9th – 18th November – We have decided that we would like to learn more about coffee production and have chosen to stay at Hacienda Venecia in Manizales, a fourth-generation, family-owned, working coffee farm. It is considered to be one of the best places to learn about Colombia’s coffee culture!
Manizales sits at an altitude of 2150m, capital of the Caldas dept. and in the heart of coffee country. This city is located at the base of the still active and snow-capped Nevado del Ruiz volcano, which can be seen on a clear day, something we unfortunately never have whenever we visit town. We stop first in Pereira at a supermarket which is so vast and with so much choice it is unbelievable, plus there are 3 large floors of Christmas decorations. Just how many different coloured baubles can you buy?!
Hacienda Venicia is described as being 20 minutes from Manizales but whether this is south or north of the town, we are not sure. We decide on the latter but as we leave Manizales behind, Bill notices the battery light has come on and suspects our alternator once again. We pull in at the first garage, where he decides to remove it and fit the old one that we had to take off long ago in southern Argentina. Fortunately he had kept this….just in case! It is too hot to remove however, and by the time it has cooled, it is raining and light is fading! I hold the umbrella over us whilst Bill works and the security guy is very kind and helpful, bringing us a more powerful torch and asking everyone who pulls up for fuel if they speak English, so that they can help us with directions for the hacienda. He eventually comes rushing over, telling me that he has found someone and this guy rings the hacienda and then draws us a map showing the directions. His English, although very limited, is a tremendous help. It is dark by the time Bill finishes but the rain has stopped. The security guy refuses the money that we offer for his help……he seems very concerned that we have broken down in the dark and we really appreciate his help. He is armed with a gun now and assures us that this is necessary at night.
We follow our map which proves to be excellent and accurate….many thanks to this kind stranger! Another night driving in the dark……it seems that this is becoming a habit here for one reason or another! The hacienda is 2km along a dirt road and we miss a turning due to it being dark and the sign hidden amongst coffee bushes. I spot a guy swinging in a hammock in the light on his verandah and jump out to ask directions. To my amazement and amusement he is swinging in the hammock with a goat who is loving every minute of it!
We are met by a very friendly and welcoming guy on our arrival at the hacienda and although it is late, he shows us all the facilities for campers which appear to be excellent. We look forward to seeing more of our surroundings in the daylight!
The surrounding countryside is a hilly and green picture postcard of coffee plantations set amongst banana trees and bamboo, forested slopes and houses perched on the hillsides.
The coffee on the hacienda is at different stages of ripening but some will be ready to be picked in about 10 days time. Many of the bushes still have their white flowers. There’s no finer coffee bean we are told, than Arabica, a variety that originated in Ethiopia and has since been cultivated in tropical regions around the world, including Colombia.
The main building for guests has rooms, a kitchen/dining/sitting area and hammocks on the verandah. The garden includes a swimming pool and we are given a lovely camping space amongst the trees and tropical plants
Every day we have visits from exotic birds and large, green iguanas that climb the trees and hide amongst the leafy branches, where they are completely camouflaged.
The coffee tour is very interesting, beginning with a talk about the history behind coffee, followed by a walk through the plantation and a visit to the main house which is in a beautiful setting.
We are then taken to where the coffee beans are sorted, dried and put into sacks. The delicate roasting procedure necessary to arrive at so many different flavours, is quite incredible. We didn’t realise just how complicated it was to make that perfect cup of coffee!
On our return journey we also discover just how many tropical fruits are growing in the grounds of the farm.
We order a new alternator from the UK with courier DHL and many thanks to everyone involved in helping to get our parcel delivered in 3 days! Unlike the lengthy procedure that we had to go through in Bolivia to get a parcel, here we are simply handed it over the counter at the DHL office after paying 146,00 peso (approx. £40). Bill plans to fit it the same afternoon, but down comes the rain again and once more I am holding the umbrella and torch! The rain is relentless and in torrents and continues well into the night. The river in front of us which has just been a fast flowing ribbon of water, is now thundering.
Would certainly recommend Hacienda Venecia. It’s a beautiful and very relaxing place and everyone goes out of their way to make sure your stay is as enjoyable and comfortable as possible. Many thanks also to Claudia and Uwe from Germany for all the information that you gave us re travelling north, we know it will be very useful and hope that you enjoy all the countries that you pass through heading south.