Botanical Garden in San Francisco, California.” [wikivoyage.org/wiki/Valle_de_Cocora]

It was a rainy and wet hike with some challenging grades going up consistently for about 3 or 3.5 hours. I’ve had some struggles with altitude and hiking making getting a deep breath very difficult which has been a bummer. As such the hike was breathtaking literally and figuratively. The fog mixing with the Earth was spectacular—like nothing we'd ever seen. 

There were a number of moments we felt as if we were in Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone with ragged, unstable bridges crossing the river; beautiful, overgrown arches on either side of the bridges and having to cross spots using a wobbly couple logs. There were a number of patches where the trail was nearly impassable due to being washed out but we continued forward, sometimes crawling along a fence bordering the trail or going onto the property next to the trail just long enough to pass the washed out trail. 

Along the way we met people from all over the world and ran into a couple people we’d met in town a few nights earlier. At the highest point of the hike, just as it began to descend, we crossed paths with two guys on holiday from Switzerland and we did so just as one of them lost the sole to his shoe. We just so happened to have duct tape wrapped around our Nalgene bottle—so we wrapped his shoe, both to be safe, and he was able to get off the hill (another 1.5 hours down). Our gesture ended up bonding us and we walked with Laurence and Andy the rest of the way down. It was our first conversation about politics in the United States and it was interesting, though not surprising, to hear what two guys from Switzerland thought of Trump and the circus in DC. 

When we reached the trailhead, Laurence bought us beers and snacks as a thank you. One of the stresses of the hike is the fact that Willies stop carting people back to town around 6pm and we finished the hike at about 5:45pm. The social, leisure part of our hike slowed us down and we found ourselves, along with Laurence and Andy, competing with about 20 or so other people and 1 Willie. Laurence was a character who charmed his way into getting a local woman to call his hostel and inquire about a ride. His hostel host very graciously picked us all up and drove John and I back to Salento after dropping Laurence and Andy off at the hostel about 5 km from town. 

If you get to this part of the world, we highly recommend a couple weeks in Salento and a day on the Valle de Cocora trail.