Salento and the coffee region

Salento is a small, sleepy colonial town in the coffee region. We went to a small family run organic coffee farm for a tour, which was incredible. The information about each plant and how it assists the coffee plantation was fascinating, from the chilli plant which acts as insecticide to the Yukka to stop landslides, the avocado trees for fertiliser and the banana trees for shade and potassium. The farm was a humble three acres, with eight thousand coffee plants. The harvest happens twice a year and takes three whole months of twelve hour days, all picked by hand. We got to see the whole process from picking to drying, roasting and grinding—then we got a cup. Their hard labour clearly paid of,as it was one of the best cups of coffee we have had. We topped off our lovely day with a Saturday night curry—first one in about 5 months—it was delicious!

The following day we hiked in the Valle de Cocora, a beautiful expanse of lush rolling hills, cloud forest and tall wax palms. This was easily our favourite hike so far and the weather was far more manageable than in Minca.

Salento also presented us with an opportunity to play Tejo, a local game that is basically an explosive version of boules. Given that all we had to do was buy a beer in order to play, we didn’t miss out on the opportunity and many laughs were had.

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Tulum

Our last real stop in Mexico we were initially taken aback by how touristy Tulum was. Holiday goers out numbered Mexicans and we saw numerous people paying in US dollars. Despite this and a considerable spike in costs of things we adjusted quite quickly. We split our days by sightseeing in the morning and going to be beach in the afternoon. The first day we went to the Tulum ruins. Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited by the Mayas surviving for around 70 years after the spanish started to occupy Mexico.

It was really nice seeing the temple right next to the sea and the ideas behind the sunrise and moon felt very akin to somewhere like Stonehenge. We arrived first thing in the morning and the light was incredible with no one else there- by the time we were leaving the droves of tourists arrived.

We went to Akumal which is known for turtles grazing on sea grass. We were excited to snorkel in the hope of seeing them- which we did. It was amazing, they are only about 1.5 meters down feeding on the grass below and coming up for air every few minutes, which was our favourite thing to see- it was quite funny! These turtles were the same species that we released in Bacocho a couple of weeks before. We also saw sting rays- Rose wasn’t as keen.

Before flying to Cuba for Christmas to meet Roses family we spent a night in Cancun with Rose’s work friend Jo with her husband Joe, who are also on their ‘honeymoon’. We drank lots of a delicious cocktail made by Joe with Mezcal, Mint, Agave syrup, and water. It was so nice catching up- revelling at the idea that it was just a few days before Christmas and it couldn’t feel less christmassy.

Bacalar

After yet another night bus- we arrived in the early hours of the morning in bacalar, the lake of seven colours. Arriving at our hostel knackered- our hearts dropped as the hostel was dirty, staff unfriendly and everyone seemed to be ill. We swiftly went to look for other options and luckily found a lovely hostel down the road with an available room. Sadly the weather wasn’t great initially but the lake was still stunning. We went for a little explore on the lake with a pedalo- but returned when it started to rain. Hopeful that the rain would stop we booked a stand up paddle board tour for sunrise the next day. Paddle boarding was so much fun and calming way to start the day. The water looked like a mirror as the sun rose, we made our way to bird island where the birds sounded like pigs. Before heading to the black cenote, a sink hole that is so deep all you can see is black. The difference in depth throughout the whole lake creates so many different colours, varying from crystal clear turquoise, deeper greens, electric blues and completely black.
We also visited cenote azul, which is connected to the main lake by underground waterways. It was so beautiful- almost perfectly round and about 100m in diameter. The water is so fresh and was so nice to swim in. In typical fashion the sun only shone on the day we were leaving but the lake was still beautiful, and somehow unbelievable that it even exists.

El Roble—a touch of paradise in Paraguay

El Roble has probably been our favourite place so far. Run by an East German who made his way to Paraguay after the fall of the Berlin wall, it translates as the oak—Germany’s national tree. After a few years of “interesting” jobs in Paraguay, he bought a plot of land just outside the northern city of Concepción that was dry, difficult to farm and had no running water. One of the first things he planted was an oak tree, from seeds that his mother brought over from Germany.

Fast forward 20 years and he has gradually turned a desolate piece of land into a thriving paradise, with copious amounts of trees, plants and wildlife. After building a number of simple jungle lodges, he started to have guests to stay. I (Rose) managed to find out about it by one of my frequent and very random google searches. Usually they are quite fruitless; however, this was quite the opposite!

We arrived at El Roble on a Tuesday evening. We got out of the taxi after a long and hot bus journey and were pretty gobsmacked by how stunning the place was. The sun had just gone down, so we couldn’t soak up too much that evening, but immediately the farm had a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

Having met Peter—the owner—and another couple of travellers, we shared a well-earned beer and supper with them. It felt like a real treat after travelling a lot over the last 7 or so days.

We went to sleep to the sound of frogs all around us. We were sleeping in a little cabin, but luckily it had air conditioning. This was something we were thrilled about as Paraguay’s temperature regularly hits the mid-forties.

Waking up the next day was really exciting. We both woke quite early, probably as we were excited to explore. At breakfast we got a real feel what the farm was about: home-baked bread, home-made cheese, cream, and home-cured and reared bacon, along with freshly laid eggs.

The garden has an incredible diversity of plants, trees and flowers. There is so much to look at: 40 foot bamboo, orchids growing on top of trees, numerous succulents and a wild flower bed to top it off!

Staying at El Roble was pretty inspiring, from their almost self-sufficiency to their bio-filtered water system. Not only this, but Peter is an extraordinary person. Having told us numerous stories, it was amazing to hear how he grew up up with so many restrictions but always strived for freedom.

We enjoyed El Roble so much that we stayed for 8 nights, the longest we have stayed anywhere yet.