Street Strollin’

Sunrise isn’t really a thing here.  The cloudbanked morning sky simply becomes quite must squint my eyes or don my shades bright. We walked a few miles east on San Juan towards downtown this morning, joining a free history walking tour of Medellín. We crossed the Río Medellín and hopscotched our way through tire strewn sidewalks and a neverending labyrinth of parked scooters and motorbikes.

Politics, history, drugs, prostitution, poverty, fear, growth, and culture. All that and a bumbling pack of gringos…we took the streets by storm. This was the second walking tour in which I’ve participated [ever]. The last one was 6 years ago in Buenos Aires when I was guiding an Unschool Adventures trip with Blake.

I’m not a big tour-taker…I know, I know. I’m a guide. I’ve led many a tour. How does that add up?

Needless to say, this tour was “vale la pena,” absolutely worth it.


El Monumento a la Raza. This statue could very well be an urban climber paradise, if it weren’t for the hordes of security guards and the questionable integrity of the features and holds on the statue itself. Rodrigo Arenas Betancur created this statue as a representation of Paisa history, and the forces of good and evil.


I immediately thought of The Edge, that epic free fall roller coaster at Great America back in the early nineties…which my Aunt Ginny thought was good, and my older brother thought was evil. Or maybe I just thought it was evil because I was too short to go on the ride. Whatever.


“When the light changes to green, look once to your left to make sure no motorcycles are going to run you over, then run! Don’t stop until you make it to the sidewalk.” -Camilo, our guide

We survived the gauntlet crosswalk, infamous as the shortest pedestrian light for the longest street crossing, in one of the busiest parts of town.

We heard tales of how the city came into riches with its gold mining industry and how once the Antioquia Railway was finally completed in 1929, Medellin was finally connected to the other economic and commercial hubs of Colombia. The Plaza de Cisneros is a massive block, not unlike San Francisco’s Civic Center plaza. It was re-designed and constructed from 2002-2005 to rejuvenate the area and emphasize the growth and healing of Medellin after the rough/absurd/heinous final chapter of the twentieth century. The re-design implemented large open spaces interspersed with forest of incredibly tall lighted pillars and fountains and giant bamboo forested aisles.

Renew & Rejuvenate.

Repurpose? This gorgeous historical building was once the Justice Department; it has been converted into a shopping mall where, as Camilo told us,

“everything will be 50%-80% off…because it is all fake or counterfeit.”

Outside bargain central, I met the man t-shirt of my dreams.


We had a hilarious conversation. I told him I was absolutely in love with hi…s t-shirt. He smiled, laughed, and said,

“Hecho en Colombia!”

Then we took a photo. So I can forever remember hi…s t-shirt.

Fernando Botero bronze statues are everywhere. He’s the artist / sculptor who is infatuated with demonstrating volume. It’s truly wonderful. In fact, there’s a law in place that all public buildings must include some sort of public art on their premises once they are constructed.

The bronze on many of the statues has been buffed and shined over the years, simply from people touching the statues when they are photographed with them.

Psychedelic Church // Catedral Metropolitana. Reminiscent of the Rila Monastery in Bulgaria that I visited in 2007.


The Metro is another proud piece of infrastructure for Paisas. It was built in the mid-1990s, when the city was still being rocked by Pablo Escobar’s influence [even though he was killed in 1993]. It was a step in a direction of hope and community and connection and growth.

Think about BART in the Bay. It gets you from A to B and sometimes C. Unfortunately it’s often dirty, it’s always loud, and people have scratched into the glass and written on the backs of seats. On the flipside, the metro here only gets you from A to B, but is impeccably clean and respected to this day, and I think that is a valid testament of how important positive change, accessibility of opportunity, and community collaboration are to the Paisa population.


Boom, reality check. Our final stop of the tour was next to Botero’s Pajaro de Paz. A bronze bird sculpture, one of many lining the edge of the plaza, exploded when a bomb was placed at its base in 1995. Almost 30 people were killed next to the statue because the explosion happened during a music festival. People blowing up. People getting killed. Real stuff here in the 80s and 90s. Unfathomable violence and fear.

