Although our plan was to take the third day a little easy, it was only easy by comparison. The fourth day, on the other hand, was the toughest yet, a day jam-packed with ten solid hours of hilly hiking.
After breakfast Seth and I walked to Salento in hopes of flagging down a jeep that would drive us to the Cocora Valley. Once our driver had crammed ten people inside his vehicle (plus one, a certain Seth, hanging outside), we were on our way. Twenty minutes later we arrived in Cocora, a tiny town with a giant landscape. We immediately headed toward the Reserva Natural Acaime, a natural reserve about 4.8 kilometers from where we disembarked. Of the three principal hiking trails in the Valley, the Acaime route is the easiest; however, that is not to say that it is easy. Due to its steep slopes, sporadic rain, slippery mud, and not-so-stable bridges, most tourists opt to ride a horse instead.
Seth and I completed the trek through the cloud forest on foot. We finally arrived to our destination about three hours after we had started, and we were beyond ready for a little snack. With the COP$4000 entrance fee, the reserve offered complimentary chocolate plus the option of a COP$1000 block of queso. We embraced the warm drink and fatty sustenance, admired the hummingbirds, and lamented the number of visitors. Seth and I were tired and cranky from our hike, and it seemed unfair that so many other people were able to benefit from the reserve without really working for it. Since we were not rewarded the peace and quiet for which we were hoping, we decided to move on.
As I previously mentioned, the hike from Cocora to Acaime was quite steep and slippery, so Seth and I were not so keen on taking the same route downhill to the base. We feared that one or both of us would fall, twist an ankle, and be incapacitated for the rest of the trip. So instead, at the advice of the woman manning the reserve, we continued upward 1.8 km along a different trail to the Montaña viewing point. The path was everything I had wanted in a hike—serene, soothing, and intimate. This route was steeper and in some ways more difficult than the first, but because horses were not allowed beyond a certain point it was much less wet and muddy. Once Seth and I had lost the crowds and the sounds, he asked that I sit down in the middle of the forest and allow the fog to surround me. I sat as silently as I could and listened to the calls of the birds and the trickling of the rain. I don’t know if I had ever felt as calm as I did during those few minutes.
When we got to the end of the Montaña route, we saw a beautiful house. A Dutchman and his chatty Colombian “primo” met us at the viewing point, where we signed the owner’s registry and talked about our travels. “You have to visit Medellín,” he told us. “It’s so much better than Bogotá.” We assured him that we would.
From the Montaña, Seth and I could have continued another 6.1 kilometers to the next destination, Agua de Estrellas, but a) I was not hardcore enough to do so and b) we were running out of daylight.
After taking a few moments to catch our breath, we began our descent into the Valley. On the way down we encountered many photo opportunities, so what should have been a ninety minute walk took us somewhere between two and three hours.
Having snacked on little more than hot chocolate, cheese, and trail mix throughout our hike, we were famished by the time it was over. We thought we could squeeze in a quick meal of trout with mushrooms before catching the last jeep to Salento. Dinner was delicious, and on our ride back into town we met an American expat named Michael, who was working as a history teacher in Cali. He offered to host us any time we were in his neck of the woods, and since our apartment is almost too small to host anyone, we offered to take him out for a beer if he ever found himself in Bogotá.
Over the previous evening’s dinner at the hostel, Seth and I had made plans to watch the Colombia-Venezuela football match with Julian, Stephen, and Victoria. Well, we were both dirty and running tragically late, so we opted to rush back to the hostel for a super quick shower and then walk back to Salento (again!) to try to find the group. Lucky for us, the tall Irishmen were not hard to spot at all, and we were able to enjoy the second half of the game, which unfortunately resulted in a 0-1 loss for Colombia.