Cinespiral & Independent Cinema in Manizales: Week 243

Andrea Outside Cinespiral: Milan - Manizales, Colombia

During the ‘winter’ in Manizales, it is not uncommon to have sunny mornings and afternoon showers. The dove gray clouds creep over the mountains and sink down into the valley later in the day. Some people might not enjoy the rain, but I don’t mind. Not only is it beautiful to watch the clouds roll in, but it also is a good excuse to see a movie.

The only independent cinema in Manizales is located in the neighborhood of Milan. It is a pretty tree-lined neighborhood on the ridge of a mountain. Currently there’s a lot of sidewalk construction, which detracts from the serenity, but it will make for a nice stroll when all is said and done.

Cinespiral is the name of the cinema and it is a small venue with four screening rooms and a narrow lobby. There is no popcorn, but there are small bottles of Argentinean wine. There are screening hours, but there are not any specific films that play. Rather, it is the customer who chooses what they want to watch. It reminded me a lot of the DVD bangs in Korea with their libraries of movies and their private viewing rooms.

My friend Andrea and I went during the French Film Festival, so we browsed through a list of French films until we selected a diamond heist thriller called La Ultima Diamante.

Andrea is such a frequent patron that she put her movie ticket on a tab and then lead me through a rabbit warren of passages until we reached our screen. We had the whole place to ourselves, so we stretched out on the couch and made ourselves very comfortable.

Cinespiral isn’t the kind of place you visit if you want a massive screen and million-dollar sound equipment. It is however the perfect place to hide out on a rainy day.

“Do you want to watch another?” Andrea asked me as we were leaving.

I couldn’t stick around because I had some work to finish, but I knew exactly what I’d like to do the next time the clouds rolled in on a Saturday afternoon.

How to get to Cinespiral: Cr 23 #75-200, Milán, Manizales, Colombia

Halloween Homesickness: Week 242

Halloween Zombie Facepaint Fail: Manizales, Colombia

October 31st came around before my zombie costume was finished. All I had was a ripped sweatshirt and an arm’s length of pantyhose intestines. I could have worn it as is, but I wasn’t feeling that enthusiastic and I was also worried I’d be overdressed.

Although Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, I haven’t celebrated it too much the last few years. It just never feels the same when I’m in a new town. That is definitely the downside to living abroad.

I was on the verge of staying in for the night and watching Netflix when my friend came over. She was keen to dress up but as unprepared as me, so we decided to paint our faces. Barret was of course chosen to be the artist. He swiped his finger into a cheap pot of white cream and smeared it across my friend’s cheek. It looked like wet toothpaste.

I couldn’t help but laugh. Barret was trying to paint a skull, but the result was more like a melting KISS face. My friend was too polite to admit how terrible it looked, but I wasn’t. It was awful and I knew my zombie makeup would look just as bad, but I still went for it.

Even though the paint was so oily that it never dried, it was still surprisingly difficult to wash off. We decided to scrub the disasters off our faces and go out for patacones. Cable Plaza was packed with costumed people.

We ended the night at JSB. It is a tiny bar tucked among a string of louder venues. During the day it has an expansive view of the city and in the evening there is a steady rotation of jazz music. The music collection is entirely on CD and there were maybe a thousand cases on display behind the bar. I felt like I had walked into the 90s.

It might not have been the party of the year, but it was exactly what I needed to get over Halloween homesickness.

Colombian Campfire Stories: Week 241

Lookout tower at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

The entrance to Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo was hidden at the end of a neighborhood cul-de-sac. Of all the nature reserves in Manizales, this one is one of the quieter ones.

A large bamboo tower stood close to the entrance and contained two small rooms where the park wardens lived. At the very top was a platform with pleather chairs and a beautiful view of the valley below.

Every now and then the park hosts paranormal nights, and this was the reason my friends and I visited the park after work on a Monday. After watching the sunset we moved towards the growing pile of firewood. Twenty-somethings began arriving with motorcycle helmets in hand and many of them had also brought bags of candy and peanuts to pass around the campfire.

Steep staircase at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

Once a large enough group had assembled, the main speaker introduced himself. He wore loose jeans and a white shirt that stretched across his belly. Because he had been a priest for twelve years, what followed was a very bizarre blend of mysticism and Catholicism.

After recounting a moment where he had been dragged back to earth after flying through a rainbow-colored tunnel towards the gates of heaven, the speaker turned the conversation to one of the most dangerous markets in Manizales.

La Galleria is famous for its cheap deals and rough atmosphere, but it apparently also known for its witch market. With regards to this I learned that casual sex is dangerous because socks and underwear can be compromised. Anyone with bad intentions could wash said items and use that water to make manipulative potions.

And what would be the best method to avoid this? This is obviously where Catholicism came into play as the answer was to avoid sex.

Scopalmine- aka Devil’s Breath- was also mentioned and it’s a much more credible threat because it actually a drug that erases memory and turns people passive and acquiescent. In fact, it was used during the cold war as a truth serum.

Scopalmine resembles cocaine but it need only be blown into one’s face for the drug to take effect and the victim to be susceptible to outside influence. It can also used for the infamous paseo millonario– which is when friendly strangers drag you arround town for a quick visit to all the best ATMs.