In 2000, Botero cast a second identical bronze sculpture and placed it not 10 yards away from the original. The original, now malformed sculpture presents quite a juxtaposition next to the newer piece. Again, a demonstration of noticing Colombia’s bizarre history that I really have no idea how to understand.


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funKy featheRs

The bird saga continues.

Julie. You’re in Colombia. Why are you spending time each day watching birds?

Not only do I simply like birds, I think their plumage and coloring is absolutely fascinating and their quirky behavior and distinct calls and songs get me every time.

Get this. There are roughly 10,000 species of birds in the entire world. Different people say different numbers, but I’ve heard and read that it’s commonly thought that there are 9,500 – 10,500 species of birds worldwide…let’s call it 10,000. In Colombia, there are between 1,800 and 1,900 species of birds [again, different people say different things], which labels Colombia not only as INCREDIBLY BIODIVERSE, but it also boasts the most bird species of anywhere in the world.

Photo collection from the past few days…

Yellow Faced Grassquit


Rufous Collared Sparrow


Streaked Saltator

Ruddy Breasted Seedeater


Tropical Kingbird


Unidentified Hummingbird


Rufous Tailed Hummingbird again? [Identified using a third blurry photo of this hummer taking off in flight.]

White Bellied Woodstar?

Unidentified Hummingbird…maybe the Sapphire Throated Hummingbird? Versicolored Emerald? Blue Chested Hummingbird?


Unidentified Hummingbird

Streaked Flycatcher


Great Kiskadee


Yellow Headed Caracara [again!]

Black Vulture


Bird nonsense of the week: Hummingbirds are incredibly challenging to identify. Such slight differences, overlapping ranges, and elusive when photographing.  Check out this one page of hummingbird photos/species names….it’s one of 6 pages of photos.


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Estoy Llena, Todavia.

I’m still full.

Dinner last night was the real deal.

A 1 minute stroll around the corner from our apartment exists one of many sidewalk restaurants here in the Estadio neighborhood. Carrera Setenta [Street 70] is one block away and it boasts cafes, restaurants, and bars of all styles. I was hungry so I ordered the Bandeja Paísa, a meal I had scoped on many menus. It is the typical Colombian platter of Antioquia [this region of Colombia].


Dinner for days! Red beans, white rice, ground beef, chicharrón [fried pork belly / pork rinds], fried egg, plantain, chorizo, arepa, and avocado with lemon. Can we say, BOCA HOLE!?

Washed down the riquisimo meal with a coca cola and made way towards Setenta to walk it off. Stepped off a curb and started to cross the street, but stopped abruptly in our tracks.


A dude. Driving his truck. In reverse. Turning around the corner. IN REVERSE! Well, he almost hit us…we were standing on the sidewalk at this point. He almost hit us, two people standing on the sidewalk, while he was reversing around a corner.

Best part: When he noticed us standing there smiling, he hollered with a thick paísa accent from his window,


Ah, a day in the life.

A post stroll quick stop at the corner grocery store to purchase cookies led to another laugh. We had just finished checking out with our Chokis and there were still people in the check out line behind us.


We were walking towards the EXIT door through which we had entered 10 minutes prior, when we heard an announcement on the loud speaker about the store closing. We got over to the exit door just as the security guard had finished rolling down the metal door. He shook his head and gestured to the other door, on the other side of the store. As we walked to that door, the lights started flicking off. There were still people in the check out line. Half of the overhead lights in the store were off. When they say the store is closing, it’s closing. No messing around here. We made it to the other EXIT door and the security guard there was holding the metal rolldown door up for us to exit.

“Have a good noche.” -Security Guard

We turn the corner onto Setenta.

“Did he seriously just say, ‘Have a good noche.’?!?!” -Julie
“I didn’t even catch that. It must be late.” -Blake

Funky fruits of the day:

Tomate de Arbol or Tamarillo

Tastes like a sweet tomato, with a sour skin, and a few seeds that have tooth cracking potential. Over a salad these would be delicious, but I’ll stick to cherry tomatoes for my pop in the mouth nonstop like candy treats.

