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.

Recinto de Pensamiento: Week 260

Recinto-del-Pensamiento-Buildings-2

Since 1935, Recinto del Pensamiento has had several different names and purposes. It began as a shelter for avalanche orphans and over the years took on different educational roles.

Aside from its current educational programs, the park also houses numerous gardens, a function center, hotel, restaurant, Juan Valdez Cafe, chapel, and office complexes.

View of chairlift at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Of all the botanic gardens I’ve been to in Manizales, I think I like this one the best. Recinto del Pensamiento has great amenities, but the clincher is the neighboring landscape.

The surrounding mountains are like angular shards of glass that rasp the bellies of the ever-proliferating rain clouds. This is the same landscape that I see everyday on my way to work and I’m still completely enchanted.

On top of the beautiful landscape, at the end of February is the annual Festival of Orchids, Coffee & Art. Normally it costs $15,000 pesos to enter the park, but for special events the $10,000 peso fee covers access to all the amenities. The only exception is the chairlift, which always costs extra to use.

Juice cart during the Orchid Festival at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

When Barret and I entered the grounds we browsed the stalls, sat in on a coffee demonstration, looked at some art and then ended up at a massive pavilion filled with award-winning orchids.

I’m not sure how many categories there were, but it seemed liked the number of winners roughly equaled the number of losers. Orchid growing must be great for self-esteem.

Orchid Festival at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

View of the gardens from the pavilion at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Strolling back by the food booths I ran into a young colleague from work and her boyfriend of 15 days. The four of us found a mobile coffee cart operated by Sena students. I was excited that the lattes and cappuccinos were free.

Butterfly garden at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Afterwards we all joined a tour headed to the top of the gardens. Overlooking the valley was a patio with  hummingbird feeders. Just behind that building was a netted butterfly enclosure. Further down the hill was a Zen garden.

Zen garden at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Red bridge in the Zen garden at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

It was around 6:30pm when we made our way back down the hill to the entrance. Our last purchase of the day was mango biche ice cream, which I had only just discovered. It’s made from peeled green mangoes, sugar, limes, and comes with a little packet of salt. The flavor was deliciously tart and the chewy pieces of mango were bits of heaven.

Eating mango biche at at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

I kind of wish I had visited Recinto del Pensamiento earlier, but I’m also glad I waited for the annual festival. It ended up being the perfect combination.

Large pond and water wheel at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

How to get to Recinto del Pensamiento: Catch a blue buseta along Santander Ave in Manizales. The bus route plaque needs to list ‘Sena’. There are two routes that list this, the fastest of the two also lists ‘Maltería’. Let the driver know you are visiting the gardens.

Gardens surrounding the offices at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Thanksgiving in Manizales: Week 246

Brownie ice cream popsicle dipped in dark chocolate from Pop Shop: Manizales, Colombia

Colombia has so many holidays that people sometimes forget the reason they don’t have to go to work. Because I’m distracted by the profusion of holidays here, I often forget to celebrate, let alone remember, holidays in the US.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that tends to slip under my radar, but it didn’t this year because one of my friends hosted a party. I really enjoyed cooking some traditional food and sharing it with people who were experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time.

In honor of the holiday, I decided to make a list of things I am thankful to have in Manizales:

– Friends: They’re awesome.

– Students: They keep my life interesting.

– Granadillas: My favorite tropical fruit.

– Arepas de choclo: The US equivalent would be a sweet cornbread in the shape of a pancake.

– Chuzos: My favorite late night grill in Cable.

– The view from my apartment: Love my volcano vista!

– Netflix: It works in Colombia and the Spanish shows are great language practice.

– Edilberto: The elderly neighborhood watchman always greets me by saying, “Mi preciosa, como amaneciste?” And then he kisses my cheek.

– Pop Shop: Last, but not least, I am thankful that a delicious ice cream shop opened up near my house in Cable. Lulu! Cocolimonada! Chocolate en chocolate! Yum!

Cocolimonada popsicle from Pop Shop: Manizales, Colombia

About: Pop Shop

About: Chuzos

Two Kinds of Andrés: Week 244

Rural road outside of VIlla Maria: Manizales, Colombia

We were walking through a rural town when a boy named Andrés stopped us. It was a Wednesday afternoon and he and his friends were on their way home from school.

