We woke up at sunrise to visit the Valle del Cocora, known for their giant waxed palm trees. We arrived at the small tourist town amassed at the trail head that was surrounded by tiendas selling local treats such as arequipe, bocadillo and coffee wine. Before heading towards the cocoros, we stopped to rent rain boots to navigate the mucky conditions (well worth the $3 per pair). Our hike led us past a small trout farm before the path began to gain elevation. The trail wound through the expansive valley, past grazing cows on the hillside, and into a rainforest with a dramatically different climate.
The temperature dropped almost immediately once we heard the sound of a waterfall through the lush jungle. Moss covered the trunks of trees and the ground was damp from the humidity. We stopped at a hidden waterfall and looked on as fellow hikers arrived on horseback to brave entering the icy waters. We reveled in the abundance of nature, took a few photos, and snacked on our packed lunch.
On our way back to town, our tour guide Blaney (sounds French but he is Colombian and the name is Irish) pointed out the Angel’s Trumpet flower, which produces seeds that can be ground up to produce a powerful sedative known as one of the most dangerous drugs in the world. Devil’s Breath, as its called in Colombia, has been used in assaults and robberies due to its amnesic effects and ability to make people extremely open to suggestion.
During our three hour hike, Blaney informed us that there are only 12 species of waxed palms; 7 of which are found in Colombia, and 4 can be found in the Valle de Cocora. The waxed palms grow at higher altitudes and cooler temperatures than the typical palm trees of the tropics. The cocoras are the tallest palms in the world, and can grow up to 70 meters high with lifespans of over 150 years. Although we found it unnecessary to have a tour guide, we were enchanted by Blaney’s passion for preserving nature and living simply. We discussed everything from politics to the cosmos and thoroughly enjoyed his company and prowess on his handmade flute.