Unplanned Layover…in Panama City!

Sunrise on the tarmac wasn’t so bad after my final tinto.

Watching the sunrise illuminate the tarmac was rather unexpected, however.

I had arrived at the airport in the dark, with plenty of time before my early 6:30am flight to Panama City. Two pasteles de guayaba and a tinto for good luck. When we finally boarded the airplane I had almost fallen asleep standing up…twice. Knowing I would be back to SFO just after lunch was awesome and bizarre all at once.

We sat for almost 2 hours waiting for the fog to lift. Pleasantly unpleasant. So much for my brief layover in Panama City… I started to realize that I would have to sprint through the airport upon arrival there.  Good thing I have experience in that department.

RIP favorite flip flop of all time.

I started talking to Andres, the fellow sitting across the aisle from me, who happened to be on my same next flight to San Francisco.  We spoke with the flight attendant and asked if we could move up to the front of the plane upon landing so that we could try to catch our flight. She countered with a maybe and then told us that we would be parking at Gate 25. Our flight to SFO was departing from Gate 24. We both exhaled, we would only have to run to the next gate!

The plane landed. We taxied. The fasten seat belt sign turned off and faster than you can read this sentence I unclipped my seat belt, grabbed my pack from the overhead, and made it 1/3 of the way down the aisle [I was in the absolute last row of the plane]. Then I hit the wall of people who don’t care that other people are about to miss their flights. You better believe I started sprinting as soon as I was through the airplane door.

“Con permiso! Perdon! Cuidado!”

Cue that song: Move B*&^% Get Out The Way.

Needless to say, Gate 24 was so totally NOT next to Gate 25. I ran to a completely different terminal, ticket it hand, out of breath and to a group of Copa Airlines ladies standing at the gate.

“Adonde vas?”

“San Francisco!” -me

They exchange glances, exhale, point across the hallway, and say:

“Talk to customer service.”

So. Close. Yet. So. Far.

“Here are your tickets for your flight to San Francisco. We have you on the next flight. It leaves tonight at 6:30pm.”

“Ok.” -me

…It was 9 in the morning.  

[Apologies to my parents, who I abruptly called at 6 in the morning their time to tell them I wouldn’t be in San Francisco until midnight. Super thanks to homegirl Lena for reinforcing the fact that sitting in the airport for 8 hours sounded absolutely terrible and like a waste of a day.]

8 hours in Panama City. Bring it on! 

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I hired a taxi for the day. I walked down the line of taxis and chose the 5th driver after talking to the rest of the other guys. Obviously I wanted a decent price and obviously it took me 4 conversations to score the bargain price with the 5th driver.

Pulling out of the airport, Alonso hops onto his radio and promptly said:

“She chose me because I was the best looking. See you guys this afternoon!” -Alonso

…Alonso was 65. It was a hilarious day of quick jokes, city history, and local stories.

Casco Viejo

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The Pacific entrance to the Canal is under that bridge in the distance!

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Skyline surrounding Panama City…check out that whacky colorful museum [BioMuseo] featured on all of the airplane videos.

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Unexpected layover sure. COMPLETELY UNEXPECTED PANAMA CITY SKYLINE WHAAAAT!?

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A few unexpected bird friends made the day that much better!

Osprey

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Great Egret [notice the neon green eye stripe!]

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Magnificent Frigatebird [male?]

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Magnificent Frigatebird [female]

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Bienvenidos al Canal de Panama!

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Toward the Caribbean..

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Toward the Pacific.

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Back through the cityCITY to catch my flight. Not missing this one.

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Birds: Final Edition

Bird sightings compiled from the last days at Marcela’s finca and Medellín and its surrounding jungle forests. I did witness some absolutely incredibly colorful species that I didn’t capture on camera…due to my fumble fingers.

Colombian Chachalaca

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Thick Billed Euphonia

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Yellow Rumped Cacique

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Red Crowned Woodpecker

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Scrub Tanager

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Streak Headed Woodcreeper

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Blue Necked Tanager

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Cattle Tyrant

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Smooth Billed Ani

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Cinnamon Flycatcher [frequently found in pairs, here are photos of the pair. in fact, the one with the visible yellow crown buzzed me as i was taking its photo. quite entertaining.]

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Green Violetear Hummingbird

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Jungle Jaunt to La Catedral

Pastel de pollo in one hand. Tropical fruit cup of piña, mango, and papaya in the other. Washed it all down with a tinto.

