(Click on photos to enlarge them)
Just like the first Colombian Hitchhiking blog entry, this trip (end of April 2009) took place when I didn't have a blog and didn't care too much about keeping a journal regarding my thoughts, funny quotes and a little bit about my random life in and around Colombia. I regret not writing these series of little moments while they were still fresh. In the upcoming months I will have tiny composition notebooks to jot down the good times while they remain fresh in the mind with me at all times and I have hopes of taking a photography class to improve my picture taking abilities which will then greatly improve this blog. However, I am not the kind of person that likes traveling with an elaborate camera with several types of lenses; too much weight, too much money and too much unwanted attention. I would like a camera that is compact, very durable, used (there is no way I could afford a new one), and takes good shots...recommendations are more than welcome.
Unlike the last time I went hitchhiking, this was not planned. My hostess Manisha (while she was living and teaching in Manizales) and I decided to head south to the municipality of Villamaria to get away from the urbanization of Manizales and venture into a more rural setting. Near by is the active volcano Nevado del Ruiz at 5,321m (17,388ft) above sea level and can easily be seen from Manizales on a sunny day. We took urban transportation as far as we could southeast from the city of Manizales and began walking past farms and friendly campesinos (peasant farmers). It was quite coincidental but a driver stopped with his pickup truck to ask if we needed a ride only a few minutes after telling Manisha how easy it was for me to hitchhike in Colombia without even holding out my thumb.
We expected a few hours walk along the rural coffee farms of Caldas but ended up hitchhiking to wherever the driver wanted to go.
We were excited to go as far as possible but Manisha and I were completely unprepared for such an exciting trip. The two guys in the back of the pickup truck (sorry for not remembering their names) were very nice guys from Medellín whom had great recommendations for us regarding future travels off the beaten path in Colombia. Sadly, again I forgot their recommendations because I have conversations like this all of the time.
The driver was drinking Caldense rum (a rum from this region which is considered by experts to be some of the best rum in the world), blaring reggaetón, and driving at full speed along unpaved country roads which at times sent us flying in the air and slamming against the hard truck bed. Eventually our hour long drive with this crew came to an end as they had planned to drive further up to the Parque Nacional Los Nevados (Los Nevados National Park) which was too high of an elevation (we didn't have enough cold weather clothing to handle the snow) and too expensive for Manisha and I to enter (foreigners have to pay a minimum of about 80,000 Colombian pesos, which is roughly $40USD, just to enter the park). They dropped us off at a lodge which was convenient because they served typical food from the Paísa region filled with protein and calories we needed. It was a bit over priced but at +4,000 meters (+13,000 feet) above sea-level I can't complain. The lodge was lovely and had a very Alps feel to it but we couldn't afford to stay and we only had a few hours of light to guide us down the mountain back to civilization. We asked if it would be easy to catch a ride back but we were quickly informed by Colombian tourists and staff that it would be highly unlikely. We began walking at a fast pace while enjoying Caldas's beauty.
Along the road Manisha and I stopped to enjoy the warmth which the natural volcanic hot springs provided.
Enjoying the company of cows.
Hiking without the intention of hiking is fun but I know from experience that not being prepared and getting lost usually ends in hunger, hypothermia, injures and near death experiences in these parts. Although enjoying the nature and our conversations we were in a hurry to get back quickly before nightfall.
I definitely see myself coming back here for some light mountaineering as well as some remote rock-climbing. The down side to climbing in Colombia is its tropical climate and heavy rainfall, the upside is that there are thousands of routes that have never been attempted. I will attempt these routes next time during the brief dry season in Caldas.
The sunsets, we're in a hurry but still manage to appreciate the beauty of southeastern Caldas.
Night joins us on our walk leaving us walking in complete darkness. Manisha and I lock arms so that we don't trip or lose each other. Several hours pass and we eventually see a car parked with two lovers inside listing to classic salsa rhythms as well as each other's heavy breathing; we leave them alone but at least we know that civilization is near and that the temperature rises as we decrease in elevation. We didn't dare to knock on the window asking for a ride, because one I didn't want to scare them in the middle of love making and two if I were that guy I would have been pissed at the guy who killed the spark of sexual desire of my sex partner. We don't have any more water which makes us chose our words wisely and of importance. After many hours we begin to see farms in the distance, we feel confident that we'll make it back home. A car drives up and we stop the car asking for a ride late at night while the driver and the passenger look at each other with mutual feelings of uneasiness. We ride in the way back to another bumpy ride into Manizales. They drop us off outside a hospital and a grocery store where we buy supplies and take a bus ride back home.
We celebrated with a group of friends, ate lots of much needed calories, played twister and talked a little bit about our little day trip. Manisha couldn't believe the energy I had the entire day.
Great times always in Manizales especially when the weather is nice. Be sure to stop by and explore the most mountainous department of Colombia: Caldas.
Blog coming soon regarding Couchsurfing in Manizales.