Sunday’s headline act in Manizales was a trip to the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados, a national park that covers some 58 thousand hectares over five provinces of Colombia. Our trip was only to be a brief glimpse of the northernmost part of the park, as far as the edge of the glacier astride the Nevado del Ruíz, an active volcano with a violent past. The 1985 eruption produced catastrophic lahars that wiped several towns off the map, and cost the lives of over 23,000 people.

The temperature had dropped significantly after an hour or so’s climb out of the city by minibus. After a shivering stop for breakfast, we continued to the entrance of the national park at just a tad over 4,000m.

Over the next few hours we stopped for explanations from the guide on the various environments we passed through, from the lower páramo to the desert ecosystem bordering the glacial summit.

Unfortunately, the recent activity of Ruíz prevented us from getting as far as the snow-line. The presence of a burnt-out hulk of a building at our last stop was sobering however.

That the building had been destroyed by the volcano was not in itself surprising, but that it had once served as lodging for a ski resort was visible testament to just how far the ice field has receded, largely due to climate change. It is estimated that it has shrunk by a half in just 25 years. It won’t be long until the glacier has disappeared altogether at the current rate.

Photos and glacier-gazing complete, we made our way back down the mountain for lunch and a dip in the scaldingly hot thermal pools at Otoño enroute to Manizales. We were fortunate enough to catch a brief glimpse of an Andean condor swooping through the clouds as we trundled downhill – condors have the biggest wingspan of any land-bird on the planet, and they’re extremely rare. Lucky us!

Little else remained to be done apart from to scarf down copious, restorative pizza and await the swaying overnight bus service back to Bogotá. Great weekend, muchas gracias a Brigid por tu hospitalidad, ¡nos vemos en Bogotá pronto!

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