Envigado metro station breakfast.

…Blake’s first tinto:

“Oh this isn’t so bad. It’s fine actually.”

“Nevermind. You can only drink this stuff when it’s hot. It’s turning terrible.”

The group of Couchsurfers we were meeting gathered and we all hopped on a bus. Like literally, hopped.

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Our friend Zouben, the Canadian Couchsurfing wizard, invited us to join an eclectic group of CSers and hike through the jungle to explore waterfalls and the infamous La Catedral, Pablo Escobar’s self-made prison.

The final 10 minutes of the bus ride felt eerily similar to riding up a roller coaster, slowly clicking and ascending to the crest, just before a big drop. That’s the breaks when you’re following a tractor up the steepest pitch [at least a 30 degree slope] of the road, and you’re inching along at barely 10mph.

Those leaves were the size of boogie boards…whoa!

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When we started hiking up the river, Blake and I did the thing that most outdoor guides would do: we tried to keep our feet dry for as long as possible.

Within 5 minutes I realized that this would be an impossibility. I surrendered to wet feet and squish shoes. Blake however, gymnastically maneuvered and tiptoed, albeit quickly, for a good 35 minutes. When he slipped into the river and soaked half of his body, it was game over. Valiant effort amigo!

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After hiking for an hour, we happened upon the first epic waterfall. It seemed like we had been hiking for at least 2 hours. Yhon winked at us and we began to climb the vertical mud hill. This trail was fierce! Looking uphill:

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A lo mismo tiempo, looking downhill! [thanks for the photo Zouben]

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After the mud slog slip fest, the terrain transitioned to uphill pine needle ice skating. Bizarre, pine forest and jungle. Together.

We truly were an eclectic, self-organized group: Me and Blake, a Canadian, a Swede, a Mexican, a Venezuelan, a Spaniard, and three Colombians. Yhon, in the neon green shirt, was our volunteer guide…doing this for FUN not for money. So rad.

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Blake and Mauricio [venezuela] took naps in the pine needle forest while the rest of us traversed a non-existent trail to the second waterfall. Gerardo only fell off the trail once. I definitely will not be bringing young people on this hike. No waivers, no problem!

“What first aid supplies did you bring?” -Blake

“I have duct tape on my waterbottle and you’re wearing a tshirt. That’ll have to do.” -Me

Lock eyes. Nod heads. Keep walking.

“It’s only a 10 minute hike to the waterfall!” -Yhon

Following the “trail.”.

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The final pitch of slippery boulders required some hair raising maneuvers…especially because the main boulder for support was perched atop a 50′ drop…to the pool below. Yikes!

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Finally, epic second waterfall, exhale. Inhale. Love it.

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That boulder. That’s the one. Yikes!

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A few rock climbing moves and thorny handholds later, we met back in the pine needle forest. Almost there? Maybe?

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Finalmente, bienvenidos a La Catedral!

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The trail we hiked is apparently a similar route that Escobar descended when escaping the government raid on La Catedral.  He and his hitmen escaped through a tunnel that led into the jungle, and then they hiked down through the rivers and riparian thicket. The first building we encountered upon entering the property, which is now a monastery, housed Pablo Escobar’s famous circular, rotating bed. It’s all weird. The whole thing.

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The buildings are rather in ruins, however they have been brightly painted and mosaics are everywhere. The parking

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The parking lot is paved over the infamous soccer field.

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Pablo’s heli-pad and the view north of the great city.

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Blake made friends with the only guard at the entrance. Blake makes friends easily.

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To catch the same bus back to Envigado, we hiked 4 miles down the winding road. The whole day we switched between speaking Spanish and English the exchange was insightful and entertaining. Looking back on La Catedral, nestled among the trees:

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“The spirit of cross-cultural connection, free of commercial influence, is still alive and well thanks to networks like these.” -Blake

Upon return to the city, we swapped our mudcaked shoes for dancing shoes. Blake’s last night in town before a 6am departure meant…he ate dinner and went to bed by 9pm.

A few of us from the hike gathered on Setenta and watched Saturday night come to life. My friend Diana had invited me to a sweet DJ dance set across town so when we felt ready, we headed there. You should probably turn up the volume of your speakers and listen to this playlist:

How could we say no to a DJ set by the Freakster Sisters? We couldn’t. 