Maracuya [Passionfruit]

Similar texture to the gooey granadilla. I love maracuya in juices & smoothies. By itself however, it’s too sour [like Oh Wow! Zing!] for my palate.

No photo yet of the Guayaba [guava]. Munched on a pastel de guayaba earlier today and it was absolutely the yummiest. I’ll be eating these as pastries again, and I’d like to just try one by itself!

…still full.

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Not the first, not the last, get stoked for this birdBLAST!

From the last two days, here is a photo scroll of the birds I caught on camera. I heard and saw many that I didn’t catch on camera…as it goes!

Bare-faced Ibis


Saffron Finch  maybe the Orange-fronted Yellow Finch? [I see this featherball pretty frequently, I’ll watch more closely!]


Yellow Headed Caracara


Blue Grey Tanager


Rose Breasted Grosbeak




Rufous-tailed Hummingbird [click on each photo to see the full size!]

Yellow-Throated Vireo?

Highlights of this birding extravaganza include:

  • Crossing the street with a middle school soccer team. A swarm of 25 neon orange uniforms. I felt very safe. Hours later they walked into the restaurant where we were eating dinner; we were oh so glad that 1. we both work with kids, and 2. we had nearly finished our meal.
  • Drinking Lulo juice from a bucket on the sidewalk. Dude blends the juice, pours it into a pastel colored, liter sized plastic bucket with a handle, sticks a straw in it, and everyone sits on the curb and drinks it. [notice the two empty blue buckets in the hands of the people sitting in front of me!]lulo-bucket
  • A 45 minute long conversation with a canine policeman. After the basics of asking me where I come from, why I like watching birds, and telling me about his job, he asked me to explain where California was located in the United States and what it is like and where San Francisco is. It was shocking and refreshing to notice that this guy, Orelio, had no idea about San Francisco or California. He shared stories about growing up in Medellín and said that the last 10 years have been getting better and better in the city and finally, 10 years ago, when he decided to become a cop, it was finally an acceptable choice [not a death wish]. We talked about birds, farms, Pablo Escobar, and mountain biking. We both laughed at one point in the conversation when he asked me something about dancing, and I had no idea what he was talking about, and it was obvious, and I said so; so when he tried again, and I still had no idea what he was talking about, we both laughed, and moved on to something else.
  • Fruit smoothie revelation. Maracuya, Piña, Granadilla. maracuya-pina-granadilla


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Cumbres and Crowds

It’s been decided. Strolling the two miles to Cerro Volador will be a daily practice.

The birds = so good.

The juice stands along the way = so good.

The extraordinary caliber of people watching opportunities = so good.

Stepping out of the city streets and into the “mountain” sunshine = SO GOOD!

Blago defeated the travel bug [probably because he watched Kung Fu Hustle] and was ready to check out the awesome mountain forest wonderland that I discovered yesterday. Vamos!

The neighborhood in which we’re living is called “Estadio,” aptly named for the super massive sports complex about a mile from our apartment. There is a basketball gymnasium, a volleyball gymnasium, a track, a big field, a skate park, and, as I would never have guessed, a roller blading track [similar to a cycling track]. A roller blading race was in full swing and all the young people racing were vibrantly decked out, head to toe…blades / skates, helmets, elbow pads, wrist guards, and bold racing suits.

Before we started up the never ending steps at the base of the awesome mountain forest wonderland, we sat down to eat breakfast at a corner shop called Buñuelos Pan. Blake ordered first.

He ordered a loaded breakfast plate off the menu on the wall and got really excited when he found out it came with a chicken arepa, a maize fritter that is either flat like a pancake or stuffed like an empanada.

…Apparently he originally only ordered the chicken arepa, which was news to both of us. When more food didn’t come, Blake made the waitress’s day when HE asked HER what HE had ordered and already eaten. Pure hilarity, maybe you had to be there..

Que pedi?! [What did I order?!”]

“Una arepa de pollo…” [“A chicken arepa…”] Waitress smiles, is slightly confused / curious by Blake’s question…

“Ah, ok. Pensé que el arepa era parte del desayuno. Quisiera La Calentada entera?” [“Oh. I thought the arepa was part of the breakfast. Can I have a whole breakfast now?”]

