The Colonial Pueblo of Jardín

Jardin-Plaza-Fountain-Colombia

Jardín is a small pueblo in the department of Antioquia. It is popular because of its cobblestone plaza filled with roses. In the evening a light breeze cooled the plaza and knocked yellow flowers off a tall tree. For dinner I ordered a kebab and an arepa de choclo and sat down at a small table painted with diamonds.

Jardin-Plaza-Seating-Colombia-2

Shortly after sitting down, a woman briskly walked over to the table in front of me and began setting up bowls. She filled them with food and soon enough a hoard of stray dogs wandered over. She chastised the one dog that wouldn’t stop barking, but repented and gently called him ‘Mi alma’.

Jardin-Plaza-Seating-Colombia

In the morning I walked across the plaza to the local museum where a petite man in his late 50s gave me a tour. His wrote his full name on the back of my map, but told me to call him Saga. He had an egg-shaped head and red-rimmed eyes.

Saga was more concerned about the photos I was taking than the actual content of the tour. He directed the camera, moved me, and finally demanded my camera when we made it to the courtyard. He steadfastly believed I needed photos of myself with the flowers. However, for all the interest he showed, every single photo of me came out blurry.

Jardin-Museum-Courtyard-Stephanie

At the end of the tour I dropped a 2,000 peso tip in a wooden box. Saga immediately asked me to join him for a coffee. We sat at a little table in the plaza and he told me he was originally from a vereda three hours away. He also thought Spanish was the hardest language in the world. That was not the first time I’d heard that from a Spanish speaker.

Jardin-Dulces-de-Jardin-Dessert

Afterwards, I strolled around the pueblo and stopped for a treat at a cafe called Dulces de Jardín. The wall behind the counter was stacked with jars of arequipe. I bought a banana arequipe and a cup of yogurt. The dining area was flooded with natural light and surrounded by hanging plants.

Jardin-Mazamorra-Wall-Painting

The cable car wasn’t operating, so I walked over to La Garrucha for the funicular. It was a little slatted cattle car that left every hour on the half hour. It cost 5,000 pesos for the round trip ticket. Inside were two opposing wooden benches and the whole thing bounced when I boarded it. We closed ourselves in with a small padlock.

Jardin-Funicular-Colombia

There was a trail that led back down, but I decided to enjoy a pintado and the view for an hour. I spoke with one woman about Colombian authors and just as I was leaving a 70-year-old man asked if I could help him for a second. I had wanted to pay for the coffee, but he whipped out an English worksheet with a ‘que pena’ and placed it in front of me.

We spent the next half hour matching job titles while the funicular rattled up and down the valley on two metal wires. Normally I am very uninterested in giving English lessons, but he was such a sweetheart and he insisted on paying for my coffee. I’m a sucker for old people and pintados.

Jardin-View

How to get to Jardín: from the terminal in Manizales, catch a bus to La Pintada and then purchase another ticket from there to Jardín. Total travel time is about 3.5 hours.

 

 

 

 

Parque Los Nevados

Parque-los-Nevados-Rainbow

It is not easy to find information online about Parque los Nevados. Most sites direct people to day tours or overnight packages and it also doesn’t help that it’s such a large park with multiple entrances.

After talking to a lot of people I realized that a guide is only needed to access some parts of the northernmost area around the very active Nevado del Ruiz. However, guides are not required for the rest of the park, so I decided to head further south.

Parque-los-Nevados-Jeep

I organized a jeep to meet my friends and I at 7am in Villa Maria. This is a neighborhood at the end of the cable car line in Manizales. The 2.5 hour drive to Potosí wound through farm land and green fields. The difference in altitude was marked by a transition from succulent red flowers to white daisies.

Parque-los-Nevados-Hospedaje

Most jeeps head all the way up to Potosí, but Carlos must have had a deal with the occupants of Hospedaje El Bosque. He unloaded our luggage and then ran in for a quick meal before heading back down to Villa Maria. A fluffy rooster walked past the front door while the sugary smell of panela floated out from the kitchen.