An epic combo of salsa and rock and everything in between, in a smaller club surrounded by industrial buildings…no other tourists in sight: Cuchitril Club. What a wild evening of dancing! 

Super thanks to Diana, Samantha, and Linda for teaching me some salsa basics at our apartment dance fiesta the other evening. I wouldn’t have survived without them.

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When I got home and turned out my light, I heard Blake get up and start to get ready to catch his taxi to the airport.

Solid sesh, bromigo! Hasta pronto!

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Tranquilo

Finca fairywonderfunkyland.

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Upon arrival in the vast darkness we found time for a game of Exquisite Knucks [Knuck Tats] and listened to what I think was a barn owl. A mellow morning with Nutella waffles and Blake’s famous mangled eggs, coupled with a visit from the resident peacock… started the day off right. 

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We had quite a discussion about the name “Peacock” versus “Pavo Real” and decided we liked “Pavo Real” a lot more for such a beautiful bird.

The afternoon stayed tranquilo with the two puppy dogs by our sides and we spent hours reading, bird watching, and swimming in the pool. We danced tango and fusion outside on the deck and inhaled the pure view of the Colombian countryside! Salud!

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Clearly, Blake didn’t like being at the finca at all. He was so ready to get back to the hustle and bustle of Medellín.

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Super gratitude to Marcela for sharing such a magical place with us.

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It only took us two hours to return to Medellín. Upon chauabungas and hasta luegos with Marcela, we showered, unpacked, and headed out the door to meet some friends for dinner at the oh so delicious Mediterranean restaurant a few blocks down Setenta.

Our dream to manifest a dance party on Friday night happened in full force. The ingredients for success included:

  1. three Californians, a Colombian, and an Aussie
  2. an old, second floor, tiny salsa nightclub turned apartment [thanks Aussie!]…complete with dance floor, raised stage, and HUGE speakers
  3. shared DJ duty spinning everything from salsa to fusion, and a few things in between
  4. a hammock hanging from the ceiling beams, in which we could swing between songs
  5. incredibly high, mutual level of stoke for dancing

High fives and hell yeas all around. 

 

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Vamos A La Finca!

“She’s driving a silver 4Runner. Ok, we’re supposed to meet her on the side of the traffic circle.” -Blake

The real question…are we standing next to the right super massive traffic circle…? I guess we’ll find out soon enough!


We had already figured out that this trip was going to be on Colombian time. Departure to Marcela’s family finca [farm] had been pushed back a day, then delayed 2 hours, then tossed up in the air for 30 minutes while we waited to meet her on the side of a main thoroughfare next to the Poblado metro station. All good, no worries, as it goes!


 

It was the right super massive traffic circle.

The drive by jump in and hit the gas and shift and merge around the circle went as smoothly as it happens in the movies.

Vamos!

Marcela told us it was about an hour and a half to the finca…and it probably would have been…but, we’re in Colombia. Anything goes!

About 45 minutes into the ride, conversation swirling between politics, economics, entrepreneurship, and coffee, Marcela threw on the brakes. We had just passed an old, white bearded man, walking up the side of the highway with two flags sticking out of his backpack and a white t-shirt that read PAZ.

“He’s the peace man! He walks all around Colombia, on the roads, to all the places that no one goes, for peace! He is famous! I’ve wanted to meet him for years, but there’s no way to know where he is! I have to speak with him. Blake, jump out of the car and stop him! We’ll turn around.” -Marcela

Blake jumped out of the car and started running up the shoulderless highway. Marcela and I proceeded to pull a u-turn on a blind corner on a downhill section of a two lane highway.

“Clear! Ok, go!”

Hence, the middle of the highway exchange:

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2 lanes. Blind curve. No shoulder. We were stopped, we didn’t have our flashers on, and that’s a pretty standard practice. Cars and trucks swerved around us, honking all the while, and Marcela and amigo de PAZ, who was standing on the middle line of the highway, continued their leisurely conversation. We decided to meet up the road.

