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South America » Colombia » Caldas
December 21st 2011
Published: September 30th 2017
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Monumento a los Colonizadores ...Monumento a los Colonizadores ...Monumento a los Colonizadores ...

... monument to the colonists of the area.
Geo: 5.07342, -75.5271

Manizales isn't the most famous of Colombian towns for tourism, but turned out to be a bit of a gem last night in the Zona Rosa - being a university town, it's got a youthful energy and is a bustling spot for people watching, with cheap food and drink everywhere. Last night's drinking partner was a Greek guy from England, Dmitri - he was a bit surprised that I had found my way to Manizales, as it's a little ways off the typical gringo trail, but definitely worth the effort, according to him.

Manizales was only chosen for its proximity to Medellin - needing to be there to pick up B on December 27, I didn't want to spend all my time there, and thus chose a place that was neither too close nor too far away. The intent wasn't to spend much time in Manizales, but to use it as a base for day trips to places like Nevado del Ruiz, nearby coffee farms, the hot springs at Santa Rosa de Cabal ...

The original plan was to spend four days here, and hit up each of the above - but a Colombian friend advised that Manizales was nothing
Breakfast at La Suiza ...Breakfast at La Suiza ...Breakfast at La Suiza ...

... tasty cheese pastry with a cafe con leche, made with some fine-ass Colombian beans. Supposedly the best beans are exported - they must be some pretty amazing coffee beans, because this cuppa joe made from inferior beans was still pretty damn good,
special, just a city. Further discussion revealed that the big highlight of going to Nevado del Ruiz was to hike up to the top and see some snow - exactly what I'm escaping from in Canada ... so four nights was cut to two.

No matter - none of those places were on the menu today, as I needed to wait around for the bastards at Avianca to either return Becky to me, or call with an update as to her whereabouts. Whether or not she's gone forever or has just been delayed in her arrival, I need to know today - I'm scheduled to leave tomorrow for Salento, a small little town up in the hills, and would need to buy some clothes in Manizales while I still had a chance, or possibly even cut out Salento altogether and wait here for the bag. I could always have Avianca forward Becky to Medellin, but given their track record thus far, I'd rather not risk losing her again.

After having a pasty and a wicked cup of joe this morning (Manizales is located in the Zona Cafetera, Colombia's famous coffee-producing region), I managed to get a hold of Avianca on the phone.
Walking to El Centro ...Walking to El Centro ...Walking to El Centro ...

... busy and bustling!
The news was horrible - they had no idea where Becky was, since it was the busy holiday season and apparently, they had a ton of other luggage that was unaccounted for. Oh Becky, where are you? Will I never see you again? Why? WHY??? WHY!!??!??!!?

They said to try back later - dejected, I headed out the door with Dmitri and Coco, a young French guy who was also staying at the hostel. We headed into the city centre - a sharp contrast from the Zona Rosa, which while not overly pretty, is quite a bit more modern and developed than the centre. Definitely more of a working class neighbourhood, the centre is gritty and rough around the edges - a typical vibrant South American barrio, bustling and full of energy.

There isn't much in the way of sights - a church and a museum here and there, numerous shops and cafes, and some street vendors ... we continued walking to Chipre, an area famous for its mirador, a viewpoint of the gorgeous greenery that surrounds Manizales. It was Coco's first time in Manizales, but Dmitri's second - we all reached the same conclusion, that Manizales is awesome! So vibrant, so lively, so real ... many times us tourists go seeking places with sights, shopping, and beautiful spots - aside from beautiful spots, Manizales doesn't really have any of that in abundance. But it feels like we're in an authentic Colombian city, and that we're enjoying life as the locals do, something that feels priceless.

Both Dmitri and Coco have been in Colombia far longer than me, but I've fallen in love with the place, just as they already have. It's difficult to describe, but South America seems to have something in the air, something truly special - the friendliness of the people and the love of life, the idea of living in the moment, the passion ... it feels great to be a part of. Dmitri probably knows best out of the three of us - he's been motorcycling around South America for ten months and says that Colombia is by far his favourite country.