We ordered breakfast and sat down in a small dining room with a TV playing in the corner. A crisp breeze blew in through the window. The landscape made me think of The Sound of Music; the telenovela in the corner reminded me I was in Colombia.

Parque-los-Nevados-Cows

From Hospedaje el Bosque, the walk uphill to the Potosí park entrance was about 1.5 hours. It was so tranquil that the wind blowing over the mountains sounded like a distant river. When I stopped to open a snack, the plastic bag sounded like a jumbo jet passing overhead.

The park stops admitting visitors after 1pm. Luckily we made it there within minutes of closing time. The good news was that with our Colombian cédulas we received the locals’ rate – 9,500 pesos. Foreigners without this card have to pay 27,000 pesos. There was no extra fee for camping.

The bad news was that our destination, El Cisne, had been closed for about 5 years. That was really confusing because I knew I’d looked up the hotel and camping rates on their website within the last six months. I’m certain of that!

Parque-los-Nevados-Path

We changed our destination to a campsite at Laguna del Otún. It was a 4.5 hour hike that I had not been expecting. We were all also coming to terms with the scant amount of food we brought because our original destination, El Cisne, would have had a restaurant. My backpack was filled with wine instead of carbs and protein.

Parque-los-Nevados-Horse

I was definitely feeling the páramo altitude and the blisters that were starting to form on my feet. The sun was bright and I later realized that I had covered everything except for the backs of my hands. Every now and then we heard a rumble on the trail and jumped out of the way just in time for a group a packhorses to pass.

Parque-los-Nevados-Lago-Otun

Halfway through the hike we reached the highest point of the trail, which overlooked Laguna del Otún. Golden grasses lined the slope down to the lakefront. Off in the distance a single cascade coursed down the steep rock face.

Parque-los-Nevados-Frailejones

We were at about 3,950 meters when further along the path we passed through a field of frailejones. A light afternoon shower began and in the process created a double rainbow over the lake.

For dinner we found a small BBQ grill and seven of us split half a loaf of bread, a package of sliced something, and two bottles of wine. We went to bed when the frigid winds were too much too handle. Our sleeping bags were warm, but the wind continued playing with out tent all night.

Parque-los-Nevados-Sulphur-Vent

The next morning we relaxed around the campsite. Some people hiked uphill for a view of Santa Isabel. My blisters were too painful, so I chose a level walk around the north end of Laguna del Otún. At one point I came across a hill with a series of sulphur vents.

Because we were down to very little food, we decided not to camp a second night. We walked back and stayed at the Parquedero in Potosí. It was a basic building with a layout similar to a tiny motel. The guest rooms were completely empty of furniture and the communal bathroom didn’t have a faucet. The toilet handle was a rough green string.

The only place to wash hands was in the warm kitchen, where all the locals congregated on benches along the wall. They served us caldo, arepas and dark, dark agua panela for 4,000 pesos. For dinner we ate eggs, rice, a buttery arepa and hot chocolate for 6,000 pesos.

Parque-los-Nevados-Hospedaje-Campsite

Now that we were finally full, we headed out back where we had pitched our tents. The moon was so bright it was like a spotlight. My sharply outlined silhouette stretched across the paddock grass.

The following morning, the family who ran the Parquedero was already cooking by the time I woke up. The radio was on and the benches that lined the wall were filled. I sat on a grassy slope outside and watched thick white ash blow out of a vent on the kitchen roof.

Home is where the hearth is. I wondered if there was a Spanish equivalent for that.

Parque-los-Nevados-Farm

Semana Santa & Coffee Fincas in Salamina: Week 263

View from the cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

My second trip to Salamina was actually the very last trip for The Lustrum Project. I can’t believe how quickly the last five years have passed!

Ever since my first visit I’d wanted to return. So when a friend came to town, it was the perfect opportunity to show her a part of Colombia that wasn’t exactly frozen in time but also wasn’t in a hurry to change.