We parked the car in a driveway next to an outdoor patio. There was a refrigerator and one table and a few chairs. The adults and children sitting in the chairs vacated the space and offered us something to drink. Marcela asked what they had and the options were beer, Pepsi, or potato chips. We sat down at the table under the tin roof and the conversation began. The side of the highway exchange:

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Marcela and Hernando exchanged stories and Blake and I listened attentively. We were seated right next to the highway. Pretty much on the highway. Two feet from the edge of the tin roof…is the highway. Hernando spoke with a hushed voice and huge trucks were constantly driving by our perch. One of Marcela’s current projects is all about peace in Colombia and she and a group of peace activists drive a traditional Colombian bus, a chiva, all around to the farfetched regions of the country: PAZabordo La Chiva de la Paz.

Hernando shared about why he continues to walk for peace on the sketchy roads of Colombia and how he can do so without a cell phone and without contacts between his destinations. He never accepts rides and never uses public transportation. People he meets on the road look out for him and share food, water, and places to stay. [We didn’t know it, but as soon as we had pulled over and parked the car, Marcela had asked the three boys sitting in the chairs to ask around and find a place for Hernando to stay the night. They found him a place 20 minutes up the road.] His first long walk was in August of 2013 and he doesn’t see an end in sight. There’s still peace to spread. Work to be done.

Marcela started to convince Hernando to change his planned route to the Santa Marta mountains and instead walk to Bogota. A large Peace conference event was planned for the first weekend in February and Marcela’s goal in this conversation became: convince Hernando to be a part of the conference. From Medellin to Bogota the walk was only 8 or 9 days. He figured he’d arrive in Medellin in 2 days. Mid-conversation Marcela proceeded to call a priest that she and Hernando both knew, and they passed the phone back and forth. This girl knows how to find connections, solidify connections, and create connections.

An hour and a half into the conversation, just when we were about to leave, the rain started. And then the downpour started. And then the sideways waterfall from the sky ensued. And it didn’t stop. We couldn’t very well leave the Peace pilgrim in the pouring rain. We didn’t leave, not right at the moment anyway. We continued the conversation under the INCREDIBLY LOUD TIN ROOF and moved into the tiny room where the refrigerator stood proudly…because even though the table and chairs were covered by more tin roofing, the rain was coming in sideways from the highway.

Viva la paz!

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After farewells and setting Hernando up with a place to stay that evening that was just up the road, we set off again, as it was nearly dark, descending the windy, rainy, road. In my opinion, windshield wipers have a long way to go.

We rode the afternoon high of meeting Hernando all the way to the little town where we stopped for dinner. There were two restaurants to choose from, and once we did, we were pleasantly surprised as this restaurant is famous for its smoothies!

Blake ordered Borojo, which is apparently an aphrodisiac. I ordered Algarroba, which is Carob. Blake’s tasted zingy, mine tasted chocolatey. Marcela and I chowed on delicious Pasteles de Pollo while Blake chowed on his Pastel de Pescado Seco.

“They nailed it. This is definitely a dried fish fritter.”

Halfway through the smoothies, we started talking about Carob. The first time Marcela had discovered Carob was in Portugal when she ate delicious Carob bread and someone who was gluten free in the group was absolutely thrilled. Her second encounter with Carob was when Marcela was dating a guy in Austin, TX and she was trying to surprise him for his birthday was Carob bread. However, that became a challenging mission after she went to all the hipster bakeries in town and no one sold Carob bread…or had even heard of it.

Chapter 3 of Marcela & Carob:

Marcela stood up during the middle of the meal to see if she could find the lady who made the smoothies, so that she could show us what Carob actually looks like.

Long story short, Marcela returns with a woman who is carrying a tray with 2 Carob husks on it, one cracked open so that we can feel / see / smell the inside. Marcela nearly jumped through the ceiling when she learned that the lady makes Carob flour all the time. The conversation turned into a business pitch about manufacturing Carob flour and selling it to the niche dietary market of Gluten Free bakeries. 45 minutes later, after swapping contact information and business ideas, we continued onward towards the finca.

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20 minutes later, after navigating a skinny dirt road through a palm tree forest and crossing a flowing creek in the 4Runner, completely immersed in darkness and the pouring rain, we arrived at the finca. Bienvenidos to beautiful jungle paradise…6 hours later.

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“I just got Colombia’d”

When I finally decided I would go out last night and meet some Couchsurfers across town, the rain started to pour.

I was only slightly soggy when I stepped onto the metro.

Plans shifted, so I found myself walking a familiar sidewalk into Poblado.  I met Henry [the “Couchsurfing?” Colombian amigo from the other night] and his friend Diana, also from Medellín.

