I am now in Cali. Just a quick update – spent the last 4 days in the beautiful hills of the Eje Cafetero region. Manizales is a pretty university town set right on top of a hill, and surrounded by the cordilleras, with spectacular views of the Nevados del Ruiz, a craggy snow-covered mountain range with an active volcano. Due to its location in an earthquake-prone region, Manizales is built right along a ridgeline. This means that there’s only one road in the entire town that runs horizontally. All the roads leading off it head south, often so steeply that there are stairs built into the sidewalks (think Montmartre).
There are 6 or 7 universities there, and the student population in the Zona Rosa area of Cable (pronounced Cabley) (the Zona Rosa areas of Colombian cities are usually the central shopping, restaurant and nightclub districts) makes the entire place buzz with vigour. I stayed around Cable. Cable is called thus, because right in the middle of it stands a spectacular tall wooden tower, one of the original cable towers, and the tallest, that was used to transport coffee down to the lowlands.
While in Manizales, I met a lot of cool people as well, primarily through contacts of my friend Amalia. There was Paula Tatiana, a student and photographer with whom I had a coffee and a great discussion about Latin American literature. There was Juan Pablo, the manager of Hacienda Venecia, a single-origin award-winning coffee farm, who very kindly showed me around town. There was Ines Elvira, a judge, who also took me out and with whom I ate some yummy platanos (bananas) with cheese, corn, and chicken.
I visited a “finca” – a coffee plantation, and spent about 4 hours there with another German traveller, Olaf. It was a spectacular place, filled with monstrously large exotic flowers and acres of trees. We later walked around the town of Chinchina, which grew around the seasonal collectors who came to work on the plantations and stayed on. Juan Pablo later told me that it’s a very dangerous town, lots of hired assassins live there, and there are lots of deaths there. This would explain why we saw 4 freshly dug graves in this town’s tiny little graveyard, not to mention paramilitary at every corner.
ANYWAY, I got to drink some excellent coffee while I was there, exercise my calf muscles, and take in the views of the Nevados and the Cordilleras at sunrise. The mist seemed to have been whisked and scattered around these mountaintops, floating off this way and that, free of gravity. It was very soothing to breathe in the fresh air and wander around. I went to local market there, which reminded me a lot of Crawford Market in Bombay (it’s funny how you go so far away from home, and the further away you go, the more similarities you find – the world really is small). It was an indoor market of two concentric circles, selling everything from birds and fish to bananas. The butchers area was spectularly disgusting, but also fascinating. There were cow’s heads piled up in wheelbarrows in various corners. I saw a butcher throw one down, and its horns landed on another head with a loud clatter. It creeped me out completely, I’ve never seen anything like it.
I’ve been drinking a lot of fresh fruit juices from the Amazon — Lulo – tart and tangy, Maracuya (the cousin of the passion fruit, which is called the Granadilla here), tamarindo, Mora (like a blackberry), etc.
I am now in Cali. Met a couple of cool people in Manizales – Jonah (an urban farmer from Brooklyn), and James (a herbalist from BC who has been travelling for 6 years now, and is one of those people you only read about in books – 53 years old, with leathery skin and a long ponytail, and a voice like gravel). The San Petronio de Alvarez festival is on here, and it should be fun. I’ll update you on it. On Tuesday, I’m off to Quito, Ecuador.