Writer’s Note: This is part one of a two-part story.
MANIZALES — Almost everyone wants to see the flag.
It’s one of the main attractions as you meander toward the top of the highest volcano in Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados. But we could not make it that far up Nevado del Ruiz. The weather was a little wicked and the volcano was rumbling like a tummy full of Guaro, possibly ready to explode.
A picture beneath that flapping fabric of blue, gold and red would have to wait for another time. But it was still a great trip, one of two excursions I took last month in the coffee region, the other, naturally, being a coffee farm tour.
The van arrived at 7 a.m. to pick me up from Mountain House hostel, then went to get the others. We headed south of the city and winded along a skinny mountain road, maneuvering around a couple of spots where the weather has pushed the dirt and rocks from the hillside to the pavement.
We made more than a half dozen stops, one for breakfast, something everyone seemed to look forward to, knowing we were about to rise to about 14,000 feet. The eggs and the arepa topped with cheese did us good.
Other stops as we headed skyward included Laguna Negra, a small dark lake that’s aptly named; a little market at the entrance to the park where we drank coca leaf tea to help defeat the possible altitude sickness that awaited; a quick look at some of the vegetation, the distichia and werneria, plants as hard as rocks; and then the final resting spot at around 12,000 feet.
The air is thinner but the snow is thicker. It’s a fair trade, I think. From there we walked until we stood at more than 13,000 feet, some of us (like me) slower than others.
There were people from Estonia and Switzerland who made the uphill trek look easy, because they are apparently used to this kind of hike. But no one got sick and the guides, Milton and Germán, were both happy about that.
Affable and knowledgeable, like many others I met in the region, they did a great job explaining everything, from the original name of Nevado del Ruiz (Kumanday) to the glacial erosion that formed the peaks and valleys there today. Even if the altitude didn’t test your breathing, the beauty would have done so.
On the way down, we had a couple of bathroom breaks, a brief roadside break to look at the city of Manizales from above, and a lunch break at the restaurant where we had just had breakfast.
By then it was about 2:30 p.m. Everyone was hungry again, and made fast work of the pollo a la plancha, a plate of grilled chicken, beans, rice, a fried plantain and a small salad.
Now it was time to relax. Our final stop was at Termales El Otoño where you sit in the soothing hot springs that felt great on a chilly, rainy day. I didn’t stay in as long as the others because I can take only so much heat. I ended up talking more with Milton, learning that he speaks not only English and Spanish, but French and Portuguese too.
I wish we could have done a little more, could have climbed to the Colombian flag, but I feel the 130,000 pesos (about $65) I spent was worth it.
When I got back to the hostel, I finished my homework then planned to go out because we were staying in the Zona Rosa and I did not go out the night before, choosing instead to rest for a long day in the national park. I made it out to eat, for some decent nachos at a tiny fast food spot.
Then I decided to go to my room to lie down for just a little bit before heading back out but that never happened. I fell asleep.