Colombia…

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Oh Colombia. Thinking now of that time, now a month and a half past still brings fond memories.  Vanessa and I flew to Cartagena with sights of a white foamy sea made up of not the ocean but the hotel buildings glistening among one another. We immediately went to the marina where we would catch a boat to Isla Baru. But luck wasn’t with us as there were no boats available that day. Instead, the son of the boating company owners offered to call a friend and drive us there (unbeknownst to us, this island was connected by a bridge). With a lack of options and an existing reservation that night, we accepted. And so we drove with this friend, the son who would give us a brief tour of the town, and the friend’s daughter. It was an interesting start to a dramatic trip. About halfway through, we were stopped at a police stop where they proceeded to bribe the driver into giving money for a bogus issue. After almost an hour of them talking, but finally, he conceded and gave the money.

It was a disappointing view of perhaps more typical life for local people in this land. I admit I became frustrated not by the drive which took substantially longer, but by the manner in which the police handled themselves. Things like this happen all the time and not just in foreign countries, but it is quite difficult to see when it’s happening in front of you.  But that was not going to discourage us!  Arriving at the island, we trudged 1 1/2 miles through a crowded and sandy beach to finally get to our eco-hotel. And the beach was beautiful.  Nearing sunset, the beach cleared itself of many of the day trip beach goers and we could appreciate this fact even more.  Now it felt more like a private beach with each hotel having a small section of sand and water that you could enjoy almost exclusively.  The first day, we swam in that crystal clear blue water, ate at one of the beach restaurants with our feet on the sand and food in our mouths, and met the most adorable dog that I’d be more inclined to describe as a deer. It was a hot but enjoyable day.

The next day, being a bit hot and uncomfortable we went to the zoo a few miles away on a motorbike taxi. We enjoyed seeing some beautiful animals including our favorites, birds!  We saw toucans, condors, parrots, parakeets, flamingoes, etc. We then made good use of a restaurant with air conditioning and wifi by staying there for 2 hours. After we wore out our welcome and their internet bill, we returned to our hotel and swam and hung out with our deer friend again.

The next morning, we took an exhilarating boat ride back to Cartagena. Once again, we saw a slightly disfortuned place that I don’t believe many visitors see in the city and that was garbage filled neighborhoods and marinas. There was a grassy park that otherwise was quite pleasant, if not for the garbage bags, old paper ads, food containers, etc. While it was a bit disheartening, it was fleeting and before we knew it we made our way to the bus station and took a ride to the town of Santa Marta. We arrived to a beautiful room in the hostel there with AC and clean dry sheets. It was definitely something we’d been craving since we arrived in the beaches up north.

We spent the first day exploring the city and its food. We had chicken wings, craving them from back home and some incredibly savory ceviche. If you haven’t had it, try it. Shrimp in lime juice, onions, and in this case with tomato sauce and mayo as well. Ohhh the flavor and unreplicable feeling of biting into the delectable shrimp freshly unloaded from nearby fishing boats.  It’s a salivating memory even writing about it now.

The next day we took a tour to a small town in the nearby mountains called Minka. There, we learned about bamboo building techniques used nearby, toured an organic coffee plantation, and hiked into the jungle to a gorgeous waterfall to cool off in the hot day. It did end up raining towards the end of the day when we learned about the life of indigenous tribes and saw their crafty huts they still used as shelter. We scurried back to our taxi at the end, thankful for wonderful hosts and guides along the way.

The following day was another adventure filled one with a ride to the nearby Parque Nacional Tayrona. If you’ve ever seen an ad for Colombian tourism, it’s likely you’ve seen images of this place. It takes up a long stretch of beach with incredible boulders and greenery surrounding the whole area. Not to mention beautiful white sand and water as blue as the sky to add to the ambiance. The most popular and well known beach was at the far end of the park so we took a long walk to the end where we came to a cabaña on top of a rocky bluff where winds howled past with views abound.  It was a fascinating day that we ended with great feelings of hunger. So upon returning to the hostel we found a nearby restaurant to quiet our stomachs’ pangs.

