Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise

Who knew?

There are many places in Colombia that are deemed "must stops" along the gringo route - but Manizales has not been featured on any list that we have seen. On Monday we arrived into this city of roughly half a million people not quite sure what to expect, but have come away pretty impressed.

Upon arrival at our hostel, we were handed a full two pages of what to do and see in the area - volcano hikes, botanical gardens, adventure parks, fincas (coffee plantations) and much more. With two full days dedicated, we struggled with making our choice of activities to do.

To make matters worse, two days were unfortunately quickly cut down to one! Tuesday morning we made our plans but pushed them back due to unrelenting rain. And then we were forced to push them further and further into the day, until finally they were abandoned. While there were small breaks in the downpours, they didn't last long and we ventured outside only long enough to get some groceries. Thank goodness that this hostel is a vast improvement over the last, and we easily made ourselves at home. Many card games, naps, and movies on the big screen TV kept us "busy".

The skies cleared and we set out early on Wednesday morning to visit Hacienda Venecia, a finca about a forty-five minute drive out of the city. We piled into the back of an open jeep and bounced and weaved our way through the city and into the rugged mountainside.

We had done a finca tour in Salento just days before, but it wasn't near as thorough or interesting. We were led through rows and rows of coffee plants growing up the steep hills, sympathizing the whole time for the manual labourers that tend to them during harvest time.

Notice the coffee trees growing up the hill

The whole process was explained from the harvest to the cleaning and drying. After our one hour tour from the fields to the final storage area, we were taken back to the casa for the all important taste testing! We had to earn our cuppa joe though, by performing a little "quality control", sorting through raw beans to pick out the best that were sent to the roaster. Fifteen minutes later, we were each treated to the freshest espresso we've ever had.

Our very own hand picked coffee beans

After our testing we decided to hop into the first jeep back to town, and were treated to some unexpected excitement. How do you fit 13 people into a small jeep? You don't, that's how. We started out all fitting in nicely, and then the driver kept stopping along the way to pile more people in. While 7 of us managed to cram in the back and 3 in the front, poor Pete and 2 other guys had to ride outside the vehicle - standing on the tailgate, they each held onto the metal roof rack and had to steady themselves as the jeep hurtled over bumps and swung around curves. I watched nervously from inside the jeep, focusing on the whiteness of their tightly gripped knuckles under the black tarp that covered the metal rack, while the boys somehow managed to take some self-portraits and pretend they were rockstars!

This breaks so many rules, in so many ways (at home, at least!)

The jeep dropped us off in the city center and we took our time wandering the streets after being cooped up from the rain all of the previous day. We found the streets to be spotlessly clean, relatively quiet given the number of inhabitants, and with some seriously intriguing attributes. It is full of the usual spectacular colonial architecture (including the fifth highest church steeple in the world), yet it is juxtaposed with modern art sculptures randomly scattered throughout the city, sometimes in direct contrast with each other.

The attractiveness of this city is compounded by it's setting in lush green hills.

Who knew how much we would fall in love with this city? I love these surprises!

For our last few hours in town this morning, I felt the urge to get some adventuring in. After Pete's hair-raising experience "surfing" the city streets on the back of the jeep, I needed to step it up! It's been awhile since I've fought raging rivers or hurled myself off a mountain. So, while Pete sat this adventure out, our friend Kylee and I took to Manizales' ecopark (Los Yarumos) for some ziplining!

This was my third time on the zipline - hurtling over a jungle canopy with only a metal cable protecting me from a tragic fall! It was a short trip with only four lines, but it was much different from any of my other experiences. This time we were not given a leather glove to grab the cable and slow ourselves down - it was deemed unnecessary. Instead, we just flew through the air freely, and were only stopped by a giant mat on the next platform. It was rather scary to just be flying towards something at full speed, but at least it was a soft landing (unlike the tree I ran into when doing this in Costa Rica 4 years ago - yikes!)

There was an added bonus (I use the word "bonus" loosely) to this excursion. After the last zipline, we were forced to walk along a tightrope to get back to our starting point. Now this was something I've never done before, and likely won't again.

Kylee getting ready for the tightrope walk

There is very little that can go wrong when doing this walk - yes, it is possible to slip off of the rope, but there are other ropes to grab onto, plus we are attached to another cable above our head that would hold us if we slipped. So, relatively safe. But, infinitely scary.

The problem with this venture is that you are forced to look down the whole time when walking across (to ensure proper footing). And as we got towards the middle of the walk, we were at least 50ft above the ground...I kinda forgot about all the protective measures and just got plain freaked out.

That's a loooong way down

Thank goodness it wasn't too long of a walk (10 minutes or so), but it was enough to make me sure that I won't be hitting up Cirque Du Soleil for my next job.

Up and out, we have just reached our next destination of Medellin for a few days. It was a 150km drive over about 4 hours, which should give you some indication of the twisty mountain roads we were on! We are excited to be in this second biggest city of Colombia as it is one that everyone raves about. It is also the supposed home of the most beautiful women in the world - with all of the money that flowed in this city during the drug-heydays, the lords would heavily "invest" in their women with plastic surgery. Sounds like I should fit right in here, right? Yeah, right.

P.S. Think that Pete had an adventurous ride outside the jeep? Check out these guys on the highway from Manizales to first people!

Check out more pictures HERE

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