Awesome mountain forest wonderland delivered expected awesomeness. Families and friends and couples from all the surrounding neighborhoods were atop the cumbre, sharing picnics, gazing into the distance, playing futbol, and taking selfies. Policemen texting on their cell phones while riding horses…


Fast forward to our evening: Sun sets. Riquisimo dinner of Mediterranean cuisine on the sidewalk. Seatbeltless taxi ride across the city. And voila, we have arrived:


E L A L U M B R A D O 2 0 1 6!

…a world class Christmas Light celebration, held annually in Medellín.


4 million visitors between Dec 1 and Jan 9, with 90,000 of those being tourists. I felt like I was a salmon swimming upstream. People soup!


A total of 31 million LED lights, 42,000 hand-woven figures, 950 kilometers of luminous hose and 13 tons of metallic paper of different colors.


Empresas Públicas de Medellín, the local utility company, creates, installs, and sponsors the light display.


This event has been happening since 1955!


The theme this year, “In Christmas, Medellín is a large family.” We walked about a kilometer and a half around the lake through a sea of lights and a sea of people, through the different themes: Manger, The Farm, Magic, The Village, Three Wise Men, and A Night of Christmas.


An 80′ tall Christmas Tree in the center of the lake with a HUGE star on its top!


At the very end of the circuit, the decorated area was within a mini theme park. Splash rides and roller coasters, and Blake’s face lit up.

“That’s it! Those are the screams. The screams I hear every evening from our apartment. This is crazy!”


Neither of us would choose to swim through a sea of people again. That was plenty!

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Cappuccino Quest

Only four so far.

Only four so far!

I’ve been aqui in Medellín since Thursday afternoon…three and a half days and only 4 cappuccinos tasted. I simply must up the ante.


Why? You might inquire, is my goal to taste as many different cappuccinos as possible here in Medellin?

The answer is two-fold. First, I simply have three goals (in no particular order):

  1. Listen to, spot, photograph, and observe as many birds as possible. Identify them.
  2. Eat as many tropical fruits as I can get my hands on and that my body can handle. If they come in licuado form (smoothies) or juice form, drinking them is acceptable too.
  3. Taste as many different cappuccinos as possible.


The second part of the answer is that Colombia is coffee. Until really recently, all of the good stuff was exported.  According to pie charts on Michigan State’s global business website, in 2015, 7.25% of the total materials exported from Colombia was coffee, tea, and spices.  That 7.25% chunk of exported deliciousness racked up a $2,585,926,436 profit. Locals don’t often drink cappuccinos, or cups of coffee for that matter.  The local choice is this tiny beverage called a tinto, always served in a shot glass sized plastic cup. It is a beverage made from the grounds of coffee unsuitable for export; they are processed, frozen, and resold as instant coffee.

…if Colombia is content with using the non-exportable beans to make a syrupy, coffee-like concoction, then let them drink their Tinto in peace…

I’ll share my thoughts after I taste it!  Until then, I want the real deal; therefore, the cappuccino quest continues. I’ve crafted quite a scheme to justify drinking coffee / caffeine for 3 weeks. And Blake is here, the amigo who introduced me to all the nifty coffee drinks by starting me on a Cafe Con Leche journey in Argentina in 2011.

Cappuccino Couch Comic:

Girl. Interrupted. Pato, obviously had A Great Notion that this paperback would make a prime nap spot. You’ll just have to wait for tomorrow Ken Kesey.

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Colores y Colibris

Walk and stroll…commence!

Before I left the apartment, I jotted a quick note for Blago.  Poor fella, still asleep on the couch.

——Off to Parque Natural Regional Metropolitano Cerro El Volador. 12:00. Then, Cafe Ondas? Have phone. Text if you need anything. Cold water in the fridge.——

Hopefully, Blake survives. Positive thoughts. I’m taking one for the team, enjoying the gorgeous weather outside today for both of us!


