The exchange departments of both the Queensland University of Technology and Universidad del Rosario would probably like me to write that the last couple of weeks of my first semester on exchange were full of bitter-sweet goodbyes, the receiving of good grades and pensive reflection. There was definitely a few goodbyes to fellow exchange students who won’t be around next semester and one or two good grades did come my way, but mostly the last weeks were characterised by the fervent need to celebrate something and excitement at finally getting out of the city. Thus it passed that the last two weeks of semester are now but a hazy smear across my memory, the highlight being a party we threw in our house (for which my housemates have now created a facebook page here) which ended up slightly out of hand.
Robbie was travelling with his parents, Chris was broke, Johan was trying to secure himself another semester here and Colombian friends were catching up on some rest, so I headed out solo to the coffee region for a few days. I started in Manizales, a nice enough city that straddles a hill’s ridge, surrounded by mountains and rainforest that can be spotted from pretty much anywhere in the city. The landscapes in Zona Cafetaria seems like someone’s taken normal countryside and simply scrunched it together – the place is full of mountains that are simply too steep for decent company. That and they seem so randomly scattered about – I’m used to low Australian ranges where “mountains” stick to uniform, undulating ranges in nice logical lines, not this here-there-and-everywhere nonsense. Bus rides and walks through the region, which is blanketed in the most impossible shades of green, had me considering giving it all away and starting my own plantation.
Not much happened in Manizales. The place has three main nature parks and every single one of them defeated me – Los Yarumos was boring, Recinto del Pensamiento was inexplicably closed and Reserva Ecológica Río Blanco told me I had to go back to Manizales to get ‘permission’ to enter, after a two hour walk to the gate. The volcanic Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados was closed as well, and apparently has been since May due to fears of an eruption or some other such catastrophe. That’s not without reason – an eruption in 1985 killed 20,000 people.
A day or two was enough in Manizales and, thoroughly re-plugged into the backpacker circuit (but not altogether comfortable with it), I travelled with an Australian/Dutch couple to Salento. Salento’s a coffee growing town tucked away at the mouth of Valle de Cocora, colourful and long popular with Colombian tourists. Aside from fresh air and an overdose of greenery, highlights here included two days and a night trekking up into Valle de Cocora with James, an English cycle traveller with a BBC accent who said things like “splendid!”. After a muddy slog up the valley and chocolate, cheese and hummingbirds at Acaime, we camped at Estrellas de Aguas watching clouds thunder up the valley and disappear as they reached us. By night, we looked down on thunderstorms in the valley and up at a sky thick with stars.
Other mentionable happenings included a Saturday night drinking aguardiente and rum in the main square with a frenzied horde of local firefighters and farmers, watching the sun come up, then going to greet my good friend Robbie and his parents off the night bus. Accompanying them to breakfast might’ve been a bit much, and I figure Robbie has probably since had the “we don’t want you hanging out with that boy” talk. The hangover and subsequent night bus ride were too horrific to be mentioned in polite conversation. Zona Cafetaria was good to me for the four or five odd days I was there, but there are far too many little towns and coffee farms yet undiscovered to completely ignore it from here on in. That and I didn’t actually drink any coffee. We’ll be seeing each other again.
I arrived to a rainy Bogotá at dawn with only a few hours before a flight to the Amazon. Those adventures are on the way, stay tuned.