The old lady who sits outside the cemetery with a cat on the end of a string was still there. It was an odd day to relax though, given the wailing of a funeral party on the other side of the wall.

At the back of an artisanal shop was the wool blanket I didn’t buy the first time round. Its plastic sheath was quite dusty.

Wall of records inside the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

Near the cathedral was a museum that displayed the history of the town and old-objects-in-general. While the information wasn’t entirely precise and the items weren’t exactly relevant, the stories were the best.

Photo of an old Catholic priest in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

On one wall was a portrait of an unsmiling priest. He had maintained a muladar, a separate cemetery for sinners, until his brother was involved in unsavory business. Shortly after that revelation everyone could suddenly be buried in the same location.

A few frames over were collages of ‘typical Salamina people’. The photos were yellowed and each person had their nickname pasted on the photo. Siete Culos had the town’s biggest butt and the most demure stance. It was impossible to tell if he lived up to his reputation.

Photo of the local drunk in the town museum in Salamina, Colombia

The town drunk, Media Vida, had disappeared during turbulent times. Eddy, the caretaker, suggested he was most likely the victim of armed conflict.

Around 6pm Eddy’s wife called. When he answered the phone he said, “Mi Reina, there are a lot of people today!” Eddy had opened the museum especially for us and I had noticed before we left that we were the only two people to sign the guest book in the last three days.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

I usually pick the cheapest hotel or hostel I can find, but my friend and I decided to upgrade for our girls weekend. Casa Carola was definitely worth it. The beautiful old building had been in owner’s family for generations and he had lovingly turned it into a chic bed and breakfast.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The gardens were lush and Salamina has the perfect weather for sipping tropical juices in the courtyard. A wall of traditional woodwork marked the entrance between the courtyard and the dining room.

Inner courtyard at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

The living room on the other side of the building was papered in a bold print and peppered with cracks. Antique chairs were set in a circle on a plush rug. It was the perfect location to unwind with a bottle of wine or crack open one of the many coffee table books lying around.

Wallpapered living room at Casa Carola B&B in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa is a full week of Easter celebrations in Colombia. Most towns hold different processions and we were lucky enough to catch the Procession de las Ramas on Palm Sunday.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

The plaza was filled with school bands and students. The boys anchored small sprigs in the waistband of their pants. All of the Virgins had purple robes and gold shoes.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

I must be getting older because I noticed that none of the band students had ear protection.

Semana Santa Palm Sunday procession in Salamina, Colombia

After the procession we went on a tour with Don Carlos, my long-lost blue-eyed Colombian relative and owner of Finca La Irlanda. We drove up to his finca, which unraveled over the steep slopes of a mountain, and began the afternoon with a cup of coffee sweetened with panela.

Where coffee beans dry at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

Don Carlos walked us through the process of being Nespresso AAA certified and the life cycle of a coffee plant. While the landscape was beautiful, I couldn’t help but imagine how much work it must have been to cart that ruby-red fruit up the slopes.

Compost pile at Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

View of the coffee growing landscape from Finca La Irlanda in Salamina, Colombia

After the tour we were dropped off at a small vereda where a little boy entertained us with a tablet full of Shakira videos. We switched jeeps in La Merced and met a woman who had recently bought a fruit farm. She pointed the gate out to us when she disembarked and invited us to spend the night the next time we passed through.

It feels very clichéd to write about how warm and welcoming people are in Colombia, but it’s something I continually encounter. The country is rapidly modernizing, but there are still many charming places with old-world hospitality. Salamina is just one example, but it’s my personal favorite.

Semana Santa procession on Palm Sunday in Salamina, Colombia

About: Casa Carola B&B and the coffee plantation tour

Belalcazar: Week 262

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Cristo Rey was completed during a tumultuous period in Colombia known as ‘La Violencia’. La Violencia began with the assassination of Bogotá’s socialist mayor in 1948 and plagued the next decade with acts of domestic terrorism, murder, and the destruction of property.

