Quindío is the second smallest department in Colombia. It is in the center of a triangle formed by Colombia’s three largest cities: Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. And it is in the heart of the country’s most important coffee producing region.
I spent two full days here, enjoying the scenery, watching birds, learning about coffee production, visiting the most colorful town I’ve ever seen, hiking to a beautiful viewpoint, and watching the most violent thunderstorm I can remember.
Hotel Hacienda Combia
We (my tour group) are staying at this hacienda on a coffee plantation not far from the department capital of Armenia. They have 37 hectares (about 92 acres) of coffee, plus some other crops (banana, plantain, and cacao). This afternoon we were taken around the farm on a “coffee experience” which you can read about and experience via video on their website.
The hotel is in two buildings. The older one was the original house of the family that has owned and operated the plantation for four generations, since 1887. This is where my room is. I think everyone else in my group is in the other building. From the balcony outside my room I have glorious views. And in our free time, it’s great just enjoying the fresh air and watching the birds.
Today the chef gave us a cooking lesson. We made fiambre quindiado, a local specialty of chicken, rice, potatoes, yuca, and a vegetable sauce all wrapped in a banana leaf. And after we made it, we enjoyed it for lunch. The food here is generally good, but some things are better than others. (The desserts have been uniformly disappointing.)
Yesterday we visited the Cocora Valley. We drove first to the town of Salento. From there we rode in Jeep Willys to the valley, where we went for a hike of about two hours.
The Cocora Valley is the primary location of Quindío wax palms, the national tree of Colombia. At the top of this post you can find a photo I took during our hike that shows the wax palms. They are endangered, and conservation efforts are in effect. In fact, after the hike we went to a local restaurant for lunch, and there we planted three wax palms to assist in the conservation effort. These trees grow very slowly, taking upwards of fifty years to reach maturity. They have suffered from overharvesting in the past; their leaves were used for Palm Sunday services, their fruit as feed for livestock, and their trunks for obtaining wax. Despite protection by law in Colombia, there is still some illegal harvesting.
The hike revealed some beautiful scenery.
After the hike and the lunch stop with the wax palm planting ceremony, we returned to Salento. There we learned how to play tejo.
Well, we didn’t learn very well. I don’t have any videos with explosions. So here’s a video of Anthony Bourdain playing tejo in Cali.
Following the tejo, we had time to wander around this cute and colorful town. All the houses and shops are cheerfully and brightly painted. I asked Alejandro about this. He said back in the day, this area was torn apart by political animosity. Everyone painted their houses blue if they were left-leaning or red if they were right-leaning. And there was a lot of violence. But they eventually learned to put aside their differences and adopted all these bright colors.
I’m not sure if that’s true or not. But the town, which was full of tourists, is enjoying showing off its colors for visitors who use it as a base to explore the area.
I mentioned watching the birds at our hacienda. There is a tree with feeders, and it attracts all kinds of colorful birds.
I made an album of birds. But here are some of them.
Yesterday we had a huge thunderstorm that lasted over an hour. I sat outside on the balcony and watched and listened. The entire building shook from the thunder. It was nature at its most magnificent.
Tomorrow we’re off to Medellín. We are leaving from the hotel at 5am.
So good night!