12/12/2013 05:17 EST | Updated 02/06/2014 05:59 EST

Willies, Trout and Wax Palms: Salento, Colombia

As the road leading to the hot springs in Santa Rosa de Cabal turned to kilometers of dirt, I assured myself that it would be okay. I don't usually enjoy riding offroad, but this few kilometres of dirt was actually quite enjoyable, and I was all by myself. Maybe I'm actually getting more confident?

As the road leading to the hot springs in Santa Rosa de Cabal turned to kilometers of dirt, I assured myself that it would be okay. I don't usually enjoy riding offroad, but these few kilometres of dirt were actually quite enjoyable, and I was all by myself. Maybe I'm actually getting more confident?

I pulled down into the parking lot, and the attendants told me that my friend had been there a few minutes ago and then continued up the road. How did they know I was the friend? Guess there aren't too many gringas on motorcycles around there.

Apparently there were more than one set of hot springs along that road, and Tom had thought I may have continued to the second set. As I pulled out of the parking lot, he appeared on his Suzuki DR650. He reported that the other hot springs looked fancier (ie more expensive), so we decided to stay at these ones.

Me posing at the entrance to the hot springs

Tom on the path to the resort

The approach to the hot springs was much more beautiful than the resort itself (Apologies, I didn't take any pictures at the pools themselves)

I had been expecting something more natural than the 1970s style resort that we entered. It was about $15 each to enter, and several times we were approached by women selling mud masks, hikes to the source of the hot springs etc. The hot springs were a series of swimming pools filled with hot, yellow tinted water set in a beautiful location, with waterfalls and mountains all around. A holiday destination for middle class Colombians, we were the only white people there.

It wasn't a long ride to Salento, where I checked in to one of the most beautiful hostels I have ever stayed at. La Serrana was about a 15 minute walk outside of town, along a road that looks out over pastures filled with cows, horses and sheep, and green valleys. The hostel itself is like an old farm house, with an area for camping, and an organic garden. Every evening they cook a delicious, reasonably priced meal that is eaten in a separate kitchen/dining room building.

The stunning view from the road between town and the hostel

Tom had already been staying there for a couple of nights, and so was able to show me around.

That evening we went into town for dinner, and randomly wandered into a restaurant advertising the local speciality, trout. The food was delicious, one of the best meals I ate in Colombia. I hadn't really spoken much to Tom when we met him in Cartagena and Medellin, so it was fun learning about his family and life over the past six years he's been away from Australia. He met a girl while travelling in Asia, and eventually moved to Seattle to be with her. He spent four years in Seattle before buying a motorcycle and heading South in March 2013. He's also planning on visiting Ushuaia before he finally returns home to Australia.

The general concensus about Tom is that he is a real gentleman. His mother did something right. He is always concerned about the other people he is with, and puts their happiness ahead of his own. A trait rarely found in people these days.

Note the stairs going up the hill in the distance

We spent four nights in Salento. We met up with some of Tom's friends from Medellin, Lacey (Canada), Eliza (Aus) and Nick (NZ) and the five of us formed a stellar team. We climbed the big staircase in town (Lacey ran up and down it FIVE times while waiting for us, walking up once was enough for me!) to have a beer while watching the sunset from the top of the hill.

Sunset from the top of the stairs

The beautiful Solento sky

Later we learned how to play Tejo, a popular bar game that involves throwing heavy metal pucks at small paper envelopes full of gunpowder. Only in Colombia could this be considered a good idea. We had a great time!

Each folded triangle is explosive (and LOUD) when hit by a metal puck...

Tom with a Tejo puck and a beer (mandatory to buy beer to be allowed to play)

Me showing my expert, gunpowder exploding, form.

The gunpowder field of dreams - it's a long way to that target!

The next day we climbed into one of the ubiquitous Jeep taxis (referred to as Willies) and went to hike the Valle de Cocora. It was a beautiful hike, but much more strenuous than I had been expecting. I was suffering the tail end of a cold, and annoyingly could hear myself breathing because of clogged sinuses, but I pushed through and it was worth it in the end.

The jeeps have set times they go to and from the Valle de Cocora

Our Willy taxi

Lacey and Eliza ready to hike

They still use pack horses in Colombia, This guy greeted us at the start of the trail

Along the hike there were many streams to cross

Crossing one of the more stable bridges

Just one at a time on this bridge

One at a time for a reason!!

When we made it to the top, there were many beautiful hummingbirds buzzing around. The hot chocolate the park rangers gave me was very delicious!

My favourite of the many hummingbirds at the ranger station at the top of the hike

It wasn't the end of the strenuous part however, there was a choice of ways back down, the way we came, or a steep climb up to a peak, and then down through a valley filled with Colombia's national tree, the tall and skinny wax palm. We chose the palms.

Nick (showing how we all felt), Tom, me, Lacey and Eliza (random German guy who joined us in the back too).

Valle de Cocora: Wax palms are Colombia's national tree, and grow VERY tall

Me and the Valley of Cocora

On our way home, the back of those willies are not made for tall people

Back in town, we returned to a brilliant cafe called "Brunch" which serves delicious American style food and has a cinema room where you can chill and watch movies while you eat and drink. We went there several times, and one time we met Adrian and Lauren -an Australian couple riding two-up on a BMW GS1200. They are riding Alaska to Ushuaia in just five months. Quite a difference from the 14 months I had been on the road just to get to Colombia!

Tom and the gang toured a coffee plantation the next morning. As I had only recently been to the one with Phil and Kelly in Manizales, I used the time to sleep in and catch up on some blogging instead. I met everyone for lunch, after which we had been planning to ride horses up to a waterfall. However it started to rain and so we opted to change our plans. Tom and the girls hadn't had enough coffee, so did a coffee preparation course.

I was planning to go back to the hostel, but started talking to a man in the restaurant called Alan and his lady friend Martha. They bought me a glass of wine, and we eventually parted ways 3 or 4 hours later. I love randomly meeting new friends!

Nick was trying to convince us all to join him visiting the Galapagos islands in Ecuador. It's very expensive to go there, and so there was much debate about whether it was worth it or not. I was swayed by everyone's enthusiasm, and so emailed my friend Marty from Panama to ask what he thought about it, as I knew he had been to the Galapagos before. His reply?

"Come sailing with me there or fly there once I am there, as will need crew at stages and will be fun. Much cheaper.

Wow - it turns out that he's taking Sabatayn, the sailboat we stayed on with him in Panama, to the Galapagos in February, and I'm invited. Awesome.

With that offer on the table, I decided not to spend $1000+ to go with the gang.

The gang hanging out in the hammocks at our hostel

Salento was a very relaxing change from the big cities of Cartagena and Medellin. Lots to do, all in an extremely beautiful setting. However the time had come to move on. I put in a couple of couchrequests, and Pipo in Buga accepted, so with Phil and Kelly still in Bogota, Buga became the next destination for Tom and I.