I’m taking advantage of a five and half hour layover to catch up on my blog. The last entry only touched on the first section of my time in Colombia. What was originally supposed to be two weeks in the country has turned into four. Almost exactly a month after arriving here I am now moving on. I have done so much but feel I have only scratched the surface. I look forward to Peru and further adventures but I have fallen in love with Colombia. It has surprised me. It is nothing like what I had in my mind before my visit.
It’s a land I know I must return to. A country on the mend after more than a half century of war, internal conflict, and rampant crime, it is a fascinating place. I find it invigorating and interesting to be here during this time of change - to see how far it’s progressed in just a few years, to see change still happening before my eyes. I feel fortunate to have discovered Colombia when I did. Ten years ago it would have been precarious to travel through, ten years from now I’m certain it will be overrun with tourists.
After my week in Bogotá, I spent one week in Medellín. A city once called the Murder Capital of the World it is now a city that I think I would like to live in. It’s one of the few times I have actually thought about that on my trip. There is so much to love about the city; botanical gardens, a planetarium, national parks, great food, local and foreign. There is the market at Minorista, where you can find any kind of food you want; Meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables. I took an exotic fruit tour and sampled maracuya, granadilla, guanabana, cherimoya, and much more. And the Paisa are such a kind people. Desiring to shake the horrible reputation of the past, nearly everyone greets you with a smile and says hi. To top it off: the weather. Not too hot, not too cold, not humid. You couldn’t ask for a more temperate climate.
It is very easy to get around thanks to the metro system, an easily navigable set of trains that is one of the cleanest and most well-maintained I’ve ever seen. This includes a cable car system that goes up the side of the mountain and affords one of the most stunning perspectives on a city that I’ve encountered. Further up, another cable car will take you over the mountain to Parque Arvi, where one Sunday Tucker, a fellow American from my hostel, and I got intentionally lost for a whole Sunday afternoon. We wandered, met a local named Claudia, who told us of a beautiful lagoon way down some lonely road (which turned out to be a huge disappointment because it was virtually dried up), found an awesome spot where you can lounge in hammocks, chow down on arepas and sip on a beer, and shared a cable car with about six older hispanic women with whom we struggled to communicate in our halted Spanish. They pretty much laughed at us the whole time.
After Medellín, I headed north to Santa Marta, where the plan was to explore Tayrona National Park, Palomino and Minca. My plans were foiled by the arrival of Hurricane Matthew off the coast. While it didn’t hit us directly, it gave us plenty of rain. After a couple of days of being stuck in the hostel, I decided to move on to Cartagena, with the hope that weather would be a little better to the west. While it did pour the first day I was there, the subsequent few days were nice, if not hot and humid. I met a lot of great people in my hostel, most of which I would reunite with when I returned to Medellín the following week.
Like Madrid on my last trip, Medellín seemed to draw me back inexplicably. I knew I wanted to take a week of Spanish classes before catching my flight to Peru, and I decided the “City of Eternal Spring” was the best place to do that. I returned to the same hostel, Black Sheep, and ran into people who were there before and who, like myself, came back - people like Natalie and Cameron. I met new people, like Brennan, a fellow American. Throughout the following week many of my friends from Cartagena began to trickle in: Rhys, Marius, Max, Ollie, Marcus and others. Once again we had a great crew in the hostel. Between my classes I would catch up with people and continue to explore the city, doing things like the Graffiti Tour, where we wandered what used to be one of the most dangerous neighborhoods of Medellín. Commune 11 transformed itself by implementing a program promoting street art as well as through innovations such as an unique outdoor escalator system, and installing slides next to staircases for the kids to travel around the neighborhood.
Colombia has so much to offer on its own but, as always, it’s the people you explore with that really make the experience sing. I feel I have amassed a great group of new friends from all over the globe and maybe that is the best gift that Colombia has given me.
For a country that wasn’t even on my radar a few months ago, it’s incredible the impact it has had on me. But then, isn’t that how it always works? Love hits you in the face when you least expect it? So I bid farewell to my latin love with heavy heart, but I take comfort in the thought of returning…