Coffee Region Paradise: Salento and The Cocora Valley  

 

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In my last post I wrote about hiking in Los Nevados National Park – a chilly but absolutely beautiful park here in Colombia’s coffee region.

At the end of the hike, we arrived in the Cocora Valley, or Valle de Cocora en español. The valley is stunning – as you may remember reading, it’s home to some of the largest palm trees in the world! We walked through the valley for just over half an hour before arriving at the main public area and from there, we promptly caught a jeep into the town.

Hiking through the valley looking up at these giants
Hiking through the valley looking up at these giants

Arriving in Salento was exciting, I’d heard so much about it – it’s one of the most visited places in Colombia! And sure enough, I could quickly see what all the hype was about – the colourful houses were bright and bold and the whole town is surrounded by lush green mountains.

My cousin and my friend and I had booked a hostel for the night to explore the town a bit the following day, so the jeep took us straight there. Where we stayed is called Luciérnaga Food Drinks Music Hostel and I definitely recommend it if you’re planning on visiting!

It’s really modern with big spacious rooms, hot showers, and amazing balcony views. And as the name suggests, it has food, drinks, and music in a modern American-style restaurant below the hostel.

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View from the hostel balcony!

One warning though – extreme caution with the bedside lamps!! My arm was burned pretty nastily by the lightbulb as I was attempting to scramble down from my top bunk. It was probably bad luck on my part and doesn’t change my good opinion of the place but it gave me a good laugh (and scar).

I’d survived the tough four-day hike at high altitudes with no injuries or incidents, but once safe and sound in a modern hostel, voila! Perhaps it’s the universe telling me that I should just stay outdoors… hmm… that wouldn’t be so bad!  🙂

That night we wandered into town and as it was the Saturday night before Easter, there were hordes and hordes of people. We also got to witness a pretty funky Easter night celebration.

It involved someone in the upper church window sending down balls of fire on a string that led into a bonfire… these lit it up and people had come prepared with candles that they brought forward to be lit from the giant flames. I don’t know where people come up with these things but it was definitely amusing to watch.

Oh, there was also a Jesus truck.

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This is the moment where I should mention that I also visited Salento and the Cocora Valley a second time, about a month later, when my mom came to visit!

We did a little tour around the coffee region (more details in a future post!) and Salento was one of our stops. After the first trip I knew I had to take her to see it, it’s too beautiful to miss!

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Beautiful and typical Salento houses

Of course, even after two trips, I am no Salento expert. BUT, here’s a list of some of the things I did and places I visited that I recommend if you’re planning on making the trip:

  1. Cocora Valley
    You may have gotten the idea already that I really love the Cocora Valley. You absolutely can’t miss it if you’re in Salento. To get there, you can take a jeep (or a “Willy”) from the centre square. A bunch of them leave about every hour and will the ride will cost you just under 4000COP per person. The trip lasts about half an hour. In the valley itself, there’s camping and various accommodations so you could even stay a night if you wanted. Otherwise, you can do a variety of things like hiking, horseback riding, or just enjoying the sights.20170528_175307
    Hiking is definitely one of the most popular activities. You can do a short walk through the palms, or do the well-known loop trail (I haven’t done it – will write about it if and when I do!). You can even do a multi-day trek, using it as the starting point into Los Nevados the way that it was the endpoint on our own hike.There’s also a trout farm that I visited with my mom upon the pressing insistence of a man who’d caught the jeep with us. People go there to fish for trout, or visitors can pay a small entry fee to get a bag of fish food to give to the fish.You’re essentially paying to fatten up their fish which is a little messed up, but oh well, it was cool to see all the baby trout and adult trout swimming through the water and charging for the food.
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    The last scheduled jeeps back to Salento leave around 6:30, although you’re not completely stuck if you end up staying later. Workers there can call jeeps to come when needed, just be prepared to possibly pay a bit more.
  2. Main Plaza
    The main plaza in Salento is very cute with a pretty park in the centre and the church watching cooly over the square. There are also lots of restaurants and food/drink stands around so head there if you’re hungry or thirsty.unnamed-4-copy
  3. Empanadas de Trucha
    Also in the main plaza, you can find a stand that sells trout empanadas. Time to eat fried dough stuffed with potatoes and the fish that you helped fatten up at the trucha farm!!! Yikes.But anyways, they’re really unique and tasty. Look for the “Centro Artesanal” on the right hand side when facing the church and it’s right beside it.
  4. Centro Artesanal
    After enjoying your empanada de trucha, you can go into the centro artesanal. There, you’ll walk down a corridor with lots of little businesses along the sides.If I had more money and more luggage space, I would have bought so much here – there are really cute handcrafts, clothing, art, and plants, all at very reasonable prices.I ended up buying a cute pair of colourful handmade shoes (partly out of necessity – my flip flops were killing me – but also because they were cute!) If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, this could be your place.
  5. Walk the Main Street
    The Main street starts in the square, and both times I visited it was buzzing with activity. Didn’t find anything in the Centro Artesanal? Maybe you’ll find something here – the street is lined with cute shops, cafes, and restaurants (psst – some even give out free samples).On my first trip there, we also happened upon two gentlemen singing and playing some amazing guitar music. We took a stop on our stroll and enjoyed for a while!20170410_062719There are also lots of friendly street dogs if all you really want in life is a furry friend!

