The floors were a wide dark wood, uneven and thick, almost too cool for bare feet. Our room contains a small bed and a shelf, it is tucked neatly behind dark green closet doors. I set my bag down heavily, ran my fingers over the bed frame, a smooth indentation curved along the rough wood and I wondered who else had done the same. I imagined the whispers of long dead conversations as we snuggled under sheets that were coarse by construction but soft from long use. The coffee had warmed us but the blankets weren’t quite big enough, allowing fingers of cool mist to steal into our room and under the covers. I slept, winding myself like the fog around Matt to keep warm. I dreamed of forgotten promises and angry protests.
We arrived in Salento and I had the lyrical, unreal words of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude still playing on my phone, trying to squash the leftover chills from the bus ride. Salento has this playful, kitten-esque fog that you can watch roll over the mountains in lazy, limb-stretching arcs. It plays a spooky game of hide and seek with the mountains and palms and houses. Both friendly and unsettling, the way it feels to have your great grandmother brush against your face when you catch a breath of freshly baked bread.
Beautifully maintained and brightly colored Willy’s Jeeps line up in the main square and after shivering out of bed we catch a ride on one down the winding road into the Valle de Cocora. We ride horses into the valley painted silver by the fog, past cartoon cows, marveling at the wax palms and Dr. Seussian landscapes. The horses race each other up the hill, jockeying to be the leader, none of them content to be last. They have no bit, only a bridle, I don’t bother trying to suggest directions with my reins. I never quite relax as Gato is prone to jumping forward at odd times as he attempts to sneak past Leor’s mare. She boxes him out and huffs haughtily. Our guide jogs easily through the mud in tall rubber boots behind us. He makes shushing noises to urge the horses forward, we chat and he laughs at the silent argument for first place. La mujer es el lider. We dismount at a hummingbird sanctuary, listening to the thrumming of the air that is their flight. We will hike back out into the damp fog, chatting with a man fresh out of the Israeli army, an older man from Australian and woman from Taiwan by way of London.
We will go to a coffee farm and learn that coffee grows on bushes. The plants have been carefully bred to be short, so the coffee cherries won’t grow beyond the reach of men who carefully pick only the deepest red cherries by hand. Green cherries make the coffee bitter but the men are paid by the basket. The woman over-seeing the weighing and dumping of the coffee scowls at an unusually pale basket, I can hear her scolding as we go to pick our own cherries. I carefully peep between the leaves. We eat the sweet flesh that surrounds two little seeds, snuggled down in the center and learn about the life cycle of the plants, when the best harvest is, threats to the bushes. These coffee plants are now naturally resistant to a fungus that devastated the entire country’s coffee crop a few years ago. We walk through each stage of the process and watch as the cherries are stripped of their pulp, fermented, washed, dried, hulled, polished and sorted. The best coffee, still green, will be roasted elsewhere but we grind some that they have set aside and roasted in house. The light roast has a softer flavor, sweeter, and more caffeine than the darker roast. The guide scolds me when I ask for sugar and smiles happily as I fight to keep the grimace off my face. I don’t think I was entirely successful.
We spend another day tasting coffees around town and snuggling under the almost-too-small blankets. I try some cheese in my hot chocolate, its surprisingly delicious. A dark haired Colombian woman brings me another plate of cheese cut into tiny cubes, with a smile and an assurance that it is free. We will leave Salento and head to Cali, soothed by the coffee and quiet conversations with strangers.