Cloud Forest and Colombian Coffee Culture
I am overlooking and nestled into the Andean Cloud Forest. Bio Habitat Hotel, located at the top of a mountain outside the town of Armenia offers me comfort for the night.
The fireflies flickering outside the window bring back a childhood memory of sneaking out late at night to the nearby forest just to catch a glimpse of the bioluminescence created by these miraculous tiny terrestrial invertebrates.
Today alone we sighted over 25 birds, ate lunch along the shores of Rio Quindio, and roamed the colourful streets of Solento Village enjoying the character of small town Colombia. Later we travelled to Valle del Cocora and learned about efforts to restore and preserve the dramatic wax palm forests of this region. A heartfelt ceremony of planting a seedling was intended to connect us directly to the importance of this work.
Starting at Pereira, a one-hour flight from Bogota, we have come to the Central Andean region of Colombia to experience the transformative potential of the natural environment. And indeed, most of our time is spent in nature -- hiking in the forests in quiet contemplation, experiencing a traditional Quimbaya Guazalak spa ritual under the stars and, of course, lots of coffee tasting! We eat most of our meals outside taking in the ambiance at patio restaurants featuring delicious vegetarian fare, lunch in country cookeries, and BBQ feasts around open fires.
Our small group of international travellers have come from Brazil, Argentina, Korea, Canada and France. Strangers before arriving, we are becoming friends as we travel in the Coffee Culture Landscape. UNESCO awarded this region World Heritage Landscape status owing to the continuously-productive area comprised of six landscapes where coffee growing "is central to the cultural identity and livelihood of the local communities. This public-private partnership has enabled more than 85,000 families to benefit from greater participation in decision-making processes, access to research and knowledge and product quality control."
We visited one of the Coffee farms located on these steep and breathtaking slopes which was located 45 minutes from Santa Rosa de Cabal. We spent the day at Finca la Mine, interacting with the family of this mountain-side farm learning hands-on about how coffee is grown, harvested and processed.
We continue on to a second boutique property in the coffee belt to spend the evening. The owner of Hacienda Santa Clara greets us happily in spite of our late arrival. He has been intensely busy with the restoration of this classic family-owned hacienda and is eager to share it with his guests. In the morning, he takes us to a nearby local market where we shop for the ingredients we will use to cook a typical dish that evening. Beforehand, a workshop on ‘live food’, teaches us about the health benefits of ancestral culinary practices.
On our last day, we load into a sturdy mountain jeep for an exhilarating ride deep into the Otun Quimbaya National Park. Packed into this mid-elevation 489-hectare sanctuary is an area of high biodiversity. Our time includes an informative presentation and then a hike to discover the flora and fauna before arriving at the spectacular Friars Waterfall.
This 10-day journey to Colombia has provided a meaningful connection to the land, the people and their culture. I am grateful for the opportunity to travel and for the hospitality of the people along the way. I have to say though that I'll need a couple of return visits for full transformation to be achieved ;)