It was the biggest green splotch on Google Maps closest to our place. According to the oracle Google, the walk is an hour or so there. After glancing at the map for a sec, I knew what I needed to do: Walk North. Find mountain. It should be green.

Crossed one river trickle, then a rushing river. Survived the gauntlet of motos, taxis, and buses.  For the amount of curbs they roll over, it’s a good thing these buses have such fat tires. Green mountain found! Up a few stairs away from the street and welcome to the menagerie.


Apparently over birds of over 1,000 species live in this park. Sweet digs. Sat in a few different spots and waited for the sounds to become sights. Meet my bird friends:

[click on the links to read more about them]:

Fasciated Antshrike


Summer Tanager (male)


Summer Tanager (molting immature male)


unidentified Colibri (Hummingbird)


Vermilion Flycatcher (male)


Vermilion Flycatcher (female)


Vermilion Flycatcher (female)


Lesser Goldfinch (adult male “Texas Form”)


Strolling through densely populated habitat of butterflies and birds was quite the juxtaposition to the city streets below.  Recognized acacia and pine and realizing a field guide would help streamline my curiosity quest.

Incredible vista of the entirety of Medellin from the summit — families sprawled on picnic blankets, couples gazing off into the distance, one crazy dude preaching with hands raised proclaiming to a tree, and a whole swath of folks flying kites.  You can be sure I tightened  my baseball cap so it wouldn’t fly off!


…queue the Mary Poppins song…


Let’s go fly a kite

Up to the highest height

And send it soaring

Up in the atmosphere

Up where the air is clear

Let’s go fly a kite!

Shared some friendly conversation with some of the kite flyers, took heed to their advice and descended from the same direction as I had arrived (apparently the north side of the park is dangerous), and made my way down the funny steps. Swallows above me, swooping around and eating dinner, wind howling, and guard back up to navigate the INDY500-esque speedways.


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It’s always five o’clock somewhere.

That must be true for springtime too!?

It’s always springtime in Medellín, Colombia. Aptly named The City of Eternal Spring. So here I am, escaping the January cold, sog, slog, and dark days of the Northern Hemisphere.

I arrived a day before my amigo Blake, who I often refer to as “Blago” –> B + Lake (Lago in spanish) = Blago! We’re here for three weeks. Not so long, I suppose. But long enough to wear flip flops nonstop and acquire freckles on my winter white skin!

I love speaking Spanish. That’s the main reason I’m here. Not to mention, a month here is WAY cheaper than a month in many other places, so I mustn’t argue with a cheap flight and an affordable Air BnB in which to stay.

Expect photos of FRUIT. FOOD. BIRDS. CAPPUCCINOS. VISTAS. Expect stories and hilarious / confusing / bizarre quotations.

Dinner. Night one. Papaya & Granadilla.

dinner night one

Granadilla is delicious if you can get past the texture. It’s a hard shell, packed inside with slimy, shimmery, eye-ball looking deliciousness…with crunchy black seeds! It’s a slurping sort of fruit.

din night 1

Notice the finger-like white inside of the shell…to hold the slime, I mean deliciousness, in place!

—> Sharing with you because we have internet and it works, even here! [SUCH an upgrade / expansion of internet and wi-fi access and reliability since when I was last on this continent!] <—

Enter Julie.
Exit airport.
Enter taxi.

Raining upon arrival and…

A hold onto your horses and anything else you can grab that’s in sight because oh my god we are in a NASCAR race and there are NO seat belts in this taxi AND we’re descending a STEEP, WINDY, 4 lane road, it’s WET, AND we keep merging into oncoming traffic?!


Made it. Alive. Exhale.

Welcome back to South America, Julie.

Up that blood pressure right away!

Thrilled when I saw my first new bird, the Ruddy Dove:

Ruddy Dove

After a little stroll, and the red eye flight, and the time zone change, I’m looking forward to a good night of sleep! Good thing I can sleep through ANYTHING…the apartment is not, shall we say, Sound Proof! More on that later…

[this post has been back dated…had to add it into the mix before I’m here for too long. All other posts will happen chronologically!]

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Acres of Clams

Seven months ago I was tromping through the quebradas of the Cordillera Blanca.


