Thursday 22 August - Saturday 24 August
Zona Cafetera - Manizales, Colombia
Okay, now I know I keep on mentioning how hectic some of our bus rides have been, but I don't think anything can top the minibus ride we had to endure from Medellin to Manizales. The young macho bus driver with a huge scar cut across his face to his ear was in a major hurry to get there, which meant speeding whilst overtaking trucks, buses, motorbikes and the occasional donkey at the worst possible moments around blind corners with cliffs that dropped off into oblivion, whilst constantly taking his eyes off the road to chat up the pretty young thing sitting in the passenger seat. The wreckage of a head-on collision between a bus and truck which we had to carefully navigate around, which he told us had just happened that morning, didn't even phase him or slow him down. Four hours of white knuckles later and a few close calls we luckily arrived unscathed in Manizales in the Zona Cafetera - the lush coffee region of Colombia.
Tired of big cities by this stage, we headed out of town to stay on a coffee farm, the beautiful Hacienda Venecia, where we topped up on our suntans and acquired an espresso buzz for a few days. The coffee tour was really interesting - I didn't realise that I knew so little about something I partook in everyday. The tour guide explained that all the first quality coffee beans produced in Colombia are sent out of the country and sold to the US and Europe - now that explains, why we hadn't really had good coffee in Colombia which we had been expecting, plus the fact that Colombians don't really have a coffee culture like we do which meant we'd been given weak watered down or overly milked and pre-sugared coffee everywhere - it had been very disappointing up until now. Luckily Hacienda Venecia keeps some of their own first grade coffee beans for personal use and after showing us how to expertly double roast the coffee beans we were treated to the most delicious, aromatic espressos which left us thirsty for more. We got to tour the coffee farm after that where we learnt that because of the moderate climate in the Zona Cafetera, the coffee plants are in a state of constantly producing blossoms and having ripe as well as unripe beans on the plants. This means that they can supply coffee all year round and not only for one season like the other coffee producers of the world. After the coffee tour, we were admiring the beautiful orchids around the main farm house and upon complementing the caretaker on her orchids we were then treated to a private little tour of her orchid greenhouse. It was magical - she had hundreds of different species - it reminded me of my gran's orchids back in her greenhouse in Durban, South Africa.
We spent the rest of our time relaxing by the pool with a few beers and wine, bird-nerding it and playing 'Sapo' or the Frog Game - a South American coin toss game, where you get the highest points for throwing the coins into the frogs mouth which is sat on top of a wooden cupboard with many holes surrounding it. The game was derived from a legend of the Inca King throwing gold coins to magical frogs in Lake Titicaca. Damn its fun when you're winning - I want one of these for our own games room.