A couple weeks ago, Luz told me that she would be going to stay with her sister in Manizales over the weekend. Her brother in law is the director of the fencing league in Manizales, and since there was a national fencing tournament being held there, he was the one in charge. She would be going to help organize, and she invited me to come stay with them over the weekend, so I could watch some fencing and see Manizales.
I got there on Saturday, right in time for the rain to start, so I spent the afternoon watching the tournament. I’ve never seen fencing in real life, so it was pretty cool to watch. It was also crazy how intense it got. Every time they would get a point for stabbing someone (I don’t think that’s the correct fencing term…poking maybe?) they would let out a loud, gutteral, roar. Like a gladiator. The first couple times, I was just like, ok, this dude needs to settle down. But then I realized that they all do it. And when they win, they just take their mask off and roar like Tarzan. But surely the female competitors would behave more civilly, right? Nope, they did the same thing. It was kind of awesome.
After the competition wrapped up on Saturday night, Luz and her sister took me driving around Manizales to show me some of the city’s sights, like the cathedral and plaza, and the lookout point. Then the next day, they went back to the tournament, and I took advantage of the nice weather to have a look around in daylight.
I love Armenia, and I’m always saying it’s a perfect city. It’s small enough that I feel completely safe, but big enough that you have all you need right there. And the weather is practically perfect.
Manizales has that small city feeling like Armenia, but it has a night life that seems a lot more alive, and it’s just got a lot more variety of things available. I really enjoyed it. Another cool thing about it, is it’s in the mountains, and the city is built right into the mountainsides, so there are steep hills and whole city looks like it’s folded up and wrinkled.
When I walked around on Sunday, they were doing the Ciclovia, which means the main street was closed off to cars and opened only to bicycles and walkers. I walked from the biggest Juan Valdez cafe in Colombia (I’m told) where I enjoyed a delicious Arequipe Macchiatto, down the main street until I realized that I wasn’t going to make it all the way to the Cathedral without blisters, so I grabbed a taxi the rest of the way. The Cathedral of Manizales is gorgeous. This is coming from a person who has seen her fair share of churches and was beginning to think that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
When I got there, they were just starting mass, so I decided to take a seat and stay for it. Afterwards, I was starving, so I decided to get some lunch, and then come back for the church tour, where I’d be able to go to the top and get a view of the city.
For lunch, I found a restaurant that was serving lechona, so I decided to give that a try. Lechona is a big pig, that is stuffed with rice and veggies, and cooked for a long time. This is what it looks like when it’s waiting to be eaten:
This is what it looked like on my plate:
It was delicious.
I went back to the Cathedral and took the tour. You know how sometimes you get a tour that’s super boring, or you feel like the tour guide doesn’t care, or is a robot? This wasn’t that. It was actually an incredibly informative tour and I felt like I learned a lot of interesting information about the Cathedral. Which in the two weeks between the time I took the tour and the time I’m writing this post has slowly been seeping out of my brain. But here’s what I do remember: The Cathedral is I think the 3rd tallest in the Americas. It’s been rebuilt a few times due to fires and earthquakes. It’s surprisingly large and beautiful considering the size of Manizales. The Plaza de Bolivar outside the church is interesting in respect to their statue of Bolivar, which depicts him as a strange half bird creature instead of a man. And because Manizales is a conservative city, he’s been castrated. The stone spiral stairwells in the church were built using specific techniques which allowed soldiers bearing shields and swords to easily climb up and down them. They didn’t used to have railings on the outer balconies of the top levels which was extremely dangerous and terrifying. The stairs to the top used to be made of wood and would sway back and forth as you climbed them. Again, terrifying. And lastly, I learned that while the tour guide had not seen every church in the world, he would venture to say this is one of the most beautiful and that Colombians needed to realize what a treasure they had and tell the world about it. He mentioned the fact that everyone makes a big deal about the region’s chorizo being so good, but here’s this gorgeous structure, and they’re not really doing anything to increase tourism. So that’s a small fraction of what was covered on the tour, which ended at the top of the spire, giving a beautiful 360 degree view of the city from it’s highest point.
After the tour, I headed back to the tournament to say goodbye and catch a bus home. I took the aerial cable car back to the bus station, so I got to end my time in Manizales smoothly floating over the city until I landed at the bus terminal.