    All I really want is life is a furry friend, personally.
    All I really want in life is a furry friend, personally.
  6. Check out the Viewpoint
    If you continue down the main street walking away from the square, you’ll eventually arrive at a large set of stairs. Climb these, and you’ll be rewarded with a great view of the town and the surrounding landscapes.There are a few vendors up there too in case you want an ice cream or a beer. Plus, there’s a (dodgy-looking) swing set. YES! Unleash the inner child!20170410_061116
  7. Enjoy Western-style food
    I personally love Colombian food and could eat it all day e’rryday, but I know a lot of visitors here find most of it to be too bland. Salento is your chance, dear visitor who doesn’t fancy Colombian food, to eat what you’ve been missing.Check out Brunch de Salento or Luciérnaga (mentioned above) to kill that craving.
  8. Postres!
    Postre is one of my favourite Spanish words. It means dessert! You can’t go wrong with the postres in Salento, they’re all crazy good. One of the tastiest I had was an oblea filled with arequipe (basically caramel sauce) and cream.Also, there’s a great café near the main square called Jesús Martín. The cakes we had there were amazing and the place’s aesthetic is super creative and colourful. They specialize in coffee as well, leading to my final tip…

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    Jesús Martín cafe
  9. Coffee
    Salento is a prime coffee region town. There are lots of coffee farms around if you’re interested in taking a tour. I’ve heard in particular of the fincas, El Ocaso and Don Eduardo.I personally took a tour a bit farther away in the nearby town of Filandia at Finca El Mirador. It was amazing and they have even have a sheep named Coffee (!) in case you’re interested in visiting a smaller, less busy but equally cute version of Salento.

    My mama and I at Finca El Mirador in Filandia.
    My mama and I at Finca El Mirador in Filandia.

Conclusion: If you’re able to make the time to visit Salento on your travels in Colombia, don’t let it go – the town is adorable but even the Cocora Valley alone makes it worth the while! Happy travels!

Til next post,

L

 

Hiking in Colombia’s Los Nevados National Park

About a month ago, I went hiking with a group of friends and my cousin, Carlos, in Los Nevados National Park. It was Semana Santa (Holy Week) so we had a week off teaching to relax and travel! We thus decided to do a four-day trek through the nearby national park.

Where is Los Nevados?

Los Nevados is located in the Central Mountain Range of the Colombian Andes (the highest range out of 3 branches of the Andes). It is pretty close to Manizales, where I’m living, and as you may have read in previous posts, I can usually see it from my bedroom window, like here:

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Volcanoes!!

