While I wrote about my near-death experience in my first post about Colombia, if I had died while in the coffee region of the country, I wouldn’t have been too upset. If my final resting place included lush views of absolute serenity and blissful natural beauty, then I’d say dying among nature’s most majestic views wouldn’t be a bad way to go out.
MORE TIPS I LEARNED ON MY COLOMBIA TRIP
The Spanish They Speak – Throughout the entire coffee region (well, most all of Colombia, in fact), the Spanish spoken is clear and discernible. Colombians are very proud of their diction and clarity of which they speak. And, thank goodness for that. As a person who took Spanish in school and can fumble my way out messes in Latin America (and Miami, for what it’s worth), I give myself a 5 out of 10 – smack-dab in the middle of the scale of non-natives speaking the romance language. I still get the use of “caliente” mixed up with the use of “calor,” “saber” with “conocer,” and a bunch of other elementary concepts. So, I’m OK at best, right?
But the Spanish in Colombia is extremely well spoken and the pronunciation is very friendly for non-native speakers. Thank goodness no native speaker made fun of me in front of my face, leaving me to recoil in a fetal position. Thanks a million to all the Colombians who chose to help me with my Spanish instead of poke fun at it. My ego is eternally grateful.
Fruit Juices – Take advantage of drinking all the exotic fruit juices found in Colombia. There’s a fruit called lulo that has a citrus-y flavor, as well as a granadilla fruit that’s along the same family as a passion fruit. These fruits are native to South America due to their subtropical temperatures, and I haven’t found any yet since I’ve returned to the States.
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE COFFEE REGION
Tour a coffee plantation – If you’re a coffee lover like me, you know the best coffee doesn’t just magically appear at your neighborhood Starbucks. I toured the Hacienda Venecia plantation, just a short 30-minute ride from my hotel in Manizales. The guide, Mauricio, is a coffee expert, explaining every facet of the coffee-making process – from seed stage to roasted bean stage.
The tour lasts a large portion of your day, from morning until about late afternoon. There’s an option lunch you can pay for (about $11,000 COP) that just hits the spot after hours of coffee talk and touring of the land. Also, you can buy coffee bags (either whole beans or ground) for $20,000 COP. Most people on our tour bought one bag. I may or may not have bought seven bags. And Mauricio may or may not have let out a gasp at the large quantity. No one will ever know the truth.
One major tip: Bring your camera. There is so, so, so much beauty on this plantation. First off, it’s a huge property. Plus, you get such an in-depth tour of the natural coffee growing process that it’s difficult not to want to document what you see.
Los Nevados National Natural Park (Nevado del Ruiz) – We almost didn’t do this. And I would have never forgiven myself. Los Nevados is easily one of the world’s most intriguing lands. Located in the Andes, this national park is a major pride to Colombians. And rightfully so. Thousands of different plant species grow here, some of which I have never seen in my life – and I doubt I will ever get to see again.
Our tour took us close to a 5,300-meter high (about 17,000+ feet) active volcano called Nevado del Ruiz. In 1985, the volcano erupted and decimated an entire village, killing nearly 25,000 people. Today the volcano is closely monitored as there are about 500,000 nearby villagers who are in clear danger should the volcano erupt again.
Tip #1: Wear warm clothes. Take it from my epic fail of only wearing a T-shirt, running tights and a light rain jacket. While the temperature may have only dropped to about 40 degrees, the wind whipped around as if it was on a mission to punish any American tourist. I have never been colder in my entire life. I was so desperate for warmth that I bought gloves at the first market I saw and didn’t feel guilty when my tour guide peeled off his jacket, handed it to me, and then revealed that he was only wearing a polo shirt. “Estoy acostumbrado,” he says as he saw my quite noticeable shakes and shivers.
Tip #2: The altitude change can be a killer. No joke. You can get really sick if you don’t take care of yourself. Drink plenty of water, slow down if you’re short of breath, and do take the “special tea” that’s offered as it’ll settle your stomach. (The special tea consists of cocaine leaves, but they say the only high you’ll get is from the views of Los Nevados.)