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Escape to the Country: The Eje Cafetero

Written by  November 28, 2012

An escape to the coffee cultural landscape of Colombia.

My time here is flying by fast, today is day 28 (of 98) and I still feel like I arrived yesterday!

One benefit of living with 10 other international exchange participants? You have instant travel companions! My second week here I found myself on a bus travelling to The Eje Cafetero, also known as the the Coffee Cultural Landscape of Colombia, with four of my housemates. At 7 a.m. we boarded a bus headed for the city of Pereira a six-hour journey, which left me slightly sick and at times fearing for my safety. The roads were steep, curvy and in need of some repair. The driver was constantly over the speed limit and made some rather reckless passes. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. (I actually slept through most of it to be completely honest, although most of my friends weren’t as lucky.)

From Pereira we took another bus to Salento, a beautiful village typical of the coffee-growing region. It is a very touristy destination with shop after shop dedicated to selling eager visitors keepsakes and mementos. Charming is the only way to describe it, a cookie-cutter perfect town that hooks onto your imagination and leaves you feeling like you’ve just walked onto a movie set.

In Salento, we hopped on a jeep and made our way to La Serrana, a quiet and beautifully situated hostel, about a 10-minute walk from Salento. I found it impossible not to fall in love with the surrounding mountains. When we arrived the whole area was shrouded in mist! Sunday was dedicated to visiting a nearby Coffee farm, Finca "Don Elias."

Some coffee related trivia: in Medellin if you ask a vendor for a “café,” you will receive a cup of coffee with powdered milk. If you are a fan of black coffee, as I am, you need to ask for a "tinto." Luckily the kind lady serving me took pity on my obvious cluelessness and didn’t charge me for the first order.

So far my experience here has been nothing but positive and it has sort of blinded me to the everyday problems many people face in this humming city. The most obvious is poverty. There is a very high number of casual street vendors and homeless people hanging out on the streets. Some will hop on buses and try to sell chocolates, pencils, cookies, or any other sort of inexpensive trinket or sweet. Others will perform tricks or stunts at stop lights and go around collecting money from the cars waiting for green to hit.

The first time I saw these sorts of things happening I was really caught off-guard. A young guy (maybe 17-25? I always have a hard time gauging ages) hopped over the bus turnstile and started passing out chocolates while quickly giving a speech he had obviously given many times before. My Spanish isn’t good to begin with and he went through it so fast I just sat there looking at the chocolate bar he had put in my hand. He came back around the bus, collected the chocolate bars and left. It happens so often now I don’t even notice it sometimes. I just sit on the bus plugged into my iPod and stare out my window. I should feel empathy but all I feel is annoyance.

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Published in Work Abroad Blogs
Nadine Van Deuren

Nadine Van Deuren is a recent graduate of Western University who is spending three months in Medellín, Colombia through AIESEC. While there she will be working with students at the Fundación Educativa CENSA Juan Sebastián Gutiérrez Bustamante to improve their English langauge skills. Her goals? To improve her very basic Spanish, learn more about Colombia and hopefully pick up some salsa skills. In her spare time she likes to dabble in other languages, write letters and make plans for future travels.

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