All aboard the puke bus to Bogota

The morning after my fun jaunt through the death zone of Medellin was finally time to move on – to Manizales, coffee capital of Colombia. But not before finally meeting the Aussie guy also on a homestay across the street – the one the girls were doing impressions of the weekend before. I’m kind of irritated we weren’t told about each other, because it would have been nice to have someone to do things with and to chat to without my head exploding. Also, he was doing salsa classes, which I would have liked to know about, but it was too late. Oh, and the house he was staying in had a 360-degree-view roof terrace…

Anyway, I eventually got on the bus to Manizales, ready for a scenic four-hour drive through the mountains. On the bus was a Brit/Kiwi couple from London (Crystal and Simon), and it was nice to chat about home. I ended up seeing them a few times while I was in Manizales, a really sweet couple.

My first night in Manizales I spent chatting to the hostel guy about what I wanted to do in the region – there were only two things on my list – go see snow at Los Nevados and check out a coffee farm. But it turned out the crater at Los Nevados was closed due to the volcano erupting or something lame like that.

But anyway, it meant the tour up the mountains could only go so far, and for $65 I didn’t think it would be worth it. Then the hostel guy told me about a milk float (a chiva bus that carries milk up to the mountains for restaurants and houses) that comes past the Red Cross Hospital at 5am every morning and picks up nurses that need to get to the mountains. So I dragged myself out of bed at 4am, arrive at the Red Cross at 4:30, pull my hood over my head and enjoy an hour and a half of not being recognised as a gringa or a woman – but no bus…

At 6am I gave up and went back to the hostel, so ready for bed. But after a quick chat with the hostel girl I was convinced to go on the stupid expensive tour halfway up the crater. I had only two days in Manizales and it was half the reason I came. So I went to back bed for a blissful half-hour and dragged myself back out of bed at an unreasonable hour for the second time that day.

The tour bus came and I was the only English-speaking person on a bus full of Colombian tourists. They were very nice, but it made for a boring day – they were all older couples. The trip took us up the mountains (which were stunning, but I saw better views from the bus to Bogota two days later), and we had to keep stopping and walking around in an attempt to acclimatise to the altitude (5,000m). When we got to the ‘top’ there were a few pathetic smatterings of snow (it was funny to see the Colombians getting so excited about seeing snow for the first time though) and clouds covering any kind of view. Oh, and there was no oxygen. I could not breathe. I had a pounding headache and it was also flipping freezing – I was in hat and gloves.

The world’s highest toilet?

After, we went to some hot springs, which were a bit lame and really sulphorous, which I only discovered after I dunked my head in and tasted it by mistake – farts and eggs, mmm.

Anyway, after a bit of puking from one of the Colombians and a twisty ride back home I was relieved to be back at the hostel. I had big plans for a nice nap, but then something better happened – I got an invitation from Crystal and Simon to go to a Tejo Hall.

A Tejo Hall is where the locals hang out on the weekends, where they spend the evenings drinking cheap beer (50p) throwing rocks at gunpowder. The place was awesome. Kind of like a bowling alley but with upright pits of sand filled with small bags of gunpowder, which explodes with a flame, a crack that made me jump whenever it happened (although never to me) and lots of smoke that smelled like bonfire night – yum.

It turned out I was utterly hopeless – a danger to others in fact. But it was so much fun, the drinks were cheap (3 shots and a beer for $3) and the old men that patronise the place every weekend were really funny and friendly. It was great to do something that the locals do rather than hang out in a bar (although we did go to a British pub for a GnT after…).

The next morning I was booked on a coffee tour, and the driver came and picked me up at 8:30am – much more reasonable – when I discovered I was the only person on the tour! The drive (in an awesome old Jeep) was beautiful, and the driver spoke really clear Spanish, so I could chat to him the whole time without having to say ‘como?’ once.

When we got to the hostel at the coffee farm all I could think was that I wished I’d brought all my stuff – the hostel was gorgeous and right in the middle of the countryside. I was then told that the rule of the day was to drink as much coffee as possible, and got taken through the coffee process by a really sweet tour guide. Now buzzing, we went on a walk around the farm, checking out the factory, as well as the farm owners’ house. There were dogs, cats and peacocks everywhere, the house had a balcony all round, two pools and was so gorgeous. After cuddling the tiny dog and getting swiped at by the cat we went back to the hostel for lunch – rice and beans of course. I then laid about in a hammock watching all the animals wander past and scaring chickens by staring into their beady eyes.

When I got back I planned to meet Crystal and Simon and to head into Chipre 20 minutes away where you can see a spectacular sunset. After getting a huge icecream (Twix and mocha flavours, amazing) I wandered down the block to meet the guys.

The sunset was gorgeous, but it was too cloudy, so I started a little game of making funny sillouettes in front of it and taking photos, which killed half an hour while we drank our beers (Redds for me, natch), then we went into the nearest bar (after being frisked for weapons) which we were promptly laughed out of for ordering wine and mixers as opposed to entire bottles of aguadiente or vodka.

Got the bus back, which was adorned with fur-covered mirrors, tissue boxes and gear stick and a sticker of a motorbike – just to prove the driver’s masculinity.

Back at the hostel I watched Simpsons and Futurama in Spanish and somehow managed to get plain boiled pasta wrong.

The next morning I had to catch a bus to Bogota ready for my flight to Leticia last Monday. The ride was eight hours round twisty mountain roads – and the driver liked to take the tightest corners the fastest. Fortunately there were puke buckets lining the aisle… The view was spectacular though, I couldn’t believe how amazing it was. I took a few pics, which are on facebook/flickr now.

Post on Leticia and my epic Amazon river voyage coming soon!