Monday, July 20 was the Colombian Independence day. I saw some of a presentation in the Bolivar park in Medellin but I couldn't really see or hear very well because the park is not set up to be able to see anything w/ so many people around. I did get to hear the national anthem though and the anthem of Medellin. I took a minivan to Manizales and finally got to my hostel, the Mountain House by 2:30pm. I took the bus downtown to the Chipre neighborhood that is up high w/ a good view and a big liberty monument. While there I bought a choloa which was an awesome sweet mix of maracuya (passion fruit), banana, pineapple, guanabana, peach & berry jam & condensed milk and milo chocolate powder - sugar heaven. That night I got to see some great Independence day fireworks.
My first full day in Manizales I tried to tackle too much. I got a permit for a 1pm tour of the nature park, Rio Negro but then I didn't get to the Hacienda Guayabal in Chinchina until 11am then didn't start the tour until almost 11:30am - oops! My coffee guide was Carolina and she was sooo sweet and so informative! First they sow the coffee seed in river sand and leave it for 2 months until it starts to grow into a little plant. After that they put it into a little soil bag for 5 months until the exact point that it is ready to plant in the ground in the coffee field. Along the way we saw the special Colombian bamboo that is used all over to build houses and buildings. It has a special brown protective covering w/ little spiny hairs while it is young which it loses later. It can only be cut during a certain moon phase and around 3am because of its water retaining during the day. How interesting! We also saw several different kinds of the hundreds of heliconia. I also found out that the coffee bean collectors only make 25cents pero kilo of coffee berries. They also have to carry a really heavy bag of the berries back to the pressing machine. I saw the press that depulps the berry and the special new cylinder that gets rid of all of the juice only using a little bit of water. I also tried a berry (the Colombian berries can be red or yellow) and it was pretty good - sweet. They used the pulp mixed w/ worms to make natural fertilizer but it takes a long time to make so they have to mix it w/ chemicals. Also I saw one of the cafeterias where the workers pay 7000CP for breakfast, lunch & dinner. During the slow season they only work to eat. A lot of the workers are vagabonds who go from one plantation to another. Finally I saw the dryer where they dry out the beans then sell them to a trilladora which removes the external shell leaving what they call the coffee almond or bean. The de-shellers then sell the beans to the exporter. The beans don't get toasted until they arrive in the country of consumption. It is interesting to see how they use water to sort the good beans from the bad ones. The good ones sink and the bad ones float. I saw a little worm that is one of the plantation's problems - it eats the inside of the berry. Also there are some problems that make the plant like macho (a male plant) - small w/ small leaves. Coffee is only made from female plants - they are bigger and better! After the tour she showed me a bag of good beans compared to not so good beans. We ground the good beans and made the coffee in a coffee press. The coffee was very light tasting - the first cup of coffee that I have actually ever liked! The coffee pudding for dessert was also great. On the way out she showed me a weird kind of grape that grows directly on a tree and also a Peruvian mini pink guava. They were both delicious! I didn't get to Rio Negro until after 4:30pm but luckily they still took me. We walked very quickly through the forest but the guide did explain quite a few medicinal plants & trees to me. It was really muggy and I worked up quite a sweat. We finished up at his house where there were tons of hummingbirds - I saw at least 5 different kinds. It was hard to take pictures though since they move so fast! What a day!
My last day in Manizales I took a tour to Los Nevados, a mountain over 5000 meters tall. We had breakfast at the laguna Negra where I tried agua panela which is basically hot cane sugar water w/ some cinnamon & cloves - not bad. When we got to the Nevados park we were told we could only go from 4850m to 5000m instead of 5215m due to weather etc... It started to hail on the way up so it was pretty cool and intense. We got back on the bus and went to the San Ruis hotel and hot springs. We enjoyed the hot pool for over 30 min. then were on our way home.