My first non-taxi car experience…was awesome. Instead of ever present worry or mounting frustration, Diana demonstrated that driving is fun here. It’s pedal punchy, sure, but at the same time, you just do what you’re going to do and everyone else will get out of the way. That’s the overarching mindset. Radio DJing, Henry had us backseat dancing the whole way to Envigado, the southern part of Medellín. Google Maps led the way to our meet point: an obscure corner restaurant, Brasarepa.

 

Featured in Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, Colombia series, Brasarepa beckoned. Start the timestamp at 17:46 to learn all about Medellín or begin at 30:00 to learn about Brasarepa.

Six people joined us and we pulled two tables together to seat the lot of us. I sat at the corner, between Henry and Diana, so I spoke Spanish. They both speak English too so it was fun to mix it up. The crew that joined us was from a local language school…with people hailing from all over the world and the country. We ordered lots of food and felt pretty sorry for the single chef working in the kitchen. I ate an arepa the size of a salad plate and as thick as my fist that was STUFFED to the brim with shredded beef. Wow.

The evening continued to a rooftop gathering, cheersing beers and gazing out at the sea of dulled yellow city lights. Two Colombians, Julie, and a Frenchman on the roof, speaking spanish and french, laughing comfortably in tank tops and flip flops until 1 in the morning. 

Today’s food scores:

Guayaba (Guava). 7 of these for 1000 pesos [$.30]. A super score. Bacán!

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Rookie mistake. Halfway through my first delicious bite –> the not so subtle discovery of seed tooth crush potential once again. Guayaba 1 – Julie 0.

De-seeded. Guayaba for the win! [Thanks Binny for your recommendation!]

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Arepa de chocolo. Soft corn cake brimming with cheese. 4000pesos. [$1.30]

Deep exhale from across the table.

“I just got Colombia’d.” -Blake

…Probably because he ate an arepa de chocolo and then two empanadas and washed it down with fresh squeezed tangerine juice: jugo de mandarina.

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Empanada de…whatever they have that day! 2000 pesos. [$.60]

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The guts:

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Tonight we attempted to attend another intercambio on the other side of the neighborhood. Key word: attempted.

Upon arrival we sat down with a beer and asked about the intercambio. The gal who served us the beers smiled and told us that people showing up for the exchange is really hit or miss.

“A veces si, a veces no. Buena suerte.”

Just as we finished our beers, an Australian dude who works at the hostel asked us if we were going to stick around for the intercambio that started at 8pm…

“Well, that’s actually why we’re here. But no one else is here, and we have plans with some friends soon, so we’re going to roll. We thought it started at 6pm. It starts at 8pm?” -Blake

“Huh, that’s weird. Where’d you hear that it started at 6pm?” -Australian dude

“Right there on the wall, on that poster.” -Julie [points to poster 10 feet away]

“Oh shoot. That’s so old. That’s our poster from last year. I guess I should fix that.” -Australian dude

…I guess so.

It was truly a faux intercambio.

The ¿highlight / lowlight? of the journey to the intercambio was on the way there. We’ve been over to this hostel in Floresta before and after reading some articles about local history I realized we had walked within a block of the rooftop where Pablo Escobar was killed.

This time on our way there we detoured one block to see the infamous rooftop. Blake took a photo. Eerie.

escobar-casa

The real highlight of the evening was our apartment dance party and pizza social with three Colombian friends, Henry, Diana, and Tatiana. Bottle of wine, a bowl of faux Fritos, and this epic Spotify fusion playlist and we were set.

Nobody down here has ever heard of fusion or blues dancing, so to explain we simply said,

“Let’s dance!”

We danced fusion, sliding around the apartment floor in our socks, and finally checked out the pizza place on the corner, which just so happened to have a special two for one deal. We shared 4 personal pizzas and paid a whopping total of $9 USD.

Our three friends were singing along to all of the Top40 tunes playing at the restaurant, many of which would be quite suitable for fusion dancing. They knew the words to every song. We didn’t even know half of the songs. Reverse culture shock.

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Gondola Gazing

Climbed the 35 steps to the metro ticket office, bought a ticket, climbed 20 more stairs and hopped on the metro and cruised ever so silently into downtown. Off the metro, descended 50 steps and started to hot foot it.

