On the 24th my wife’s family gathered at the home of one of the nieces and her husband and after performing the final Novena, the party started. One of my sisters in law had had an operation on her feet a few weeks previously and was limping and in some pain. She was also concerned she wouldn’t recover fully for a planned trip to Argentina.
There’s a local drink here called Aguardiente, which is made from sugar cane and flavoured with Anise. It’s quite strong, similar to Greek Ouzo and rather than being sipped is usually downed in one. My sister in law had two or three of these shots and within half an hour she was dancing – it was a miracle! She no longer felt any pain and the limp had disappeared. And they say alcohol is bad for you. Mind you the next day she was limping again, and probably had a headache too!
In a local bookshop I found a book entitled, The First Twelve Months for a New Father, and to that I added a packet of ear plugs, a small kit with some nappies, wet wipes, creams and a small soft toy, a box of chocolates, and half a bottle of Rum in case things get really bad. I put the bottle of Rum in a box and marked it, “For Emergency Use only,” and put everything in another box marked, “Survival Kit for New Fathers.”
When I buy presents for people I like to put some thought into it and to try and find something which I think they will use and enjoy. I’m not a great fan of giving money, though a gift card can come to the rescue on occasions when no ideas spring to mind. There is a tendency in Colombia these days when people get married to print on the invitation that they want a “lluvia de sobres,” which literally translated is a “shower of envelopes” and basically means that they want money as the present, the money being placed in envelopes. Personally i think it undermines creativity and is rather tacky.
New Year’s Eve was a fairly quiet affair, with those members of the family who didn’t have commitments with other relatives coming round to our flat. At 12:30 I was in bed as the following day I had lots to do organising everything for a nine day trek in the mountains. Throughout December I went to the gym to strengthen my legs, my back and shoulders, my joints, especially the knees, and mixed these exercises with cardio and other exercises designed to develop concentration, equilibrium and coordination. I combined the work outs in the gym with three to four hour walks around the city.
There was a Colombian philosopher and writer named Fernando Gonzalez and he walked from Envigado to Manizales documenting his journey in a book titled Viaje a pie, Journey by foot, and this trek was to follow the route taken by him as closely as possible. Each evening after we had showered, eaten dinner and bought supplies for the following day's walk, we attended a meeting where we looked at some of the photographs people had taken that day, listened to excerpts from Viaje a pie and discussed the following day’s walk.
The first three or four days were the hardest and then were either not quite so strenuous or my body got used to the demands I was placing on it. The first day was one of the hardest, starting with a two and a half hour climb from around 1,750 metres to 2,900 metres.
The people were all very nice and there was a great feeling of camaraderie amongst the group. Each night, apart from the second, we stayed in hotels in the small towns. On the second night we all slept on thin mattresses on the concrete floor of a community hall in a small hamlet called El Guaico. I don’t think many people had what could be called a satisfying night’s sleep due to the chorus of snoring that broke out at regular intervals throughout the night. But that was all part of the trip and everyone was laughing and joking about it the next day.
We only had to carry the bare necessities with us while walking, the remainder or our luggage, a maximum of 10 kilograms, was moved each day by road. The group was led by two experienced guides, a historian/poet, and the person in charge of logistics.
Day 1 – Envigado to El Retiro
Day 2 – El Retiro to El Guaico
Day 3 – El Guaico to Abejorral
Day 4 - Abejorral to Aguadas
Day 5 - Aguadas to Pacora
Day 6 - Pacora to Salamina
Day 7 - Salamina to Aranzazu
Day 8 - Aranzazu to Neira
Day 9 - Neira to Manizales
On day ten there was a trip by jeep to a National Park called, Parque de los Nevados, where there are volcanoes, lagoons and some snow-capped mountains, however, unfortunately the trip didn’t turn out as planned. The idea was to use a lesser known route around the back of the park and visit one of the lagoons, walk for one hour, rest and have lunch, then return to the transport and travel back to Manizales. The park is at high altitude and we were all warned that if we started getting a headache that we should immediately start descending to reduce the possible effects of soroche or altitude sickness.
We travelled the short journey from Manizales to Villa Maria and from there we set off in two jeeps, eight people inside, two at the front and two standing up and hanging on as tightly as possible at the back. We rotated the people standing at the back as after time the hands get tired from trying to maintain a tight grip on the metal bars around the jeep. It’s quite dangerous I guess, but it was fun. Soon after leaving Villa Maria, we left the smooth, paved road and took a bumpy and fairly narrow unpaved road. This was when I realised that travelling by jeep is not the most comfortable form of transport.
We stopped more or less every hour to stretch our legs and take some photographs of the ever changing scenery as we slowly climbed to higher altitudes. After four hours of being bounced around in the back of the jeep we were at 3,600 metres and it was there that the drivers decided that we wouldn’t have time to reach the lagoon we were planning to see, so we sat on some nearby grass, had our packed lunches, took some photographs and headed back to Manizales. The journey back took about three hours as it was downhill all the way.
The following day there was the option to visit some thermal baths, however, I wanted to get back home early and relax so I took a bus back to Medellin at 09:00 a. m. It’s a four and a half hour journey as long as the traffic isn’t too heavy and this time on a Sunday the road was not busy and so I was back in the city before 2:00 p.m.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, saw some beautiful towns and landscapes and shared it with a great bunch of people; however, it was nice to be back home again.
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