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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.