“You would never see this many steps without an escalator in the U.S.” -Blake

Stoked to finally meet Blake’s friend Marcela, who is from Medellín.  They met back in 2012 in Asheville, NC at an alternative education conference. We were running a few minutes late and following google maps and dodging taxis, buses, cars, and motos at every intersection.

“PARE” [stop] is not only painted on the ground at every intersection, there are red and white traffic signs as well. They mean nothing. Cars > Pedestrians. Pedestrians must get the hell out of dodge. 

Walking along a skinny sidewalk when Blake turned to me after referencing his iPhone directions:

Do you think we’re those oblivious tourists right now? Could we be walking through a super sketchy part of the city by unapologetically following google maps? I wonder if—” -Blake

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!

“Ohhhhhh my god! S*^%!! What was that?”

I m p e c c a b l e timing. A crazy loud noise, RIGHT from the door and garage 6 inches to our left, happened just as we passed and it scared us both to pieces.

We made it our destination, unscathed.

Museo Casa de La Memoria

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Marcela invited us to meet her at this museum so that we could learn more about the history of internal Colombian conflict and then engage with her about it.

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It’s location is a little off the beaten path of downtown, but it’s now easily accessible by a light rail system that has a stop 2 blocks away. The public transportation system in this city is up there. (No pun intended…read on for clarity)

Funny, that this museum is seemingly so accessible…according to Marcela,

“How was it? Awesome? Interesting? What do you feel right now? I am glad this museum exists. And I am glad to share it with you. However, half of my friends in Medellin don’t even know this place exists. And that’s the legacy of Medellin.” -Marcela

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As we crossed the street towards the light rail system, two men walking by us turned over their shoulder and said,

“Hey! Welcome to Colombia! We’re good people here. Bring your friends when you come back!”

After bantering for 10 minutes with the security guard at one of the stops to the light rail system — it’s a new system, Marcela hadn’t ridden on it before AND the ticket transfer was rather confusing — Marcela looked at our puzzled faces and said to us, in her pretty perfect English,

I have no idea what he’s talking about either. This system is so confusing. Wow. Ok, we have our tickets, let’s go. Keep your eyes open, apparently some of the best graffiti is on the sides.”

Very true. Absolutely beautiful street art adorned the walls of businesses and houses along the zig zagging light rail course [no photos…as it goes]. Apparently the artists went to the people in the community as well as the owners of the houses to ask what visual art the locals wanted to see everyday. Marcela described it as a genuine community effort.

Light rail last stop. Welcome to the gondola. That’s right, we boarded one of the many public transportation gondolas of Medellín.

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We had the gondola all to ourselves! This just so happens to be our second gondola ride of the trip; we rode the gondola up to La Aurora earlier in the week with commuters heading home from work. This time we rode the gondola up to Villa Sierra and just stayed on while we rode back down to the light rail, gazing at the views and catching up with Marcela.

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In 2013, Medellín was named The Most Innovative City of the Year by the Wall Street Journal. It’s 2017, and there are 4 functioning gondolas, known as the “MetroCable,” in the city right now. A fifth one is close to completion too!

According to the media and the entire 60 Minutes Interview with the Mayor of Medellín, these gondolas were built to serve the poorer parts of the city and decrease the lengthy and physically exhausting commute. People walk up steps that are woven into these vertical hillsides to get to their homes. The MetroCable not only connects these barrios to the downtown of Medellín, it also brings tourism to lesser known parts of the city [some safer than others].  I definitely think that some people use the MetroCable to commute and I also hear truth in Marcela’s statement that it is hard for people to adapt and change their habit through transportation innovation.

“Some people look at the MetroCable and wonder what the point of it is. It takes a long time for people to adjust to change here. I think some of the momentum to achieve ‘Innovative City of the Year’ is totally not about the poor people of the city. They ask for certain things that they need, like a road here or an electrical connection here. And they get a MetroCable. Weird, isn’t it?” – Marcela

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Marcela’s perspective is a breath of fresh air. Her perspective is unique as she has traveled to 52 countries involving herself in alternative education projects and Peace movements. She has engaged with people all over the far fetched regions of her country as well as other individuals around the world. Lots of questions to ask, lots of conversation to yet be had. So cool that she invited us to go with her to her family finca [farm] outside of Medellín this weekend!