We should have known better, really, but when you are hungry most food will do. The place was empty and the front door even locked, but the waiter came to the door and let us in immediately so we decided to dine there. With a tomato soup and basic lasagna, I thought it would be harmless. And it was…for about 12 hours. At 7am the next morning I realized it was not harmless.  For about 7 hours, I spent most of that time in or near the bathroom. I was for most of the time nervous that Vanessa would be sick while I was effectively quarantined in the same room. We delayed our bus back to Cartagena for one day which helped me survive the 4 hour ride.

I was feeling quite well by day 3 when we got back to Cartagena, but my fears were realized that night when Vanessa became sick herself. The next day she was in rough shape so we took a quick taxi to the hospital where they pumped her with fluids and she recovered. Well, I wish that it was the end of this story but sometimes you can’t help it. While waiting in the hospital all day, I began to feel a bit a bit sick again. By the time we got back to the hostel that night, I felt quite warm.  I awoke in the middle of the night several hours later with a burning fever. We used some home remedies that helped plenty.  I would gradually recover with help from Vanessa over our last two days in Colombia, but before we knew it the trip was precipitously over.

While this was a decidedly somber part of the trip, I wouldn’t want to pretend that it was all good news and easy days.  But outside of us being sick for those few days, we really did enjoy the time we had in Santa Marta and Cartagena.  The views, the ocean, the weather, and the people were incredibly kind and hospitable.  At one hostel, they even provided us with a free soup and other kind gestures to make sure that we were as comfortable as needed.  We couldn’t have made it through so happily without the love and kindness from those people of Colombia!  I learned many things about its culture and people and saw the most beautiful places that I’ll never forget. I also savored the ability to meet and spend time with Vanessa’s family, all of whom were incredibly hospitable and kind. I have no reservations about returning to this country and hope that someday soon it will happen!  After a difficult goodbye to both the country and Vanessa, I readied my mind for a new place on the horizon.

Colombia..

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During our time in Manizales we enjoyed many things including hot springs, walking at the top of a tower viewpoint, enjoying some local foods, and most of all spending time with their family. We went out to eat with them, took grandma for some walks and to get some ice cream, went out with the cousins, hiked to a waterfall, and on and on. I even helped with some painting work!  

Being useful is certainly something that you desire when you’re out of work for some time, and it’s something I craved at each stop of this trip. From the Galapagos  to painting rooms to just helping friends, it’s all fair game. But don’t let me somber this story up further with my fond recollections of work, and so I digress. 

I really enjoyed being able to spend time with the cousins there, though time was short with a few of them who interestingly were traveling to the US. I tried some new foods including some of favorites, sugar filled desserts. Climbing along the edges of a building as part of an excursion and nearly scaring Vanessa to her wits end was one of the nicer moments shared with some of those cousins, though I might find disagreement there!

When our time there finally came to an end, we enjoyed a delicious cake for Vanessa’s birthday. It was a quiet little gathering but perfectly tranquil for our last night.  The next morning we regretfully made our way to the bus station. Once again, comfort came and we left. But then memories don’t fade and we enjoyed our time there with her family very much.  I hope I will be able to return there someday soon. 

We were then on our way to a beautiful town named Salento. This town is the stopoff point to a tourist spot called Cócora valley. The hallmark of this valley is the vast amount of wax palm trees. As far as I understood, no wax emanated from these incredibly tall trees, sometimes reaching 300 feet, but beauty certainly did. From the start of the road to the makeshift village in this valley, we rode in an old jeep through sweeping views in both directions with greenery and liveliness. It was worth the trip, even if we only stayed for a single night. 

We enjoyed a bit of the town but unfortunately, on her birthday, Vanessa felt a bit sick and so we enjoyed part of the night resting. But that didn’t take away from the beauty we saw, another of the many places I fondly recollect in this treasured country. 

Our next stop would be Cali, a much warmer place than we’d been accustomed to thus far. After a 4 hour bus ride, we arrived to Vanessa’s jubilant uncle who excitedly came to pick us up. It was another example of fantastic hospitality to have him warmly take us in and bring us to Vanessa’s other grandparents’ home. There I was introduced to countless cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. It was overwhelming at first when I tried to memorize all of their names but that quickly subsided. 

