Colombia #6: Valle de Cocora

Ryan ’24 and Winston ’24, describe a “powerful” experience in Valle de Cocora.

Word of the day: Sembrar (to plant). We started our first morning in Salento with an early and rejuvenating run hosted by Jerónimo. We started the day off with a knock on the door at 6:20 a.m., when five of us rolled out of bed and met on the street. Greeted by the crisp but heavy air, we prepared to start our day with a run. While I don’t think any of us were runners, the idea of seeing another side of the small but lively Colombian town of Salento was an opportunity none of us were willing to pass up. With the promise of a view of the Central Mountain Range, and a better understanding of the town we had just arrived in we set off. The day before, Jeronimo told us the word of the day-aprovechar– meaning to take advantage of the opportunity provided. This idea is something we have kept reminding ourselves of throughout the trip, and this optional run was the perfect opportunity to experience a side of Colombia that we would not have seen otherwise. The run was slowly paced, and well mapped out- starting with a jog through the street of Salento, where we saw a large presence of people already awake and starting their days. We then took a winding road on the outskirts of town- passing graffiti tags, thick sections of tropical trees, and multiple Momotid, which are a beautiful bird with a bright blue head, vivid green, wings and a very long tail. We then ducked a barbed wire fence to see one of the most breathtaking views of the trip. As a collective this run was more than a jog through Colombia, but an experience that both further exposed us to the biodiversity of this country, and the overwhelming size of the landscape and mountain ranges. While an everyday run may seem insignificant, seizing this opportunity not only let us start the day off with a win, but allowed a small group of us to further immerse ourselves into this vibrant town which we will get to know in the next few days.

This was only the first of the many scenic and indescribable sights to come. The landscape of Salento is filled with luscious greenery and we had the opportunity to experience it with a trip to Valle de Cocora. We started off our tour of Cocora with a special drink called canelazo. Throughout our journey through Colombia, we have been introduced to various new drinks and food, which has allowed us to truly try and experience Colombia. The canelazo was made using cinnamon, passionfruit, spices, cloves, and other interesting ingredients. While drinking, we thought of Salento, and more specifically Cocora, where this drink is native to.

After our immersion in Cocora culture, we went on a hike through the abundant forest and mountains. On our hike, we passed a running river, which was very peaceful and calming. The sound of the rushing water was similar to the sound of the water in which we saw this morning on our run. Seeing the sheer beauty of nature in Cocora was eye opening and the nature, although similar to Deerfield, was on an entirely new level of untouched. The trees that dominated the landscape were incredibly tall and looked similar to palm trees. These trees can live for up to 200 years, grow to 70 meters, and have roots that span two to three thousand meters. These trees towered over the rest of the forest, and were mesmerizing. Looking at these gargantuan trees, it was surprising to realize that trees like them existed. At our final stop on the hike, we were split into groups of three, and the tour guide gave each of the groups a baby tree. The baby trees were only three years old, and the name of our group’s tree was Jesus. Jesus represented our combined wishes for a greener and better world. This wish aligns with the tour guide’s message for us, which was that we (young people) are the future of this planet and it is up to us to make change and do what we can to combat climate change. Keeping his message in mind, we realized that we were going to be planting trees that would provide oxygen for generations to come. The baby tree seemed very small and insignificant in comparison to the enormous trees that surrounded it. However, this tree will one day become one of the towering palm trees that we first saw coming to Cocora.

Planting our tree was very sentimental. For many of us, it was our first time planting a tree, and especially after talking about our wishes in planting the tree, it felt very special. As we lowered the tree into the dirt, we all joined hands and helped fill the hole with dirt, in turn dirtying our hands. Our dirty hands were a token of sorts, that reminded us that we took a first step in taking care of our planet. The word of the day, sembrar, also helped us remember this moment. Sembrar means to plant, and although we literally planted a tree, the idea of nature conservation and helping the world was planted into our minds. And, we can further plant that idea in others’ minds if we continue doing volunteer work such as this. What a powerful day.