When I stopped to take a pic of the door with the cat it raised its head momentarily and looked at me through slit eyes as if to say, “What you lookin’ at, pal?” I think that old saying about sleeping dogs should be amended to include our feline friends, too. It was clear that trying to rouse kitty from his (or her) slumber would not end well.
I grew up in a small town with no noteworthy architecture and places to buy chicken feed and repair farm machinery, but we had no such cozy town square in which to hang out and chew the fat or watch life go by. In the section on Villamaria in the Manizales post I commented that we Americans would do well to adopt that practice. Everytime I see it going on in a town of the Coffee Triangle that opinion is confirmed. Mind you, I’m not sure the content of the conversations would necessarily be edifying — that’s quite another matter. I suspect, coming from a small town as I do, that everybody knows everybody’s business. Colombians have a saying for it: “pueblo pequeño, infierno grande” (= “small town, big hell”). But I’m a tourist and I don’t have to deal with reality, so I enjoyed the pleasant setting and carried away a sense of handsomeness and social pleasantness I’m happy to keep as an illusion whatever the truth of the situation may be.
Lest we forget that we’re in Coffee Country, there’s a fine mural on one of the buildings near the town square:
Those are coffee berries in the basket, by the way, not cherries, just saying … 🙂 What a lovely image of agricultural plenty in a place where the weather is almost always pleasant and the living is easy. Speaking of easy living, I went to the supermarket this morning and came out loaded down with two full bags of gorgeous fruit and veggies for the princely sum of USD $8.25. It’s always summertime here and the living is always easy if you’re after stunning produce. Adding the fact that massive split-leaf philodendrons grow on the trees seems like gilding the lily, but hey, if you got it, flaunt it, right? The Coffee Triangle has got it in spades.
Quimbaya is just a bit up the road from Montenegro and has outside it another of the area’s main tourist spots, Panaca, short for “Parque Nacional de la Cultura Agropecuaria” (= “National Park of Agricultural Culture”). From the descriptions I’ve read it sounds like a combination of county fair and medieval mystery play. After being harangued by guides in two of the region’s botanical gardens the last thing on Earth I wanted to engage was another foray into interactive instruction in breathless Spanish. The guides invariably ask questions and wait for an answer from us ignorant lot standing there like dolts. “Do you know how many times a second a hummingbird’s heart beats?” If I did I’d be giving the tour not taking it, sugarpuss. It’s annoying beyond words. So I gave Panaca a miss without the slightest pang of guilt. Tra-la, tra-la, life is but a … Well, that’s how the song goes, anyway. I don’t think they know that tune in Quimbaya.
Not every musician is a Mozart, not every physicist is an Einstein, and not every town in the Coffee Triangle is a paragon of its kind. That’s just how life works. Most of us have that point brought brusquely to our attention when we get up in the morning and look in the mirror. The same could be said of Quimbaya. It’s thoroughly itself and there’s no pretending to be something it’s not. Nothing wrong with that, nothing at all — it’s reality, after all.
The reality struck me as a rather down-at-heel agricultural town where Juan Valdez, after finishing his work in the fields picking Colombian Supremo for the likes of us in the USA, might well do some busking in the town square to scrape together a few extra pesos. I say that without in any way taking as my measure of being uptown having a Starbucks on every corner and artisan bakeries on at least every other street. I’m reminded of a comment I overheard in Durham, NC in a posh cafe in the trendy part of town (near Duke University, of course) uttered by a typical Dukie (Birckenstocks/black leggings/embroidered gauze top) who surveyed the menu with a frown on her face: “I just don’t understand how people survive without Thai green curry.” Well, people in Quimbaya have been doing it for ages, dear heart. Just as in other parts of Durham where Dukies dare not go, one gains the impression in Quimbaya that having beans and pork belly on the table for dinner means your luck is running high.
But appearances can be deceiving and the tarnish on Quimbaya’s charms may well be entirely intentional. Farmers are not known for being stylish — at least not in my neck of the woods. It may well be that things go along swimmingly in Quimbaya without benefit of paint or frequent repair, who am I to say? To that end I leave Quimbaya to its ways, mysterious to me perhaps but doubtless crystal clear to its inhabitants. I didn’t take any pics there. It seemed like doing documentation for a governmental social service agency and I’m a tourist, not a sociologist. So on we go to Calarcá.
In all the time I’ve spent in Pereira I’ve never heard anybody say anything about Calarcá. This puzzles me. It has what looks to be one of the best botanical gardens in the region that includes a “mariposario,” i.e. a butterfly collection. That in and of itself should surely gain for the place some tourist traction? But no, mum’s the word. And by the way, “mariposario” is for dead critters, not live ones. A place to see the little dears flitting about is called a “sanctuario.” That fact was pointed out to my attention by the guide who led me around the Recinto del Pensamiento in Manizales. So you’re essentially in a butterfly mausoleum in Calarcá’s collection, but hey, I’ll take ’em dead or alive. I’m not fussy.
Faced with the paucity of information on local ground here your intrepid investigative tourist left no stone unturned. I fired up Google and found out all I ever wanted to know about the town, the garden and the mariposario. But I forgot to check the weather forecast while doing so. As it happened, it was raining cats and dogs the morning I planned to go the botanical garden and homey don’t do rain ponchos, sorry. So that was the end of that idea. I wasn’t crushed, but I do want to go back and see the garden and the butterfly collection, housed whimsically in a building shaped like a butterfly.
Calarcá suffered from the 1999 earthquake that devastated Armenia since it’s only about 5 miles to the east. As a result there’s precious little historical architecture on the ground these days. The town square retains the standard format, although the church is a tiny little thing dwarfed by everything around it. I did my best to find a good shot of something handsome in the town square and came up with this:
Not a bad showing for having had its rafters tumbled down by a Richter 6.2 earthquake. I’d say give the town a thumbs up for effort.
My coffee farm hotel was just over a mile from the town center and I went back into town looking for dinner, expecting to find restaurants purveying typical Colombian cuisine thick on the ground. Not a bit of it. I ended up in a fast-food restaurant reminiscent of KFC, except they made their own drinks from fresh fruit. Finding no other outstanding charms to detain my attentions, I finished my chicken burger and headed back to the finca-hotel. That’s the last I saw of downtown Calarcá. There may be other things in town that knock your socks off but my stay was too brief to unearth them.
Let’s finish this first part of the ramble with images of the countryside, which wherever you go is ravishing. I can think of no better way to recommend the area than to show its natural face, which has all the charms anybody could want.