The Manizales part of our trip didn’t get off to the best start. A cancelled flight meant that we had to fly into Pereira before bussing to Manizales, so our arrival in Manizales was delayed by five hours and took us a total of nine hours travel time hotel to hotel with only 30 minutes in the air. Turns out it isn’t too unusual for flights to be cancelled into Manizales, they probably prefer to fly to Pereira anyway as it is a larger city with more business. The odd thing about Pereira airport is landing on a plateau above the city so at night you touch down when you feel you still have a few hundred metres to go.
There wasn’t much on the plan here, there isn’t really much of interest in the town itself, but Manizales is in the centre of the Zona Cafetera region, so one thing that had been planned was a tour of a coffee farm. Hacienda Venecia was in the bottom of a steep valley with the coffee plants growing up the sides in what looked like impossible terrain to harvest. Rubert, our guide, gave us a great explanation of the history of coffee and the development of the industry in Colombia itself. Juan Valdez, a Colombian coffee chain, was created as a marketing character as a depiction of a Colombian coffee farmer, but the first Juan Valdez was actually a Cuban actor. They’re now onto their third Juan Valdez and he is now a Colombian coffee farmer for real. Most of the good coffee is exported so it is actually hard to get a good coffee in Colombia, so we made the most of the espressos made as part of the tour.
The coffee plant itself is related to jasmine so it’s flowers look and smell similar, which provided a lovely fragrance as we walked through the plantations. It also became apparent why the coffee cherries have to be picked by hand because of the varying ripeness in the same cluster. This makes the precarious planting even more impressive for those who do the harvesting.
We toured through the processing plant where they wet process their beans to parchment beans that’s price is determined by the market in New York. They don’t roast beans here, they are sold as green beans, but Rubert demonstrated the roasting process and we could compare the aromas being released to the 30 aromas in the aroma box. The tour was finished back in their hostal for lunch of Ajiaco and a swim in their pool to cool off before being driven back into Manizales.
We were staying at The Secret Garden hostel that is outside the town of Manizales on the edge of a valley surrounded by fields and greenery with hammocks hanging under the verandah. All we managed to bring ourselves to do was go for a short walk in the valley chasing butterflies and hummingbirds for unsuccessful photos and literally hang out in the hammocks. Our hostal provided us with all our meals so we didn’t even have to search out places to eat. It was fantastic to have such a relaxing time and probably at a time when we were needing it.