Salento to Villa de Leyva

Plastic cups with a splash of wine make an odd clinking sound, but nonetheless it's a cool sound ringing in Xmas Eve in Salento.  This time a year ago, I was in El Chalten enjoying a snowy hike with "faith girl." Now a year and one stolen dog later it seems only fitting to do another hike to usher in Christmas; this time in Valle Cocora.

Located just outside of Salento, Cocora features a wonderful stand of towering Quindio wax palms - the national tree and symbol of Colombia.  At upwards of fifty meters, they hold Dr. Seussian court over bright green grassy fields below.   

Salento marks the southern edge of El Eje Cafetero otherwise known as coffee country.  I take a side trip to El Ocaso to bone up on my coffee production knowledge. One of the better coffee finca's in this area, I luck into a private tour.  Their sustainable growing practices are pretty well dialed. My tour guide is at a loss for words as I mention entire states in the US are covered only in corn. 

This ingenious invention removes the bean from its skin and is still a critical piece of the harvest without much having changed these days other than being motorized.

Brazil, Vietnam and Colombia produce roughly 70% of the beans on the world market with Colombia providing a significant percentage of that amount.  True to Open Veins of Latin America it's almost all exported, so outside of tourist hotspots like Salento you're hard pressed to find anything much better than a cup of Nescafe. 

A pour over to top off the tour.  The only thing missing was a $5 piece of toast...

It's been roughly two years since I've laid out consistent yogic mellow J's.  El Viajero hostel offers a free yoga class, which is more like Yin yoga and just what my creaky back needs.  Limbered up, it's time to get moving again.

I follow a wonderful squiggly line slicing through dense growth out past La Florida and into Santa Rosa.

Outside of Villa Maria, brings my kind of climbing - just up.  2.000 m later I leave the jungle like stuff behind and nudge up into the paramo ringing the northern slopes of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados.

The park has multiple volcanoes with Nevado del Ruiz at 5.300m being the most prominent.  A surprisingly near clear morning gives me a glimpse of Ruiz from my tent door.  Sadly, its glaciated crown is nearly completely gone.  

I can always tell how a day is going by my number of photos/stops.  In the space of a handful of miles, I pause multiple times to look down through the surrounding paramo and glaciated waterways cut generations ago. Beautiful.

A good spot for some Headspace as clouds begin to fill in.

A small laguna mirroring the always changing Colombian skies.

I run into Diego from Libano/Bogota running his Motobecane through the paces on a small tour from Bogota.  An adventure athlete, ultrarunner, and avid cyclist, we chat roadside for a while about his cool socks.

The following afternoon, I meet up with Diego again as he and his family welcomes me into their NYE activities, which includes watching the traditional "flour bombing" of everything that moves through the main square.  

Diego and his family are another reminder of how wonderfully generous and thoughtful the Colombian's are.

Just down from Libano, at the bottom of the valley, lies the remains of Armero; a sobering reminder of nature's raw power.  Nevada Ruiz erupted on November 13th, 1985.  The eruption melted summit glaciers and snow sending a series of three massive lahars down through the valley, completely wiping out the entire village. 20,000 of it's 29,000 inhabitants were killed almost instantly.

Other than a few buildings all that is left of the town are empty paths where vibrant streets once stood and markers indicating where houses and families once lived. 

Typically, we have a tendency to re-build in disaster zones, seemingly proving our resiliency.  In this moment, it seems, those who managed to survive wanted nothing more to do with their town and the memories buried in the mud.

The Colombian wring out:  sweat like a pig - wring out shirt - repeat.

After a long road stretch, I make my way through Zipaquira and over to Nemocon to check out the subterranean salt mine.

In one of the tunnels there is a narrow pool of perfectly still salt water reflecting the cavern roof and a series of lights. 

Who doesn't like a little Franz Kline inspiration.

From Nemocon I follow a short but fun section of single track meandering along the side of an old rail line.

The line runs up along the edge of one of many ridges in this area with views out over fertile plains below. 

Shortly before Laguna de Suesca the rail gets swapped out for a series of little traveled jeep roads. After days of slogging out road miles with bits of dirt interspersed, it feels good to link together a full day on the good stuff.

Guacheta - "Gotta live, gotta live, gotta live..."

Outside of Raquira a step morning climb brings me through mini Tatacoa before dropping into the white washed tourist mecca of Villa de Leyva.

 

ROUTE:

Salento - Chinchina - Villa Maria - Los Nevados - Linbano - Armero - Viani - San Francisco - Pacho - Zipaquira - Nemocon - Laguna de Suesca - El Crucero - Lenguazaqeu - Guacheta - Raquira - Villa de Leyva

Salento to Armero GPS file here

Armero to Villa de Leyva GPS file here

ROUTE NOTES:

To get from Salento over to Villa de Leyva entails some long road stretches.  I followed much of Dean and Dang's route, but managed to sniff out a bit more dirt here and there. The following route notes are written in the direction from south to north:

(01) There is a pretty beat up pueblo just before you enter Santa Rosa with nasty dogs.  Best to load up on a few rocks.

(02) If you head up into Los Nevados from Villa Maria through Gallinazo and past Hotel Thermals del Ruiz, the connection from this side of the park to Laguna Otun is closed without either a guide or the night time gate jump.  Cass gives a good write-up in his blog but they definitely weren't letting me through the gate, maybe I just happened to run into the wrong person. And, everyone I asked said the entry into the park was only from the Manizales side and not possible through Santa Rosa, but I don't think that's right.  The park is unfortunately supremely understaffed and lacking in clear information. Frustrating.

That said, the ride from Villa Maria to Libano is wonderful with good weather.

(03) If you stop in Libano, make sure you get a coffee in Cafe Aguila on the main square where they still brew up cups from the original espresso machine circa the early 1900's and ask to see the mini church just off the pool parlor.

(04) I missed the section Dean and Dang followed past Villeta up through Nocaima and on over to Supata. Don't miss this as riding east all the way to San Francisco (as I did) on that road is brutal. The file I uploaded has this correction included.

(05) Before Pacho, there's a way to cut across to just outside of Zipaquira on a dirt road.  I missed this but it looks like a good alternate.

(06) The old rail line I picked up has a tiny bit of pushing where it's too overgrown to ride, but it's a super fun section overall and you'll probably have reached your fill of pavement over the previous days.  You could probably ride this all the way from Zipaquira.

(07)  On the final km's into Villa de Leyva, I squirreled my way past some ladies house, under two fences (only about a hundred yards worth) and through the Granja de Avenstruces where you pick up rideable stuff again. You can stay on the road to avoid this if you want.