Unexpected Excursion

David in Cable Car
October 14, 2019

My ability in Spanish is still low enough that I often miss key details even when I think I understand what's being said. This time the central point I missed was that I was to be making an overnight trip out of town. I had thought I was about to leave on a day trip to a nearby city.

Yesterday morning, I said goodbye in my halting Spanish to Gladys, one half of the couple I'm staying with here in Colombia:

"We see each other tonight. But, I do not know I will be back for dinner," I said.

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"You mean tomorrow, right?", Gladys replied.

"No. Tonight," I said. "I go to Manizales with Elizabeth, today. We come back tonight. Yes?"

Gladys corrected me: "No... when Elizabeth called to invite you to Manizales yesterday you handed me the phone to get all the details correct. But, I guess you didn't understand everything when I explained it back to you in Spanish. You're staying there overnight."

"Yes? I come back tomorrow?", I said exhausting what I could express in Spanish for the situation at hand. I lapsed into English: "Well, I guess I'd better pack a bag."

I grabbed a small knapsack and stuffed it with a fresh change of clothes, toothbrush and toothpaste, a phone charger with cable, and, on impulse, a swimsuit. A few minutes later a car driven by relatives of Elizabeth pulled up downstairs. We drove across town to pick her up and then were off on a 3-hour drive to Manizales.

Elizabeth and David
Atop Steeple
Sometimes when I travel in countries where I don't speak the language miscommunication is frustrating and limiting. But, more often here in Colombia I just happily let myself get taken places. So many people have been so open to meeting up regularly to spend time with me despite my minimal ability to express myself. It's nice to be in a country that's so welcoming to foreigners.

Manizales turned out to be a larger city than the one I've been staying in. We went, it turned out, to visit Elizabeth's sons. Both of them are studying here at university. Neither spoke any English but they both seemed smart, sweet, and polite. Their little apartment near one of Manizales's many universities is where we stayed the night: crammed full with not just me and their mom but also the three other relatives who had made the drive together with us.

It was an amusing place to spend the night and not just for the spectacle of a horde of road-tripping adults crashing in the apartment of a couple college boys. Adding to the absurdity of a situation I hadn't expected to find myself in at the beginning of the day: the boys had forgotten to pay their electricity bill. Our entire time in their apartment was without power. We navigated from room to room with cellphone flashlights. Somebody was savvy enough to find candles and keep one burning in the bathroom.

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Seen in Manizales
It's been nice to get out to other parts of the country and see somewhere new for the first time since my accident. Manizales has unusual terrain for a city of its size. There are many steep hills: I wouldn't be surprised if there's more change in grade here than there is within San Francisco. Unusually, I've seen far more cyclists pedalling along the shoulder of the road here than in most other world cities I've visited. Somebody explained (if my understanding in Spanish was accurate) that the challenging terrain makes this an area where competitive athletes come specifically to train.

Given all the hills and valleys it shouldn't have surprised me to see a unique transit system, too. A network of gondolas dangling from elevated wires and cutting through the sky zips Manizales's various neighborhoods together. With several stations connecting the city center, the universities, and a nearby town the skycar is a logical choice for commuters traversing the hilly area. Before, I'd seen similar systems in other areas only as expensive contraptions offering views to tourists too lazy to hike up a hill. I'd never considered a network of hanging cable cars as a metropolitan transit option.

For this first visit of mine to Manizales Elizabeth and relatives took me around to all the obvious attractions. In addition to the cable-car ride from the city center to the end of the line (with transfer at one station) we took a tour climbing up to the steeples of Colombia's tallest cathedral. I expected our outing to finish with sunset but instead we drove out to nearby thermal hot springs to soak for several hours. The hot pools were the perfect place to relax late into the night. We all splashed and bobbed about while chatting under the moonlit night sky. If the moon rising above us wasn't perfectly full it was impossible to tell whether it was waxing or waning. Best of all, being immersed in hot water alleviated much of the pain that my arm has been experiencing since my shoulder was dislocated a bit over a week ago.

David, Elizabeth and
Family in Nevados
Today we're driving up to "the Nevados". From what I can guess in Spanish that's where there are snow-capped peaks. Or, perhaps glaciers. Or, it might be a proper noun. Whatever the word means I can gather it's somewhere that is perpetually cold. Elizabeth and relatives are reminding me to bring my coat. Then finally, if I'm understanding everything correctly, we'll take lunch somewhere here in Manizales and then drive back to Armenia.

This has been a fun excursion and probably all the more so as everything about it has been unexpected. My elementary Spanish level makes me blissfully ignorant of where all we're going and what-all is going on around me. It's certainly been good for language practice and great to get acquainted with kind, welcoming locals over this visit.

Thanks for inviting me for a fun weekend with family, Elizabeth! I'm hoping there will be more unexpected excursions, ahead...