You never know when you’re in the moment how you’re going to look back at it years later, but I think this picture sums up the exuberant, freewheeling joy and sense of aliveness that sometimes comes with travel. And I think I felt it at the time.
When Kate, Bing, Sarah, June, the other girl from the hostel in Salento, and I were taking goofy silhouette shots in the dense fog of the cloud forest on top of La Montaña in the central Colombian highlands, I knew I had to cherish the moment. By that point in my travels, I had made enough real connections with fellow travelers over the years that I knew how deep and meaningful these intense, fleeting relationships can be because of shared, unique experiences. I knew that paths cross randomly sometimes, and you’re left forever thinking about people who are spread across the world.
What brought this particular group of travelers together was a tough hike up to the vista overlooking the Valle de Cocora. We had hiked for a few hours, through several microclimates, and across rickety wooden bridges that would only support one person at a time. We did this because we wanted to see the famed Palma de Cera, or wax palm, which the valley is known for. And we wanted to see the supposedly splendid view of the lush, rolling valley. But instead we barely saw each other because a thick, bewildering cloud settled in and obscured our vision.
So we goofed off, took dorky pictures of each other, and made sure we would always remember.
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The Foggiest Notion
What I didn’t see from the vista atop La Montaña in the Andean highlands of central Colombia’s enchanting Valle de Cocora: rolling, coffee-covered hills and valleys streaked by every shade of green that plunge, bend, and fold for miles on end.
What I did see: a freaking unicorn!
Okay, not quite. But a unicorn would not have been out of place on that mystical mountaintop in the dreamlike cloud forest near the sleepy town of Salento in the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s main coffee-growing region.
What I actually saw was the gradual appearance of a pure white stallion, which materialized onto the hazy mountain trail from a swirling mist. It was the stuff of cheesy fantasy novel covers and 1970s heavy metal record sleeves. Of course, the only thing missing was a horn.
In that nebulous environment, I also saw the area’s star attraction—the Palma de Cera, or wax palm, which is Colombia’s national tree. The tallest palms in the world, they can stretch more than 200 feet high on thin, lanky trunks. The silhouettes towered overhead, and some resembled banner-less flagpoles, their palms lost to the gloomy, gray atmosphere.
With our vision limited to about 50 feet, my hiking companions and I didn’t see much from that high vista (we did on the way up and down). But that shadowy setting was unforgettable.
El Valle del Cocora, a national natural park in the central cordillera of the Andes, is the main attraction of the colorfully-painted town of Salento. The valley is known for its towering, skinny wax palm trees, which are the tallest in the world. One can hike the forest by foot or on horseback. The end of the lush trail leads to the 'Santuario de Calibris,' or hummingbird sanctuary; an area where the small, hurried birds fly freely and abundantly.
The typical way to arrive at the park is to take a Willy, an old jeep from WWII times, from the Plaza Bolivar in Salento. They leave at various times in the morning: show up early to ask the drivers when they leave. It's well worth the 3.000 Colombian pesos ($1.50 USD) each way to reach this lush and mysterious valley in the clouds!