The airport in Pereira was the first thing that did it. We arrived via prop plane in the afternoon. Accumulating tropical clouds sat heavy on the horizon. The single runway, weeds peeking through copious cracks, sat parallel to a small cement terminal with no gates to speak of. A new terminal appeared to be under construction adjacent to the old, but the few workers in and around it seemed to be in no hurry. It could have been/could be, years since/until this project began/finished. Inside, a few standing fans moved the languid air around. Yes, I’d been here before, maybe.
We made our way across town to the bus station and caught the next bus to Salento, fried-chicken-in-plastic-bag in hand. The bus was dark red, loose in the joints, and smelled of combustion and rain. We chugged up hills and careened around turns, chickens pecking hopefully in the yards of the houses that abutted the hill roads. Kids squealed, playing under (actual) rainbows. The half-blue sky started to spit, drops landing without consequence through the half-open windows into my lap, and that’s when I first really realized it: at some point, at least once, in the preceding 31 years, this same combination of scents and scenes had converged and when they did, I felt fully, unexpectedly, at home.
We pulled into Salento half an hour before sunset, and met Fabio, our host at the tiny Estacion de Bomberos. We exchanged formalities as he led us down a mud path out of town to our home for the week. As we walked, we learned Fabio was from Armenia (a nearby town, not the country) but had lived in Glen Park (a neighborhood in San Francisco) for several years! We also caught glimpses of incredible countryside hiding just beyond the overgrown vegetation lining the path (which, though inaccessible to vehicles, was once the National Road through this part of Colombia, connecting towns and serving as an important thoroughfare for horses, mules, and humans).
About ten muddy minutes later, we arrived at Casa El Porvenir – The Future House. The vegetation cleared, and in its absence, we beheld an adorable cabin on a grassy promontory with 360 degree views of the Eje Cafetero. From the doorstep we could see coffee farms, tree farms, un-farmed land, soaring birds, the Rio Quindio, grazing cattle, little roads leading to little towns, the setting sun and its entire sky stage.
This seems as good a moment as any to share that we paid about $45/night for this little paradise. Before you get too jealous (though we concede jealousy is warranted) in spite of its unreal location and surprisingly excellent wifi and hot water (presumably, evidence of the aforementioned future?), the cabin did have a few deficiencies that kept the cost low.
The first deficiency was walls. Sure, it had something resembling an indoor/outdoor divide, but it was more like a series of misshapen (though very beautiful!) slats of wood nailed together with a tin roof tied on tight. When you lay down in the bedroom, you could see the plants growing on the other side of – and sometimes into this side of – the “wall.” We coexisted peacefully with cartoonishly large crickets, wily black lizards, countless spiders, and even a wild cat (we think) that came in to eat most of a loaf of bread one night, and retrieve the rest out of the trash to finish it off, the next.
The member of Animalia with whom we did NOT coexist with any kind of harmony was the mosquito. Did you know that the mosquito is the deadliest animal on earth, killing almost double the number of people annually than the next deadliest aggressor…other people? Self-loathing is one of my favorite pastimes (seriously, what is wrong with humans?) but when you stop to consider the mosquito, it’s easy to give Homo Sapiens a break.
Thankfully, the mosquitos of Salento, Colombia are by all accounts not disease-carrying. But they are just as hungry, itch-inducing and – worst – their capacity for arriving ear-side to buzz at the precise moment you start to drift into full slumber, is seemingly greater than all mosquitos in all the land.
The first night of Drew and Sara v. Mosquitos was a skirmish, the second night a battle, but by 11:00pm on night three, it was an all out war. It began with aggressive spraying of repellent, continued with arm flailing and desperate clapping into the darkness – hoping to make a kill, included elaborate (but tragically ineffectual) head-wraps made of t-shirts and winter hats, and at one point, I think Drew even roared.
But then the morning came. As it always does. And somehow, sun pouring in through every which window of your tropical domicile with a fresh mango on the counter and the smell of coffee on the stove (which, another deficiency – we were cautioned “not to operate without shoes on” ….? ) and views to mystical ridgelines across verdant valleys, seems to take the edge off.
Our short time in the Eje Cafetero and Salento afforded many beautiful moments, including a magnificent hike through farm land, cloud forest and the Valle de Cocora, a few super fun rides standing on the back of a WWII jeep willy, good learning about local coffee growing and processing, and a hilarious late night encounter with the horses of Salento in the town square. Our duo became a happy trio with the addition of the one and only Derek Cheah (guest post from Derek forthcoming!), and as we pulled out of the bus station headed for Medellín, I bid a bittersweet goodbye to this home in Salento. Though many homes await, this one won’t be forgotten soon.