Category Archives: Colombia

Colombia to Ecuador

After Guatape, I made my way to Bogota where my cousins, Mike and Evan, are teaching English with a program called SENA.

Bogota is an incredible city full of street art, musicians, and a very strong bohemian culture.  Evan and I spent every night with a six-pack of beer in the square, Cazoleta del Chorro de Quevedo, that was directly outside of my hostel.  It was a perfect place to catch up, people watch, and hear live music.

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My last night I stayed with Mike and his host family who treated me with such overwhelming kindness.  My little Spanish came in handy especially over coffee the next morning, when Mike’s host mom and I spent several hours discussing politics, family, and life.

It was such a treat seeing the boys and getting to know them better as adults.  It was a wonderful realization for me to know that no matter how much time passes, family is family and there is something that will always connect us.

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The next evening, I took a bus from Bogota to Ipiales.  It was about 23 hours and was 95,000 COP.  I have to stress that it could have been cheaper if I had bought the ticket earlier.  I’ve learned that with the long distance buses, it is cheaper if you can plan ahead of time and buy a ticket a couple of days before you want to leave.

This was my first over night bus through Colombia and everything I had read was pushing for caution.   I was a little nervous but prepared all the tricks; putting money in different pockets, putting my passport in a secret place, and things like that.

However, a lot of my trepidations vanished when I saw that more than 2/3rds of the passengers were a group of young nuns who had evidently been on some sort of trip to Bogota.  Surely this cannot be full proof of some sort of omnipresent protection but then the girl next to me made the sign of the cross about 10 times during the night and I thought,

Well, with this amount of human consciousness there’s gotta be some protective vibrations created!

In every bus I’ve taken, there will be several peddlers who will come onto the bus and sell everything from water to bowls of chicken and rice.  My favorite thing on this long bus was seeing the expressions of these sellers once they came onto the bus.

Initially prepared for the usual speech,

“Agua! Arroz con pollo! Jugos!  Carmelos!”

The person would stop and furrow the brow a bit while registering all the little ladies in the front rows with their brown and white habits.  Then a wonderful grin would appear from the seller, and all the young nuns would giggle.  It was great.

I arrived in Ipiales and walked to a hotel I had heard of called Hotel Belmont.  15,000 COP for a single room and the owners are amazing.

Ipiales was such an interesting place.  Definitely not as quaint and beautiful as my beloved Guatape, but had a great vibe (during the day) too.

I went to see the Iglesia de Lajas and it was really quite amazing.  Sitting in the valley of this undeveloped town is this eccentric cathedral.  I went on a Sunday that proved to be especially interesting and crowded.

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For a while now I have so many mixed feelings about visiting churches.  Especially these elaborate ones where the surrounding towns are so basic and the way of life is poor.  I walk into a place like that and all I can think of is the money that was put into making this grand building.  Then I think about the people who were enlisted in the building of these places and that the workers were all the poor people in the surrounding areas….

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I’ll just say this place was really beautiful and spectacular and I would definitely suggest seeing it if in the area.  The museum, on the other hand, is only $1 but that $1 is way better spent on an ice cream on the walk back up to the main road.

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On the ride back to town, I saw some really interesting things.  In this part of Colombia and bordering Ecuador, it is very common to eat guinea pigs!  I cannot not think about the South Park episode about the Peruvian flute bands and the giant monster guinea pigs that attempt to destroy mankind.

Almost every shop has the little guys skewered and turning them over a low fire.  A little passed this, I saw three women, one with guitar and playing.  The other two were by her side and they were walking and singing.  Horses and cattle stood in the roads of the busy city and appeared to be unattended.

What has been very rewarding to me so far has been witnessing the beautiful landscapes.  Colombia is beautiful!  Ecuador too!  And there are small but distinct differences in the scenery.  I rode through jungles, forests, over mountains, around lakes, and in valleys.

It is all simply breathtaking.

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So, now I am in Quito and I am staying with two of the coolest guys who are friends of my friend Manus…THAT I met in MONGOLIA!  This small, amazing, unexpected world is so magical!

Anyways, these hosts of mine have made it to my favorite people list.  After a week of long nights of fascinating and refreshing conversations and an awesome trip to the beach town, Esmeraldas, I am feeling fulfilled and certainly more human.