After heading back to the hostel, we split up and made plans to meet up again later - we were extremely lucky to be in town for the Colombian soccer league's championship match, featuring the Manizales squad Once Caldas and Atletico Junior, a team from Barranquilla. Even better - the final match was taking place in town tonight, with the stadium a mere 5-minute walk from the hostel! The potential is there for an epic evening if Once Caldas can pull it off.

It was then that I received a sucker punch to the gut - Avianca had left a message with the receptionist advising that they were still unable to find Becky, and that I needed to go to the airport to speak with them in person. I shed a tear ... it's official, Becky was gone forever. So many things were running through my mind on the taxi ride to the airport - it was like a montage of scenes from a romantic chick flick, images of Becky and I traveling to the most romantic of places in the world. Oh, the sorrow ...

I dragged my sorry depressed ass to Avianca's counter, and was gestured to their back office - it was going to be a pain, filling out forms to claim compensation for my lost and beloved Becky. It's not the monetary loss, it's the hassle of having to replace everything, and taking time out of my Colombian adventures to do
Plaza de Bolivar ...Plaza de Bolivar ...Plaza de Bolivar ...

... with the Bolivar Condor on the left, a statue in honour of the famous Simon Bolivar, a revolutionary and key figure in the fight for Latin American independence from Spain.
so. Even though I'd rather not, it would have to be done - I'm a huge fan of traveling light, but spending nearly three weeks trekking around Colombia with only a day pack, pair of sandals, pair of shorts, pair of underwear, a t-shirt, and a toothbrush is taking that concept way too far!

About to step into their office, something beautiful caught my eye, hiding in the corner - Becky, is that you? It is!!! Oh, the ecstasy! It's a miracle! I thought you were gone forever, but now we've been reunited ... all the greatest poets, writers, and singers in the world combined couldn't convey the sense of joy I felt at seeing her again. I feel complete, once more ...

Now that this silly business was out of the way, the focus could shift to tonight - the buzz in town started building mid-afternoon, with people all over sporting their Once Caldas jerseys and waving their flags, a slow trickle of people heading down to the stadium. There was talk that some bars in town would close, fearful of the chaos expected in the streets, whether Once Caldas won or not. Dmitri even moved his motorcycle off the street, fearful that the crowds leaving the stadium would do damage to it - being on the main street to the Zona Rosa, we guessed that nearly everyone attending the game would come past the hostel.

Ready for the city to burst, we set out to grab a bite to eat before watching the game - only to find the city unexpectedly dead ... sure, a few bars were busy with people ready for the game, but they weren't bursting at the seams like a Canadian bar would be during the Stanley Cup playoffs, if their team had made it that far. Do Colombians prefer to watch the game at home? The only real sign of life was on the main drag through town, Avenida Santander, where one side of traffic was closed off so that people could gather in the street and watch on a big screen.

Finishing up dinner, we headed back to the hostel to catch the end of the first half, which ended with Once Caldas up 1-0. Another 90 minutes and the championship was theirs! Lacking a good vibe, us Three Amigos headed to Avenida Santander to watch with the crowd, which had grown slightly, and the energy level was ratcheting up - the crowd was buzzing, hoping to will their team to victory. Shortly after the second half started, Junior tied the game at 1-1 and the crowd was completely deflated - but not for long as Manizales seized the lead once more, and the crowd went crazy once again! Expecting Once Caldas to drop back in a defensive shell, we were surprised that they continued to press, until a local explained to us that it was a two-game championship, with the winner being decided based on aggregate goals. Shit ... I hate how some soccer championships are decided!

