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Coffee Region- Pereria, Manizales.

Caffeine for the Soul

semi-overcast 15 °C

After an eventful week, we weren't quite done being tourists...although we prefer the term 'travelers' as it somehow feels more cultured and experienced.

We arrived back in Colombia's coffee region in a city called Pereira (the capital of the department of Risaralda) on Dec 31st where we thought we might luck out and find some other travelers watching the New Year's festivities of some far off place on TV in a bar somewhere...dead wrong. New Year's Eve in Colombia is as sacred as Christmas and everything shuts down so everyone can go home to their families. For this reason, Pereira was dead by 7pm and has earned the rating of 'least favorite city in Colombia' because of it. Luckily our overpriced hotel (we are hostel people but on a recommendation from a fellow Y volunteer we kinda got cornered into it), had 120 channels and we connected to the world via technology while sipping our earlier (and consequently, very wise) purchase of champagne.

We high-tailed it out of Pereira the next day, washing our hands of lameness and heading up to Manizales (the capital of the department of Caldas). Manizales' big attraction is the Parque Nacional Natural de los Nevados. Its a huge national park of volcanic mountains and is the only place you will find snow in Colombia. The excursion to the park is an all day trip, leaving right from the hostel bright and early at 7:30 in the morning. From there you drive out of the city, up the bumpiest mountain road of your life (about the first 20 minutes are fun and laughable, the last 4 hours are really just torture. Its like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, but without safety restraints so your butt is rarely less than a foot off your seat). When you get to the top at 15,500ft. after stops along the way to take in the scenery (mounds of volcanic ash and giant red rocks that make the place look like another planet) you get off the bus and follow the train of tourists huffing and puffing up the hill. This is quite hilarious for a few reasons:

1) Colombians are not the most exercise-oriented people so walking at 16,000ft, uphill leaves quite a few stragglers laying face up on the path, with their feet propped up on rocks telling their crew to go on without them. Yikes!

2)Most Colombians will see snow but once in their life, here at the top of the mountain and thus their motivation to make the trek. However, once they reach the snow basic motor skills become quite challenging and you get people falling, sliding, and screaming in excitement/terror (hard to tell sometimes) all over the white-capped peak.

3) Lastly, the delirium that sets in halfway up the hike for lack of air makes everything funny and well I had my fair share of 'sucking wind- moments, I never laid down across the path, stuck my feet on the fallen flagpole, covered my face with my hands and gave up. Neither did Marty. We thought we were pretty bad-ass.

Ok, so the literally breath-taking hike and views of los Nevados were worth the climb (I still don't know if it was worth the bus ride). On your way back down the mountain, you stop at the natural hot springs to dip in the wonderfully warming pools. Marty and I hiked to the nearby waterfall before dunking ourselves in the hot mineral bath, and it was a nice way to decompress from the day's exertion before heading back to the hostel.

It was a long day but a great day. It really is like driving to another planet. You leave the city going through the green hills, then get up to the drier grass hills with all these crazy cut-off palm tree/sea anemone looking things, then its up to the volcanic ash and sand before winding your way through the red rocks (I imagine Mars looks similar) before seeing the snow. Its nuts, and pretty rewarding in the end.

The next day we were headed to Armenia (the capital of Quindio, the 3rd department in the coffee region) but not before a stop at a real working coffee plantation!

Posted by tuffchix 14:34 Archived in Colombia Tagged ecotourism

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