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

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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.

 

 

 

 

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

Villa de Leyva & Terracotta House: Week 245

Villa de Leyva cobblestone plaza: Colombia

Villa de Leyva is a colonial gem several hours north of Bogotá. It was founded in the late 1500s as a retreat for the well-to-do and high-ranking officials. Because the town was not located on important shipping routes or near significant mineral deposits, the cobblestone town escaped the pressures of modernization.

Although Villa de Leyva has certainly been ‘discovered’, there is still more foot traffic than cars in the center of town. It is also possible to see a bridled donkey on a side street and know that it’s a working animal and not a photo prop.

Donkeys on the cobblestone streets of Villa de Leyva: Colombia

A small courtyard in Villa de Leyva: Colombia

One of the reasons Villa de Leyva is so beloved by tourists is because of its massive main square. At 14,000 square meters, it’s quite possibly the largest cobblestone plaza in South America. The white-washed buildings and churches surrounding the plaza were also beautifully preserved.

Virgin Mary statue in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Statue in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Jesus Christ statue in the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Balcony of the Terracotta House: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

On the outskirts of town is an eccentric house named La Casa de Terracota. It was completed in 2012 by the Colombian architect Octavio Mendoza. In his own words, Casa Terracota is, “a project that transforms soil into habitable architecture, by simply using the supporting help of natural resources—e.g. the other three elements of nature (air, water and fire).”

Living room of the Terracotta House: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Studio at the Terracotta House: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

Aside from the relatively low-cost of the construction process, there are several other benefits to using soil as a building material. The first benefit being the insulation properties of soil and the second being its harmonious relationship with nature. Imagine a house that could actually become stronger after being ‘cooked’ during a season of devastating wildfires.

Bathroom mirror at the Terracotta House: Villa De Leyva, Colombia

While no one lives in the house, the rooms were furnished, wired with electricity, and the tiled bathrooms were connected to running water. I really liked how all of the textures in the house were imperfect and organic, but perhaps the nicest design element was the number of windows and skylights in the house. The warm afternoon light made the terracotta surfaces glow.

I’m not sure how durable terracotta homes are, but if one were available, I could see myself giving it a go. Especially in the desert- how wonderful to live without an AC bill!

Work bench in the studio of the Terracotta House: Villa de Leyva, Colombia

About: Villa de Leyva

About: La Casa de Terracota

Catedral Basílica de Manizales: Week 237

Sculpture outside the entrance of the Manizales Cathedral: Colombia

Overlooking the massive Plaza Bolivar, in the heart of downtown Manizales, is the Catedral Basílica de Manizales. It is a massive concrete structure that is both raw and refined at the same time.

In fact the architect who won the design contest in the 20s believed that the raw concrete was the soul of the building and was something to be celebrated instead of covered.

Due to the rough nature of the material, it is also possible to see the repair work from several major earthquakes. The most significant damage occurred in 1962 when one of the towers collapsed.

Cute cafe inside the Manizales Cathedral: Colombia

The cathedral entrance off of Calle 23 has a small elevator that leads up to an open-air cafe. Dainty colonnades surround the cluster of tables and the north side of the cafe overlooks Plaza Bolivar and the buttercup yellow Gobernación de Caldas building.

View of Plaza Bolivar from the Manizales Cathedral: Colombia

Tile mural from the Plaza Bolivar: Manizales, Colombia

Aside from people watching, the plaza is also enjoyable for its sculptures and tile murals. This part of the city also has the oldest buildings, which make for an interesting architectural stroll.

View from the Manizales Cathedral: Colombia

There is also a tour that departs from outside the second level cafe and continues up into the highest tower. The tickets are sold on the ground level and initially I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to pay the $10,000 peso entry fee. However, the view from the top is really something else.

View of Chipre from the top of the Manizales Cathedral: Colombia

One of the most memorable parts though was the old wooden staircase that led up to the tower. This part of the cathedral is called el Corredor Polaco. Although only small portions of it were left for display, the reason it was replaced was quite evident.

For starters, the staircase had been extremely narrow and dark. It had actually been completely enclosed in wood and for this reason it resembled a large, upright coffin. If there were more than one person on the staircase, the structure creaked and trembled.

Staircase inside el Corredor Polaco at the Manizales Cathedral: Colombia

To make matters worse, the staircases were in segments (these are the tiny rectangular platforms above). This meant that one exited the staircase on the right hand side of the tower and then slid along the wall to the opposite staircase to continue the journey.

Of course there were no guard rails then to prevent someone from slipping off the landing and plummeting to their death. For safety reasons, this part of the church was actually closed to the public between 1976-2008.

Now that secure metal staircases are in place, it is a much more enjoyable walk up el Corredor Polaco. The only obstacle that remains in the way between you and a beautiful view of Manizales are 456 steps. Bring some water.

Swweping view of the city from the top of el Catedral de Manizales: Colombia

How to get to the Catedral Basílica de Manizales: Carrera 22- between Calle 22 & 23, Manizales

View of the street from el Catedral de Manizales: Colombia

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