eje cafetero: day 1: the bus ride

One year and fifty-five days into our Colombian adventure, Seth and I had, quite shamefully, failed to leave the Sebana de Bogotá. After submitting a full (albeit interim) drawing set for Seth’s parents’ bay house, completing some personal projects (for me, an essay with to-be-determined results and for Seth, a series of diagrams for his parking website), filing our taxes, and renewing our work visas, we thought we were long overdue for a vacation. My office granted me the entire week off for Semana Santa, so throughout the month of March I planned a trip to the Eje cafetero, known in English as the Coffee-Growers’ Axis.

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Because my office is the principal architect for a well-known Colombian coffee chain, we have been talking almost non-stop about coffee, the Eje cafetero, and the supposed “authentic” versus the supposed “inauthentic” elements of the region. For example, our clients—who are undoubtedly the most stubborn yet simultaneously indecisive people I have ever met–absolutely despised a blue counter that we incorporated in the first of the new stores. “Blue?! This isn’t Cartagena!” they cried, insisting that shades of azure, turquoise, or sea green could not possibly exist among the lush vegetation of the coffee region. Café oscuro, yes. Café con leche or beige (shudder!), of course! Sure enough, Salento—a town situated in the geographical center of the Coffee Growers’ Axis—is saturated with these so-called “beachy” colors. Throughout our weeklong stay I not only paid attention to the hues of the town but also to the patterns and textures. The landscape is an extremely layered and rich scene, and I now understand that our designs (and for that matter, the clients’ vision) hardly do it justice. In fact, just before I left I learned that none of my coworkers had even visited Salento proper! The Parque Nacional del Café—basically, a Walt Disney-style amusement park dedicated to the production and sale of coffee—was the extent of their knowledge of the region. I was determined to bypass all of that nonsense for some peace, quiet, and quality coffee.

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Seth and I woke up bright and early to catch an Expreso Bolivariano bus out of Bogotá. Our bus was supposed to depart at eight, but due to a slew of illiterate morons who mistakenly purchased 8 p.m. tickets instead of the desired 8 a.m. tickets, we left the terminal an hour tardy. We then stopped at the other bus terminal in the south of Bogotá, which proved to be another monumental waste of time, and we were finally out of the city by ten. I promptly fell into a gentle snooze, and when I opened my eyes about an hour later, all of the bus windows were opaque with fog. Our water bottles had completely compressed, and our chip bags suddenly fit less snuggly in my bag. Seth and I packed my mochila full of nutritious snacks, so when we arrived in Ibagué for a thirty-minute lunch, we used the time to freshen up and sip some jugo de tomate de árbol. We re-boarded the bus and arrived in Armenia at four o’clock on the dot. The sun was hot and the views were plentiful. After a bit of shuffling around the terminal, we spotted a bus to Salento and hopped on it. On the bus we met a young Canadian lawyer named Patrick, who was on vacation with two of his female friends. He could not speak nor understand a single word of Spanish, so when a Colombian couple on the bus offered him one and then two and then three shots of tequila straight from their bottle, he thought it would be easier to go with the flow than to refuse. Our driver dropped us off in the main plaza of Salento around 5:30. Some of us were sober; others were not.

Having subsisted exclusively on snacks, Seth and I made a beeline for Brunch, an American restaurant northwest of the main plaza. (If you had been eating Colombian food ten months of the past year, trust me, you too would crave some U.S. goodness.) Seth ordered a burger, and I ordered a black bean burger. (Believe it or not, black beans are rather difficult to find in Bogotá—and even more difficult to cook!) Between us we also ordered a side of off-the-menu poutine, which was improperly made with white gravy but was nevertheless super delicious. Just as we dug our forks into the cheese and gravy-coated fries, the owner—an expat from Portland, Oregon—bursted out of the kitchen and cautiously asked us if we were Canadian. We assured him that we were not and that we greatly appreciated him putting together the dish, regardless of its level of authenticity.

After dinner Seth and I walked the two kilometers to La Serrana, read for a while, and fell asleep. We knew we had a busy day—or rather, a busy week—ahead of us and we did not want to miss out on anything due to something as trivial as lack of sleep.

[Brunch: Calle 6 # 3-25, Salento-Colombia]

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