Recinto de Pensamiento: Week 260


Since 1935, Recinto del Pensamiento has had several different names and purposes. It began as a shelter for avalanche orphans and over the years took on different educational roles.

Aside from its current educational programs, the park also houses numerous gardens, a function center, hotel, restaurant, Juan Valdez Cafe, chapel, and office complexes.

View of chairlift at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Of all the botanic gardens I’ve been to in Manizales, I think I like this one the best. Recinto del Pensamiento has great amenities, but the clincher is the neighboring landscape.

The surrounding mountains are like angular shards of glass that rasp the bellies of the ever-proliferating rain clouds. This is the same landscape that I see everyday on my way to work and I’m still completely enchanted.

On top of the beautiful landscape, at the end of February is the annual Festival of Orchids, Coffee & Art. Normally it costs $15,000 pesos to enter the park, but for special events the $10,000 peso fee covers access to all the amenities. The only exception is the chairlift, which always costs extra to use.

Juice cart during the Orchid Festival at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

When Barret and I entered the grounds we browsed the stalls, sat in on a coffee demonstration, looked at some art and then ended up at a massive pavilion filled with award-winning orchids.

I’m not sure how many categories there were, but it seemed liked the number of winners roughly equaled the number of losers. Orchid growing must be great for self-esteem.

Orchid Festival at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

View of the gardens from the pavilion at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Strolling back by the food booths I ran into a young colleague from work and her boyfriend of 15 days. The four of us found a mobile coffee cart operated by Sena students. I was excited that the lattes and cappuccinos were free.

Butterfly garden at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Afterwards we all joined a tour headed to the top of the gardens. Overlooking the valley was a patio with  hummingbird feeders. Just behind that building was a netted butterfly enclosure. Further down the hill was a Zen garden.

Zen garden at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

Red bridge in the Zen garden at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

It was around 6:30pm when we made our way back down the hill to the entrance. Our last purchase of the day was mango biche ice cream, which I had only just discovered. It’s made from peeled green mangoes, sugar, limes, and comes with a little packet of salt. The flavor was deliciously tart and the chewy pieces of mango were bits of heaven.

Eating mango biche at at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

I kind of wish I had visited Recinto del Pensamiento earlier, but I’m also glad I waited for the annual festival. It ended up being the perfect combination.

Large pond and water wheel at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

How to get to Recinto del Pensamiento: Catch a blue buseta along Santander Ave in Manizales. The bus route plaque needs to list ‘Sena’. There are two routes that list this, the fastest of the two also lists ‘Maltería’. Let the driver know you are visiting the gardens.

Gardens surrounding the offices at Recinto del Pensamiento: Manizales, Colombia

A Weekend at a Finca: Week 234

The patio of Finca La Cristalina in Santagueda, Colombia

In Colombia it is very popular to rent a finca for the weekend, especially around the warm coffee-growing regions of Caldas. Fincas are country houses, often with pools, that are rented out to large groups of people.

There are several agencies in Manizales that deal specifically with finca listings and one of the most important things to consider is the capacity of the venue. It is much more common to rent the entire finca than it is to rent a single room- so you want to find the right place for the right number of people.

Santagueda is a popular destination for sun-seekers in Manizales. Although it is only an hour west, the lower elevation makes for a huge temperature difference. The drive down through the green valleys and moss-covered trees is beautiful. In the center of town we stopped at a supermarket to load up on ice and alcohol.

Since our finca had a pool, we were planning on lounging around it all weekend. While fincas are fully furnished, it is important to bring your own soap, dish washing implements, and extra toilet paper. And even if you did want to pay someone else to cook, you might still have to supply the food- so always bring enough food.

A motorcycle vendor selling ice cream at Finca La Cristalina: Santagueda, Colombia

Although, if you didn’t stock up on enough dessert, in Santagueda there are men on motorcycles that drive onto the fincas with ice cream-filled styrofoam boxes. My favorite flavor was the cheese and bocadillo.

Fincas are also very popular for family reunions and other special events. And if there is anything I have learned about these kind of events, it’s that loud music is very popular and there really isn’t a noise complaint culture. In fact, the name for a wake-up call at sunrise that involves a lot of noise is an alborada. My guess is that is also involves an early start for drinking.

So unless you are somewhere isolated or on a working finca (aka a farm), you might be close enough to your neighbors to hear their music blasting all day and night. We didn’t have loud music playing at our place, but the neighbor did. Despite blasting songs all night, I managed to sleep soundly till about 7am.