The discussion got even more interesting when the floor opened up for a Q&A. I had taken it for granted that all the others were as skeptical as me, but I soon realized I was wrong. Not only was the audience all ears, but they started asking some wacky questions.

Beautiful sunset at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

Do babies have a direct celestial connection to God? -They do.

Why don’t the babies remember their direct celestial connection? -They grow up.

How can one get though depression? -Pray the darkness away with real emotion, none of that fake stuff.

What colors are in my aura? -White, grey and red.

About two hours into the evening there was a ten minute break after which the speaker was going to attempt to call up a spirit. My friends and I decided to leave because as a rule of thumb, we only like to raise the spirits on the weekend. And we were hungry

The campfire stories were not at all like what I was expecting, however it was interesting to experience the superstitious side of Manizales. I don’t think I will ever look at dirty bras the same way.

View from the lookout tower at Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Manizales, Colombia

How to get to Ecoparque Regional Alcázares-Arenillo: Catch a blue buseta that lists La Aurora as a destination. Get off at Calle 5 & Carrera 22 – this is just outside downtown Manizales and the Plaza de Toros.

The Hike to La Gruta: Week 240

The foggy route to La Gruta and Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

I play volleyball with my SENA colleagues twice a week after work. The volleyball court is across the road from the campus and is reached via an underground tunnel. From here, the view of the school and the hills and the mountains that rise up behind is absolutely stunning.

Sometimes the view is so pretty, especially during a sunset, that I have a hard time concentrating on the game. For this reason, when some friends of ours wanted to hike the mountains nearby SENA, I was excited. I knew how scenic the area was.

We caught a buseta that went through Gallinazo and exited at a fork in the road. To the right was a hot springs complex and to the left was a narrow road that eventually led to the volcanoes and the páramo of Parque Los Nevados.

The foggy route to La Gruta and Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

Aside from a few bicyclists and motorcyclists, the bumpy uphill road was quiet. As we walked the morning fog moved in. Birds called out from the surrounding trees and rivulets of water trickled down the side of the road. The landscape was so peaceful that it was easy to forget how much volcanic activity was underneath our feet. Nature can be deceiving like that.

When we stopped for water Barret heard a strange noise. It sounded like a lid bouncing on top of a pot of boiling water. He searched the side of the road until he found a small vent – a hint of the volcanic activity below. The gurgling was punctuated by a puff of steam that dissipated as silence fell. A few seconds later the gurgling began again.

After four hours of walking uphill, we reached our destination- La Gruta. Outside the grotto was a memorial to a group of Boy Scouts that were killed there in 2006. They had hiked up the very route we had just taken and were swimming when a surge of water suddenly appeared and swept them away.

The waterfall at La Gruta, just off the route to Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

The clouds hung low the afternoon of our visit. The waterfall was at the far end of the grotto and closer to the entrance was a pool of hot, steamy water that poured out of the rock face. The water that flowed out of the grotto passed under a bridge before heading down the mountain.

The thermal water at La Gruta, just off the route to Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

Down the road from the bridge was the only building we had come across on our four-hour hike. A man walked out from an open door and asked us if we wanted a cup of aguapanela or an arepa. We had brought our own food, so we declined and continued walking until we reached a small outdoor hot springs.

The hot spring just of the road to Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

We passed through a metal gate and asked the caretaker if we could eat lunch atop the sloping hill. Below us was a small concrete pool filled with thermal water and the remnants of a second pool. A long green hose poured cool water into one end of the pool while piping hot water flowed into the other end.

The small hot spring on the way to Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

When a group of four left the hot spring, we walked down the grassy slope and changed into our bathing suits. The afternoon was foggier than ever when we got into the water. My cold feet began to tingle and my tired shoulder muscles slowly relaxed.

Swimming in the small hot spring on the way to Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

Every now and then I saw the caretaker strolling the hill above; he was a poncho-clad silhouette in the fog. If it weren’t for the steep terrain, I would have thought we were in the British moors.

On the way back down a jeep pulled over and offered the four of us a ride back into town. We jumped in and tucked our legs up on a hard plastic kennel. Metal beams crisscrossed the ceiling of the jeep and I crouched down so that my head wouldn’t hit the roof every time we bounced over a rock. Including us, there were nine adults, one baby, and one dog in the car.

It felt like we were hitching a ride in the middle of nowhere, hundreds of miles from the nearest city. However, within the hour we were dropped off at a gas station across from the Manizales bus terminal. Moments like that are when I feel very lucky to live in Manizales.

The path to access La Gruta, on the way to Parque los Nevados: Manizales, Colombia

Yipao Parade: Week 239

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps-with-Furniture: Armenia, Colombia

Parades are the kind of public events that often sound promising, but can easily turn into masochistic affairs. There are many ways this can happen- perhaps there are too many people, or the traffic is horrible, or it is absolutely impossible to see the parade.

Perhaps you find a good spot, but just before the floats pass, a few hundred late arrivals rush out in front of you. Of course these latecomers are all armed with massive iPads which not only block your view, but are also filming videos that no one will ever watch.

