Monthly Archives: September 2012

Salento and Valle De Cocora

The very memory of Salento brings a fuzzy, peaceful feeling in my mind. Imagine waking up in a eco farm house which is accessible to the town center of Salento by a rural mud road by a 20 minute walk, surrounded by the sounds of nature and incredibly lush greenery. Here you will hear no traffic noise, no sounds of tv, but only the occasional bark of the gentle in house dog, Pablo.

One of the views you’ll find as a part of the daily grind of walking to and fro town. We spent a week at this gem of a place and it remains one of my top favorite travel experiences of my life.

The main attraction here is the valle de cocora, which is a region filled with wax palms, Colombia’s national tree. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, even though we walked 5 hours to see it all. :)

If you walk 2 hours from the La Serrana hostel through woods, down a hills and a creek, past a meadow and up another hill, you’ll arrive at the lovely home of Pedro and Juanita and their two daughters, whose home Sacha Mama is thrown open to travelers. They will walk you through their day, explain how they live a simple but highly sustainable life. They grow wild, organic coffee, fruits and vegetables and have a lovely little garden with a bird feeder to attract the most vibrant birds. The kids are home schooled and know how the transmission of a 4WD works thanks to their PhD father. The mom believes in eating mostly plant based food as she thinks its good for the body and the planet. The family doesnt want the girls to use facebook yet! :)

The house Pedro and family buit with their own hands. The birds up front:

And I just mentioned to Juanita once that I only eat plants and look what she made for us for lunch!

A huge bowl of scrumptiously simple salad (center) containing cabbage, carrot, tomato, onion and a dash of salt and lemon, a vegetable rich pasta with a home made tomato sauce, lemon juice. Needless to say, I took several helpings of the salad!

Black coffee, no sugar. Made from wild, organic, coffee beans. Pedro showed us how to roast the beans, grind them and make the coffee. Cant get fresher than this. The coffee was superb and I didnt miss the sugar at all.

Back to the hostel after a trek back through the rains, a volunteer from Kenya cooked a Kenyan meal in the restaurant. For COP 15000, we got a lovely taste of Africa along with great company.

We also stayed there for Christmas as did at least a dozen other travelers. Christmas special dinner was open to all and the vegetarian option was very vegan friendly! It was a candle light dinner, so the pics weren’t all that great. 

Otavalo, Ecuador

Otavalo was our first stop at Ecuador. After an interesting experience at the Colombia-Ecuador border where we tried our luck at a visa free entry and succeeded (yay!), we were quite charged for shopping at Otavalo. Otavalo is famous for its Saturday market. On this day, the entire town centro is filled with arts and crafts stalls and these stalls radially extend for several blocks. Its no surprise that this area has some of the most successful indigenous communities. The locals are proud about their culture and one way they show it is by wearing their traditional dress on a daily basis.

The arts and crafts here are quite amazing. The endless stalls of colourful scarves, intricate beads and pretty bags and baglets will make you go ga-ga. Who can resist this?

All well and good. But you’re probably wondering, what about the food. Unfortunately, I had a very unpleasant experience here. A mexican restaurant (near hostel valle de amanecer), that openly proclaimed that it was selling vegetarian food did have extremely tasty food. Despite repeatedly confirming that my soup had no animal products in it, I was aghast to find a small non-plant bit floating in my soup during our second visit to this place. My buoyant mood until then quickly plummeted and we immediately left the place. Its probably my fault – its no big surprise that soups are likely to be flavored with animal broth, so I really had no business ordering. Should have stuck to sandwiches and burritos where I could see the ingredients.

The second unfortunate thing that happened was that we were there during the new year weekend. Most restaurants that would normally have been open were closed. I cant even remember what we ate, probably sandwiches somewhere with lackluster fillings or a pizza without cheese (usually the easiest thing to get). 

The following day, we finally stumbled upon this place:

It was a small cafeteria style restaurant on the main centro. When we walked in, we saw a woman at a counter with all the food for the day in front of her. You’d pay her and she’d plate your meal for you to take to a table. Very simple and unpretentious. After yesterday, I wasnt expecting to find anything or be understood. I was glad to note, however, that she perfectly understood my request for sin-carne, sin pollo, sin queso, sin huevos. :)

A sort of potato preparation (I could only taste potatoes, oil and salt), an ear of corn, a fresh salad with lettuce, onions and tomatoes, some sort of boiled maize and roasted corn (visible to the left of the corn ear) and my perennial favorite – fresh avocados. But my favorite part was this:

Chicha, a fermented corn drink presumably made of corn or maize flour and is sweetened. It has that slightly sour, fermented taste and was really cold. Sooo satisfying. We were going to leave Otavalo and head to Quito after this meal, so it was a very great way to end our stay.

Picanteria Centenario

Otavalo, Ecuador

A vegetarian plate cost $3

Located next to Indigo Hostel on Calle Sucre (near Calle Sucre and Salinas, away from the centro)