November 15, 2007
Aiana and I split ways this morning. She headed up to Bogotá to meet a friend, but I still wanted to go to Manizales, in the northern part of the coffee-growing region. It took several trips on small buses, but I eventually made it to my destination city late in the day.
I was supposed to meet a girl named Manisha, who was a friend of Urzuz (my last Couchsurfing host), at a place called Cable Plaza. I had no idea where that was, and after talking to a few people determined that it was too far to walk, so I took a taxi. Manisha didn't specify which part of Cable Plaza we should meet in, but I figured out why (or so I thought), when the taxi driver dropped me off in front of a tiny square with a single cable car acting as a monument of sorts in the middle. There was no way we could miss each other in such a small place, so I began waiting contentedly despite the chilly evening.
After nearly an hour, Manisha hadn't shown up so I decided to call her again. Colombia has a strange cell phone system where you only get charged for placing, and not receiving, a call, but if you call someone who has a cell phone plan of a different company, it costs at least three times as much. There are at least four major cell phone companies in Colombia, so the higher price nearly always applies. The end result is that everyone here has a cell phone, but nobody can use it. The local entrepreneurs have come up with an interesting solution, though. They simply own a cell phone from each company so they can always make calls at the lowest rate. Then they walk around with signs around their necks stating "minutos," and any random passerby can make a call on their phone for a small charge. Anyway, I got hold of Manisha again, and she said something about meeting me in a few minutes, so I continued waiting.
Another half hour went by and I was ready to go home. I called Manisha one last time, and she said she had already started walking home after waiting for me so long. Something didn't seem right, and soon enough I figured out that we were waiting for each other in two different places. I asked somebody where Cable Plaza was, and they said one block away. I never even bothered asking if I was in the right place when I first got there because the taxi driver told me that it was Cable Plaza, and after all, it was a plaza with a cable car in it. But alas, Cable Plaza was actually a shopping mall that had nothing to do with cables or plazas, and that's where Manisha was waiting for me. We finally met after the snafu and headed to a bar to drown our sorrows.
Despite the inauspicious beginning, meeting Manisha was a interesting experience. She's originally from Mumbai, India, and when I asked how big her city was, she responded with, "Half the population of Colombia." (She wasn't too far off. Mumbai's population is 18 million and Colombia's is 44 million.) A few months ago, she landed a job teaching English in Manizales and suddenly she was in South America for the first time without knowing anyone and having no knowledge of the Spanish language. But despite the obvious difficulties with adjusting to a new culture, she really seemed to like living in the relative peacefulness of Colombia and actually kind of discouraged me from visiting India with all her stories of extreme poverty and crowdedness, but then she said it's a great place to visit, just not to live. I guess I'll have to experience it for myself someday.
The photo album for this entry is here.