A tiny turtle found on the grounds of Finca La Cristalina: Santagueda, Colombia

Normally this would make me grumpy, but early morning in Santagueda was beautiful. I’ve heard so much about the bird variety in Colombia, but I hadn’t experienced any of it until I sat on the porch in the early morning. I put my legs up and watched the colorful birds swoop through the massive yard for a good hour or two. I even saw a tiny little turtle crawling through the stalks of grass.

One by one the others began to wake up around 9am. Massive skillets were pulled out of the kitchen and the beers started to crack open. Eggs and the hair of the dog was up for breakfast. I was really looking forward to a lazy afternoon- renting the whole place meant we only had to leave by 5pm. It was time to unwind from the unwinding and to continue enjoying the warm weather.

About: Finca listings in Santagueda

Tejo & Alcohol & Gunpowder: Week 233

Locals at a tejo court in Minitas, Manizales

Tejo is underappreciated by the youth of Colombia. This great national sport combines throwing heavy objects with explosions and alcohol. That description alone should be persuasive enough. However, on a Saturday night, the tejo court in Minitas was filled with elderly men and crates of empty beer bottles.

While it was not the demographic I was expecting, the elderly tejo aficionados were very welcoming and answered all our questions. It was obvious that they knew what they were talking about because they played on a full court and their throws were very accurate. The sound of a gunshot frequently rang out from their lanes.

The first thing we realized was that there was no hourly cost to play. Instead we were expected to be ordering alcohol, as tejo and drinking go hand in hand. This was easily accomplished with a half crate of beer, a small bottle of rum, and two bottles of Coke. We were then given a xeroxed scorecard from page 90 of the The Practical Manual for Native Sports while our court was prepared.

A tejo court being prepared for play in Minitas: Manizales, Colombia

A tejo court has two wedges of clay at either end and both were moistened with water before their top layer was loosened up with a shovel. When the clay was smooth, two red triangular packets of gunpowder were plucked out of a plastic milk jug tacked to the wall. These packets were placed on the almost imperceptible lip of a metal pipe that was in the center of the wedge.

Each player throws their own metal disk (tejo). Once everyone had thrown in one direction, the points are tallied, the tejos yanked out of the clay, and everyone aims for the wedge at the other end of the court.

A mecha explosion during a game of tejo in Manitas: Manizales Colombia

There are four ways to score points: the closest tejo to the center scores one point (manos), exploding a packet of powder is three points (mecha), landing the tejo in the center is six points (embocinada), while exploding the packet and landing in the middle is nine points (monona).

A mecha might only be three points- but it felt like hitting the lottery. As soon as the tejo made contact, there was the crack of a gunshot and then a bursting flame. I jumped every time one went off.

For the regulars, our game was both a source of humor and an opportunity for instruction.

The regulars helping out during a game of tejo in Manitas: Manizales, Colombia

Maybe the reason why the youth aren’t crazy about tejo is that it’s not a glamorous sport. We didn’t wear our nicest clothes because everything was covered in a layer of red dust. When the sun began to set, a man walked over to our court with a bamboo ladder in one hand and a light bulb in the other.

Hanging out with friends at a tejo court in Manitas: Manizales, Colombia

Then, about halfway into the game, I realized that the little sink to the left of our target our target was actually a urinal. When people were using it, it was a bit of a distraction.

Hanging out with friends at the tejo court in Minitas: Manizales, Colombia

Truth be told, I had been feeling a bit depressed all week about leaving my 20s. But after celebrating my 30th birthday with tejo, I realized there is still a lot of cool stuff ahead.

Forget bingo- when I’m 80 I want to be drinking with my friends, throwing tejos, and exploding stuff. I also expect to be good enough the use the full court by then.

How to get to the tejo cancha in Minitas: Take a taxi or buseta to the intersection of Calle 63 and Carrera 11c. The entrance to the tejo court is on Calle 63, just up the hill from a Virgin Mary shrine.

A little girl hanging out at the tejo court in Minitas: Manizales, Colombia

Bolero Multibolo: Week 232

Illustration of bowling alley attendant manually setting up the pins. By Barret Thomson

On a Saturday night, the basement of Multicentro Estrella is filled with cosmic bowlers.

Bolero Multibolo only has six lanes, but each one holds a large group of people. The lights are low and a small green laser beam flashes from the corner of the room.

On the other side of the venue are the pool tables and the service desk. Bowling shoes cost $.75USD to rent and are handed over with a small white bottle of talc. The wall behind the desk has a large display of candy, chips, soda, beer, rum and aguardiente.

Our group buys a bottle of aguardiente to share every time someone lands a strike. The shot glasses are little plastic sample cups which remind me of the cups dentists use to hold toothpaste when they are cleaning your teeth.

