A tamales vendor rides through town blasting his sales pitch over a bullhorn, zipping past rings of children playing marbles on the sidewalk.
An old woman sits in a doorway enjoying the cool breeze, as smitten teenagers walk hand in hand to an ice-cream parlor.
Daisy Mae, the prettiest cow in the world, grazes in the park with her grumpy father, Billy Bob, and pregnant mother, Nellie, while young mothers wheel strollers through the playground.
Welcome to Libano, Colombia, my little corner of the world. In many ways, Libano is like many other Colombian towns—laid back and dancing to the beat of its own drum. But you won’t find it in travel guidebooks or talked about on retirement forums, because most people don’t know it exists. Actually, many Colombians don’t even know it’s here, either.
After living in fast-paced U.S. cities for over 40 years, I didn’t believe a simple lifestyle still existed. I was wrong. Libano lives and breathes simplicity.
Home to about 35,000 people, Libano lies in a valley in the coffee region of the Tolima Department. Bright-green coffee fields, dotted with red, yellow, and blue farmhouses, carpet the mountainsides that surround the town. A small river rushes along its western border.
Libano is attractive in many ways, with brightly-painted houses, a bustling downtown, and lots of friendly people. The regional hospital lies just a few blocks from the town’s center. The local market, where vendors sell everything from locally-grown fruits to imitation-leather belts, sits in the middle of the commercial district.
The town’s well-manicured main plaza is always busy with people. During the week, old men occupy its benches, reminiscing about past loves and athletic feats. On weekends kids drive around its fountain in electric cars or line up for homemade potato chips at street-corner stands.
There are a few corporate-owned stores and offices in downtown Libano—telecoms, banks, and pharmacies. But most people own small businesses, often running them from the garage of their house. In most neighborhoods, you need to walk only a few yards to buy groceries, cleaning products, and office supplies.
Most people close up shop and go home for lunch, but some head to popular restaurants. One local eatery offers a two-course lunch served on a bed of banana leaves for about $2. For a healthy take-out meal, housewives in several neighborhoods sell homemade salads, with meat, vegetables, and pasta, for about $1 a pound.
You can find a few rental properties here. A simple, unfurnished, two-bedroom house usually rents for $75 to $150 a month. Most houses have tile floors and some feature Spanish tile roofs. Although a few have small front or side yards, rear patios and courtyards are more common. Houses don’t typically have heating or air-conditioning systems, but that’s never a problem in Libano’s mild climate. Every morning I open windows and doors to keep the house fresh all day.
There’s no doubt that Libano offers cheap living, but its everyday charm and easy lifestyle are what make it special. If the term “Colombian coffee region” evokes images of Juan Valdez and his faithful mule, then you won’t be disappointed. Almost everywhere you turn, you see farmers clad in ponchos and straw hats, sporting rubber boots and sheathed machetes.
In downtown Libano, you can sit in an open-air café or bar and sip fresh-squeezed fruit juice or cold beer. Moka, a trendy café on the main plaza, serves homemade cakes and brownies, along with locally-grown coffee. It’s always packed with people, including the farmers that grow the coffee. It’s a perfect place for people-watching and gossiping, a Libano pastime.
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