Coffee and Clouds

Colombia’s most famous, legal, export being coffee we spent a couple of nights at Hacienda Venecia a large coffee plantation in Manzales. You would think twice about taking a 4 wheel drive down the hill into the plantation let alone a 15 ton truck but nothing deters our Pete!

A lovely setting and accommodation – the camping element of the trip is reducing as we seem to be upgrading whenever there is the opportunity, well it’s cheap and en-suite facilities are very appealing.

Karen with Coffe Plant

Whilst there we took the plantation tour to learn about coffee production, which also included a walk around the plantation.

The main thing we learned is that its hard work to establish a coffee plantation. The land is impossibly steep and the coffee plants need constant, manual, attention to grow effectively. One oddity is that all the premium coffee is exported so that the coffee you find in Colombia is usually 2nd and 3rd grade beans – known locally as “tinto” – ink. It’s the right colour but that’s about all, often very bitter and served with lashings of sugar.

It’s available at every street corner, at illegal sleeping policemen and randomly along the road. However generally you could buy better Colombian coffee at your local Waitrose than in Colombia. One notable exception being the Juan Valdez coffee shops – a clear copy of Starbucks in terms of presentation but serving only the best grade coffee.

Most coffee producers are small family concerns, apparently approx 500,000 families are plantation owners, Juan Valdez was developed as a quality standard ( a bit like appellation controlee for French wine) and marketing brand developed by the Colombian coffee growers association over the past 30 odd years.


There is actually a “Juan Valdez” who promotes Colombian coffee, there have been 3 so far, the first was an actor but current ones have to be actual coffee growers.

All in all a fascinating insight into the industry and apart from the educational element a stunning walk around the gorgeous setting including the owners residence a truly lovely hacienda with interesting artefacts and glorious flowers in the surrounding gardens.

Roasting African Style

Hat Stand

Ended the day with a roast pork loin dinner, we were cook group so chopped vegetables for 22. I had put together a slide show of sector one – seemed forever ago – which was well received but now expectation is one for every sector. Manzales  Photos here.

A very civilised 10 am departure for the easy run to Salento, a beautiful, colourful town with shops and restaurants centred around the main square. It has made a huge effort to put itself on the tourist map and has a selection of restaurants and activities to justify that.

We stayed at Plantation House, a Hostel owned and ran by Tim an ex-pat Brit who is basically barking or more politely has gone native. The Hostel is both funky and basic, quaint rooms some with excellent facilities and some with rather more basic and zero sound proofing but all in all great fun.

We found a super cafe called El Brunch which became a bit of a base for the group, great food and homemade peanut butter (the owner / chef is American – South America seems full of westerners who have come and never gone home) which was truly tasty – I generally wouldn’t touch the stuff. The walls are decorated with messages from travellers all around the world, basically complimenting the food, whilst the mainly 70’s classic rock as background definitely appeals to a certain age group too.

Lots of shops to meander and zero hassle from the owners – you buy if you like it and if not the next customer will, very pleasant compared to some destinations where you are seen as simply a walking wallet for money to be extracted from. A refreshing change and a bonus for us tourists to shop in peace, needless to say we made a few purchases.

A very relaxed place, the locals sitting and chatting, the older generation in traditional Panama hats – which by the way are made in Ecuador not Panama which is only where they were originally exported back to Spain. We found a fantastic old coffee machine still in use and then found a number around town and decided around 50 years ago an Italian coffee machine salesman had made a killing!

Colombian Senior Citizen

The hostel provided some info on things to do including “Tejo” described as “a combination of drinking, throwing metal weights and gunpowder” it’s basically boules with a twist, there is a metal ring set in an inclined clay bed and small gunpowder charges placed on the ring which do explode with a very satisfactory bang when caught between the weight and the ring for extra points. The drinking comes in as the court hire is included in the price of a drink. This could definitely catch on………

A great dinner of fresh trout and plantain (huge banana based crisp) with the local beer was simply excellent, then a wander around the square to finish at the local ice cream bar.

Enjoyed an early breakfast, 6.30am, at El Brunch ahead of our transfer by 1950’s Willys jeep to the path for a walk in the Cocora cloud forest. About a £1 a head for the 25 minute ride, ten passengers, 2 in the front with the driver, 6 in the back and 2 hanging on the back – I didn’t envy them but the driving was amazingly considerate, a total contrast to the lunacy of Venezuela.

We headed up to a nature reserve, Acaime, as it turned out justifiably famed for its humming birds and a lovely walk/climb basically along a river you have to cross several times over some fairly dubious local bridges, some rope bridge style construction and some simply logs across the river. It was a pleasant walk and then a steep climb to get up to the hummingbirds, but well worth it.

There was an option to complete a circular tour via La Montana it was supposed to be .8km further but I think that must have been vertically. It was a tough, tough walk incessantly uphill and not only us thought so! The four of us (us plus Jane & Colin) were delighted to finally reach the small cafe at the top for coffee’s and in my case  a welcome glass of ice cold Poker beer – which might just be the perfectly named beer. A group of about 20 elderly Germans were going down as we reached the summit and we had serious doubts about them all making it, even going downhill.

Perfect Beer?

After catching our breath we started back the 5km to Cocora to pick up a jeep. A glorious walk down through the tree’s stopping to take many photos as the trees disappeared in the clouds with occasional glimpses of the valley and only marred by me stupidly not paying attention and managing to trip and fall heavily to the consternation of the others, but thankfully only winded and minor scratches to the camera – I would have been seriously irritated to have damaged either the camera or myself just ahead of our Galapagos trip.

Quote of the day from Karen “ I really enjoyed it apart from when I thought I was going to die”

Back to Salento, only 7 on board this time including a Dutch couple we met on the way down so everyone got a seat inside and we were relieved to see all the Germans safe and sound waiting for their air conditioned coach – in better nick than me. 🙂

A shower and out for dinner with our walking companion’s plus Geoff and Tony. Found a restaurant where we were initially the only customers but within 15 minutes was heaving, perfect timing on our part. I had fried Mojarra fish which was both huge and delicious, Karen enjoyed the garlic trout.

Next morning (5th April) early breakfast, 6.30am once again, at El Brunch then back to load our bags, once the truck was loaded Pete negotiated the narrow streets back to Brunch for a group photo for their website –  much to the amusement of the owner and then onwards to our next destination, Popayan.

Salento Photos here

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One Comment

  1. Stephie April 18, 2013 at 12:18 AM #

    Love the quote of the day! Still laughing now, glad you haven’t lost your touch mum xxx

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