We start off by throwing a few practice balls each down the lane. Once everyone has a go, we divide into two teams and begin bowling.

There is an initial rash of beginner’s luck and as we toast, our scorekeeper tallies the points on a sheet of paper. The shins of the bolero employee quickly shuffle around the pins and all ten are upright within a few seconds. It is low-tech, but it is also faster than an automated service. Bottoms up.

How to get to Bolero Multibolo: In the basement of Multicentro Estrella, Cra 23 # 59-70, Manizales.

Illustration by: Barret Thomson

Colombian Fruit Review: Week 231

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Tomate de arbol, uchuva, curuba, papayuela, granadilla, pitahaya, maracuya, feijoa, guyaba, zapote

Colombia’s overwhelming preference for meat is the reason I was surprised to discover vegetarian and even vegan restaurants in Manizales. Barret and I tried two different places over the same weekend- Rushi and Laurel. Both had a menu of the day, which included soup, a main dish, a small dessert, and a drink.

While the lack of meat is obviously what distinguishes vegetarian restaurants from traditional Colombian restaurants, there are a few things they share in common. Even at traditional restaurants, soups are often vegetable-based and the beverages are almost always fruit juices. I kind of find it amusing that someone eating a slab of beef might also be sipping strawberry juice.

There is such a great variety of fruit in Colombia and the majority of it is offered as a juice. I feel like I should be writing more about the vegetarian restaurants, but it is the fruit that gets me so excited. So instead, here is a sample of the exotic fruit that Colombia has to offer (starting clockwise with the red tomate de árbol above).

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Tamarillo, sliced

Tomate del árbol- This fruit is sweet but also has the tang of a tomato. Most of the time this is available as a juice, but I personally enjoy eating it raw- just scoop out the center, seeds and all.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Uchuva, sliced

Uchuva – These are also known as cape gooseberries. They have a strong and slighty tart flavor and are very slippery once they’ve been washed. I’ve only ever seen them in people’s gardens, so Colombia is the first place I’ve noticed them commercially for sale. Lucky me!

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Curuba, sliced

Curuba – It is also known as the banana passion fruit because of its fuzzy, yellow exterior. Unfortunately though, it its raw state it tastes like the boring cousin of a passion fruit and the seeds are very hard. On the other hand, I have been assured that it makes for a delicious juice when blended with milk.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Papayuela, sliced

Papayuela – There’s a reason why the guy at the grocery store did not remember the name of this fruit. It is a small variety of papaya with all the seeds and hardly anything edible. It’s the jungle equivalent to eating sunflower seeds in the shell, except a lot less satisfying. Next time I’ll get a regular papaya.

Tropical fruit in Colombia, Granadilla, sliced

Granadilla – The rind of the granadilla is kind of like crème brulee. The shell is easy to crack with a fingernail while the lining inside is soft and spongy. The Granadilla’s seeds are similar to those of a passion fruit in terms of texture, however they are not tart at all. This fruit is refreshing- like flavored water.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Pitahaya, sliced

Pitahaya – The center of the fruit has the texture of a kiwi and a taste that’s just as delicate. I’m pretty sure I’ve bought the Asian variety of this fruit, but I don’t remember it tasting nearly as juicy as the pitahaya.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Maracuya, sliced

Maracuya- This one tricked me a bit because it is passion fruit, but it doesn’t look like the purple ones I am used to. It is very tart and best juiced or on top of something like plain yogurt.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Feijoa, sliced

Feijoa – These South American fruits also happen to grow very successfully in New Zealand. In Colombia they are most often found in juices, but I love them raw. The scent is what stands out most about them- they smell like a soda bottle full of Sprite.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Guyaba, sliced

Guyaba – In its raw state, the fruit is firm and the seeds are numerous and quite hard. That is the reason that guyaba is most often made into pastes or sugary cubes called bocadillo. I would have to agree that is the best use for this fruit. Bocadillo and a slice of salty campesino cheese are absolutely delicious.

Tropical fruit in Colombia: Zapote, peeled

Zapote – The dark exterior is rough and kind of looks like an acorn, but the edible part is pumpkin-orange. There are five large seeds that are cushioned by a sweet flesh that has the texture of a ripe mango. The flavor was sweet and one description that came to Barret’s mind was maple syrup.

Although this feels like a good list, there is still so much more to discover at the supermarket!

How to get to Rushi: Kra 23C 62-73, Manizales

How to get to Laurel: Calle 56, near the intersection of Calle 56 and Carrera 23

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