I quickly found that there would be a celebration for our arrival and I was very honored. Being even more honored was what followed endless drinks of aguardiente (guaro), which I would describe as a licorice flavored rum-like drink, and plenty of dancing. And I mean plenty.  We danced for roughly 6 hours tiring these quickly aging knees. But it was an unforgettable night, as was the next morning when I felt the effects of a few too many drinks of guaro. 

The next day was no less dull being New Year’s Eve and we celebrated in a similar style with (a few less) drinks and lots of dancing. I definitely accustomed to that lifestyle quickly. We would continue the next few days enjoying hikes, swimming in pools, wading in rivers, and much more. It was in all a wonderful time to be with family, as had been my experience for the week preceding in Colombia. Before we knew it, again, it was time to move to the next place and it was no surprise that it was a difficult goodbye to the last of Vanessa’s family we would see in this trip. 

While it wasn’t easy, leaving was made easier with the good times we expected on the northern coast of Colombia, a tropical paradise. More on that in the final installment of this great place!

Colombia. 

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First things first. Gotta get the name right. Note the cOLOmbia rather than cOLUmbia like the outdoor gear company, or Washington DC (district of columbia). Ok, now that we have that out of the way we can continue uninterrupted with our discussion of Colombia, and it’s a great place to talk about.

After leaving the incredible wildlife of the Galapagos in Ecuador, I was on my way to Medellin via a quick stop in the capital of Bogota. You might recognize the name Medellin if you’ve seen the hit Netflix show Narcos or ever watched any documentaries on drugs and the infamous Pablo Escobar. It certainly holds an indelible image of danger which sits well with many who enjoy hit shows and documentaries. But it also gives Colombia a bit of a bad reputation, and that’s something that the country is trying very hard to change. And for good reason! Colombia is a shell of what it was 25 years ago and that’s a good thing. Tourism is taking hold of many cities and I was able to see some of that firsthand.

In arriving in Medellin, I was also reunited with my wonderful girlfriend Nessie. I arrived there before her so naturally I rounded up the first hundred people I could find and got them to shout and clap as she came through the arrivals gate. Only kidding, they were already there looking for their own loved ones. We would be staying at her uncle’s home and he kindly came and picked us both up at the airport. He had a wife and one daughter who were waiting at home and had food ready for us. That was a big change. I had gotten used to hotels and hostels where you had to get everything done yourself and suddenly I was being asked if I wanted food, drinks, and anything else I wanted. It was a great experience of Colombian hospitality and it wasn’t close to ending.  Their home was beautiful with a Christmas tree and wreaths, bells, and other decorations dotted around the house. It was also impeccably clean.

We spent a few nights in Medellin including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The first few days were fine enough visiting different tourist spots within and on the outskirts of the city. But the best part was taking a drive through the “pueblos” or small towns just outside the city.  They each had beautiful squares lined with restaurants, souvenir shops, etc. There were loads of street vendors littering the blocks and people everywhere appreciating the lights and festivities put on for Christmas. But they weren’t congested with people. Instead there were just enough to make it feel like the places to be. I ate pan de bono (sweet bread), empanadas, and plenty of blackberry juice. I also had this amazing dessert that was a type of pastry filled with a jelly that came in endless varieties. I tried the blackberry and maracuya (passion fruit) and was stuffed in the most heavenly way. It was the type of day I tend to appreciate much more now at 26 than I did back in my early 20s and earlier.

It is an unfortunate case that many times when you begin to feel comfort in a place, that is the precise moment when you must leave. And so it was that the next morning me and Nessie took an early bus to the smaller city built into the Andean mountains called Manizales. I loved the weather there, it was chilly and generally drier. I think I craved the cooler weather because my biological clock was telling me that winter had come back home. In any case, we were picked up by one of Vanessa’s cousins after a rather nauseating bus ride through the winding mountain roads. We went to their grandmothers house and met some other cousins that day. Their grandmother is something incredible. She is in her mid 80s but could walk up hills and move around the house faster than I think I even could!  A very strong woman, but incredibly young at heart. A beautiful duality.

Well look at that, I’ve gone and become carried away with myself on Colombia. There hasn’t been much excitement yet in this amazing country but don’t you run away just yet! There’s more excitement than any of us can handle coming up in a later installment of Colombia.  Until then!