Manizales, Colombia

Trip Start May 22, 2010
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Trip End Sep 21, 2010


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Where I stayed
Kumanday Hostel

Flag of Colombia  ,
Monday, June 21, 2010

[Owen] As great as Medellin was, we couldn't take much more of the "dry for alcohol and wet for weather" city. So much for a "perpetual, spring-like climate", it pretty much lashed rain the whole time we were there.  So after a get together we upped and left Medellin bright and early Monday morning for three days travelling around the Zona Cafetera, a beautiful and scenic mountainous region about 200kms southeast of Medellin.  It was full of outdoor activities to do and had a few coffee farms that offered tours. 

In the bus station, waiting to leave for Manizales, Ciaran got accosted by a massive security dog in the bus station.  It was the second time this has happened and was pretty hilarious.  The dog evidently smelled some non-existent drugs on Ciaran, which resulted in the Colombian law enforcement official searching Ciaran.  I only wish I had the foresight to video the panic on Ciaran’s face as the dog closed his vice-like jaws around his leg, but I only witnessed the end of the event as I had disappeared looking for breakfast before the long journey.



After choosing an 8-seater shared taxi over the bus, we made the journey through the winding mountain roads from Medellin to Manizales.  It was scary and horrific, yet beautiful and scenic in equal measures, with some scintillating views of the deep valley below.  Eoin, Ciaran and I sat in the back of an 8 seater taxi, without seat belts, bouncing around the car like ragdolls while Aidan and Sean sat in relative comfort in their bucket seats in front.

We spent Monday and Tuesday in Manizales, before heading to the nearby town of Salento on Wednesday.  Manizales is a sprawling city with about half a million people, set at an altitude of over 2,000 metres, high in the Los Nevados mountain range.  The highest peake, Nevado del Ruiz, is 5,300 metres and is permanently snow-capped.  We could have done a tour there but time was a little limited and we definitely were not acclimatised.  It’s a nice city built into the side of a mountain and the streets are staggeringly steep, some angles of 45 degrees or more.  It was a little scary getting around in the city taxis – for example, our taxi driver to the hostel skidded around corners with little consideration for his passengers and nearly hit an oncoming truck... he turned around in broken English and said "heeeeey, don’t worry amigos" ! 

We stayed in the Kumanday Hostel for the two days.  It was a nice small place, reasonably cheap with very helpful staff who gave us lots of tips for things to do around the city.  It was also right beside a Dunkin Donuts and on based on the evidence from several morning and evening visits, Ciaran seems to be their one and only customer.  I’m not sure what to say.  We go to the coffee region of one of the best known coffee exporters in the world, and Ciaran goes for a Dunkin Donuts each day!



Tuesday we had a great day of activities.  First thing, we went to a place called Parque Los Llarumos high in the mountain range; it had a high ropes course, zip lining and a good climbing wall to do, as well as hiking trails (which we didn’t bother with).  The zip lining and climbing wall were great fun and we took some pretty funny videos of both.  The high ropes course was however, torturous and some of us really struggled walking across the different ropes and beams, some of which were easily 100 yards above the ground.  Despite the safety harness, it wasn’t easy to relax and the altitude, morning sunshine and standard hangover didn’t help.  It was of course, great fun though and none of us could recall doing anything similar before.

Next stop was a trip to Torre El Cielo (The Sky Tower) for lunch.  The outdoor restaurant had a few Wii’s and PS3’s hooked up to big televisions, so we fooled around with the Bowling on the Wii for a while after lunch, before watching some more of the World Cup, which was now in the final round of group stage games.  The 33m tall Sky Tower is the highest point in Manizales, with an external platform that we could walk around with a safety harness.  On ground level, there was a highly entertaining bungee swing.  Ciaran and Aidan did the Sky Walk.  There was no chance of me doing that with my well-known fear of heights.  The lads reckoned it was a little surreal - scary at first but you get used to it after a couple of minutes.  We had a couple of beers in the SkyTower bar, watching the rest of the football, chatting to the pretty barmaid and looking out over the city, which was pretty cool.  Before leaving the Sky Tower, we had to try the bungee swing.  Sean took some persuasion but peer pressure is pretty strong so he eventually succumbed.  I guess the highlight was me screaming like a girl as the swing catapulted me up and out over the 6-lane freeway below.  Hadn’t expected that!  So we paid US$10 for the morning and afternoon activities, which in any currency is really good value.

Later Tuesday evening we went across the city to Thermales El Otono, which are these really nice thermal baths in a rich country club on the outskirts of the city, in the shadows of the Mt. Nevaro.  Whilst I’ve done better and more natural ones in New Zealand, they were still a worthwhile relaxation after our day’s exercise, if a little pricey at US$12.50 each.  The suggestion was that most of the guests here are some of the richest people in Colombia, many of whom are in the military with links to the drugs trade.  It’s hard to verify that!  A lot of the guys looked like Tony Soprano though.  The heat from the baths was pretty intense, so we stayed perhaps an hour in this nice setting before getting a taxi back to Manizales.  It was nice to spend a couple of days here before doing a coffee farm tour in Salento, we got heaps done in just 2 days, even relaxed a bit and enjoyed a few beers in a small café in the town, where we were visited by the worst busker of all time, who I erroneously asked to play us a few songs!

The morning we were leaving for Salento, I was having a shower in the ensuite bathroom of our six-man dorm, when I heard loud shrieking from the room outside.  It was a little worrying.  I immediately jumped out of the shower to see what the fuss was, when I saw a MASSIVE bat had escaped from Eoin's bag and was flying around the room in a very confused and disoriented state.  It must have had a wingspan of half a metre and the lads were going mental.  Eventually the creature settled down on a curtain somewhere and we all packed double-fast and hightailed it out of there, on to a bus for Salento!

[Ciaran] Have to mention on Monday morning in the bus station before we left Medellin on the way to Zona cafferteria my by now usual search by the local police took place. Why do none of the other lads get singled out for this. Anyway this 6’5 Columbian Mounty arrived into the bus station accompanied by his Wolf which was borderline a horse who seemed  to take a keen interest in myself. Colombian Policeman of the year for the last 4 years running I suspect decided it was time for my daily search by the Columbian authorities, I don’t even speak Spanish I instinctively knew what needed to be done and raised my arms while Garda Inrique searched me with his oversized wolf continued to gnaw at my leg. At this stage I had attracted quite a crowd of Columbian onlookers, the lads laughing on in the background, Owen had done his Harry hodini trick again.

Walking on the skywalk was scary as hell though, its about 2 foot wide with a 33 metre drop either side, even though your harnessed on if you fall there’s a good 10 or 12 feet on the harness so I’m sure you’d end up doing some damage to yourself if you fall.

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