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Living Near Setenta

Last night Blake and I journeyed on the metro to Poblado.  That’s the tall part of town. Buildings, like whoa. Lots of dollars, lots of nightlife, and lots of tourists….I am so thankful to be staying on this side of Medellin.  Laureles and Estadio are way more my style.

I’ve spoken highly of Couchsurfing and the network it creates on this blog before, and I’m happy to say that for me, it still is a highlight.

We met with a dude from Canada who is literally globe trotting, funding his way by scalping tickets. We met a gal from Switzerland who has been back to South America 3 or 4 times because she simply loves it; being a scientist is her day job. And we met the Wizard himself of the CS network. Surfing and hosting and facilitating groups and gatherings for 15 years, this other Canadian dude is a riot. We ate dinner…delicious, ginormous steaks that were on par with an Argentine parilla. Blago and I attempted to split a huge steak, well, the waiter brought us each our own. Down the hatch!

Just as we were finishing our meal, a man walked up to our table and pointed and asked,

“Couchsurfing?”

And then we met Henry, another incredibly genuine and friendly Colombia Couchsurfer who said to us:

“Couchsurfing definitely changed my life. All of my close friends, like my Colombian friends, are from the early days of Couchsurfing.” – Henry

Needless to say, we headed to two more bars, both in Laureles, and picked up 3 more Couchsurfing contacts. On our way to one of the wild salsa clubs on Setenta we ran into another guy that Henry knew through CS…and he joined us too. I felt like we were a massive Couchsurfing magnet.

Setenta is a bizarre scene that absolutely comes alive on weekend nights: The clubs spill more than half way onto the large sidewalks with tables and chairs, loaded with people, and barely any walking room.  Every 50 feet your ear drums are blown to pieces with different salsa, bachata, and rumba music. And if you do choose to dance in one of the bars or clubs, you can be sure that waiters and servers will push you out of their way.

So, we danced salsa. In a packed salsa club. Absolutely wild.

At one in the morning, I called it a night. Good thing I only had to walk two blocks home.

Our apartamento is quite legit. Location, size, spaciousness, sweet landlady, and price. Super score. Super chevere.

¡Bienvenidos a nuestra casa!

And yes, the floor is great for dancing.

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The one interesting component of the apartment structure is its spaciousness and light. There are two open air vents [one in the common area between the bedrooms, and the other in the wall of the shower] that naturally light the apartment and allow free flow of air. Let me explain…

Essentially, we are living in an apartment with sounds and conversations and music from all the other apartments above and below us. It’s like being in a big family! Let’s get one thing clear: the bathroom doors ALWAYS stay shut. Unless we’re in the bathroom, those doors stay closed. All the sounds you always wanted to hear. ALL OF THEM.

Here is a photo, looking UP through the main vent past all of the apartments above us.

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Our window view. The parakeets frequent these power lines often. They’ve adapted their raucous noisy selves to their raucous noisy environment!

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Out the window the other way! You wouldn’t even know that we live 2 blocks from one of the wildest dance club lined streets in all of Medellin.

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Pesos & Parrots

To put it bluntly, the current currency exchange rate is DEFINITELY in our favor.

1 USD = 2.918,00 Colombian Pesos. [notice how the period and comma are switched…that’s a real thing.]

So it’s 1:3. [notice also how it’s thousands of pesos…just take off a few zeros and it’s easy to convert.]

It’s pretty normal to walk around with 50 thousand pesos in my pocket.

Hence, I eat lots of little bites throughout the day. Sometimes meals. Food is interspersed with work [future program scheming and logistic-ing for the Gap Year spring] and exploring [strolling, birding, adventuring with locals and foreigners alike]. Eating out 3 meals a day, like three nutritious and satisfying meals, can cost between $10-$12.

Most recent food and cappuccino photo montage.

Cafe Revolución cappuccino. On point. 4.500,00 pesos. [$1.50]

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Blake’s panini [$2.00] at Cafe Algarabia and another Julie cappuccino [$1.30]. Yum.

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Breakfast arepa with eggs. [$1.30] Oh south American cheese, how i have not missed you.

Notice the BOWL of hot chocolate included with the meal.

Here’s your plate with your eggs and arepa and here’s your BOWL of hot chocolate. Be careful, it’s hot!

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I’ve had a few now. I didn’t even realize it the first time because it didn’t taste anything like coffee. Tinto. All the rage. All the sugar. [$.30]

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Highlight [neon light?] of the afternoon:

Orange Chinned Parakeet!