 The park features many volcanoes, mostly dormant, and three of which still have their glaciers: the Ruiz, the Santa Isabel, and the Tolima. The highest one, the Ruiz, is closest to Manizales and is still active– Manizaleños can often see it smoking on a clear day.

A relatively recent eruption in 1985 caused Colombia’s worst-ever natural disaster. The lahar (residue/debris that races down a volcano) erased a small town called Armero in its path – leaving only a quarter of its 28,700 residents alive.

The Ruiz, then, is a truly sublime force – it’s beautiful to look at it, but it also inspires fear and reverence at the powerful force of nature.

Not just that, but it also serves as evidence of the incredible diversity on this planet. May I remind you that I am currently in Colombia – a country very close to the equator known for its hot temperatures and beautiful beaches and jungles in many parts of the country. But somehow in spite of all this, there is a park with glaciers in it!? That’s right. Colombia is AWESOME.

OK – let’s hike this thing.

Our decision to go on the trek was ultimately pretty last-minute. We managed to get enough people on board just in time so the night before the trek, we all met at Juan Valdez (basically the Starbucks of Colombia) to discuss logistics and the game plan for the next day.

At 5AM the next morning, the final group of eight of us met our jeep driver with all our gear and giddily hopped into the jeep to start our journey.

Here’s a rough outline of our itinerary:

Day One: Hiking up to the Santa Isabel Glacier. 6km. Night at Potosí Finca
Day Two: Potosí Finca to Berlín Finca. ~17km. Highlights: Laguna del Otún, forests of frailéjones in the paramo.
Day Three: Berlín Finca to Primavera Finca. ~14km Highlights: more paramo, marshlands.
Day Four: Primavera Finca to Cocora Valley, and a jeep to Salento! ~15 km  Highlights: slipping and sliding in the mud all day; getting to our final destination!

Day One: Reaching High Altitudes on the Santa Isabel Glacier

After our jeep picked us up in Manizales, we had a ride of about 2 hours ahead of us to get to the park. We had a few stops on the way though to start acclimatizing. The first was in the neighbouring town of Villamaria to pick up some of our equipment and to grab a quick coffee or coca tea.

We then stopped for breakfast at a beautiful countryside finca – hot chocolate with bread, arepas, and eggs. This was roughly the same breakfast we would eat every morning of the hike.

Our last stop before arriving at the park was a quick stop to admire this incredible waterfall: 20170412_073828

The whole ride was breathtaking, really. Getting to the park entrance (below), we looked up at the heavy cloud cover, hoping it wouldn’t start to rain. Also feeling the cold nip at our skin when we got out of the jeep, I started hoping my cheap dollar store gloves would be enough to get me through the next four days! 

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Soon after arriving and doing a quick assessment of what we needed to bring up to the peak with us, we started on our way. The ‘paramo’ (a high-altitude tropical tundra climate) was amazing to see.

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Nearing the top, a bit of altitude sickness started to hit. My head started to pound and my breathing was shallow. But step by step, we kept moving forward.

I was grateful for the numbers of layers I had brought up! Sweating one minute while the sun was out, and then shivering for the wind, they were definitely necessary.
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Before we knew it, we had made it!

The glacier was incredible – rocky and barren, no more paramo plants in sight. We could also walk on it up to a certain point, but not too far for risk of falling through without the proper gear. It was especially cool to see where there were some cracks in the ice; you could look through to amazing crystal water. My cousin and I took advantage of the ice to make some ‘ice’ angels…. *brrr*

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What’s sad is that the glacier probably won’t last much longer – ten years at most, according to scientists. It’s been receding rapidly over the past few years. There’s even a marker on a rock that says “2003,” marking where the glacier went up to 14 years ago, and it’s shockingly far back from where  the glacier starts now.

It was awesome, though, to be able to take in this sight knowing that it won’t be like this much longer. Oh the ephemerality of it all!

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The hike, though pretty short at just 6km total, drained us completely. Once we got to the finca, the owners gave us some agua de panela and lunch, and then we went straight to bed – at about 3 p.m!