Since Once Caldas lost the first game 2-1, the aggregate score was actually 4-4 - since nobody scored another goal in regulation, this would go to penalty kicks, which is always a crap shoot, at best. The tension was unbelievable - until Once Caldas missed a penalty kick, leaving the crowd in shock. Anyone who follows soccer knows that penalty kicks are basically gimmes, and that a shootout is usually decided based on one miss. It was almost inconceivable that Junior would miss a kick and allow Once Caldas another chance at the championship - but could it happen? It seemed too perfect to end like this - us stumbling upon the biggest night of the year for Colombian football, with Once Caldas playing at home? Was a miracle in order?

Sadly, a second miracle wasn't possible tonight, as the odds played out like they should, with Junior winning - the crowd didn't know what to do with themselves, and neither did we, with us eventually wandering back to the hostel bar. The atmosphere was subdued everywhere, as residents struggled to come to terms with the loss ... but like I said before, South America has something special in the air. Colombians are passionate people, and were obviously crushed by tonight's loss - but once they got over it, they were ready to let loose!

The Zona Rosa was in full swing, even livelier than last night - the Three Amigos set out in search of some aguardiente, the Colombian drink of choice, their equivalent of Greek ouzo. Not for everybody, as people generally either love or hate the flavour of anise, it's normally sold by the bottle and drunk in shots or occasionally, with ice and water, much like the French drink their pastis.

Having completed our half bottle, a table of Colombians next to us invited us to join them, and to split a full bottle of aguardiente. Known for giving the worst hangovers, we knew tomorrow morning was going to be brutal - but when in Colombia, do as the Colombians do ... though the night started out as a dud because of the Once Caldas loss, it eventually turned out to be another amazing night in Manizales, full of camaraderie, laughter, and of course - aguardiente. It's the Colombian way - there's no point dwelling on something negative. Live for today and enjoy the moment, because you never know what tomorrow may bring ... but in this case I definitely know what tomorrow is going to bring me - a wicked hangover!


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Powerful Imagery ...Powerful Imagery ...
Powerful Imagery ...

... depicting the struggles of the colonists.
Cheap ...Cheap ...
Cheap ...

... a delicious set lunch can be had anywhere in Colombia for anywhere from $3-6 CAD. First course was a delicious soup, full of potatoes and corn and served with an arepa, which I'm not digging most of the time.
Beautifully Grilled Fresh River Fish ...Beautifully Grilled Fresh River Fish ...
Beautifully Grilled Fresh River Fish ...

... delicious, with a squeeze of lime and a side of simple vegetables cooked in a lovely sauce. A slice of fried plantain, scoop of rice, and a token salad rounded out the dish. Set meals are generally also served with a glass of fresh juice - today's selection was pineapple.
Sight for Sore Eyes ...Sight for Sore Eyes ...
Sight for Sore Eyes ...

... my beloved Becky!!!
Bunuelitos at Juan Valdez ...Bunuelitos at Juan Valdez ...
Bunuelitos at Juan Valdez ...

... to celebrate the return of Becky, Dmitri and I grabbed a coffee at the nearby Juan Valdez, along with a couple of bunuelitos, fried balls of dough and cheese.
All That Protects Us Tonight ...All That Protects Us Tonight ...
All That Protects Us Tonight ...

... a handful of police officers in riot gear. If Once Caldas wins, I don't know if these guys will be enough ...
All That Protects Us If the Riot Police Can't ...All That Protects Us If the Riot Police Can't ...
All That Protects Us If the Riot Police Can't ...

... some thin metal bars, from the balcony of our room.
Assorted Meat Pizza ...Assorted Meat Pizza ...
Assorted Meat Pizza ...

... our sense of dimensions are off, as Dmitri and I figured the 40 cm pizza would be barely enough for us. Instead, we were completely stuffed with this all-meat pizza - not great but not bad, definitely enhanced with some aji (chili) sauce.
Commemorating the NIght w/ a Local Family ...Commemorating the NIght w/ a Local Family ...
Commemorating the NIght w/ a Local Family ...

... and no, that's not cocaine all over us! Locals celebrate by throwing bags of flour all over the place, and we seemed to be a target as foreigners, especially a group with a Chino ...


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