September 20th - 27th, 2014


Monday, 22nd of September

Up early to get into our Willys to head to the Cocora Valley (Valle del Cocora) done in the authentic coffee cultural landscape transportation known as "Yipao", a classic Jeep from the 1960s adapted to the Colombian Rural Topography. The area was designated a protected park by the Colombian government in 1985 in response to the imminent threat of extinction of the Ceroxylon quindiuense, the Quindío wax palm named by Alexander Von Humboldt. In 1801, he chose this name based upon the thin layer of protecting wax that covers its gray black trunk. Even though there are over three thousand species of palm trees, this one is special. It is indigenous to this valley, referred to as the “cradle of the wax palm” and thrives in high altitudes exceeding 4,500 feet above sea level. The palms were brought to the verge of extinction in part owing to their utility in making wax candles and building materials for farmers, but most of all because they were traditionally cut down annually for fronds on Palm Sunday. The park remains to this day pretty much the only place in the world that you can find these immense trees which, while quite rare, are no longer under imminent threat. The wax palm, the Colombian national tree, is obviously the main attraction. It is the tallest palm in the world, growing up to 60 meters, while retaining the girth of any old palm, making for a very slender giant, an immense pole topped with a little crown of palm fronds. Their wide root systems make for an odd visual: palms shooting up hundreds of feet into the sky, all widely but evenly spaced apart, as if planted purposefully. Valle de Cocora is a natural cloud forest, although the area around the hamlet of Cocora is used for pasture. The topography is decidedly Andean, with the valley following a river flanked by steep mountain foothills.

We are ready to hike the Cocora Path, where the tallest palm in the world is found. This is also the beginning of the cloud forest.

In a country full of beautiful landscapes, the Valle de Cocora still stands out. The valley stretches east of Salento into the lower reaches of Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, with a broad, green valley framed by sharp peaks. Everywhere you’ll see the famous wax palm, the largest palm in the world (up to 60 meters high) and Colombia’s national tree. Valle de Cocora is also home to a trout farm and the trout dishes are top quality. Local fauna includes mountain tapirs, spectacled bears, pumas, sloths, yellow-eared parrots, black-billed mountain-toucans, Andean condors and hummingbirds. It is a perfect area for hiking.

I cannot begin to explain how serene it was, how peaceful this hike was, although it was a bit warm since we were wearing rain slickers and fully clothed in the heat and humidity. We took breaks to talk about plants and just gaze at these magnificent wax palms so tall and heads in the clouds around us. The valley was full of them, surreal experience. I didn't realize there were 7 species of them either. Then we continued up and up until we were well above sea level ...that's where you see the vegetation taking on a life of its own with branches covered in moss, lichens and all sorts of plants that have made them home on the branches of trees. Tiny ferns hidden under huge was such a journey of discovery. At the top it was...well, cloudy so the view was a bit harder to see. Then we journeyed back down and through the fields, past cattle and birds back to our starting point and from to a very special field where we would each plant our own wax palm. There were special words that we said to all of us as we planted our palm which made it all the more memorable. Once this was done it was lunch! Fresh trout of course and since we were chilled, heaters to keep us warm on the outside and liquor to warm up our insides...what a trip!

From here we went to Finca El Ocaso for our coffee experience and walk in the coffee fields with coffee cherry picking baskets too! After our tour we enjoyed a cup before leaving for Otún Quimbaya Fauna and Flora Sanctuary. The forests in the area were operated - thinning and felling - during the first half of the twentieth century and are protected now. Conservation forests in different stages of natural regeneration and plantations of pine, cypress, and oak Urapan. These plantations were made in the 50’s within a watershed reforestation program. It has a varied topography with slopes where you can observe flora and palms, Ficus, Yarumos, bromeliads, orchids, and other species native to the cloud forest.

We arrived in time for dinner and it was not long after that we all fell into our beds for a good nights had been a busy day but a great day.

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