Despite our sleeping bags and the cozy blankets that the owners gave us, many of us were freezing. I tried to stay absolutely still because moving just a bit made me feel cold. Around 7, they called us for dinner, but I could hardly muster the energy to get up and eat. Only the idea of a warm soup finally lured me out from under the covers.

It was crazy to see how the day’s climb and the altitude had exhausted us so much physically and mentally. While some didn’t seem too affected by it, most of us had headaches, or felt nauseous, or were just really tired. It felt like nature’s hangover. Only one thing to do – sleep it off. We went to bed super early to be fresh for the next day.

Day Two: We have to walk up THAT?

Day two was a LONG day. We started bright and early after having a quick and yummy breakfast at the finca. The Nevado del Ruiz was amazingly clear that morning, and we were able to see it smoking impressively as we started on our way.

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It was then roughly a 7km gradual uphill walk to get to the Laguna del Otun – a big beautiful lake in the middle of the park. We were fortunate to have the sun peeking out of the clouds just in time when we got there. My cousin and I couldn’t resist the perfect moment for a photo.


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We then descended into a green and pretty canyon, where we caught our first glimpses of frailejón forests in this well-maintained one called “Bosque de Eden” (Forest of Eden). The mountains in the distance made for a beautiful backdrop.

Around this time, I also successfully miscalculated the depth of a mud puddle and got one leg well stuck. Thankfully my cousin was nearby and was able to help pull me out!
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Shortly after, it started to hail a bit, and there was thunder and lightning. Still far off from our destination, we all picked up the pace to try and avoid getting stuck in a storm.

As soon as we made it to a finca where we were going to have a break, it started to rain really hard. Just in time! We warmed up with some agua de panela, played with some baby chicks (aww) and then headed back out on our way – a few more kilometres to go.

The sun came out and we were able to take off our layers as we walked through the lush countryside. I said hola to every cow and every horse, of course. 
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Our guide then casually mentioned that we had to then climb up the mountain that was directly in front of us. I’m sorry, what!? Totally unexpected, this was going to be a challenge after already walking about 15km that day!

We started the climb, stopping frequently for a breather, and admiring the countryside view which got smaller and smaller as we climbed.
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Alexis and I started invoking the name of inspirational women to get us through. For Oprah! For Emma Watson! For Ellen DeGeneres!

In the end, we all made it. Exhausted but in awe of the beautiful view.

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There was then just about a kilometre more until we arrived at Berlín Finca, our home for the night. As there were no rooms available, we had to camp that night outside the house.

We set up our tents as soon as we arrived and then went to huddle around the stove in the kitchen where we stayed chatting and relaxing as the owner made us agua de panela, and then dinner. We were starving and ate as if we hadn’t eaten in ten days and soon after got into our tents to pass out.

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Day Three: Wet and Wonderful 

Day three was wet. Very wet. It started raining while we were taking down our tents and continued raining on and off the whole day. Those crappy dollar store gloves I mentioned earlier? Yeah, they weren’t much help this day. We got absolutely soaked.

But – the day was also wonderful! We passed through amazing dense paramo forests, filled with frailéjones.

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Not just that, though. We also passed through an incredible marshy area that in Spanish is called a “pantano.” It’s basically a swamp with very strong, spongy green plants that you can step on. Trying to jump from one to the other and making sure to only step on the truly strong ones felt like a video game. It was so fun!
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I was not always successful, though.

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And, despite the rain, we were able to catch a foggy glimpse of the Paramillo of Quindío sitting near the marsh. (“Paramillo” is the term used for the volcanoes that no longer have their glaciers) Wonderful!

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At Primavera finca that night, we strung out some rope all over our dorm room and hung everything on it with the naive hope that it would dry a bit. But, with the cold? No such luck. We had to suck it up and put on our wet boots and some wet clothes the next day, yum!

Day Four: Slipping and sliding down to the Cocora Valley

Our final day woke up beautiful, with a bright sun and a view of the Nevado of Tolima in the distance. It didn’t stay that way long though. As we started the last day’s hike, it got foggy and gloomy once more.