These parakeets use our street as a flyway highway to a favorite perch in a massive set of palm trees around the block. Talk about quite a racket, these parakeets make themselves known to ALL of the neighbors.

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Pasteles & Parceros

Pasteles de guayaba are my favorite! Really, I ate four of them this morning. And in US Dollars, they cost like 30 cents each. Seriously, BOCA HOLE.

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“Boca Hole” is a term, circa 2009, that Julie and Blago created when referring to delicious food or epic quantities of food.

Boca = mouth.

Hole = Hole.

Boca Hole = MOUTH HOLE.

Essentially, when the term “Boca Hole” is employed in a sentence or in a conversation, it means:

“¡¡¡I want to eat that yummy thing, right now, quickly!!! ¡¡¡My level of excitement / hunger / stoke is so high, therefore I must loudly announce my epic level of hungerstoke, because, YUM!!!”

Carried on the Boca Hole train when I saw a man selling these tiny green fruits on the street corner. I must try them.

Henceforth we have the awesomely weird fruit of the day: Mamoncillo

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It’s sweet and slightly fruity like lychee. The challenge is sucking / tooth scraping the fruit off of the inner pit. Delicious, but overall challenging to eat. I’m definitely burning more calories in my effort to eat this tiny ping pong ball of Yum compared to the nutrition it provides as a fruit. 

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Mamoncillo is not for everyone. It’s texture and color could both be classified as wEiRd. To be honest, it’s kind of like a marble sized ball of phlegm in your mouth. Suerte if you ever try it!

Fun fact: the pit that is inside the fruitball has many uses by many different cultures here. Toasting it, grinding it up as a flour, brewing it into beer…all great ideas. I spat the pit.

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Pastel de Pollo is our collective favorite. It’s versatility, price, size, and the satisfaction it guarantees…it’s the obvious daily choice.

 

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Why would I eat anything other than pasteles for breakfast? Essentially a hot pocket, but no cheese. Potatoes and shredded chicken and spices and other yummies….all stuffed into a hand held corn patty. Amazing.

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In the evening we strolled around the block to a hostel because they were hosting a language exchange. We expected a mixture of gringos and paisas. Paisa is simply a term that refers to the people of the Antioquia region of Colombia. In this case, language exchange was simply a term that meant,

Come to our hostel! Buy drinks at our bar! Guaranteed gringos and parceros and LOUD music. Come spend an evening yelling at each other!

Maybe a little harsh. It was fun after all.

I felt like we had entered a middle school dance. There were people inside, grouped accordingly with either people they already knew [example: Julie and Blake sat on the couch in the middle of the room], grouped accordingly with people who were from the same country, and paired off by people who spoke the same native tongue.

After 10 minutes of no eye contact with anyone except for Blake, [I was actively trying!], we said to each other,

“Ok. Five more minutes. Let’s see if anyone comes in that looks like they actively want to engage in a language exchange as opposed to heading straight for the bar.”

I said,

“Hola, que tal?” to a girl walking by.

Radio silence. Nothing. Ignored. 

Language exchange: 1. Julie: 0.

Right as Blake was saying,

“Ok. We tried. Let’s go.”

I made eye contact with a man across the room who was standing with a girl just across the room from us. They looked like they had been having the exact same conversation about leaving. Except, their conversation was in Spanish.

And so we met José Pablo and his friend. The conversation began with the blunt question,

“So, what do you like about language exchanges?”

We all agreed that organized language exchanges, “intercambios,” are easier and more fun when facilitated. We attempted to facilitate our own by speaking Spanish to them while they spoke English to us. Entertaining. Five more people joined us around the awkwardly tall table….my chin could nearly rest on it’s edge from my seated position on the couch. We spoke about our jobs, what we like to do for fun, and just when I thought the conversation was going to jump to something interesting about Colombia, it jumped straight to Donald Trump. A conversation pursued.

Big learnings of the night:

Instead of asking “Que tal?” to say “What’s up?“, ask “Que mas?“.

The common descriptive words for “cool” and “awesome” are “chevere” and “bacano“. I use “chevere” frequently already, so I’m on the right track. I hadn’t heard “bacan” since my time in Chile.

And finally, when asking “Que mas?“, throw in “parce” or “parcero” at the end of the question to ask, “What’s up bro?” / “What’s good friend?” / What it is homie?

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