Our two-week escape from the Colombian coast feels like an eternity ago. Well, it really has been ages now, since I’ve been quite useless when it comes to keeping this blog updated.
In my defence, though, life has been a bit busier lately. Although I’m not exactly working more hours, I am teaching Monday to Friday this semester (compared to three days a week in the first). Most days I spend an hour getting to the SENA centre, two hours teaching, and then an hour getting home again, with an extra two-hour class on Tuesday and Friday. Not the most time-efficient schedule… Keagan and I also recently began writing short articles (or rather, re-writing existing ones) for an online magazine, which takes up a good portion of each afternoon. And on top of that, our lease expired at the end of August, so we had to move into a new apartment and have been getting settled.
Anyway, here is the next installment of our June/July vacation report. After exploring Medellín and the Antioquian countryside, we began our journey south for the final week of our trip: Manizales, Salento, and Cali.
We spent an entire day in transit, experiencing the joys of a range of transportation options. We endured three bumpy hours in a bus on the dirt track from Alejandría to Medellín, a metro ride from the north terminal to the south of the city and a taxi to the station, followed by another bus to Manizales. The four-hour journey, complete with obligatory screaming baby, turned into seven hours, as our van joined the snaking queues of cars fleeing Medellin for the long weekend. We arrived in darkness, hopped into a cable car that hauled us to the centre of town, and finally hailed another taxi to take us to the hostel. By that time, it was after ten o’clock, and we were grateful to find a Chinese restaurant tucked away in a dingy street a few blocks from the hostel. We gobbled down our food as the staff closed up around us, and hurried back to the hostel, quickly surrendering to exhaustion.
The surrounding streets appeared much less unsavoury by the light of day, and our memories of yelling and breaking bottles, overheard in the early hours of the morning, faded as we walked around the historical town centre. Since our time in the city was limited, we had opted to stay in the centre rather than a nicer neighbourhood further out. With only one full day in Manizales, we spent much of it exploring the city on foot. The capital of the Caldas department, it’s a small city with a population of less than 500 000 people.
Nestled among the mountains in el Eje Cafetero, the coffee growing region, Manizales appears to be the Colombian city of cathedrals and universities. There was a certain small-town charm to the city, and Keagan remarked that it felt a little like Europe. The weather was definitely more European than we’d experienced elsewhere; it was rainy and overcast, but that was a welcome change.
In our one day in the city, we took a cable car ride (to see the view we’d missed the previous night), treated ourselves to some tasty tiramisu at a well-known cafe called La Suiza, and explored a cemetery, where we marvelled at the ornate tombs.
We ended the day with sun-downers at Chipre, a hill that offers panoramic views of the city and verdant countryside, encircled by the volcanic mountain range El Nevado Ruiz. We left Chipre soon after sunset, planning to find a restaurant for dinner. There were very few tempting restaurant options around the city centre, and fewer still because it was Sunday evening, so we set out for the other side of the city. In a bid to save money (or rather, to justify a more expensive meal), we decided to walk.
An hour and seven kilometres later, we arrived, starving and desperate for the loo, at the restaurant. Contrary to the opening hours listed on their website, it was closed. I struggled to control my hanger (anger due to hunger), ranting about Colombian incompetence (this has happened to us several times), as we wandered around the suburb, looking for another option. We eventually found a house that had been converted into Mexican restaurant, and my mood drastically improved after a margarita and some tacos. Needless to say, we took a taxi home.
Early the next morning, we piled into a jeep (built for six, holding nine) with some other backpackers from the hostel, and headed out of the city for a coffee tour. Keagan was less than impressed when his suitcase went flying off the roof-rack onto the gravel road, as the driver careened around a corner in typical Colombian fashion. But we relaxed when we arrived at the beautiful farm and were greeted by an excited puppy.
We enjoyed learning about the history of the Hacienda Venecia farm and the Colombian coffee industry, and wandering around, admiring the peacocks and horses. The best part of the morning, however, was the ‘aroma identification’ presentation, where we sniffed bottles of caramel liquid, trying to decide whether we smelled ‘cloves’ or ‘cooked beef’.
After an educational morning, we were dropped at the cable car station, and said goodbye to Manizales from the air, as we were ferried towards the bus that would take us onward to Salento.