Nevado del Ruiz

Nevado del Ruiz Covered in Snow: Manizales, Colombia

On clear days I can see Nevado del Ruiz from my apartment. This highly active volcano usually has a dusting of snow and a thick plume of ash trailing off in the wind. The ash has the same blue-grey tone that dryer lint does. I know because I sweep it off my floors every morning.

Nevado del Ruiz is one of three volcanoes in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. It is the northern-most volcano and the only one currently active. For this reason, access at this end of the park is only possible with a park ranger.

Nevado del Ruiz Horses on the Murillo turn-off: Manizales, Colombia

Without a car or motorcycle, a guided tour is the next best option. My sister and I filled the last two seats of a Saturday morning tour. We didn’t know it until we arrived at the meeting point at 7am, but we were in the middle of a Mexican-Colombian-American family vacation.

Our family never had vacations, so it was fun to be in the middle of someone else’s. We received snacks, Nan had a riveting discussion about horror films, and we made it into the family photos.

Nevado del Ruiz - streams at the Murillo turn-off: Manizales, Colombia

After breakfast and a canelazo pit stop (agua panela with cinnamon), we made a quick detour to Murillo. It’s a turnoff just before the park entrance. For the life of me I don’t remember why we were there except for the fact that it was beautiful.

Nevado del Ruiz  - the Murillo turn-off: Manizales, Colombia

Before we could enter the park, we had to stop at the tourist center in Las Brisas for an orientation film. Afterwards, a guide lead us up to the highest accessible location. When Nevado del Ruiz was more dormant, guests were able to go up to a lookout point. However, Valle de las Tumbas is where the tour now finishes.

Nevado-del-Ruiz-Foggy-Dirt-Road

The clouds rolled in shortly after we arrived and shrouded the whole landscape. There are very few places in the world with páramo ecosystems. Not only are they gorgeous and mercurial, but they are an incredibly important source of water.

One plant that carpets the ground with dense green shoots is colloquially known as colchón de pobre, poor person’s mattress. It can hold up to 100x it’s own weight in water and is responsible for regulating the release of water in times of excess and drought.

Nevado del Ruiz - View from Valle de Las Tumbas: Manizales, Colombia

At the end of the tour we were freezing – the páramo can be very, very cold. Luckily for us the last stop of the day was the hot springs at Termales el Otoño. The water was piping hot and the view was stunning.

Nan and I both agreed it was the best family vacation we’d ever been on.

Nevado de Ruiz - View from Valle de Las Tumbas: Manizales, Colombia

About: Kumanday Hostel & Tours

About: Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados – From the visitor center in Las Brisas, the last entrance to the park is at noon. With a Colombian cédula the entrance fee is $120,000 pesos, $140,000 without.

About: Termales el Otoño

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

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

Quindío Botanic Garden: Week 256

Aerial view of the butterfly garden at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

The butterfly-shaped mariposario is the most iconic building at the Quindío Botanic Garden, but it is just one of many sights to see. The 10 hectares of subandean forest is located in Calarcá and is easily reached by bus or taxi from the bus terminal in Armenia.

It’s not possible to walk through the gardens on your own as several of the buildings are only accessible with a guide. Therefore, the 20,000 peso entrance fee includes a 2.5 hour guided tour.

We began in the palm garden where Laura, our guide, pointed out several native palms and their uses. One had a tangle of above-ground roots that she said were perfect for catching unfaithful men in the night.

Mother-in-Law's Hug parasitic tree at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

Another tree on the tour was predatory and grew around an established tree until it smothered it and cut off its nutrient access. After Laura pointed out the dead trunk squished in the middle, like a layer of cake frosting, she laughed. “I don’t know why, but it’s also called mother-in-law’s hug.” (abrazo de suegra)

Suspension bride at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

On that note, we crossed a suspension bridge to a viewing hut behind a two-way mirror. We saw a humming bird singing, another one fighting itself in the mirror, and a small mammal whose name I promptly forgot. Colombia is celebrated for the diversity of its bird life. So while there were many signs with bird names, the furry little vertebrates don’t often get a mention.

Small vertebrate at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

We went back over the bridge and climbed up an observation tower. It was a nice view, but I could feel the structure sway quite a bit at the top and that was when I decided it was a good time to make haste.

Learning center and cafe at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

There were two coffee shops at the botanic gardens. One was at the entrance and the other was by the bathroom and learning center. There were interesting displays on palm fiber art and a cactus garden with hummingbird feeders.

Palm root chairs at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

I also saw an interesting sort of organic chair that is made after a palm tree has been cut down. The remaining stump and roots are pulled out of the earth and resemble, on their own accord, the kind of chair that Beetlejuice would have liked.

After a short break, we learned about a civil engineering project that is connecting two sides of the Cordillera Mountains. Then we wound our way into an insect display where Laura pointed out a type of ant that was traditionally used for punishments. Imagine putting on gloves filled venomous ants!

Butterfly garden at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

The very last stop on the tour was the butterfly enclosure. Two professional photographers followed us around and took photos that were later displayed when we returned to the info center. I was terrible at convincing butterflies to rest on my finger, but one of the photographers rounded one up and stuck it on my nose.

Photographer inside the butterfly garden at the Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

Most people probably consider the mariposario to be the highlight of the Quindío Botanic Garden, but for me it was the tour itself. The guides were friendly, the information was interesting, and it was great for Spanish practice too.

About: Quindío Botanic Garden

Close up texture of a spiky palm tree at Quindio Botanic Garden: Calarca, Colombia

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

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