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Tue Feb 18 2014: Lost Carcosa

We've been spending a lot of time in big cities lately and while it's nice having all the amenities nearby (shops for food, motorcycle parts, government offices for getting our paperwork done, etc), the downside is that there is always the constant background noise of trucks, the honking of traffic, car alarms, etc. Plus, we're getting a bit tired of sightseeing as well, so we're heading out to the countryside to escape from the big city din.

Ah, the tranquil countryside!

Salento was the destination we were headed towards before we were forced to stop for the night in Armenia. It's only about an hour away, but the narrow, twisty road through the lush scenery is better enjoyed during the daytime.

Neda takes time to make a feline friend

Happy canines roam the streets

Neda really wants a dog.

We've been talking more and more about it lately. She used to own a dog while growing up in Croatia and she said it was her best friend. So it seems that if and when we settle down, the first thing we're going to do is not find a place to live, nor find a job... we're going to get a dog.

Priorities, you know...?

Like all touristy towns on the Gringo Trail, the buildings are painted bright colours

Salento attracts a lot of tourists, local and foreign. It's recently been added as an attraction to the Gringo Trail, which like Antigua, Granada, etc., has become one of the popular places for foreigners to get a taste of Latin America outside of the beachside resorts. However, being a Gringo Trail town greatly changes the atmosphere: souvenir shops abound, pricey restaurants at every street corner and all the buildings are painted in colours that I'm sure they didn't have back in colonial times.

It's the Heisenberg-GringoTrail Uncertainty Principle...

Big guy straining at the leash!

The stairs in the background are part of the Alta de la Cruz, 250 steps that lead up to a nice viewpoint of the town and the surrounding valley. (Just another GringoTrail example: these stairs weren't painted until just a couple of years ago, I checked online!) At various points along the stairs there are tiny vestibules containing crucifixes - 14 of them, called "Stations of the Cross" - exactly like the Salt Cathedral in Zipiquira. Except these were tiny and not made of salt...

We didn't get half-way up the stairs when the skies darkened quickly and the winds picked up. So we hurried back down and ran back to the shelter of our hostel just as the first massive drops of rain started hammering down on the roof. We watched the torrential rain mercilessly pounding away at the streets and anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside.

The daily afternoon rains are forcing me to become a morning person, which is quite an unnatural act for me, since I don't normally get to sleep till around 2-3AM. No me gusta...

Hanging out with more GringoPaint

I'm only half-joking about all the touristy touches in town. Salento was a huge step up from the big cities we've been staying in, full of character and such a peaceful place to stay. And Neda loves poking around all the souvenir shops, playing with the curios and trying on the multi-coloured fabrics that the locals wear. We're certainly not snooty and above acting like tourists because quite frankly, we are.

It's just nice to be the *ONLY* tourists, and not part of a load of Gringos that a tourbus vomited out onto these painted streets. LOL! So hypocritical! :)

Walking the pretty streets of Salento

We're not actually here to see Salento, tranquil as it is. Neda organized a hike (ugh.) of the Cocora Valley a few kms outside of town. It's part of the Los Nevados National Park and is a popular place for hikes and horseback rides.

I just can't seem to remember the name Cocora, I keep calling it Carcosa. You know, the place where black stars hang in the heavens, and strange moons circle through the skies. Now where did I put my pallid mask...?

Early morning hike to beat the afternoon rains

All over the area you can see tall palm trees!

The Los Nevados National Natural Park is designated a sanctuary to an endangered species. What are they trying to protect? It's these tall wax palm trees, which are Colombia's national symbol. And what are the threats to these magnificent, yet meek and mild trees? Palm Sunday. Seriously. Every Palm Sunday, people cut down the branches of thousands of these trees for their religious ceremonies. So the government has set up a palm sanctuary here, not just for the trees, but also for the plenitude of wildlife who depend on the palms for shelter and sustenance - parrots, butterflies and hummingbirds.

As if to prove my point: Does not need palm trees and *not* an endangered species...

Enjoying a Palm Sundae

What a nice break from the city. All I needed was a golf cart... 4WD of course...

Muddy from the previous day's rain, so the hostel lent us some rubber booties

Great for not getting dirty, but not so good for hiking. Many blisters later...

Lot of bridges over streams in the interior of Cocora Valley

Resting the dogs

As we climb up the hill overlooking the valley, we encounter mist. The palm trees look otherworldly!

Quit horsin' around, Neda! Lot of four-legged animals in this blog entry...

Some of these palm trees grow as tall as 60m (200feet)! These are the tallest palm trees in the world

Down at the valley floor. A little bit of scale.

Neda says, "Great hike!" Gene replies, "Ok. Bedtime."

tldr; Here's a video instead

I hope there are no Spanish speakers watching this video, because the music has nothing to do with riding or hiking or dark stars over Carcosa. It's just because Shakira is crazy hot and she's on the cover of every magazine and on every TV station here in Colombia. And her hips are telling the truth...

No loud diesel engines, no cars honking in traffic, no alarms, just peace and quiet. Buenas Noches.

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