I have fallen madly in love with Colombia.. Colombia is not fickle, it is eager to please It continuously gives without asking for more than a friendly “hola” in return. The scenery is mesmerizing, but it is the people that makes this country. They are the most friendly and genuine people I have come across - from the lady that helped me go from shop to shop looking for gingerale in order to cure a stomach ache to Nathi - a lovely girl I bought a dress from - who introduced me to her friends and offered me a place in her apartment (you never know, I may take her up on it after a little more traveling) and made me feel like she'd known me for years.
I have been fully embraced with nothing but warmth... Forget all expectations and all the negative press you've heard: the drug cartels, the guerrilla warfare, and the danger - these is not what you see in the eyes and smiles of the people that live here. This is a country with a difficult past that has been given a second chance and its people have embraced it to the fullest by traveling
within their own country and welcoming foreigners to see the Colombia through their own eyes. This is a country that simply must be experienced. Reading about it could never do it justice.
The last 3 weeks have been wonderful. I decided to focus on the little things this country has to offer opposed to particular sites and tourist attractions... My only goal was to be present and appreciate the Colombian way of life... and have some fun in the process :). Days have been spent wandering aimlessly, combing quiet beaches, tasting new street food, eating as many avocados as possible, navigating metros and searching for the perfect Latina party dress while meeting new wonderful people along the way.
After Christmas we headed further north on the Caribbean Coast to Palomino
.. this is a very small town located on a beautiful stretch of beach along Rio Palomino. The group started as five: Ali, Yair, Michael, Ben and me. We had all met in Taganga and spent the holidays together. After the first night the group trickled down to three with only Michael, Ali and myself remaining.. we camped in the yard at a small beach house for three days
- it was perfect! We had no trouble doing nothing but relaxing and cooking healthy meals in the outdoor kitchen..finally a break from deep-fried fish. The weather was blustery, but the coconut trees provided protection.
After a few very tranquilo days, Ali and I decided to visit Cartagena
to bring in the New Year. We arrived at NorthStar hostel (we had made reservations at the only place that seemed to be available for the holidays). Upon arrival they had no record of our reservation, were unable to refund my 10% deposit and had zero beds for us to sleep in. This posed a problem as it was December 30th and Cartagena was packed as it is a very popular spot for Colombians to celebrate the holidays. We ended up on a balcony with Ali in a hammock and myself on a mattress directly below her...Colombian bunk-beds we called it!
One night sleeping this way was enough and we managed to find a room in the heart of The Old Town. The city was gorgeous and Colombians certainly know how to rumba (party)! We hopped from square to square within the city walls, watched countless fireworks explode into
the nights sky and danced to various types of music until 4:30am.
The best part of the festivities were the variety of people it attracted: babies, grandparents, youth... all were dancing in the street. It is a treat to people-watch in this country, but particularly in Cartagena. Most people were very glamorous, and the women of course... well they left me feeling less than adequate in some departments (Colombia is known as the plastic surgery capital of the world).
We had a couple restful days after NYE visiting the city beaches, navigating colonial streets and visiting the Castillo San Felipe Fort... offering perfect city views and infinite tunnels to get lost in. After recuperating from New Year's we decided to take a Chiva Bus... more or less an open-air party bus that drives around playing Colombian music and passing out Rum and Cokes to its passengers. We connected with Carlos - a Chilean friend we had met back in Taganga - and he introduced us to a group of his Colombian friends... it was much more entertaining riding with them as they were far from shy and knew all the words to the Colombian songs being played. The
party bus is how we bid Cartagena good-bye.
We continued on inland to Medellin
where I am currently sitting on the rooftop balcony at Casa Kiwi. If you have the chance to visit, I highly recommend this hostel; it has wonderful facilities and is located in El Poblado neighborhood within crawling distance of countless bars, cafes and restaurant. The area is one of the nicest in Medellin and really reminds me of Yale Town in Vancouver, so it is easy to feel at home. Window shopping in a few fancy shops was a nice change from navigating the usual bustling markets filled with flip flops, wooden necklaces and standard souvenirs.
I have been lucky to make many friends in Medellin - so many in fact I decided to cave and purchase a Colombian cell phone to stay in touch. I have a friend from Victoria who had spent several months here, so he introduced me to a group of people who publish an online Colombian newspaper in English - www.colombiareports.com. I met Adriaan, the editor and mastermind, when I arrived and it was wonderful to hear about the city from an insider's perspective: the theatre that has free
nightly shows, the drag queen performance that happens every Sunday in the park and the most authentic Paisa (Paisas are people from Medellin) cafe in town.
Time has flown by. I just calculated I am on my 9th night here... I visited most major landmarks in town; rode up the teleferico for unspoiled city views; visited an amazing library at the top built by a wold famous architect (photos attached); and saw the largest and most impressive display of Christmas lights I have ever seen - this deserves some elaboration:
All the major cities in Colombia have light displays for the holidays and compete for who can have the most impressive show... Medellin always wins. The river in Medellin had over 2km of lights and a carnival-like atmosphere, which you can experience for free... (as a side note, Colombia has a lot of festivals, events and exhibitions, and more children's parks than I have ever encountered - all for free - they really value providing activities for the people).
We recruited three new girl friends and had a ladies night out. It was here I had my most impressive dinner of a Michelada (beer with lime and
salt) and brownie con helado (more or less a brownie sundae) - yes of course a photo is attached! As if all the lights, food and people watching wasn't enough, they have a laser and water show with patterns and lights exploding within spurting water columns coordinated to music. Shakira was heavily represented due to her Colombian roots. My activities were not confined to the city limits - outside of town there is a beautiful countryside and I took full advantage it with two day trips to El Penol
- a huge granite monolith two hours from town. After climbing 650 steps to the top there is a beautiful view of a lake with countless islands scattered throughout. It is a man-made reservoir diverted for a power plant, but I found it hard to imagine the valley not flooded with water. I first visited it with my friend Hannah from San Diego. I was introduced to her when I arrived at the apartment and headquarters for Colombia reports. She had just arrived to volunteer and was more or less green to the city as well.
I liked the spot so much I returned with Simon - a fellow Canadian
traveling by motorbike... yes, all the way from Calgary, Canada, to the bottom of the Argentina he will go! He wanted to visit the site, so we managed to muster up an extra helmet as I was more than happy to tag along. It is not every day I get a motorbike ride (don't worry Mom and Dad, I ensured we went under the speed limit)..:) The place was just as glorious the second time around, and with the freedom of a bike we opted to go a little further to visit the town of b]Guatape. It was gorgeous with brightly colored homes and storefronts that circled the lake and climbed up into the mountains.
Medellin has been wonderful to me and the Paisa people, I would argue, are the friendliest in the country. I thought about the last nine days in Medellin and said to Hannah, “I am not sure what I really did and where the time went”. Most of the sites were seen within a couple days. “You're just living,” she said.
When you let go of the need to “see” or “do” something, you just start living like everyone else. Some days you just
do your laundry and others sit on a park bench and it is simply enough.
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