Felipe’s particularly cute daughter.
When we got to Manizales we dropped our stuff at the hotel and went out to meet our friend (and CTO of The Busking Project) Felipe. He picked us up with his wife and insanely cute – like, TV cute – 4 year old daughter. They took us to see the city.
Manizales is a mountain city with narrow roads and a sort of haphazard layout. So, the easiest way of getting around it is in their cable car, a straight A-to-B up and down the hill. It’s also the perfect way to get a sense of the place, slowly moving and suspended low enough above the city to be able to see through people’s windows.
The cable car confirmed my fears; aside from its impractical tilt, Manizales is a city with nothing to see other than its unmemorable Cathedral, looming large on the crest of the mountain, surrounded by a few office blocks and hotels. Otherwise, nothing. The city’s only distinguishing feature is its ungainly shape. Its offices, abandoned factories and tin-roofed cinder block houses ooze down a steep, wrinkled mountainside (god save its cyclists), part of which is so uninhabitably steep it’s reserved for a field and four cows. A river snakes through the mess somewhere, frothing with filth, flanked by a few trees and shacks. I asked Pipe why he lives in Manizales. “It’s calm”, he said, “and there isn’t much traffic”.
We stopped at the top of the city for a quick peak at the sunset and two sweets that on paper I’d hate, but in real life are pretty good – a chocolo (a sweet, thick, stodgy corn flour arepa fried and stuffed with salty, bland farmers cheese) and a cholao (crushed ice, condensed milk, blackberry sauce and tropical fruits in a cup, topped with cocoa powder).
Sunset on the crest of Manizales.
The next day we ate a disappointing breakfast at La Suiza (I couldn’t work out why it’s famous for its desserts) overlooking Palo Grande, the stadium where El Onze Caldas play. They’re a small team that shocked South America by winning the Copa Libertadores (South American Cup) in a penalty shoot out against Boca Juniors in 2004. So, aside from a cathedral on a hill, Manizales also boasts a football team that did something 12 years ago. Oh, and drinkable tap water. Take a photo of a tap while you’re here.
Our disappointing “thousand leaves” cake at La Suiza
On our walk up to the Catedral de Manizales we passed a Chinese restaurant, staffed and run by actual Chinese people, complete with a stern portrait of chairman Mao. Two rival hucksters were selling “revolutionary” new vegetable peelers on opposite street corners. Others were selling knives, gold necklaces, machete sharpeners and electric shavers. Small crowds gathered round, watching their shows more for entertainment than the desire to purchase anything. Midgets handed out flyers for a comedy show in the bull ring. They would be dressed like little knights during the show.
Manizales’ one pretty street on top of the hill
The Catedral de Manizales (otherwise known as “Catedral Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Manizales“) is distinguished for one particular feature; it’s the world’s highest cathedral, and yet its architects didn’t seem to think that warranted any special attention to how it looks. Its aesthetic has been summed up far better than I could here:
From a third floor window across the street you can see it is of hideous, poured concrete in as many shades of grey as there are varieties of boredom.
We didn’t bother with the tour. However, we did pop inside to do a bit of people watching. It’s always fun visiting a christian temple. As a godless skeptic, I have all the excitement of feeling like an intruder mixed with the pleasure of curiosity; I can’t identify with the godfearing, so I get to invent whatever backstories I like for them, especially more interesting members of the congregation, the miserable looking wretches and stone-faced devotees on their knees, lips muttering, hands clutching crosses or rosaries, eyes up to the heavens – who died, whose son is gay, who is praying for money, who is praying for salvation, and what comfort is that tacky golden thing you’re kneeling under? That, plus I enjoy the risk of being smited.
That enjoyment is somewhat diminished in Colombian churches. I cannot accept that Colombians still bow to a god that was used as a tool to crush their indigenous culture and enslave their imaginations. It is the god of their kidnappers. (Edit: I’ve just been reminded that it is the god of the Spanish, and that most of the indigenous people died, meaning there are many more people in this country of Spanish descent than local natives. So, in that sense it is merely the god of the modern Colombian’s ancestors).
An altar in Manizales’ church.
We left and I convinced Lily to let me go to a place of worship of my own, a pool hall. This was a little different to the ones I’m used to, as the only game played was 3-cushion billiards and the average age in the room was about 70. The place was full of old men with a huge amount of knowledge of the game, men whose serious faces broke briefly into cheeky smiles when their attempts worked out. Everyone was wearing collared shirts, even full-on suits.
One of the many 3-cushion billiards halls in Manizales. They’re not scary places, they’re full of old men.
That evening we met Pipe again to go to the Santa Rosa thermals just up the hill. I threatened that he had to take us “because there are plenty of other developers in Colombia”. We then agreed that thermals were a great place to ask for a raise.
I’d never been to a thermal before. There’s little point, it’s just a human soup, the pleasure of being in hot water, but water so laced with sulphur that it makes you itch if you’re in there for too long. You’d get more physical pleasure in a bath, and there’d be fewer people who’d peed in it.
On the way back down Pipe showed us that his car had ash on the windscreen from the Nevado del Ruiz. The city was on “orange alert” because of the risk of the volcano exploding. Normally that information would just pass me by, but the next day we’d be climbing that volcano on foot.
The thermals above Manizales.