Salamina and San Felix

When Patricia took us to the cable car in Manizales, it was an easy ride above the city to the Terminal de Transportes. There, on Friday, March 10, we found a taxi colectivo to Salamina.  Slower buses were also available, but they were only a dollar or two less than the shared taxi, and the taxi was guaranteed to carry no more than five passengers.

Salamina is a coffee town, known for old buildings with carved doors and beautiful balconies. When settlers from the Medellin (Antioquia) area moved southward in the early 19th century, Salamina was one of the first towns they founded. Though Salamina is interesting and historic, we didn’t enjoy our short time there.

Salamina balconies and flowers

Mandatory church on the plaza

Salamina's lovely plaza might have been filled with activity in the evenings if it were not for the pouring rain.

Salamina is known for balconies and carved doors.

Our hotel in Salamina, Hospedaje la Casona, was disappointing on balance. Our room was clean but very tiny, with no place to store anything. That wouldn't have mattered if we'd been spending all our time outdoors, but the weather ranged from cloudy with only an occasional glint of sun to drenching downpours and thunderstorms. Also the owner/landlady, Ampara, was one of the few Colombians we've met who needed to constantly chatter in Spanish so rapidly that we could not understand a word. There's no reason in the world that Colombians should know English -- good grief, it's their country and Spanish is their language -- but at least most folks in the tourist business are able to slow down a little to help us gringos understand. Not Ampara. (Later, after we'd left, Ampara did something quite wonderful.)

A street in the old part of town; our hotel

We were eager to escape to San Felix, a little-known village that is a short distance from a little-known area of wax palms. (When we say “little known” twice, we mean it. Even most Colombians we talked to were unfamiliar with San Felix and had no idea that there was an extensive area of wax palms nearby. Most people know only of the wax palms in the Valle de Cocora, near Salento.)

The wax palm (palma de cera) is one of Colombia’s national symbols. It’s the tallest palm tree in the world, growing to a height of nearly 200 feet.

We’d read that few tourists come to San Felix or the nearby wax palms, and it is truer than we imagined. We had to catch a 6 a.m. bus to reach San Felix, and the ride was an adventure. Over ridiculously rough, winding dirt roads, our little bus averaged no more than 15 miles an hour.

San Felix in the morning

Morning traffic in San Felix

Morning traffic 2 -- In this area, many farmers keep dairy cattle.

When we arrived at the rather bleak plaza of San Felix, there were no taxis, jeeps, or any other sort of public transportation. At the one dark little cafe that was open at 7:30 a.m., we learned that we could walk to the wax palms in about 4 km, and that a mirador with great views of the area was another 2 k.m. farther. We also learned that the palms are at Samaria -- not a town, just a location -- and it’s good we knew that, because otherwise we’d have likely chosen the wrong turns at a couple of forks in the dirt lane.

Hiking toward Samaria

Just before Samaria, three men in a Jeep offered us a ride, and it was a good thing, because they drove us to the mirador, and the road(?) up to it was so steep that we might not have gotten there otherwise.

Friendly and helpful men who gave us a ride

At the mirador, a nice man offered guided walks, and his family was setting up a modest restaurant. All to prepare for the incoming flood of tourists ;-) Just as we were trying to decide whether to bother with the guided walk (the guide spoke no English at all) an English-speaking Frenchman from Cali hiked up, so we now had a part-time translator, and the four of us set off into the countryside.
In the wax palms at last 

After our tour and a snack at the mirador, we walked the entire 6 ks back to San Felix. On the way we passed a remote farm that we had heard offers rooms and meals. We checked it out and decided to return the next day, but when we finally got back to Salento, evening rain began and turned into a torrential downpour, with flooded streets. Having little in the way of dry, clean clothes, and remembering what the bus ride had been like before a downpour, we decided to leave the area. (Salento and environs would surely be better place in good weather!)

This farm near San Felix offered nice rooms to guests, and we would have returned but for the weather.

On the morning of Sunday, March 12 we began an all-day bus adventure to Jardin, Antioquia, a small town that would be one of the highlights of our trip