While his friends giggled, Andrés invited us to inspect the nest he had found and the two listless birds inside. He questioned us for a few minutes, before deciding that the nest was suddenly a burden and thrust it into my hands. “Could you put it back?”

Andres holding the bird nest he found: Manizales, Colombia

I lifted up my sunglasses to get a better look at my new responsibility. Just then, Andrés saw the color of my eyes and shouted ¡Oh! ¡Tus ojos! He sounded like a chef who had just stuck his hand in something and wasn’t quite sure if he should lick his fingers.

My friends with the bird nest we were given: Manizales, Colombia

My friends and I agreed to stick the nest somewhere and said goodbye. A few minutes later we heard the pitter patter of someone running down the street. It was Andrés. He had suddenly needed to visit his godfather who happened to live in the same direction we were walking. Whatever the excuse, I was happy to talk.

Andrés’ informed us that his godfather had a 3,000 strong pig farm. Despite such an important connection to the pork industry, Andrés was adamant that he preferred chicken. He then began telling another story a little bit too quickly for me to follow.

When he finished my friend Favi turned to me with cocked eyebrow. “Did you get that?”

“No,” I replied. “What did he say?”

“He said that if the pigs get too aggressive they push them into a wall so they’ll have a heart attack because they’re so fat.”

“Oh.”

Dog on a quiet dirt road outside Villa Maria: Manizales, Colombia

Eventually we came to a fork in the road and we went right and Andrés left. We waved him goodbye and thanked him for his company. At the end of the bumpy dirt road was a B&B named the Secret Garden where our lunch was waiting for us. We ate on the patio and soaked in the peaceful rolling countryside.

Patio of the Secret Garden Hostel outside Villa Maria: Manizales, Colombia

About an hour outside of Bogotá, in Chía, is a famous restaurant-night club called Andrés Carne de Res. It’s the kind of place that’s in all the guidebooks and rounds off every Bogotá bucket list.

There is a second location in the heart of the Zona Rosa, but it’s not the original, so it’s not the most recommended. The problem was that I didn’t realize Chía was an hour away from our hostel, which had already been a nine-hour journey from Manizales. On top of that, the trip was punctuated with car sickness. The proper word for this situation is bolso!

Lucha Libre on the dance floor of Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

When the four of us eventually arrived at Andrés Carne de Res, we were feeling a bit low-key. The restaurant, on the other hand, was a massive rabbit warren of hyperactivity. Not only were the decorations a lot to take in, but the scale of the venue and the whole customer experience was not something we were quite prepared for.

Ticket for Andres Carnes de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

Because it was after 7pm on a Saturday, we each had to pay a $15,000 peso entry fee. This was in addition to the cost of the food, which by Colombian standards was pricey. After we were led to a table, we were handed a 80 page menu. It had its own index!

Once we ordered, we finally had some time to digest our surroundings. I’m not sure what the restaurant looked like when it opened in 1982, but the feeling I got when I arrived was that it was the lovechild of Etsy and Instagram. Everything just felt so curated.

Bottle of still water at Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

There were employees that performed little skits throughout the dining area. A lucha libre match was being televised from another part of the restaurant. The tap water arrived in specially made bottles with decorative string around the neck. The ice chests had murals painted on them and the cups were branded. And I haven’t even begun to describe the decor surrounding our table and the ceiling.

Ceiling decorations at Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

It took awhile for the food to come out, but when it did it was delicious. I had been a little worried because a big menu usually means there’s just a lot of average food, but thankfully this wasn’t the case. Barret’s lomo, which was beef tenderloin encrusted with black pepper, was absolutely stunning and the salad we shared was a good companion.

When we paid our bill, a mariachi quartet stopped by our table to shower us in confetti, hang sashes around our necks, and pass out little bags of candy. The whole venue was building up to a crescendo, but we were ready to wind down for the night. Andrés Carne de Res was an interesting experience, but it’s definitely somewhere you need to be ready to commit the whole night and a lot of energy.

Mural at Andres Carne de Res Chia: Bogota, Colombia

How to get to Andrés Carne de Res in Chía: From Chapinero, Bogotá the taxi costs $80,000 pesos.

How to get to The Secret Garden: Take the cable car to Villa Maria. From the park outside the terminal, catch a chiva (an old, brightly painted silver bus) and get off when the road changes from paved to gravel.

