Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hometown Glory

One of my good friends here in Cali, Beatriz, is from a smaller city about five hours north by bus, along the eight-hour journey to Medellín.  Ever since we first met several years ago, I have heard about this "beautiful city" and, despite several failed attempts, we were finally about to organize a weekend to make the trip to get to know this city from an insider's perspective.

Manizales, the capital of the Caldas department (state) is located in and amongst rolling green hills and valleys in the mountains of Colombia's coffee region.  The people of this area are known as Paisa's (say: PI-sah), and are often compared with Texan's and the Quebecois in that they are a proud and friendly people with more local pride than national.  (It should also be noted that the unofficial stereotype of the Paisa's is that they have terrible hairstyles; it sometimes seems like everyone is in a punk band.)

Beatriz explaining the history of Manizales as told by an
elaborate and impressive hilltop scupture.

Bolívar statue
We did the typical visits to popular tourist sites in the city - the main cathedral, a statue of Simon Bolívar as a bird, a watertower turned into cafe/nightclub/climbing wall, and an eco-park just outside of town filled with orchids, hummingbirds, and a zebra and ostrich rescued from a narco-trafficer's private collection - but the most interesting place was in the "zona rosa" of the city, a neighborhood known as Cable.  Situated atop a ridge, the strip of restaurants, bars, cafés and clubs is the place to be almost every night of the week.  Aside from the people-watching, what made Cable so intriguing was that Manizales - especially at night and on a summit - is cold and there were people everywhere outside.  For comparison, Cali is universally hot and there are not nearly as many outdoor dining areas in the entire city as there were in this one area (I may be exaggerating slightly, but you get the idea).

One of the things I will always associate with Beatriz is her disdain for the hot chocolate served at school for breakfast on Friday mornings, always bemoaning the fact that the chocolates are so much better in Manizales, as she wrinkles her nose and refuses to take one.  This too proved to be true.  As did the fact that ordering an empanada or a bandeja paisa (huge plate of beans, lentils, meats, a potato, fried plantains, and one fried egg) outside of the region pales in comparison and would only serve the purpose of attempted nostalgia.

Hana, Jennifer, Nira, and I at El Mirador in Manizales
Between the scenery, the people, and the food, I count this city as one of those magical places one goes to disappear without ever hiding.  Should I ever vanish on my own accord, place Manizales as one of first places to look for me; I'll be happy to show you around!


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