Travels in Colombia No.4: Feria de Manizales

April 18th, 2016

The year began excellently, with a week-long stay at the 60th Feria de Manizales in the Eje Cafetero in Caldas Province, Colombia. While we were in Manizales we saw beauty queens, jugglers, birdmen, wild dancers, rappers, artists, street vendors, beggars, tourists, touts and vendors. This is a city that is painted red by the people that populate it, and I hope the two part-post I’m sharing below describes some of the colourful characters we met.


Nineteen plates spinning in one!

The feathered man statue on the main square

Looks like one of the builders fancies catching a kiss …

Colours captured in the Carneval parade

What would she give to be a little taller?

View of (some of) the city from Ecoparque Los Yarumos

Giddy night view of the decorations at El Cipre region

Passion at the salsa contest

The wild skirts and dancing, and the reflected glory of the folklore display

2nd January 2016

Today was so much fun! While in the mall, faces dimly illuminated by our mobile screens, we were approached by a parce (Medellin slang for ‘guy’) in white uniform, who asked us if we’d like to ride his bus. This could have sounded suspicious; but his engaging manner allayed our fears, and as we left he waved familiarly at the lady who had just sold me a croissant. She seemed thrilled to see ‘Don Alberto’, and shouted to our retreating backs:

‘Que les vaya bien!’

We followed Alberto to the road behind the shopping centre, where a small crowd of tourists were mingling in confusion in front of a double-decker bus. It seemed that we were the last of the pack: within two minutes we had been handed small cups of hazelnut lattes, and were whisked on board the bus. As we took some seats on the upper deck, it became apparent that we were the only non-Colombian tourists around. The bus took off; swaying and ambling slowly, then gathering speed; confronting a brace of taxis that blared horns threateningly, before cruising giddily around a sharp corner. The drive seemed designed to showcase all of the twists and turns of Manizales, built on the upper roll of a steep hill. We needed some distraction – and up it came, in the form of Don Alberto, bouncing up the stairs and twinkling at the passengers, before whipping out a microphone. In a rasping tenor, he gleefully informed the other passengers that there were some foreigners on the bus. A chorus of heads turned round at us. Where were we from? Scotland and England; to which the upper deck responded with a thunderous round of applause!  couldn’t help laughing out loud. This was proving to be a rather good whim we had followed. For the next two hours the bus careened drunkenly around, conveying us through all the neighbourhoods of Manizales with barely a backward glance, and Alberto suavely held sway in the middle of the top deck, bellowing facts and regaling us with jokes and stories from afar. He covered the whole world within the scope of his patter! (Except Manizales itself, about which I learned nothing except that it was built in 1849.) For Alberto, the real story of the city was not in the buildings, or the street names, or any historical facts or figures: Manizales was now, Manizales was on the streets. Shop vendors were heckled at red lights; pedestrians were joked with from two blocks away. Twice more Nathen and I were applauded for being foreign tourists. Alberto began sing-songs at a moment’s notice, with a chorus of thirty on the upper deck being no match for a man on a mission with a microphone. The highlight of the tour was undoubtedly in the dark: for every time that we went under a bridge a party occurred. The driver would blast his horn furiously, hidden LED lights on the bus’s sides would flash, and the whole population of the upper deck would join in a cheer, ‘Feliz Año! Viva la Feria de Manizales!‘. Mad, fun, incredibly engaging. I was overwhelmed by the spirit of Colombia, and the joi de vivre of this incredible country.

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