And on top of all that, your legs are probably tired because the parade is running late and you are roasting under the sun. This has happened so many times to Barret and I that when I told him about the Yipao Parade in Armenia he looked quite skeptical. “You sure you want to go? You know what parades are like.”

Yipao-Parade-Jeep Festical Driver-with Dog and Furniture: Armenia, Colombia

Truthfully I wasn’t expecting too much either, but I had seen some beautiful photos of the traditional “Willys” Jeeps overloaded with household furniture and I was a little bit enchanted. Barret and I finally decided to catch an early morning bus to Armenia. From there we took a taxi directly to Parque Aborigenes, which is the starting point of the parade.

It turned out to be the best decision we could have made because not only did we get there right when the parade began at 1pm, but we were in the shade of a cluster of trees and there was hardly anyone around. We could take as many photos and get as close to the Willys as we wanted.

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps loaded with plantains: Armenia, Colombia

These antique jeeps arrived in Colombia during WWII and were very popular in the mountainous coffee-growing regions because of their handling and cargo capabilities. Since then, they have become an endearing icon that is celebrated every October in Armenia.

Although, the Yipao Parade is just one part of Armenia’s week-long annual celebration (called the Cuyabras Festivals). There were many other events that took place that Saturday such as a massive artisanal market, a beer and gastronomy festival, and a book fair. All of the events took place in different locations, so after receiving multiple bad directions, we found taxis were the best way to go.

Of all the events though, the Yipao Parade was the big attraction of the day. There were four principal categories, with one of my favorites being the Trasteo Típico.

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps piled high with antique furniture: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Jeeps piled high with furniture. The driver-and- his family: Armenia, Colombia

This is the category where, traditionally, families moving from one finca to another would pile all their possessions onto a jeep. Everything from furniture, to paintings, to bedpans, to plates and dishes were elaborately stacked and tied to the jeep. Cages filled with chickens, ducks and pigs were tied just above the rear fender.


Yipao-Parade-jeeps piled high with furniture. View from the back with a little piglet: Armenia, Colombia

I couldn’t figure out why this was the preferred location until I realized that if the animals went to the bathroom, their waste would just drop onto the ground. Good idea.

Yipao-Parade-Hood-Ornaments on a Willys: Armenia, Colombia

Another category with just as much creative decoration was the Categoría Libre. In this group Willys were decorated with everything from recycled bits of plastic to dioramas of traditional industries.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for coffee roasting: Armenia, Colombia

And the dioramas weren’t just static either. The coffee roasting jeep was actually roasting some small batches out back. There was another jeep that had some sort of volcano on the roof, and that too was smoking as it drove past.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for coffee roasting: Armenia, Colombia

There were brick-making, basket-weaving, fruit and vegetable displays. Some were very professional and others were just lucky their car was even operating under that much weight.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated with produce: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for brick-making: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated for basket making: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade decorated Willys Jeep: Armenia, Colombia

The word yipao specifically refers to the competition where Willys are loaded with as much cargo as possible. So the third category, Productos Agrícolas, is perhaps one of the most important for the parade. This is the group that loads as much weight as they possibly can onto their jeeps. The types of individual cargo categories could be things like coffee, plantains, or yucca.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeeps loaded with plantains and potatoes: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep popping a willy and loaded with cargo: Armenia, Colombia

The most impressive jeeps were the ones that spent the most time on two wheels. Sometimes the weight was so much though that the passengers had to get out and sit on the front fender so that the jeep could drive in a straight line. One driver had even modified his jeep so that his chair was where the roof should have been.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep popping a willy and loaded with cargo: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep decorated with KFC sponsorship: Armenia, Colombia

Of course there were also sponsored Willys that passed out freebies to the crowd. Cristal, a brand of aguardiente, was pouring free shots to people who ran up to their float. I thought this was particularly interesting as the floats that followed were in the most dangerous group – Piques.

These jeeps in Piques were loaded with just enough weight to make acrobatic feats possible. At first I thought the jeeps just spun in circles, but then I realized that the driver actually got out of the car.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group with driving jumping out: Armenia, Colombia

Just imagine a crowd of people surrounding a spinning car (with corporate sponsorship) and no protective barrier between them. Then, in the middle of the spin, the driver gets out and jumps onto the front bumper. He leans back and scrapes his machete along the ground. It was absolutely nuts.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group and driver hanging off the front bumper: Armenia, Colombia

It was also totally captivating. Confetti and scratched roads were left in the wake of the acrobatic jeeps.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group and driver hanging off the front bumper: Armenia, Colombia

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep in the acrobatic group and driver back in the car adjusting his gloves: Armenia, Colombia

Barret and I actually ended up following the slow-moving parade along its route just so we could see some of the jeeps again. The nice part was that even in the busier parts of the route, it was still easy to get around and find a good view.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep loaded with furniture and a sleeping child: Armenia, Colombia

The Yipao Parade was definitely the best parade I have ever seen.

Yipao-Parade-Willys Jeep loaded with fruit and people in traditional costumes: Armenia, Colombia

About: The Yipao Parade and Festival Program 2015

About: Armenia

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