Wednesday, November 9, 2011


One of my daily rituals is reading the news on the internet. I always visit a minimum of 3 sites- Stuff, BBC and CNN, but more if I have time and want more specific stories from Latin America or the Pacific. This week I've been following the story about the mudslide in Manizales, Colombia

Unfortunately in many parts of South America, rainy season often  = deaths. Manizales is very hilly so when the rain comes... 

It's not the prettiest of cities suffering, like many other Colombian cities, from overuse of red brick (I can't stand red brick; it reminds me of Coro). The scenery nearby is stunning though and it's nestled in one of the major coffee-growing regions - the elevation and humidity is perfect for growing Arabica. Coffee's the main reason I visited. I took a tour to a plantation half an hour out of town. We walked through the coffee fields sampling the raw berries, saw it being processed and sampled A LOT of the finished product. 7 double shots of espresso to be precise. The clouds rolled in and the proprietors started to get nervous about the drive back up the windy road to town so we rushed back straight away. A windy, gravel road + way too much coffee = one very, very nauseous passenger using all her willpower not to chuck. 

The other reason people visit is the Los Nevados National Park nearby. This national park is home to the Nevado de Ruiz volcano. Tours run up there every day visiting hot springs, glaciers and the crater, I believe. I never got to find out first hand though after the tour was cancelled two days in a row. The first day we'd already driven in the tour van more than an hour out of town before being turned back by the police. They didn't tell us why except it was on orders from the government. The news later that night did though. There'd been over 2000 earthquakes under the volcano over only 2 days. Scientists were up there trying to work out whether it was about to erupt (it didn't in the end). In 1985 it did and over 20,000 people died so I can see where they were coming from. 

The thing I remember most about Manizales though the public transport. They've gotten around the topography by constructing gondolas up the hill. The beauty of this is that with one pole every 100 metres or so they could build a transport link above the houses without demolishing them, unlike building new roads. Add to this views over the green hills in the distance, voyeuristic views into people's backyards, a whooping NZ 50 cent fare for the ride and not having to watch your bag like a hawk when you are the only one in the capsule and it was my best ride on public transport ever! 

Actually public transport was stand out right across Colombia. Auckland could learn a lot from them! That's something about Colombia I never expected. Before I went if I thought of Colombia the first five words that popped into my head would have been cocaine, FARC, kidnappings, danger and coffee. It's for this reason that I didn't decide to go there until the last minute, only telling my family at the airport as I flew out! 

In reality it's a dream destination for backpackers and a safe, fun destination for family holidays too. There's so much to see and do from visiting a coffee farm to beautiful Caribbean beaches, adventure sports, the Amazon jungle, clubs to dance salsa until the sun comes up, fantastic museums and the most friendly, helpful and happy people I've ever met. I'll sign off with a few of my favourite photos of this most amazing place...

The view from the hills above Bogota

fresh fruit at a market in Bogota

kite flying contest in Villa de Leyva

Tobacco fields near San Gil

Sunset at Taganga

Tayrona National Park


a woman selling fruit salad in Cartagena

The first squirrel I've ever seen, in Medellin


men in traditional dress, Silvia

the sanctuary (church) at Ipiales

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