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 is also known for its witch market. Concerning 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.

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.

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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

A Weekend at a Finca: Week 234

The patio of Finca La Cristalina in Santagueda, Colombia

In Colombia it is very popular to rent a finca for the weekend, especially around the warm coffee-growing regions of Caldas. Fincas are country houses, often with pools, that are rented out to large groups of people.

There are several agencies in Manizales that deal specifically with finca listings and one of the most important things to consider is the capacity of the venue. It is much more common to rent the entire finca than it is to rent a single room- so you want to find the right place for the right number of people.

Santagueda is a popular destination for sun-seekers in Manizales. Although it is only an hour west, the lower elevation makes for a huge temperature difference. The drive down through the green valleys and moss-covered trees is beautiful. In the center of town we stopped at a supermarket to load up on ice and alcohol.

Since our finca had a pool, we were planning on lounging around it all weekend. While fincas are fully furnished, it is important to bring your own soap, dish washing implements, and extra toilet paper. And even if you did want to pay someone else to cook, you might still have to supply the food- so always bring enough food.

A motorcycle vendor selling ice cream at Finca La Cristalina: Santagueda, Colombia

Although, if you didn’t stock up on enough dessert, in Santagueda there are men on motorcycles that drive onto the fincas with ice cream-filled styrofoam boxes. My favorite flavor was the cheese and bocadillo.

Fincas are also very popular for family reunions and other special events. And if there is anything I have learned about these kind of events, it’s that loud music is very popular and there really isn’t a noise complaint culture. In fact, the name for a wake-up call at sunrise that involves a lot of noise is an alborada. My guess is that is also involves an early start for drinking.

So unless you are somewhere isolated or on a working finca (aka a farm), you might be close enough to your neighbors to hear their music blasting all day and night. We didn’t have loud music playing at our place, but the neighbor did. Despite blasting songs all night, I managed to sleep soundly till about 7am.

A tiny turtle found on the grounds of Finca La Cristalina: Santagueda, Colombia

Normally this would make me grumpy, but early morning in Santagueda was beautiful. I’ve heard so much about the bird variety in Colombia, but I hadn’t experienced any of it until I sat on the porch in the early morning. I put my legs up and watched the colorful birds swoop through the massive yard for a good hour or two. I even saw a tiny little turtle crawling through the stalks of grass.

One by one the others began to wake up around 9am. Massive skillets were pulled out of the kitchen and the beers started to crack open. Eggs and the hair of the dog was up for breakfast. I was really looking forward to a lazy afternoon- renting the whole place meant we only had to leave by 5pm. It was time to unwind from the unwinding and to continue enjoying the warm weather.

About: Finca listings in Santagueda

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