Then the plane made two more turns, descended rapidly and ensconced itself on a narrow stretch on the flattened section of a hill. The picturesque La Nubia airport. I was finally in Manizales.
I am used to large cities, crowded streets, noisy markets. Manizales felt like an escape. The fact that I didn’t have a car, wasn’t renting one, added to a sense of freedom. I could walk aimlessly, look at things, watch people, smell the air and look at the sky. And the air was clean, the sky clear and cloudless. Manizales may be in the tropics, but its high altitude guarantees a temperature between 50 ̊ and 70 ̊ throughout the year.
The next morning I woke early and, keen to explore the city, stepped out for a long walk. From a corner store I picked up newspapers El Espectador and La Patria, even a local sheet Nuevo Estadio, and settled down in a modest streetside café.
“Gracias!” One sip of scalding coffee and I know I am sitting in the very heart of the world’s most popular coffee zone. Colombia is, of course, the world’s largest producer of high-quality arabica-bean coffee. Legend has it a Monsignor Romero absolved confessing parishioners only if they agreed to plant coffee, for he considered Colombian coffee fit for the saints. Caldas was the historic departamento that became a center of cultivation and Manizales is its capital. Any bistro in Manizales will serve you a ‘saintly’ cup at a moment’s notice.
It must have been a coffee high, for I took two wrong turns, and by the time I returned Faby was near certain that I had ended up in a hospital. Probably to atone for my waywardness, she took me promptly to the town’s most famous spot, its Gothic cathedral, the basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. Famous for its majestic canopy, handiwork of French architect Julien Polti, I was equally impressed when Olivia took me to its terrace restaurant for wine and a quiche. It was a lovely day as I stood on the balcony and the sun shone brightly on the Bolivar Plaza below where children played.
Julio’s was a modest restaurant with a midday crowd. We ordered some arepas of cheese and yuca, and washed it down with a smoothie called Lulada. I still longed for some coffee and Faby ordered a cup for me.
The dusk was settling as we headed for the aerial tramway. The gondola lifted high above the little town, the orange rays reflected on Faby’s silver necklace, my iPhone clicked to capture a fleeting scenario, and I was on my way home, temporary but cozy and welcome.