Towards the end of last year I was offered a new job with a well-known multinational. As I was working for a small company at the time, my new employer was kind enough to allow me a three month notice period, giving me time to close off my old position gracefully and fit in a break to recharge the batteries. I'm glad to say that I was able to hand over my duties to my former colleagues without any impact on our customers, which was exactly what I wanted.
As luck would have it, the time window for my break happened to overlap a trip to several countries in South America planned by two of my coaster enthusiast friends. Taking two weeks to ride coasters without using holiday time felt like an opportunity that was too good to miss, and that was why I found myself boarding a flight from Paris to Bogotá.
Thirteen hours later, the three of us were sampling some traditional Colombian cuisine in the Hard Rock Café. TwoThree Four hours after that, we were on board a Fokker-50 flying to Armenia, a tiny airport that in Europe would be classified as a Ryanair outpost. On arrival our plane represented the sole commercial aircraft on the apron, and the size of the terminal building suggested rather strongly that no others were expected. Our pre-booked driver was still waiting for us despite us being so late, an incredible relief matched only by the feeling of crawling into bed shortly afterwards. It's probably worth noting that the schedule for this trip had already been fully set at the time that I signed up, so the degree of insanity is (for once) not my responsibility!
Parque Nacional del Café
14th January 2012
The National Coffee Park is an enormous set of botanical gardens with amusement rides built on the side of a mountain in the Quindio area, a few miles from Armenia. Most of the attractions are located in a valley a considerable distance from the entrance, and while it is possible to walk there, the better option is the Teleférico cable car, not least because the view during the five minute journey is spectacular.
Deep within the valley lies Broca (#1705), one of two Schwarzkopf Speed Racer designs to survive today. This model was the second of the four versions built, opening in 1973 at Worlds of Fun, where it operated for twenty-four years before being exported to its new home in South America. Though almost four decades old it rides extremely well, with carefully sculpted terrain that fits so well that those outside the enthusiast community would never realise the ride wasn't designed around it. The final portion of track leading back to the station has been enclosed within a concrete tunnel, giving a thrilling conclusion to a top class roller coaster.
Broca marked the two thousandth unique coaster for enthusiast George Greenway. Though a few of us are close to that number, he is nevertheless the first enthusiast in the world to hit that particular milestone; the race is now on for the first person to three thousand!
The park has an unusual attraction included in its unlimited wristbands; a trail for horseback riding complete with a dedicated stud. There are bridges across this route for pedestrians in order to minimise the risk of any potential accidents. While this wasn't something I decided to try, it was interesting to see groups of guests in equestrian boots (supplied!) trotting around the park. The landscaping in general is lush, to the point that equestrian enthusiasts could happily spend time exploring without going near the amusement rides. You can find some photos at ThemeParks.ie.
The next ride we hit was the Torre Cumbre, a giant drop ride advertised as being the tallest in Colombia. At one hundred and thirty feet it isn't about to break records, not least because the cable driven design makes it a relatively tame experience, but if the screams coming from it were anything to go by it was certainly a hit with the guests today. Near it is the new set of Rápidos, an excellent ride with several waterfalls and other effects in its path. It was very telling that this was one of two attractions in the park we had to queue for (the other being Broca), despite the fact that there were a large number of boats on the course. More to the point, the landscaping around it was still in progress for our visit; it will likely be even better once fully finished.
It would be remiss of me not to conclude with a question; should an enthusiast fly all the way to Armenia to visit this park? Honestly, I'd say the answer is yes; Parque Nacional del Café is a beautiful park that is easily worth the effort required to get there. I'm not sure how much fun it would be on a really busy day, given that most of the rides are low capacity, but for our visit today at least it was great.
14th January 2012
Colombia is a country that is best navigated by air, as the terrain is mountainous and some areas are considered unsafe after dark. We figured we'd be okay with a thirty-five kilometre drive between Armenia and Pereira during daylight hours, and the roads were absolutely fine, just slow. Ninety minutes later we'd pulled up outside Karting Cross, a small outdoor entertainment facility with to kart tracks, paintball, a few small rides, and a large Montaña Rusa (#1706) towering over everything.
The vast majority of coasters built by Soquet can be found in France, but a few have gone further; two inMalaysia, one in Poland, and two in Colombia. This one was originally built for Camelot Park in Bogotá, which closed in 2008. It was relocated to Karting Cross a year later. The front seat on this ride proved to be fairly smooth, generating exactly the sort of experience the writer has come to expect from Soquet coasters; fun, if undistinguished. The back seat, on the other hand, was something else entirely; the twisted first drop threw me sideways with considerable force that was completely unexpected. I elected not to ride a third time, but had I done so I'd probably have gone for somewhere in the middle!