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27 – 29 November 2013

Ryan (that I met in the hostel) had recommended Rio Claro and until the evening before I had planned to go there but then I found out it was a 4 hour bus ride in the wrong direction. There's a Rio Claro on my way South but when I researched I realised that was not the recommened one – so I decided to head South to Manizales. I was up early morning and was ready to leave just to experience the receptionist not having change – she was not in a hurry so it took her 20 minutes. I walked a couple of kilometres to the bus terminal and quickly got a ticket – very neat and organised. We left 20 minutes late waiting for another bus parked in our way.... It was a (fairly new!) minibus and I got the seat next to the driver which was great because I could take pictures through the open window and not through tinted glass. And I took a lot of pictures (over 200) as it was a gorgeous ride over the mountains – narrow, hilly, winding roads through small villages and countryside with ongoing spectacular views of mountains and valleys. The good weather of course added a lot - except when we shortly passsed through the clouds it was blue sky and white clouds hanging over the mountain ranges as whipped cream on a cake. The trip was scheduled to 4½ hours but they're always overly optimistic, so when we made little progress the first couple of hours I was not too optimistic – lots of road work, heavy traffic and a conservative driver hesitant to overtake. However, after a short break the driving suddenly became aggressive; I thought he was on a bonus but it turned out he had promised to pick up his girlfriend at a certain time so we arrived in Manizales only ½ hour late. At the bus station people were very helpful and got me on the right local bus and the driver was kind to let me off outside the hostel just as it began pouring down – except it was the wrong hostel but the one I wanted was close so no big deal. Really nice hostel – very clean, spacious and well-equipped – the first two nights there were few people in the (8 person) dorm and therefore it was fairly quiet - the last night the room was full and noisy as people came home at all hours during the night.

Manizales is a fairly big mountain city (400,000 people) with a nice location but not really interesting, so my plan was to stay only one full day to explore the city. However, the weather was overcast and rainy so I spent the day relaxing at the hostel – only leaving shortly to have my pants sewn once more (the last sewing ripped again); the problem is the cloth is thin and can't take the weight of all the stuff I carry around in them. Staying another day was no problem as I cancelled a 4-5 day trip to nearby Los Nevados National Park – transportation there and back would be more than USD 100 because I had to go as part of a tour (which I dislike); far too expensive also taking the current bad weather into consideration. Instead I'll do some days hiking from Valle de Cocora where I go next and can access the park for very little money....

During breakfast I talked to German Sandra and since she also planned walking around town we went together. As always the locals showed concern – “it's both dangerous and very far to walk so you should take a taxi”. Well no need – no apparent danger and only about an hours walk along a big road where the overcast and drizzling weather added to the less interesting experience. We visited a church and a cemetary but otherwise we spent the time getting acquainted.... Arriving in the center was not very interesting – a few nice old buildings but otherwise just bustling streets and countless vendors selling mostly X-mas stuff... Even the cathedral was pretty ugly – finished in 1929 and made of concrete! We walked towards a viewpoint at the outskirts of town but as the clouds hung low we turned back halfway because there was no chance of a view.... We took an hour break in a park and as the weather improved we took the cable car which provided fine views of the city, valley and mountains. Back in town we walked around the center once more to exploit the better weather re-taking pictures from the morning... Late afternoon we were back at the hostel and I went to the supermarket to stock up expecting high prices and limited supply in Salento – the small mountain village I was travelling to the next morning...                                        

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