Luckily there was no rain, but the ground was still very wet from the downpour the day before. Nearly the whole day consisted of trudging in the mud on our descent into the Cocora Valley.

Most of us fell at least a few times. It was tricky but very, very amusing. Check out all that mud!
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After a bit of walking, we got to an extremely windy ridge. The guide explained that it was where two winds from separate mountain chains meet, making it a perpetual windy crossroads.

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At the top, we stopped to take pictures and revel in the wind! My hands started going numb… those damn gloves were still too wet to be any use. We didn’t stay up there too long, anyway. It was time to descend down into the valley!

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Getting into the valley, it warmed up a lot, and we were greeted by beautiful rolling hills all around us.

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After a lot of walking and trying not to fall that day, we reached a section of the path with lots of river crossings. The majority of the bridges were pretty dodgy, some missing parts or looking pretty worn out, but hey we survived!

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Soon after, we arrived at our destination: Cocora Valley! The sun was shining bright and hot, so all the lush green hills around looked incredible. The tall waxy palm trees soon came into sight as well – they are some of the tallest in the world!


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It was an amazing end to an amazing hike.


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From the valley, we took a jeep into the nearby town of Salento. There were more of us than could fit sitting so I and three others hung onto the back! It was such a cool feeling to have the wind blow in our hair and to be driving after having walked so long.

Some in our group headed back to Manizales right away but Carlos, Alexis, and I stayed in Salento for the night. It’s a beautiful, colourful town and since we were there during Easter, it was packed! That’s for another post though! Keep your eyes out for it. 🙂

Til then,

L

Ten Things I Love About Living in Manizales

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A month or two before I started my position here in Colombia, I learned from a handful of people that my new placement, Manizales, had a bit of a reputation. It could be described by what’s called the 3 F’s – frio (cold), feo (ugly), and faldudo (hilly).

Considering that I had (somewhat randomly) requested to be placed in Manizales, I was naturally a bit alarmed. Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of the cold. Good thing I had packed lots of sweaters I suppose. As for ugly, was it? I had heard it was pretty! I quickly re-googled images to see if it was true – but I just saw the same images of rolling green hills populated by neighbourhoods with a brilliant snow-capped mountain (well, volcano) in the distance. I’d have to see, I thought. And for ‘faldudo’, well that one I had expected. I consider it a positive though as it would make even just a casual walk outside into a bit of a workout.

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One of the more gradual hills… faldudo indeed.

Well I’m now a month into my program and I’ve got to say that I do not agree with either feo or frio – while there are ugly parts, the surrounding views more than make up for it. And same for cold – while there have been cold days, it’s generally warm enough to walk around in a tshirt or with a light cardigan. And hilly, yes it is! Even my quick walk to school has me trudge up a bit of a hill so that’s always a good wake-up call at 6:50 in the morning if I haven’t managed to have a coffee yet.

Besides these things, I continue to fall in love with Manizales more and more each day – it’s a small place but it’s packed with charm and surprises. Reflecting on my past month here, I’ve come up with a list of ten things I love about Manizales (so far). Here goes!

1. Manizales is a small city but it doesn’t really feel like one.
There’s still a lot to do in and around the city, so there’s no time to get bored. I tend to be a victim of the paradox of choice– if there’s too much to do, I just won’t do anything. That’s what makes this the perfect environment for me! There’s just the right amount of choice.

2. Transportation. Leaving the house to get somewhere is always a mini-adventure.

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Buses: like in most of Colombia, there are no specific set bus routes. Rather, there are a number of buses that run throughout the city that have cards saying which main areas they’re heading to on the front window. As long as you’ve made sure you’re on the right side of the road for the direction you want to go, you just look for the cards on the buses until one you need comes along. You flag it down to stop, hop on, push yourself through a turnstile, and give the driver your change. He counts out your change as he whips around curves and other cars.

