7 espressos later...

Trip Start Sep 07, 2010
Trip End Aug 13, 2011

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Where I stayed
Base Camp
What I did
Hacienda Venecia

Flag of Colombia  ,
Sunday, January 23, 2011

There are quite a few things that really chip away at you when you are traveling in Latin America, and one of those things is the buses.  They are all shit in one way or another, one may have great big comfortable seats but the driver and steward will hate you, or maybe the air conditioning will be set to a normal humane temperature but they will play blaring loud salsa music all night.  The thing wrong with this bus, was the aircon.  I dressed semi appropriately in jeans and a jacket, Kyle wore shorts and a t-shirt and froze his ass off.  Amateur mistake.

We arrived late in Manizales and were disorientated as is usual in a new town or city.  We jumped in a cab and told the driver the name of our hostel.  The city centre runs along the top of a ridge overlooking a valley where the mas povre neighbourhoods are situated, and of course where the bus terminal is.  The cab struggled with the steep roads up to the centre but we eventually pulled up outside a hostel, but not our hostel.  I told the driver that this was not The Base Camp hostel, which he apparently knew about when I first told him.  Silently he processed this new information then after a few moments of confusion insisted that it was indeed the Base Camp hostel in the centre of town.  I wondered how bad my Spanish must have deteriorated after being in Brazil for so long, then slowly and clearly repeated the name  Base camp, phonetically accentuating the 'E' on the end of 'base'.  Again, the driver positively reassures me that this place, with a big sign out the from that reads "Mountain House' is actually what we are looking for.  Ok, so this guy is an idiot.  Eventually convinced the guy that this was not the right place and that we should go and maybe ask some other taxi drivers or something.  We drove off in a random direction with no actual destination.  The driver flagged down a few drivers, some of whom did not stop, some of whom pointed us back to the Mountain House, but eventually someone when what was going on.  The smart driver and our driver exchanged a few words, and we were on our way.  We drove on for about 10 mins until I realised the driver had no fkn idea where we were going and as I anticipated, we ended up back at Mountain House.  I told the driver I'd take care of it and went inside Mountain House to see if someone can help out.  This really is all my fault, I should have taken note of the address and phone number when I made the reservation, not a mistake I'll make again.

I asked the guy at reception if he knew where Base Camp was, he said he did, and he said he'd go talk to the driver of our taxi, I suggested he draw a picture. 

We finally arrived at our actual hostel.  The driver tried to charge us extra for all these unexpected delays.  Not a chance.

Exhausted and grumpy but laughing at the ridiculousness of what we just went through we went up and checked in and told the girl at the reception desk what happened...she then asked why we didn't just take the cable car that literally runs from the bus terminal up the hill, over the povo houses and stops RIGHT NEXT DOOR to Base Camp!  Thats right, somehow we missed that one. 

The hostel is amazing, it's clean, brand new and all the furniture and decor matches eachother...beds a quite comfortable too.

The next day we set out for the usual exploration drill, we really just wanted to take life easy and cruise around, check stuff out etc.  We walked past a local bar with billiard tables in it, but these are not billiard tables of the common variety, these tables have no pockets.  I'd seen this briefly in Leticia, and wanted to show Kyle, so we casually but inconspicuously strolled in.  It didn't take long before one of the locals spotted us and alerted the other progressively drunk locals to our presence.   We adopted us, put their arms around our shoulders, shoved a beer in our hands and sat us down with them.  Their goal as  can only imagine was to get us as drunk as they were.  A side mission seemed to be to get us to play this ridiculous game with them.  I still don't quite understand, I'm sure a simple google seach for 'Colombian Billiards' would alleviate all confusion but I still haven't got around to doing that.  We watched on while one of the men swaying, lined up a red ball with his pool cue, managed to hit the two other balls on the table into a couple of the cushions then cheered.  It was now my turn.  I tried to mimic the drunkard and aim for the same balls, but this was apparently wrong, I had to aim for another ball.  I hit it and everyone cheered.  I guess I won.  The men got drunker and we got more confused...time is high for a quick exit.  We explained that we were meeting someone and made our escape relatively easily, there were a number of disputes, an offer to eat some disgusting looking crap out of a big cylinder, but eventually our bad Spanish and sober minds out witted the drunks.

We continued out exploration and came across a couple of cool little plazas with weird random street art.  We walked all the way to the end of the main street in the centro area to where a main road leading out of the city and into the rural mountains.  We walked uo a bit more and found a small outdoor market selling the usual crap, but what caught our attention was a guy shoving sticks of sugar cane into a machine and churning it up to a puree/mush.  indeed the man was making sugar cane juice, we enthusiastically ordered one each, for some reason expecting it to taste somewhat good and not like concentrated sugar.  We each took a sip and winced.  We forced down a few more sips until we both had headaches and threw the rest out, turning back to give the man a smile and a wave.