Hasta luego, Huaraz!

This post is a whirlwind recap of the past seven months. Many adventures with many a fine folk… all West of the Mississippi. Read the Short Story Short if you have 30 seconds. Read the Long Story Long if you have 5 minutes…or want to quickly scroll through a reel of AWESOME photos.

Short Story Short:
the Sierra Nevada
that eden they call Puget Sound
the Sierra Nevada
Santa Cruz

Long Story Long:

One back stateside, at the end of April, I caught a $5 bus (yes! Megabus!) from the city of angels north to San Jose. Made way to wine country to house sit and dog sit for a few weeks: Debrief commence!

Debrief = long walks, playing catch, and petting these lovely pups!


Caught the Amtrak out to Western Colorado. An interesting experience for sure — the stories from the train ride could stack a novel by themselves. Sunrise: Salt Lake City!


Roughly two days later Blake and Dev met me and we cruised the Western Slope to Paonia, to Dev’s off the grid, handmade home.


Blake and I continued his cross country journey through the Southwest in his Bro-Runner, as he was making the long haul from Asheville, North Carolina back to the Best Coast, the West Coast, the Golden State, California. Staple soundtrack: Girl Talk – All Day.



Our homegirl Elana took us canyoneering in Zion (she’s a rad guide there) and we crashed her place for a few days. What a lame view from her front door:


Met Noa back in the Bay and hopped in her sweet sweet ride. Northward bound! Kermit mission to Pullman, Washington! Noa built Kermit in high school. I met Kermit in college. With the windows down and foot vents propped open (Kermit’s too cool for AC!), we yelled at each other (think freeway. open windows. loud) and shared stories and laughter while playing front seat guitar…cruising along at 60mph.


Arriving late in the evening in Pullman, I had a simple goal: luck out on Craigslist and score a sweet, cheap rideshare back to California. I had two days to get to California…as I had scheduled a business meeting with an old boss of mine.

I then experienced serendipity. A ride, driving directly to the Bay Area, leaving in the middle of the afternoon, tomorrow, from Portland (essentially my exact specifications…)

Wait a second, what’s that? Call Brennan!? at 650-$%&-#@^*
…BRENNAN!? One of my close college friends! No WAY!

I immediately called up B and told him to save me a seat. I’d figure out a ride to Portland as the sun came up.

Woke up before the sun, high fived Noa, and was on my way to Portland with some dude in some silly car. Once in Portland, I rendezvoused with Brennan who was visiting a Bottle Brick Bench at Portland State University that he had constructed the year prior.


After the business meeting I connected with my homie Shona and we backpacked to the top of El Capitan. The wildflowers were incredible. The sunset was epic as well. So began the month of Julie in Yosemite.


To the Ten Lakes Basin with UC Davis Outdoor Adventures! An epic 5 day backpacking trip to the high country!


Wildflower extraordinaire! White heather:


Bog laurel:


Mountain heather:


Back to Yosemite high country for a week as a volunteer mentor for Big City Mountaineers!


Deer Crossing Camp, Loon Lake, El Dorado National Forest!


Hannah, my childhood camp friend, and I led the ascent trip. Thunderstorm in the Rubicon Basin, looking east from the Crystal Range, Desolation Wilderness.


To Adventuress in that eden they call Puget Sound! Back to life aboard the Good Ship for the second sailing season. So much gratitude to Dan Dan and the Captains and the entire Sound Experience community. Stepping into the role of Program Coordinator for the second time, during my third sailing season aboard Adventuress was invigorating and humbling and full of growth.

Tops’ls. Flying at 11 knots into Elliott Bay, Seattle.

Dancing with schooner Martha. Captain Daniel at the helm.

Lion’s Mane Jelly!

Roche Harbor, San Juan Island. Early morning fog.

Another day at the office…


Sunset atop Eagle Cliff, Cypress Island.

Getting underway. Captain Joshua at the helm.

Full moonrise from Port Townsend.

Back to California.

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Little Philip’s 7th birthday AND Vicky’s 26th birthday!


Feliz Cumpleaños amigos!


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