Our second stop in the Zona Cafetera was the city of Manizales. I think our guidebook sold the city a bit short by suggesting that it made it good a base for exploring the surrounding area but was largely devoid of sights in and of itself. To the contrary, I thought the city combined the beauty typical of the coffee-growing region with enough ups, downs, twists and bends to make San Francisco feel almost level by comparison.
While we didn't have the time to explore the city in earnest (it was pouring our first day there), Manizales gave us the opporunity to get high for the first time in Colombia. Nevada del Ruiz is a volcano located a few hours from the city that offers the opportunity to hike to a height of 5000 metres (roughly 16,400 feet) above sea level - the highest either of us has ever been. By comparison, the highest mountain in the Canadian Rocky Mountains is a shade under 13,000 feet. Before we departed, I was amused by the locals who seemed genuinely excited that we would have a chance to see snow in Colombia. Sensing the pride they felt for their local snow, we refrained from telling them the thought of avoiding snow for six months was to be a highlight of our South American adventure. I note that, while it is doing a very good job, if Colombia truly wants the key to this Canadian's heart, someone needs to point me in the direction of a town or city where it won't rain for a couple of days in a row.
While the hike itself was enough to leave us literally breathless, we were disappointed that were not allowed to hike as large of a portion of the volcano as we had originally requested. Instead, we were driven to the volcano's base camp where we were allowed to begin the ascent. The additional driving turned out to be a mixed-blessing, as our driver took us through the widely-varying landscapes that began as lush greenery and slowly morphed into desert-like rolling hills and a surface in the clouds that is as close to a lunar setting as we are likely ever to visit, before ultimately giving way to the snowy crater.
The final climb itself was both challenging and memorable, as each of us was battling light-headedness that I would liken to jetlag on steroids. No amount of buzz-inducing Coca Tea seemed to make it go away, but it was sure fun trying. While neither of us were forced to stop to catch our breath every few steps, as we were told was likely, gaining altitude was certainly difficult and our hearts were pumping quite feverishly. I think the sensation was possibly sweeter for me because, since neither of us were able to breathe normally, Kristin wasn't able to leave me in her dust and I had somebody to suffer alongside of on a hike for a change.
Our pictures from Manizales are here. We're attempting to get on a six-day jungle trek just off of Colombia's northern coast in the next couple of days. If successful, we'll be incredibly stinky (and unable to blog until it is complete). Until then....