Colombia isn’t quite as tourist- infiltrated as other Latin American countries such as Peru or Argentina, but this doesn’t mean that it lacks a well- defined set of must-see destinations. The Gringo Trail sent me on a quick and comfortable 6 hour overnight bus from Bogota to Salento, a bucolic town set inside of Colombia’s eje cafetero (coffee triangle). There are other cities in the coffee region that are less out-of-the-way, so why Salento over Pereira or Manizales? Because although English-speaking hostels lie on every street in touristy Salento, the local culture prevails thanks to its focus on coffee, trout, and the delightfully explosive and alcoholic sport of tejo.
A mild caffeine addiction lured me to Colombia. I found a one hour coffee tour at Finca Ocaso for only 8000 pesos (about 3 dollars) that ended with a tasting of their suave (soft) coffee. I thought a tour might help me understand the details of my dependence, and it did; I learned (happily) that I have cheap and unrefined taste buds. In coffee production, the symmetrical, unblemished beans are sorted from the flawed ones, creating Class A coffee and Class B coffee, respectively. Turns out, the Class B coffee served at Starbucks and Colombian bus stations are more to my liking. Most Class A coffee beans are exported internationally, so the coffee found in Colombia comes mostly from the reject pile. However, in Salento one can visit Café Jesus Martin for some Class A, although I opted for the unsweetened hot chocolate.
In Salento, I only ate one meal per day. The reason for this was trout. I could have eaten trout with my Class B coffee at breakfast and as I played tejo at night, but the servings were so massive that one plate could hold me over for 24 hours. Basically every restaurant in Salento serves trout with a massive piece of patacon (fried plaintain), and the price ranges from 10000 to 14000 pesos. It comes grilled, in a cheesy garlic sauce, or with the menu del dia, which usually includes rice, beans, patacones, soup, and juice. The best value and quality in town comes from El Rincon del Lucy, packed with tourists and locals alike. There, one can get the menu del dia for 7000 pesos with trout, steak, or chicken- but go with the trout, obviously.
Tejo makes up for Salento’s lack of nightlife. Slouching on a barstool is no match for the excitement of drunkenly hurling heavy iron rocks across a dimly lit room in hopes of hitting small packs of gunpowder fixed in a bed of clay. Although tourists tend to stand closer to the clay (at the ‘Gringo line’) and cause an explosion only once in a blue moon, the employees and locals stand the much farther official distance away and tend to hit the gunpowder on each throw. It’s free to play as long as you’re drinking, thus engaging the spectators via the amusing element of danger. No risk, no fun. Bowling seems pretty lame in comparison.