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

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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

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.

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

Real Life Star Wars Angry Bird: Week 147

Real life Star Wars Angry Bird: Princess Leia

Growing up, my sister had an empty tissue box that she used to store her entomological collection. It held more than just dead bugs though; there were also flattened lizards and snakes that had dried out on the hot Florida asphalt. If she found something too large or juicy for her little cardboard box, then she’d peel it off the ground and take it home for a “proper burial.”

My mom, on the other hand, had the good luck to come across every down and out cat, raccoon, and bird in need of a little TLC and hearty serving of food. Between my mom and my sister, our house was never short of one-eyed squirrels, mummified frogs, and chickens with bandaged thighs and hefty vet bills.

Real life Star Wars Angry Bird: Chebacca

Although I shouldn’t say ‘growing up’ because twenty years later the two of them still rescue stray animals and foster as many kittens as they can get their hands on.  The last time I took a walk with my sister she scraped a squashed cat off the road and placed it on a grassy strip in front of a restaurant. I couldn’t see how that helped anyone (the restaurant or the cat), but she felt very strongly about it not being left in the road to get run over again.

Compared to the two of them I had never felt as proactive, but when Barret told me one Saturday morning about a stranded baby bird in our front yard, I immediately jumped into action. While I looked for old shirts to make a nest, Barret did a little research. It turned out that our newest addition was a Common Myna- an invasive species to Australia that was “probably better off dead.”

Real life Star Wars Angry Bird: Princess Leia

However, once I held the ugly little thing and noted its hugely disapproving frown, I knew what I had to do. I cooked up some porridge and coaxed its beak open. My little bird seemed so angry to be rehydrated that as soon as I placed it back in its box it shit what looked like a fried egg.

Barret didn’t want to clean up after it, but I didn’t mind. He also wasn’t crazy about touching the bird, but I enjoyed the cool bony talons wrapping around my fingers.  Angry Bird could flap its wings, but its feathers weren’t developed enough yet.  They were still emerging from these weird tubes on its skin that reminded me of beaded curtains.

Real life Star Wars Angry Bird: Yoda

I especially enjoyed the persistent scowl. That sour look inspired me to photograph Angry Bird (Star Wars edition) and it’s also what I missed the most when I woke up one morning to find my bird stiff and cold. I knew the chances of surviving a two-story fall were slim- but it was worth a short. I must be much more of my mother’s daughter than I realized.

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