The buses that go up and down the hilly neighbourhoods are the best – it’s like getting a ride on a very cheap roller coaster! And, when getting off, the doors usually open as it’s still in motion. To be safe, it’s best to wait til it stops completely, but hey, if you’re a thrill seeker or in need of some duck and roll practice, this is your chance.

Cable Car: you can take a cable car to get around! The highest station is near the downtown core, and there are two more stations that it goes down to – one being the bus station, and then there’s one more in a suburb called Villamaria that can be reached after the cable car crosses over a pretty ravine below. Views are amazing the whole time.

Walking: walking isn’t necessarily that exciting, but what is nice is that you can walk to most places if you want. Another perk of a small city!

3. Hot Springs!
Just a short bus-ride out of the city will bring you to a string of thermal baths. I initially went one day when plans for a hike outside the city were ruined by rain, and it was awesome! It’s the perfect rainy day or evening plan. Better not on a hot day, though, as the water is already pretty hot. The one we visited is called Termales del Otoño. There are two sections: one fancy and expensive one, and one that’s less fancy and cheaper. We went to the second one and had trouble picturing what the nicer one would be like because it was nice as it was!

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4. FREE activities.

Just as those of you who know me well know I don’t like cold, you also know I love free things. You can therefore picture me blissfully trotting along the sidewalks of Manizales with no cash in my pockets as I head to the free events here. Last Friday night, a group of us headed to a free musical performance featuring an orchestra and a fourteen-year old American piano prodigy. Plus, apparently these shows happen about every two weeks!

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Some free dance classes happen here – in the beautiful park, Bosque Popular. It’s also just nice to hang out in!

Similarly, I’ve just recently found out about free zumba/fitness classes every Tuesday and Sunday, as well as more free cultural events and movie nights at a building right by my house called Confamiliares. Check their calendar out here if you want to know more about it.

Plus, on Sunday mornings until noon there’s also a Ciclovia here just like in Bogota – the main street is closed to cars to allow for biking, jogging and walking throughout the city.

5. Hiking.
Ever since graduating, I’ve realized how much I love hiking. It was fun to do it near home in Algonquin Park, in Hawaii, in British Columbia, and in Peru, but is hiking a thing in Colombia? I wasn’t sure. Turns out, yes! There are some awesome treks throughout the country that I definitely want to do eventually, but for now, I’m excited because there’s a local Manizales hiking group that goes out every weekend to do various routes.

I’ve only gone once so far, but it was awesome. I was picturing more of a leisurely stroll throughout the countryside, but it was actually pretty physically demanding and went through some really beautiful sections. There was one part that made it feel as if we were in the middle of the jungle – so cool! If you’re interested in joining the groups, you can find a link here to their facebook page.

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6. Centro.
The centre of Manizales is an interesting place. Some may call it ugly and dangerous, but I prefer to think of it as a magical treasure trove much like Ariel’s undersea collection – “it’s got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, it’s got whoozits and whatzits galore.”

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Literally every store vendor in Centro. 

 

There are various sections where you can find sets of stores selling roughly the same things. For example, I got my mattress in the main furniture area, and my duvet and pillow in the duvet & pillow area. Not kidding.

It also isn’t even that ugly – many of the buildings are built in an older style giving it a bit of a grungy European look. Plus the cathedral is really beautiful!

 

7. El Cable.
El Cable is probably my favourite area of town. It’s the main area to go out at night to bars or clubs, but also has nice cafés and restaurants and also a big mall with a movie theatre. Plus, an incredible empanada place can be found here, called San Juanitas. Find it here. The general vibe of El Cable is always fun and bustling.

8. Climbing Gym.
I was excited to learn that there was a nice bouldering gym here in Manizales. It’s not very big, but it has a lot of routes and variety so it’s an awesome place to improve on skills even for those with a low level like me. In addition to monthly memberships, they also offer a training program with cross-fit and technical practice at a reasonable price. I can’t wait to get started on it to finally see some good improvement in my climbing skills! You can find out more about the gym on their facebook page here.

