Now, I know that it gets bandied around a fair bit here in Colombia, but I´m still a bit confused. Paisa is quite the loaded term. I´ve heard a wild story that claims it originated when the bold Antioqueños were pushing for their department´s independence. The new country (¨pais¨ in Spanish) was going to be called ¨Country A,¨ (País A). It sounds a little far-fetched, but I wouldn´t put it past those famously individual and proud people. Now, people from the capital of Antioquia, Medellín, are referred to as paisas, and, in general, if someone was referred to as such, I´d race to the conclusion that they´re from the City of Eternal Spring.
Let´s not race so fast, though. Other places manifest this culture, and the good folk of Manizales would rightly feel put out if I didn´t recognise their paisa bragging rights. Manizales, after all, is known as the City of Open Doors. This doesn´t refer to an endemic problem with latch construction in the area, but to the friendliness of its inhabitants. Friendliness, along with industriousness, pride, and mullets, is a widely professed quality of paisaness.
And, indeed, it was a proud, roving, band of twenty paisas who founded the city in its ¨abrupt topology¨ in 1847. This makes Manizales a relatively young city, but doesn´t stop the resident paisas from being any less as proud as their fancy Medellín cousins. Manizales, right in the heart of Colombia, is also right at the heart of Colombian coffee production, and there´s no better base from which to explore all the aromatic cultural charms of the surrounding coffee farms; there´s even a ¨Coffee Theme Park¨ in the neighbourhood.
Manizales´ ¨abrupt¨ topology, with its dramatic dips and dives, affords some pretty special experiences. It´s not the biggest of Colombian cities, but I´d challenge any city around the world to match the EIGHT (count ´em) microclimates within its limits. One minute you could be enjoying the stickiness of one of Colombia´s best obleas in the ethereal heights of Chipre, the next, plunging into a balmier valley. Check out the views from the cable-car (something else Manizales shares with that other M city), that stretches from the bus terminal to the bar district, inhabited by a good proportion of the 15,000 university students that have made Manizales theirs.
Further out, topology even more abruptly impressive looms majestically. The Nevado del Ruiz, with its stately snowcapped mountains, peers down on the city; and it´s often possible to venture up there, to touch the snow for yourself. Coffee farms and snow? They don´t really seem to go together, do they? You forgot, my friend: This is Colombia.
Manizales, resolutely paisa, is also the city where you can trace the Spanish strand of Colombia´s rich cultural fabric most easily; particularly in its fair at the start of the year. This fair, along with such important activities like the ¨International Coffee Beauty Pageant,¨ also heralds the start of the bullfighting season. Others, including, admittedly, myself, don´t really get this phenomenon, but it is a great source of pride for the people of the City of Open Doors, who regard it as an important part of their cultural inheritance.
It might not have all the innovative bling of Medellín, the paisa capital, but Manizales, and the warm hearts of its people, are definitely worth a trip off the gringo trail. Get amongst it, and be a paisa for a day!