Saturday, September 15, 2012

Even Though I Walk Through the Valley

Valle de Cocora
This is Day ... ¿Qué? ... ¿Nueve?  Nueve, I believe.  La Gran Aventura Colombiana Conmigo.  Homestetch of the vacation has now been entered.  I am now at the third of my four Colombian destinations, the Zona Cafetera, the Coffee Triangle, where the bulk of Colombian coffee cultivation takes place.

But the focus of the day is not coffee, but a certain palm tree, the Palma de Cera, the endangered Wax Palm, the national tree of Colombia.  And when you want to get your Wax Palm on, where do you head?  Valle de Cocora near Armenia in the Zona Cafetera.

Entering the Valle de Cocora
Did I mention before how incredibly beautiful the land is in Colombia?  It's even better when the sun is out!  And this, Day Nueve (nine for those of you not habla-ing your espanol), is the first day in country that I have had to break out the sunglasses!  A milestone day.

It was sunny, but very windy day.  So it was nice to be greeted at the destination point with a hot beverage, a canelazo, which is sugar cane juice, orange juice, passionfruit juice, cinnamon and either ron (rum) or aguardiente (fire water, the national anise-flavored tipple).  I opted for "ron."  It was smooth and sour and sweet and a couple of dozen kinds of tasty.

The elevation is quite high here, so I will once again choose as my excuse for not hiking an extensive amount.  My guide Alejandro and I started on the upward path to get up close and personal with the Palma de Cera.

A mule
My lungs and legs soon vetoed that selection.  A gentle hike to the river it would be!

Horses crossing the river
We hiked along the river back to the Pena de la Virgen, a shrine to the Virgin Mary built into the rocks right at the point where there is a steep climb up the rocky slopes to get to the lands of Parque de los Nevados.  You would give a prayer for protection as you began the steep ascent, or a prayer of thanksgiving for surviving the steep descent.

Virgen de la Pena
The Wax Palm is an interesting tree.  It is the only type of palm that can survive at this elevation, protected by its wax.

The path out ... which was the path in ... only facing the other direction
It can live for about 200 years -- which ain't much in tree years -- and grow to heights other palms can only dream of (presuming, of course, palm trees dream).  They are endangered.  So, us tourists are enlisted in the cause of planting of new baby Wax Palms.  (I was going to type "saplings," but I'm not sure if a young palm is called that.  It doesn't seem like it would be right.)

First, it was forced labor as I was ordered to dig a hole:

I dig Wax Palms
Flashbacks from my days on the chain gang.  I am then introduced to the baby Wax Palm whom I shall plant in said hole:
Meet the Wax Palm

The tree is then planted, more by the park ecologist than by me, but I can live with that:

Planting season
And it all ends with an awkward hug from the park ecologist:

So very awkward
Hey, he suggested it.  Not me.  He said it was traditional.  Given the obvious awkwardness here, I suspect the tradition is about to die.

Leaving the Valle de Cocora
The tradition may die, but my Wax Palm shall live.

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