9. Location, location, location.
Manizales is ideally located in the country as well for day- or weekend-trips to other towns and cities nearby. Three of the country’s main cities, Bogota, Medellin, and Cali, are all a reasonably long bus ride away, between 4 and 7 hours each. I know I’ll be heading back to Bogota soon to visit family, but I’m looking forward to escaping to Medellin and Cali soon during some long weekends. There are also smaller cities and towns that are, like Manizales, part of the coffee region. Some examples are Pereira, Armenia, Salento, and Santa Rosa de Cabal. It’s easy to just head to the bus terminal, buy a ticket, and be on your way!

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10. Views.
Views in Manizales are incredible. On a clear, sunny day you can see the surrounding mountains and hills clearly, and sometimes even the Nevado del Ruiz and other snow-capped mountains nearby, like I wrote about in my last post. There was even one very foggy day (one of many to come, I’m sure) which led to there being no views at all, which is also kind of cool to see. My school is quite high up in the city so when sitting in the teacher’s room, looking out the window, it can sometimes feel like we’re in the middle of the sky. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of admiring the city’s views.

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Just look at that view outside one of my classrooms! 🙂

So there you have it! Ten amazing things about Manizales and therefore ten good reasons you should come visit me over here, or at least visit the city if you’re in Colombia. You won’t regret it! 🙂

Will be trying to post more frequently in coming days now that I’ve gotten into more of a routine here!

Til then,

L

On Wednesdays We Wear Hiking Boots

Tomorrow, my cousins and I head out of Cusco for the main highlight of our trip – hiking the Inca Trail! It starts at a nearby town called Ollantaytambo and ends at the famous Macchu Picchu, four days later. It’s 45km in total, and involves quite a bit of summiting and descending mountain passes, our highest point being 4215m.

Altitude sickness is a bit of a threat, but we’re prepared. We’ve felt the effects of Cusco’s 3400m altitude the few days we’ve been here, with headaches, fatigue, and heavy breathing from little exercise. But, we walked a ton today, exploring archaeological sites nearby the city, going up and down plenty of stairs, so we’re hoping we’re a bit more acclimatized! We also have some “sorroche pills”- pills for altitude sickness – that a roommate in our hostel kindly gave us since she’s going home, along with an essence called “Agua de Florida.” We’ve used the latter quite a bit for our headaches – you put the water on your hands and inhale deeply three times. It sounds a bit witch-magic-y but it’s worked for us! It has a really strong fragrant smell that clears the nostrils and takes away altitude headaches pretty quickly.

Our guide for the trek came to give us a briefing yesterday and that’s what he recommended. We’re happy we followed his advice!

On our trek we’ll be eight people, plus porters and cooks who accompany all hikers of the Inca Trail. Day One is pretty relaxed, as we take a bus to Ollantaytambo and then walk only about four hours in the day. Our second day will be the toughest, climbing up to that 4215m pass steadily for about 8-9 hours. The third day is marked on our map as “unforgettable” – we’re hoping it’s for the incredible beauty and not for incredible difficulty! Finally on day four we are meant to head out of camp at 3am to get to Macchu Picchu around 8 or 9 in the morning. Fingers crossed it won’t be too rainy and we’ll get a nice view of the sunrise! After touring Macchu Picchu we’re planning to head to the nearby town, Aguas Calientes, to enjoy a good lunch and some hot springs for our achey muscles. We’ll then head back to Cusco to spend one more day here.

Cusco so far has been really enjoyable, although quite chilly at night. We did a free walking tour and saw some cool parts of the city, went to the Inca Museum, did some Alpaca wool sweater shopping (sooo soft!), and today explored four different nearby ruin sites before having a late lunch.

We spent our evening buying the last-minute things we need for the trail, packing, and mentally preparing. We’ve heard it’s pretty hard from a number of people, but we’re CRAZY excited. I’ll be sure to write about how it goes when we get back! Til then, wish us luck. 🙂

L