Colombiana (I kind of wish)

Our time in Colombia has been utterly brief – a measly 10 days – and I am writing this on our way out of the country (in Cali, to be exact) en route to Cusco, Peru. Our overall impressions are that this is a gorgeous, vibrant, fast-growing, and youthful country filled with people striving to outgrow their violent and volatile past and embracing all things modern and beautiful, but maintaining an unshakeable pride in being a Colombiano/a. The people here are, generally speaking, remarkably attractive. Dark (and women – luscious, thick, and long) hair and eyes mixed with just a shade under tan skin, generally fit or at least not grossly overweight like in the US, and the women have beautiful curves (fake or real). I have never wanted a boob job, but walking around Colombian cities has made me feel like it might not be a horrible investment. I’m sure Brazil will reinforce that sentiment.

I already touched on our time in Cartagena, which despite its intense heat, is worth spending a few days in. Walking around the old walled city truly feels like a walk around Seville, Spain or any other small European city. It is quaint and charming and romantic, especially at night, and though some areas are supposedly dangerous, as long as you’re smart, you’ll have no trouble. The street food is delicious, particularly the ceviche, which for future recreation, Tyler noted the recipe in his ever-present moleskin. We spent most of our time just wandering around and admiring the architecture and general ambiance. We also went to the Totumo Volcan – the mud volcano (see pics) – which despite its very tourist-trap feel, was a fun morning. We’ve never had a mud bath before, so it was a unique experience. The pit itself was smaller than I expected, but it was MUCH deeper (our feet didn’t touch the bottom of anything), and the feeling of floating weightlessness was bizarre and amusing.

And now a story to exemplify why we refuse to call this adventure of ours a “vacation.” Budget travel sucks, and I will do my level best to never complain about flying again because, quite frankly, after the bus experiences we’ve had, layovers and delays and airline shenanigans are really not that detrimental to my well-being. Our night bus from Cartagena to Medellin was literally the worst experience either of us have ever had. Our Nica Tica Bus experience was like being served cake and caviar and fine champagne compared to this 18-hour hell ride. First, distance-wise, the journey should only take around 9 hours. Our hotel guy told us to expect 12-13, which we were more than ready for because, well, it’s Latin America, and you should always add at least 2 hours to everything. Second, we were told it would be cold on the bus. Again, we anticipated cold, but we didn’t anticipate FREEZING to the point where some of my fingers literally turned blue. The Colombians around us were wearing 3+ sweaters and jackets and then wrapping themselves in warm woolen blankets from toe to head (literally covering their face). T&I don’t even have that many warm clothes with us – we wore our jeans, socks, long sleeve shirts, and jackets, but we might as well have been naked. T even covered his face with an extra pair of shorts he had in his backpack. We asked the bus driver why he chose to keep the bus at igloo temps, and his response was simply “that’s how people like it.”

I beg your pardon?

Do these people shivering under their 5 layers really LIKE it? Third, we had the unfortunate displeasure of being on a bus with a group of 10+ drunks – not men who happened to be drunk – actual failing-at-life, miserable-excuse-for-human-beings drunks. These were men who probably shake from lack of alcohol in their bloodstream, though I wouldn’t know for sure because they managed to keep drinking throughout our 18 hours together. Yes, from 7pm Saturday night until approximately 11am Sunday, they were drinking from their flasks and stash of beer. They also thought sleeptime would be a great time to play music loudly from their cell phones. And yell. And knock my shoulder as they ran up and down the aisle, banging on the bus driver’s door to stop because they were hungry/thirsty. Oh, and to top it all off, they smoked on the bus. No, smoking isn’t allowed, and whenever the bus driver would smell it, he’d come back and yell at them. But that’s not exactly a deterrent to a bunch of idiots. To be honest, I wanted to cry, but ended up laughing hysterically instead. It’s not so much the bus ride that makes us so angry, even in retrospect, but it’s because of that stupid bus ride that we have been sick all week and have been unable to really enjoy our limited time in Colombia. Perhaps more importantly, we’re sick with less than a week to go before hiking the 50+km Salkantay Trail in Peru in ~40 degree weather. FAIL. But, on the bright side, I did have the best donut I’ve ever had at the bus station in Cartagena – it was freshly made and warm and flakey and sprinkled with sugar granules to give it great texture and filled with goyaba jam (whatever that’s worth).

So we made it to Medellin. (Un)fortunately for us, our hostel was a bit of a dump and decided to give us a closet with a bunkbed as our “private room.” That wasn’t the problem so much as the allergens, which coupled with the after effects of our bus ride, was no bueno. We moved after 2 nights to a much more pleasant hostel called the Yellow House Hostel. I’ve taken up writing TripAdvisor reviews for all of the places we stay (up my travel karma), so if you’re ever curious, my TripAdvisor name is SGM2. We forced ourselves to do some sightseeing in Medellin despite our sickness, and I’m glad we did because it’s truly the nicest and most livable city we’ve seen so far on our trip. It’s very European with its Metro rail, tree-lined avenues, and multiple plazas, parks, churches, and museums. The Metro is easy to navigate and very cheap, and though our hostels weren’t in the center of town, it was easy and quick to get everywhere we wanted to go. We wandered around the downtown area and visited a couple museums and plazas. We also took the Metro to the MetroCable (see pics) up to Arvi Park  – beautiful and huge park/hiking/camping area just outside Medellin. The weather was beautiful throughout our stay – shorts and tshirts during the day with maybe a change into jeans or a light jacket at night.

After that bus ride experience, we decided to fly to Bogota, and with the help of a travel agency, found plane tickets for approx. the same price as the bus. 40 minute flight vs. 9 hour bus ride? Duh. So on Thursday morning we said goodbye to Medellin and hello to Bogota, the huge, bustling, grungy, and chilly capitol of Colombia. Graffiti covers every vacant surface, though much of it is done artistically and beautifully. The temperature here is much cooler than in any other place we’ve visited thus far, and we were somewhat ill-prepared, especially since most buildings (especially in La Candalaria, the old historic area) aren’t really heated (including our hostel – though we did have hot water, not something to be taken for granted). We went to the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum), which is thoughtfully laid out and filled with gorgeous artifacts and gave an interesting history of the indigenous population. The mysticism at the center of the natives’ lives enthralled T – I think he secretly wishes he could look at unexplainable phenomenon, take hallucinogens, make up how it works, and have people believe him when he spoke emphatically about it.  He also declared science “a pretty serious buzz kill” in comparison to the explanations of the cosmos that the shamans set forth. We also wandered around the historic area and then later the financial district. We had to go shopping because we needed more warm clothes for Peru – we first tried the random tiendas and cash-only, negotiate your price, fake North Face type places, but I think partially because we were sick and exhausted, we just couldn’t stomach the hassle. So we went to a mall. Colombians dress impeccably well, and they spend a lot on clothes and shoes. Clothes in particular are quite expensive here, especially if you want any sort of brand (which we didn’t). We weren’t totally successful, but managed to pick up some key items and figured we’ll try our luck in Cusco for the rest- someone is bound to be selling warm hats, gloves, and sweaters, right? Let’s hope so!


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