I’m surrounded by old Colombian men with machetes who are all cracking jokes and telling stories of their younger years. I understand about 20% of what we’re talking about and plan to understand more once I drink more of this Aguardiente. I’m once again in a gorgeous finca overlooking La Zona Cafeteria with sunset that I’ll never tire of.

So the real reason I left Morrogacho when I did was because I was invited by my new friend, Juan Felipe, to stay at his house on the spare bed. I had nothing particular that I was planning to stay for in Manizales but with nowhere necessarily calling me to rush to it either, the offer of a home was too generous to pass up and perfect for thinking about next steps. Juan Felipe finished work for the week on Friday at 3 so I joined him at Santo Kaffeto then. From there we did some more exploring of Manizales including another cafe called El Solar that’s profits support rights of children and victims of armed conflict. We had some tea (blasphemy for the coffee-fiend), played a few rounds of ping-pong, and played “Who I am?” (a simple way to practice basic Spanish). From there we took a bus back to his house in Bengala and spent the night watching ‘Being John Malkovich’ (con subtítulos) before crashing for the night.
In the morning, after confirming that I did indeed have no definite plans in Manizales for the weekend, Juan Felipe surprised me by telling me that we were both invited to visit his cousin and her husband on their finca for the weekend. Yes please. Had some breakfast, did my laundry, and packed our weekend bags to head off to the finca. After arriving to Neira by bus, we met with his cousin Johanna and her husband Jairo. Together we did shopping for groceries and I revealed the wine I brought from Manizales.
From town we took a Jeep to their finca. For me, this was an experience in of itself. As we loaded our groceries on the roof and boarded the Jeep I asked when we would leave. “When the Jeep is full” said Juan Felipe. After 10 minutes I thought the Jeep was full. I was incorrect. After 20 minutes we left with a “full” Jeep. That is: the driver in the front with 2 passengers, 8 on the benches in the back, 4 standing on the back bumper, and 3 on the roof. 18 people. The driver queued up track 307 on his USB drive filled to the brim with Colombian classics as we cruised up the hills into Los Sainos. We dropped off other passengers and their groceries (and sacks of coffee) along the way. Finally we made it to their finca (La Topacio); here they grow avocados, papaya, limes, oranges, bananas, plantains, aloe, and of course coffee.
And a 300kg pig
After lunch, a shower, and a siesta we made our way down the hill to visit one of Jairo’s friends, Wilmar. Wilmar has his own finca with a larger scale of coffee production and was happy to show Juan Felipe and I the process. We picked a few cherries and ran them through the mill to separate the beans. After this, Wilmar joined us back at the house for dinner. While walking back the neighbors also gave us some ears of chocolo (sweet corn) since they had extra. We ate dinner at the house and then went down to the fonda (Gaby’s house) to grill the chocolo. Wilmar bought Juan Felipe and I some beers. He took a real liking to me then, very excited to tell me stories (that required some translation) and constantly listening intently to my accent when I was talking with Juan Felipe. Wilmar didn’t know a word of English, though we taught him “dog”, “hello”, and “Would you like some coffee?” by the end of the night. For some context, Wilmar is 50 years old, about 5’4″ and picks 80kg of coffee per day, 6 days a week. On his day off he goes into town and drinks a bottle of Aguardiente and dances with as many girls as possible. He also always has his machete at his side.
Before we went off to bed, Wilmar invited us to come down to the finca in the morning to continue help pick and mill coffee. We did join him in the morning, but since it had rained so heavily during the night, we stopped after 2 hours because sliding through the mud was making a mess off the finca as well as our clothes. The afternoon after that was fairly relaxing with more reading and sleeping on Jairo and Johanna’s finca, attempting to walk down to the river (second dog followed this week), and preparing natilla. At night, Juan Felipe and I went to go get Wilmar (Willie-Boy as I’ve started calling him) from his house to join our dinner of buñuelos and hot chocolate. We brought some guitars from his house as well. Wilmar played some classic Colombian heartbreak songs and I played some ‘traditional’ American tunes like Fake Palindromes. Later in the night, we split a half-bottle of Aguardiente and called it a night. I never got the promised machete lesson from Wilmar but it’s likely for the best since I left the fonda tipsy but with all my fingers.
In the morning (Monday the 28th of November now), we got up a bit earlier to head back to town. Juan Felipe had to work in the cafe and I had more of the city to explore. This time on the Jeep ride back to Neira, I rode on the back bumper; track number 400 something blaring on the stereo.
Posted by:k@dontfearyourfood

2 replies on “Near Manizales

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