Pijao – the ‘slow city’ in Colombia’s Coffee Triangle

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Pijao is a small town 31 kilometers (19 miles) to the south of Armenia located in Colombia’s famous coffee triangle in the Quindio province. Along with Salento, Calarca and Filandia, Pijao is considered one of the most beautiful villages in the department. Only an hour bus ride from the city of Armenia it can be a day trip as part of the coffee tour or a destination to go relax and decompress for a day or two.

A town of 10,000 inhabitants, Pijao is very relaxing, a laid back, cool climate eco-tourism town. There are several hostels and restaurants in town, a number of coffee shops, a wine shop and lots of artisan stores lining the village streets. There are hiking, biking and horseback riding excursions departing from the village with a number of waterfalls and coffee farms to visit.

The fascades of the houses, doors and windows are all painted in bright, lively colors. Located on the banks of the Lejos River, the town was founded in 1890 by liberals from Tolima, Manizales and Antioquia who were escaping the conservative regime and the domestic violence of Colombia’s Thousand Day civil war between liberals and conservatives.

Built in 1902, the town was originally called San Antonio di Colon. But the name was changed to Pijao in 1930 in cultural recognition of the indigenous people who once inhabited the area.

The Pijao people had refused to make peace with the Spanish colonizers and their population was decimated in the mid-17th century. Those who survived worked on the colonial farms that sprung up in the area. But as the big landowners expanded their holdings, the lands of the Pijao were confiscated. By the late 19 and early 20th centuries they were a dispossessed people . In the 1940s and 50s some of them were given government buyouts while others participated in government land relocations programs.

Today the town is known for being the first town in Colombia and the first in all of Latin America to join the Citta Slow (Slow City) movement which was founded in Tuscany, Italy in 1999.

Monica Florez, a communications specialist was born in Pijao and left her small town 25 years ago. When she returned she found a town that was in a state of abandon.

There had been a devastating earthquake in 1999 and the FARC guerilla invasion of 2001. The town was in a state of deterioration with the architecture, parks and streets in disrepair. Word had it, Pijao was dangerous and even the locals advised visitors to stay away.

The disasters and apathy of her own people motivated Florez to work with the villagers to promote their culture and acknowledge their architectural heritage. She created the Pijao Citta Slow Foundation 15 years ago.

Slowly they recuperated building facades with Florenz helping them appreciate the environmental richness and unspoiled landscapes they possessed.

Citta Slow is a European movement committed to slowing down the pace of life, decreasing environmental degradation, preserving culture and promoting sustainable tourism. Slow cities encourage people to live slow, make meaningful connections with the people, traditions, culture, work and nature. Local and unique produce, arts and crafts and hospitality are all encouraged and promoted. The city spaces are designed to better slow down the traffic and the pace and quality of life.

There are 283 Slow Cities in 32 different countries. Slow cities stand up against modern life in the fast lane and the homogenized development of towns and cities.

Citta Slow was inspired by the Slow Food Movement founded in northern Italy in the 1980s as a protest to the onslaught of fast food establishments and processed foods. Slow Food is a movement calls for the celebration of locally grown food encouraging people to give value to the food artisans, craftsmen and local cuisine.

Times have changed for for the better in Pijao. Today a majority of the town’s inhabitants have embraced the Citta Slow movement. Visiting the town is safe now.

The air is pure and town awash in color. There is a slow, quiet, reflective way of life, a meditative quality. Pijao in not as restless and noisy as most pueblos in Colombia. The people are dedicated to producing a wide variety of produce and livestock. The city doesn’t have tour guides but cultural interpreters. They promote non-massive tourism intent on creating job opportunities for the women and youth.

Today Pijao is serene, peaceful town where the living is slow and good.

Author: Jon McInnes

Jon McInnes is a journalist who has been traveling to Colombia since 1972. He travels to Colombia and other parts of South America yearly and writes for newspapers, food, wine and travel publications. He currently lives between Colombia and Detroit. You can also follow him on facebook and contact him via email at: jonmcinnesjon@gmail.com

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