Old building on the main street in Belalcazar: Colombia

I couldn’t find any information on how Belalcazar was affected by such a tumultuous period. However, the same friend who first told me about the statue also ominously mentioned the bodies that once floated down the rivers in the valley below.

It was in this environment that Father Antonio José Valencia Murillo designed Cristo Rey – as a symbol of protection for the region and as a symbol of peace.

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

View of Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Belalcazar is not the kind of place that often shows up in Colombian guidebooks. The tiny little town, which is located on the ridge of a mountain, is firmly off the tourist trail. Cristo Rey is its only claim to fame. Including pedestals, Cristo Rey is 7.5m taller than Christ the Redeemer in Rio.

View of the countryside from the Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

The journey to Belalcazar was an hour and a half ride past fincas and the kind of small water parks that proliferate in the hot Colombian countryside. Two young sisters sat down in front of us and couldn’t stop staring through the cracks in the seat. Finally, in a surprisingly good accent, the oldest daughter said, “Hello. What is your name?”

View of colorful buildings on the main street in Belalcazar: Colombia

View of Cristo Rey statue and colorful buildings in Belalcazar: Colombia

Once we entered the town, we walked up the one main street lined with colorful, old buildings. My friends and I stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a balcony that overlooked the massive valley below. It was a sunny day, but there was also a white haze that smudged the edges of the valley.

Our waitress handed us each a business card with an exceptionally bloody Jesus. At first I thought she wanted to convert us and then I realized it was the promotional material for the upcoming Semana Santa.

Arepa street vendor in Belalcazar: Colombia

The walk up the hill to Cristo Rey was lined with the snack and souvenir vendors. A chapel sat in the base of the statue and across from that was a restaurant. Two narrow staircases lead from the ground to the second level. From there, my friends and I paid 3,000 pesos to ascend 154 steps to the crow’s nest in Jesus’ head.

The interior of Jesus’ head was very small, circular, and echo-y. We climbed three rungs to enter by a hole in the floor. Once we were up, we had to carefully sidestep the hole or risk falling back down.

The walls were painted black and covered with scratched initials. I squatted down to peer out through Jesus’ nostrils and felt a gentle breeze. It was a little ironic that the highest point didn’t have the best view.

How to get to Belalcazar: numerous buses depart from the Pereira Bus Terminal hourly. The 1.5 hour journey costs 5,000 pesos.

View of the countryside from the Cristo Rey statue in Belalcazar: Colombia

Sena Orientation: Week 261

Coffee preperation demonstration at Sena: Manizales, Colombia

After a week in Bogotá, I was happy to be back in Manizales and ready to start the new trimester. When I started in 2015 there was only one other new teacher, so there were never any official welcome events.

Since this was the beginning a new calendar year, there were a lot more fresh faces. So this time around, instead of getting our schedules and jumping straight into classes, everyone started off with a week-long campus orientation.

Obviously I already had my bearings, but it was nice to be part of an official welcome event. Monday kicked off with a breakfast with the department heads, followed by a tour of the English Lab. Then we walked through the campus farm and ended the morning at Cafetera, which is where they conduct agricultural research.

It is also the same department that studies coffee! We were lucky enough to receive a preparation demonstration. I’ve often heard that the method of preparation affects the flavor of the coffee, but it was never something I actually noticed until I had three cups made from the same bag of coffee. I’m not an aficionado like Barret, but even I could taste the difference.

Sena campus peacock: Manizales, Colombia

After lunch I also had the luck of finally running into the campus peacock with its beautiful feathers on display. I took a ton of photos and I also persuaded the person next to me to WhatsApp their best images as well.

I was mesmerized as it slowly rotated like a beauty pageant contestant, but what I enjoyed most was watching people squeeze behind it. The peacock was blocking the only entrance to the auditorium where Automation was holding its monthly meeting. Definitely an only-in-Colombia moment.

The breakfast-coffee-peacock trifecta meant that the first day of orientation was off to a good start. I am excited to start teaching and I also have the feeling that the next few months are going to fly right past.

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