The rules go something like this:
1. Stand behind the line, 5 metres from the clay target
2. Hold the “tejo” in your preferred hand with your forefinger wrapped around the side and your thumb supporting underneath
3. Hurl the steel disc toward the target with the main aim of hitting, therefore setting off, the small package of explosives jammed into the clay
Well, that’s how we interpreted it anyway! Playing tejo in Salento was a night I won't quickly forget. I had read about Tejo, a sport only known to be played in Colombia, and was immediately drawn to the sound of a “sport” whose main components involved beer and explosives!
Photos: (L) Wade lining up the perfect Tejo shot and (R) Hanna and I putting on our best game face!
Tejo bars can be found in certain small towns in Colombia, Salento being one so when we arrived in Salento late at night, what better to do than dump our bags and head out for a night of Tejo! While our interpretation of the rules was not exactly perfect, we weren’t too far from the truth. It is free to play as long as you order drinks, and there are no soft drinks or juices here kids!
Each player takes turns in throwing their “tejo” or steel disc at the target. The target is a clay pit on a 45 degree angle and in the middle is a metal ring. On the metal ring, there are 4 packages of explosives so that when a tejo hits the explosives, they in turn press against the metal ring and set off the BANG! The best shot from each turn, wins the points for that round. Change ends and continue until someone hits the explosives. Simple!
Wade, Hanna and I had been given a crash course in the game from the Spanish speaking, 70 year old Juan who ran the bar. After showing us the ropes, Juan brought us our beers and then sat down and chuckled with his female companion at our pathetic attempts to hit the targets.
It was probably an embarrassingly long 30 odd minutes before Wade finally set off a BANG! We quickly instilled a rule where the losers must immediately down their drinks before continuing with the game. I think this was Juan’s favourite part of our poorly interpreted rules!
When we looked at the clock and saw that it was midnight, we made the executive decision to head home seeing as the real reason we were in Salento was not at all for Tejo, but in fact for the beautiful and unique Valle de Cocora.
Valle De Cocora is a place that needs to be witnessed to truly be appreciated. I had seen photos of it while we were planning this leg of our journey but photos only scratch the surface of what this place really has to offer.
We woke up early after our exhausting night of Tejo and walked into town to jump in the first Jeep heading out to the valley. I think Salento has commissioned every 1990’s Jeep ever made because they seem to be the only available transport in the entire town! The valley is a twenty minute drive from the pretty town of Salento but this stunning white washed town pales in comparison to it’s natural counterpart.
The valley can be experienced either on horseback or on foot with various walking trails covering the many different landscapes in the area. Wade and I had opted to walk the full seven hour circuit of the valley while Hanna, a natural horse rider, chose to join a convoy and ride in.
The walk begins by weaving alongside a river through farmland and small homestay accommodations. Before long, the countryside disappears as we were slowly surrounded by rainforest. The trees seemed to appear out of nowhere and suddenly we found ourselves crossing rushing rivers on poorly constructed bridges and hopping over wet, mossy rocks. The walk was more strenuous than we had anticipated and soon we were weaving our way up the wet rainforest gully and working up quite a sweat along the way. Some of these walking tracks continue on for days though the rainforest and surrounding areas but we chose to simply head to the Humingbird sanctuary, deep in the rainforest before completing a loop by climbing up out of the rainforest and being rewarded by the views of the valley at the end.
Photo: (L) The beautiful open views of the valley and (R) us ready to tackle this seven hour walk
The Hummingbird sanctuary was a lovely place for a short break and a hundred or so blurry photos of these ridiculously fast birds! Wade rested, while I became frustrated at the fact that the Hummingbirds would sit and sip the sweet nectar left out for them but the minute I picked up my camera, they were off again! The sanctuary is home to some eight different species of Hummingbirds, all native to the area and only attracted by the natural nectars provided by the local family living here. No bird are kept captive here which made it all the more special to spot so many different species in our short 20 minute visit.
As we took off again, we discovered that the worst of the walk was yet to come. It was all up hill for the next 2 hours but the view at the top was well worth it. As the landscape changed from rainforest to pine forest, we slowly emerged to find ourselves at the top of the mountain. The view was incredible and worth every hot, sweaty minute.
It was at this stage that we realized we had not yet seen anything that looked even remotely like the photos we had seen of Valle de Cocora. Not wanting to sound ungrateful for the magnificent views around us, we shrugged and took off on the descent that would eventually weaved back down to our starting point.
It was as we weaved around one such corner, where the pine trees gave way to the valley below, that we saw one of the most fantastical views I have ever witnessed. It was like something that only Disney could possibly create, in some land far far away. From the small grassy opening in the forest, we could see deep down into the open valley where hundreds of 50 metre tall Wax Palm trees littered the otherwise farm-like landscape. It was quite simply incredible.
Photo: It is a crazy and unique sight seeing these ridiculously tall wax palms popping up seemingly out of nowhere!
The closer we came to these trees, the more mesmerizing they became. I don’t know about you, but I generally associate palm trees with white sandy beaches and crystal clear blue oceanic waters, NOT countryside valleys in the Andean mountain range of central Colombia! The wax palms found in Valle de Cocora are unique to this area and the tallest known variety of wax palms in the world.
Even more interesting is that this valley is a part of the Los Nevados National Park, which we had also visited during our hike to Santa Isabel Glacier weeks earlier! Glaciers and volcanoes in the north, palm tree filled valleys to the south…. Colombia you amaze me!
Photo: (L) Sarah in Santa Isabel Glacier in the north and (R) Wade in Valle De Cocoa in the south. The differences between these two areas of the same National Park are simply incredible!
As we had now made our way into the valley and amongst the palms, the last hour of our walk was spent craning our necks to look up at the trees rather than our previous view from high above them. Unfortunately the clouds came over right as we had the perfect photo opportunity but at the end of the day, as I said earlier, photos don’t quite give this place the full justice it deserves. It is an incredible and varied landscape that consistently amazed us throughout the day.
We spent the night back in Salento, enjoying the local specialty, Baked Trout along with a few friends we had met earlier in the day. We would have loved to stay in Salento for a few more days, but sadly by this stage, our extended time in Colombia was beginning to eat into the time we had allotted for our next destination, Ecuador.
Salento was also where we sadly bid farewell to Hanna, who we had now travelled with for over 6 weeks! While Wade and I are more than content with one another’s company, travelling with Hanna provided a new perspective on our journey. She brought new conversations, opinions and ideas to our adventure (not to mention plenty of laughs!) and we loved every minute of our time together. Wade was also going to miss an almost daily conversation whereby he and Hanna compared things such as the cost of living, taxes, house prices and general life perks in both Australia and Switzerland!
Our plan from Salento was to make our way more or less directly to the border between Colombia and Ecuador. It was nostalgic realizing that our time in Colombia was almost over, but we felt great satisfaction with the amount of ground we had covered and all of the wonderful places we had visited.
Crossing into Ecuador meant that within a few days we could get to work planning our trip to the Galapagos Islands, so really, moving on wasn’t going to be so hard after all!
Enthusiastic but Useless Traveler.