Cable car station at Villa Maria: Manizales, Colombia

Salamina: Week 238

The busy main street of the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

Salamina is a beautiful little colonial town in the coffee-growing region of Colombia. Unlike other colonial towns, such as Salento, Salamina hasn’t quite been discovered. This was apparent to my friends and I as soon as we got off the bus and started walking down the busy main street.

On a Saturday afternoon Salamina was filled with families pushing strollers and old men with white hats and traditional ponchos thrown over one shoulder. Instead of clusters of tourists, there were locals hanging outside their doors and chatting to their neighbors from their balconies.

There were no shops along the main street with personalized mugs or ironic beer bottle openers. Salamina was a slice of everyday life- from the guy with a microphone promoting an upcoming election, to the antique trucks still in rotation, to the vendors with metal display cases (of a color I’d affectionately named Soviet mint) who patiently waited by the curb with their carefully arranged lollipops, gum, and chocolate.

An antique truck driving down the colonial streets of Salamina, Colombia

Culturally, the food in Salamina and Manizales is similar, but I did try a regional specialty called masamora. It’s a corn-based drink that has the consistency of gravy and chunks of cooked corn at the bottom.

The masamora was also served with a cube of sugary cube of bocadillo which was meant to be mixed into the drink. I ate them separately though and maybe that’s why I found the flavor to be a bit bland. While the drink wasn’t terrible, it was a bit too wacky for me. I don’t think I would recommend it.

A street in Salamina that looks like it drops off into a valley: Colombia

After lunch we strolled through the town taking photos. Because the heart of the city rests on top of a mountain, there are streets that look like they just drop off into the blue sky and valley below.

Colonial buildings with ornate balconies in Salamina, Colombia

I also fell in love with the architecture. The large, sturdy structures were balanced by the delicate woodwork adorning the windows, doors, and balconies. Every now and then an open door offered a glimpse of a cool, dark hall and the promise of a bright courtyard at the end.

Red and yellow colonial buildings in Salamina, Colombia

A religious house number marker in the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A street view of the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A man walking home in the late afternoon in the colonial town of Salamina, Colombia

A horse loaded with goods in the quiet streets of Salamina, Colombia

It didn’t take long to notice that Salamina truly was a working coffee town. When we stopped for ice cream, I noticed a man on the other side of the road who was loading up his horses. His son played on the light post until the horses were ready and then they set off down the quiet street, the sound of clicking horseshoes trailing after them.

Coffee purchasing shop in the cafetera: Salaminas, Colombia

A few blocks further we passed the storefronts where growers sold their dried coffee beans. Large scales sat in the middle of a concrete floor and coarse brown sacks were neatly stacked to the side. There was a faint smell of hay in the air.

Grand entrance to the cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

The last bus back into Manizales left at 6pm, so we decided to visit the cemetery before we left. It was only a few blocks down from the main square and on the edge of the mountain. Across from the gates were massive trees laden with moss.

Clothes drying outside a colonial house in Salamina, Colombia

Trees filled with moss in Salamina, Colombia

Just outside the cemetery gates was an elderly woman resting in a white plastic lawn chair. The only thing she had in her hands was a piece of string that trailed along the sidewalk and eventually terminated around the neck of a sleeping grey cat.

Late afternoon at a cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

Plaque in Spanish at a cemetery in Salamina, Colombia

The cemetery was small and empty. While we were strolling through, I heard the sound of a metal gate closing and realized we were being locked in. Barret, Andrea, and I ran over to the gate and found the cemetery keeper and his little daughter on the other side. He unlocked the gate and apologized for not seeing us. Then he asked us if we were enjoying Salamina.

The sun was setting and unfortunately we had to get back to the bus station. While it is possible to make a day trip to Salamina from Manizales, I realized it is best to spend the night. Having the extra day would have also been a nice way to break up the six-hour roundtrip bus ride.

With a second day in town it is possible to tour a coffee finca or even the production of panela (a traditional non-alcoholic drink made from sugar cane). Since going to Salamina, I’ve also gotten a tip on a beautiful old B&B named Casa Carola that recently opened.

A woman cleaning her window in Salamina, Colombia

There is so much to see in Colombia that I don’t usually like to revisit places, but Salamina is charming and I don’t feel that my four-hour meander did the town justice. I will definitely be back and next time I am staying the night.

About: Salamina

How to get to Casa Carola: Carrera 7 No 5-42, Salamina

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