The coffee-growing region
03.05.2009 - 10.05.2009
View South America tour on hughw's travel map.
Matt and I headed south from Medellín to Manizales, located in the heart of Colombia's coffee-growing region. On the way to Manizales we met Natalia, who studies at university there. She was another typical Paisa: outgoing, super chatty, and justly convinced that Antioquians (herself included) are the most beautiful, friendly and hardworking folk on earth.
We had a conversation that ran something like this:
Naty: 'You think I'm beautiful now?'
Naty: 'This is just what I look like when travelling. You should see me when I make an effort.'
[Shows pictures on phone]
Me: 'Wow. Who is that other beautiful lady?'
Naty: 'That's my mum. She's good-looking too.'
Me: 'She looks very young.'
Naty: 'She is 34.'
Matt and I managed to leave two guidebooks and a hat on the bus, perhaps something to do with Natalia's distracting qualities.
We arrived in Manizales.
From our hostal in Manizales, we went on a day trip to a coffee plantation. There the charismatic David explained the process of nurturing coffee plant seedlings (the male plants are smaller, produce less fruit and are mostly thrown away):
and the gruelling work of picking the fruit in the heat and insects:
The plantation was quite spectacular and home to other kinds of wildlife:
Then we saw how the coffee beans are processed. The beans are seeds inside a fruit, and are extracted mechanically:
Surprisingly, the drying process turns them from light brown to green:
Coffee beans are traded in this green state: dried but not roasted. Green beans are exported to other countries and roasted on arrival. Apparently they travel much better green than roasted.
David had a small roasting machine, and made the freshest coffee I have ever tasted.
Meanwhile I played with his pet parrot, who spoke some Spanish. The bird said 'hola' and gingerly stepped onto my finger. He seemed like a decent chap. Everyone stroked him a bit. Then he lent down, ever so slowly, and carefully bit my finger, before flying off laughing. The bastard.
Later I spoke to David, who said 'I hate that parrot so much, I want to make it into a soup'. I would happily join him in the eating of said soup. That night I had a fever. I blame the parrot.
From Manizales we went on a day trip to some nearby thermal springs, as over-zealously signed on the road:
You could actually run stand under the (cold) waterfalls, and then run a few yards to the steaming baths, fed from hot springs. Quite a wonderful experience.
Matt dunked a fellow traveller in one of the hot springs, and she managed to get water trapped in her ear, giving her great pain. Back at our hostal, an ancient craggy guy said we should wee on cotton wool and put it in her ear. He muttered something about learning many such tricks in the army while posted in the jungle. After much ill-concealed mirth on the part of me and Matt, she eventually tried the remedy, which worked miraculously.
After Manizales, we headed south again to Salento, a small town on a precipitous hill. It was a smaller, more remote and more chilled version of Manizales.
Where we also discovered one of the best set-menu places ever:
Teaming up with Martin from the Czech Republic, we went on a hike in the nearby Cocorro valley. To get there we had to cling onto a tiny jeep carrying 15 people. I was standing outside, one foot on a plate, and holding onto the luggage rack (which also had people sitting on it) for dear life. It was OK until the paved road ended and became a rough track. But we survived.
The trek was spectacular, and took us up one valley and down another:
The valley was teeming with wildlife:
And at the top was a small farm, where they put out feeders to attract hummingbirds:
The trek back down took us through a valley of wax palms, Colombia's national tree, eerie in the fog:
All rounded off nicely with a lunch of trucha (trout) and patacon (a sort of plantain fritter):