A Travellerspoint blog

Manizales and Salento

The coffee-growing region

semi-overcast 24 °C
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?'
Me: 'Erm...'
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):


Posted by hughw 18:39 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)


The city of eternal spring

sunny 22 °C
View South America tour on hughw's travel map.

From Cartagena, Australian Matt and I headed south to Medellín, a bus trip of some 600km. Medellín is the capital of the department of Antioquia, whose natives are known as 'Paisas'. We had high hopes of the city. Every conversation we had had with Colombian taxi drivers ran like this:

"How are you today señores?"
"Good thanks."
"What do you think of the women in Colombia? Beautiful no?"
"Yes very beautiful."
"You are right. But the paisa women are the most beautiful of all. Are you going to Medellín?"
"You are lucky men! ¡Que mujeres divinas!"

Usually followed by an ad-lib paean to the women of that region, and their unequalled friendliness and curvaceousness.

With its endless heat, insects, smell and (areas of) poverty, Cartagena had been quite taxing. I had reassured Matt, based on nothing but instinct and faith in the judgment of taxi drivers, that Medellín would be the promised land. It is known as 'the city of eternal spring' due to its year-round pleasant climate. I promised beautiful women would bathe our feet, bring us milk and honey, and take pity on our inability to dance salsa or speak Spanish.

However, we read that Medellín has a dark side: until his death in 1993, Pablo Escobar ran his organised crime empire from the city, funded by exporting cocaine to most of the rest of the world. In addition to numerous assassinations of political figures, hundreds of regular inhabitants were killed by indiscriminate terrorist bombings in the city after the Medellín Cartel declared "war" on the government. It's estimated the drug trade brought the cartel tens of millions of dollars per day. It's no wonder they were so well armed and organised. Escobar offered a bounty for each policeman killed. After perhaps 20 years of reign, Escobar was killed, and the Medellín Cartel fragmented and collapsed (with help of the rival Cali Cartel).

On the bus journey itself we had our first encounter with a paisa, who seemed to sum up everything we were expecting. Not long into the trip, the girl sitting across the aisle basically ordered me to come and sit next to her. We talked about Medellín. Yes, she confirmed, the paisa women are the most beautiful and friendly in Colombia (and therefore the world). She was very pretty. She showed me pictures of home life: a large internal courtyard with private swimming pool, a huge family 4x4, her young cousin, her brother's handgun. Long ago her parents had been killed. Maybe in drug-related violence, perhaps they had police or army or political connections. I didn't want to ask. But then she spoke of how she was single, and did I have a girlfriend, and did I prefer white skin or Colombian-brown?

So with some excitement we arrived in Medellín, and to me it felt, well, European. The paisas have a reputation for enterprise and hard work, and Medellín was the first Colombian city to embrace the industrial revolution, leading to a vast expansion in wealth and size (from 50,000 to 3 million inhabitants in the past hundred years). It's the only Colombian city with a metro system. It's a huge centre for the production of textiles, coffee, food and domestic appliances. Due to a public ordinance mandating that a proportion of the funds for all new large buildings must go towards public art, the city is full of open spaces with giant sculptures.







We even found a McDonald's:


Fernando Botero, an artist born in Medellín, is one of the city's enduring heroes. His works, whose subjects are always rather chubby (though he insists they are not fat, but voluptuous with feeling), adorn the city:




After being in the city for only a day, I was contacted via a social networking/travel website by a native of Medellín, the redoubtable Henry Gomez. He and his friends are some of the nicest people I have ever met. They contacted us every day of our stay, and invited us to whatever they were doing after work that day -- going for a drink, dancing, playing billiards.



They took us to 'El puebltio paisa', a mock paisa village constructed on a small hill in the middle of Medellín:






It turns out Elena was a phenomenal dancer, even by Colombian standards, as poorly illustrated by this picture of her drinking a strawberry juice:


On a day off, Henry and Elena took Matt and I on a day trip to nearby Guatapé, where a man-made dam gives rise to the strange phenomenon of a mountain village at the side of a huge lake.


In the middle of the lakes sticking up out of the landscape is a (naturally-occurring) 220m high rock, known as La Piedra del Peñol. Bizarrely, the rock has steps up the side, and you can climb to the top.






In Guatapé we had a delicious lunch of trout (caught in the lake), and spent the afternoon arseing around.




Elena even invited us to her birthday party the day before we left:




Sadly I didn't take my camera to the club with us. The last known picture of the night is as follows:


Medellín was full of good things. Worthy of mention (as ever, click picture for an explanation):




Everything the taxistas had said about paisas was true.

Matt and I set off on the breakneck 'express' service south to Manizales and Colombia's coffee-growing region:


Posted by hughw 15:42 Archived in Colombia Comments (1)

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