Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Disneyesque Afternoon in Salento

The colors of Salento
Afternoon break time in the colorful town of Salento, Quindio, Colombia. at the gates of the Valle de Cocora.

The town is known for a few things other than its colorful downtown.  First, there is Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen, in the town's Bolivar Square:

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen
Ironically, even though all of the houses are bright bright vibrant primary colors, the church in Bolivar Square is a tasteful medium tan.  In a way, it stands out precisely because it is an earth tone.  Now, about that whole "Bolivar Square" thing.  Every town in Colombia has got one, named after El Liberatador Simon Bolivar.  And every Bolivar Square has a Bolivar statue:

Bolivar in his self-named square
And every Bolivar Square is the social and commercial epicenter of every small Colombian city:

Relaxing in Bolivar Square
The town is also known for its unique Stations of the Cross, which is a steep 250-stair climb to the top of Mirador de Salento:

Climbing the 250 stairs to Mirador de Salento
At the pinnacle:

The final Station at the peak of Mirador de Salento
Now, I could say that I did the climb and that my legs and lungs were aching after walking each of the 250 stairs.  But this is not just a tall stairway, it's a Stations of the Cross.  So I have to admit:  we cheated.  Our driver left my guide and me off in the parking area just below Mirador de Salento.  OK, there was a bit of a climb to get to the Cross here, but it was no 250-stair climb.  So, moral of the story is:  if you find yourself in Salento during a Lenten season, it would be much easier to do the stations from XIV to I, from tomb to death sentence, rather than the temporally correct order.

Still, even a 250-step descent can work up a man's appetite, so it was time for lunch.  I wanted the typical local cuisine and this is what I ordered:

Trucha al ajilloa la plancha
Trucha al ajillo a la plancha!  Trucha = trout.  The local method of preparation is a filet of trout grilled, served on a wafer-thin giant plantain.  I ordered it in a garlic cream sauce.  Squeeze some lemon on it and it was incredibly delicious.  Maybe the best freshwater fish dish I've ever eaten.  And after I finished with the fish, I could break off pieces of plantain, which, because it had been pounded so thin, had the texture and crunch of home-cooked potato chips (but a whole lot more flavor).  Even the accompanying side salad was good (and Colombians can do some weird things to a salad).  It was a simple vinegary cole slaw.

Why did I say that this was a Disneyesque afternoon?

A parade down Calle Real
Because we were wandering the downtown, walking along Calle Real, the Main Street Salento, and -- all the sudden -- a parade broke out!  A colorful, noisy, fun parade, just like in Disney.  Only without Mickey, Minnie or Goofy:

Here she comes ....
But it did have ... a young Miss Wax Palm!

The young Miss Wax Palm
A colorfully-dressed but normal-looking young local lass, not tarted up Honey Boo Boo or, worse yet, Jon-Benet style.

The parade them seemed to be, "We in Salento love our wax palms."  The floats all were decorated in wax palm recreations.

Wax Palm Parade float
All of them:
Wax Palm Parade float
Five floats in all turning out for the Wax Palm Parade.

Wax Palm Parade float
It all ended with music, dancing, and wax palm recreations in, of course, Bolivar Square.

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