Time to hit the town...and most importantly we wanted to see some of this fierce danger that the Lonely Planet describes in this City '...Watch out for the bollards that line the main streets, where you may bang your shin.'.  After reading this we couldn't resist the urge to get drunk and take the piss out of this valuable travel advice. (See photos).  It was a Wednesday night, and nothing was happening, but this did not stop us from finding a very well themed rock bar playing heavy metal which neither of us were that into, though we were pretty impressed with the rock themed decor, tables made out of guitar bodies and the like.

After the stupidity was out of our system we decided to do something cultural and check out a coffee estate named Hacienda Venecia.  The tour started early, actually earlier than we expected, so we had to tip a plate of eggs down our throat.  We were then put on the back of a jeep built for 4 that already had 4 people in it...this meant we were riding standing up on the back while the driver made no efforts to ensure we stayed attached.

We arrived after about an hour of terror along a dirt road at 80km/h at a beautiful hacienda.  We were invited in and were told we could have as much coffee as we wanted, I begun immediately.  We were lead into the roasting room and showed the roasting process, and how it is possible to make as many as 12 different coffee aromas and end tastes just by roasting at different temperatures and times.  The tour took us walking through the plantations and up to their cleaning and drying factories.  They also explained why we have all been drinking such terrible coffee in South America.  We got to see the difference between premium beans that have not been deformed or damaged and the beans that are not up to premium quality.  The taste difference between these two beans are worlds apart.  All beans get sold, the only difference is the price.  The thing in South America is that people don't have a coffee culture, they can't tell the difference between amazing coffee and a cup full of dirt dug out from under a door mat, (though I think the reason this is, is because of the 7 tablespoons of sugar they mix into their coffee before drinking it) so when you put a bag of premium beans that costs $10 a pound next to a bag of average beans that costs $4 a pound, why would they want to buy the more expensive bag?

Shops like Juan Valdez target foreigners, of course some locals appreciate good coffee and are willing to spend a little extra on a cup but they are western prices for a reason.

The tour was brilliant, it was so simple, yet so informative, and the more tours I do the more I find that the simpler ones that aren't hyped up are the best, like the waterfall tour in Paraty.

After the tour had finished we were allowed to use their pool and take further advantage of the espresso machine.  After 7 black espressos I had a headache, but probably could have drank more had time permitted.

Kyle and I were debating on where to hold up for an Australia Day/Hottest 100 Party but still had a couple of days up our sleeve.  Being so close to Medellin we we're trying to decide whether to stay or go.  In the end we decided on staying in Manizales and head to Medellin the following day, which gave us a little extra time for one more outing.  The Manizales Nature Park Recinto del Pensamiento appealed on price and convenience.

We just had to take a bus there which was straight forward enough.  We were the first ones in the park, I guess we expected it to be a little busier, not that it mattered, in fact it worked to our advantage to see the place undisturbed by people.  We were assigned a Spanish speaking guide and were lead to a chairlift that took us op the mountain.  Although the weather was overcast the park was quite beautiful, with lots of native stuff like plants and butterflies, apparently zebras grow in Colombia too.

Our decision to hang about Manizales for Australia Day (Australia time) couldn't have paid off better.  That morning a group of 3 Aussies (first people from Adelaide I'd so far encountered) rocked up at the hostel.  I was ready for a two man Triple J countdown and explained to Kyle the awesomeness of the Hottest 100 so this sudden turn of events was well received. 

We planned big.  The hostel had a cool rooftop terrace overlooking the less fortunate Manizales population and the altiplano.  Speaking of which, the Adelasians had a hike up one of the mountains the following day, which made for an interesting conflict of plans.

We hit the gas pretty hard, pretty early, rocked out to the first 50 or so songs before the group started deteriorating and calling it a night.  We did achieve our mission for the night to get our photo on the Triple J website which was the most exciting moment of all our lives, sadly there were other Aussies in Bogota who beat us to it and got their photo up first.  Myself, Kyle and one of the girls stuck it out til about 4am/song #5 before we got told off for making too much noise, which was also the point where it dawned on her that she had to start a hike in less than 1 hour, in a very inebriated state...I never did hear the outcome of that.  Kyle and I also had to make a move, but at least we're not on such an early morning start, we managed a sleep until 1pm then got up, took the cable car down to the bus terminal and for an extra 5000pesos than an average bus, ended up getting a direct shuttle in a normal station wagon to Medellin.


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