Hands, nose and ears chilly after an hour-and-a-half hike through thick mud, babbling brooks and over bridges formed of giant laid-out tree trunks in the midst of Colombia’s beautiful Cocora Valley and I was, as ever, ready for a hot chocolate.
I rubbed my digits together in anticipation as the welly-clad hostel owner squidged over with two oversized, steaming bowls.
I couldn’t help but frown at the large, thick and very white lumps that accompanied them.
Round here it seems the perfect complement to sweet cocoa is, well, cheese.
Sounds strange, but by the time I had dunked my third mouthful of the creamy stuff in the piping hot liquid I was becoming a convert.
We sat back and relaxed as dozens of brightly coloured hummingbirds buzzed periodically about bird feeders filled with sugar water that were hanging around Acaime Nature Reserve. Sometimes they darted in so close they skimmed your hair.
The reserve is a popular attraction near to the pretty little town of Salento, nestled snugly within the eje cafetero (coffee region).
The area’s impressive and unique landscape boasts lush rolling hills shouldering fields where hundreds of its native dark green wax palm trees tower up to 50 metres high.
We cut through a field on the walk home and craned our necks looking up at their gigantic leaves.
The region’s alternate mild and warm climate makes it the perfect location to produce some of Colombia’s best coffee.
We took a trip to a sweet little finca out of town run by Don Elias, whose expertise and warm-hearted manner have turned him into something of a local legend.
Unfortunately the Don was out on business, but a well-knowledged local lad stepped in for an informative tour of the grounds.
He showed us the Colombian and Arabica coffee beans that flourish there before being sorted, fermented, sun-dried, roasted and ground.
Then we sipped a bold cup of the resultant rich chocolate-y drink which had enough kick to power a small rocket.
Back in Salento it was time for a snack and we headed straight to the main square, overlooked by colourfully painted colonial houses by cobbled streets dotted with ornate iron lamposts.
The smell of sizzling river trout wafted through the air from the many food stalls set up selling local specialities.
We pulled up a bench at the nearest one and were soon presented with a piping hot cheese, meat and hot tomato sauce patacón the size of a dinner tray.
As the sun set we just had time to climb a set of steep stairs up to a cross that overlooks the whole village as a brass band burst into song somewhere amid the many tiled roofs.
We bought a warming cup of canelazo from a cowboy-hatted vendor who smiled and put down the guitar he was strumming before serving it up.
A sweet elderly lady with bright cornflower-blue eyes and her smiley gentleman friend were sitting chatting on the swings next to us and were keen to find out everything we had done in Colombia.
The news that we were enjoying their country seemed to make their day and they insisted on giving us their contact details so we would have somewhere to stay if we ever came back to this beautiful valley.