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Hey Hey! Guatapé! (Part 2)

The rock aka El Peñón de Guatapé

If you are in Medellin or traveling through Colombia, here is how you can get to Guatape… From Medellin, you can get a bus to Guatape from the Terminal de Norte (Metro stop Caribe.)   There are several bus companies that go to Guatape and the average price for one-way is 12,000 COP.  There are buses every hour from 6am to 6/7pm and the trip takes about 2 hours.  The bus will take you all the way to the edge of the town and drop you off at one street that leads directly into the center plaza of Guatape.  There are several inexpensive hostels to stay with the cheapest rooms being from 17,000-20,000 COP per night. There are so many great activities in Guatape.  From waterfalls to boat rentals, hiking and fishing, one could easily spend more than a weekend in the town. One of the most popular things to do is the hike to El Peñón de Guatapé that is that big rock in the picture below. DSC_0599 It is easy to walk to the rock from anywhere in the town.  If you take the same road that the bus brought you to Guatape, that will lead you to the rock.  There is a walking path off of the road for about half of the hike, but then you will have to continue on the main road for the rest of the walk. Once you have crossed the bridge on the main road, take a left at the gas station, and that will take you up the hill to the entrance of El Peñón de Guatapé.  The entire walk to the entrance takes about 30-40 minutes.  Or you can take a Tuk Tuk (if you have enough people) for about 2,000-4,000 COP per person.  However, the walk is nice and is a good prep for the hike up the rock. DSC_0604 To climb the stairs (740 steps to the very top) it cost 10,000 COP and it is entirely worth it.  It is the only place where you can see the lake and its winding islets. DSC_0611 DSC_0631 Taking a Tuk Tuk back to town is a great end to the day. DSC_0633 If you are interested in a boat ride, costs will vary with how willing you are to bargain.  Our Captain Ivan, who you can find near Lake View Hostel, is a great guy and speaks English.  There were 6 of us on the boat for about 5 hours and it costs 18,000 COP per person.  He took us around the lake to look at all the houses and cabanas on the islands and then took us to an incredible and private swimming cove. Lake View Hostel is across the bridge down the malecon in Guatape.  If you ask there, they should be able to help you find Ivan. He looks like this…. DSC_0511

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Hey Hey! Guatapé! (Part 1)

As per usual, several hesitations went through my mind before arriving in Medellin, Colombia.  What am I doing?  Where am I going?  Who will I meet?  Will I end up in a ditch somewhere?

I fantasized some very dark scenarios (probably brought on by True Detectives and Sherlock) where I would create a resolve where I kicked some ass and got away from the perpetrator.  These stories were exhausting but I was entering The Unknown!  Ah, my love/hate relationship with The Unknown.  I am coming to terms with the fact that The Unknown, like relationships, will always be something to work on.

First things first, Medellin is a beautiful city.  Most of everything I read before arriving to Colombia discussed past years of violence and hardships but that the country had bounced back.  However, there was not very much detail about how much cities like Medellin had actually ‘bounced back.’

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Not only is Medellin obviously developing quickly in infrastructure but also in all cultural aspects.  There are museums, Universities, Community Centers, and more.  I will say it reminds me of San Francisco.  If you had no idea about Medellin’s brutal past you might see the city as a typical metropolis.

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Sigh…The tenacious determination of humanity!

For those of you who do not know about Medellin and its past, I’ll just say it was the hometown of Pablo Escobar.  Medellin was once known as the most violent city in the world.  The statistics and murder rates are mind-boggling; in 2009, there was an average of 9 murders a day.

So, now that you have a picture of the immediate information about Medellin, you can see why I had previous hesitations.  Of course, like any other big city, there is still crime but in comparison to the recent past, Medellin has totally ‘bounced back’ and it is because of the people.  Amazing!

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Speaking of amazing people, I met some just the other day!  I decided to stay at a hostel that is owned by a Greek named Spiros for the obvious reasons; I love Greece and I know at least 5 Greeks named Spiros.  I thought it was a sign and ultimately it became one.

As hostel life goes, groups are created, adoptions are made of other travelers, or you adopt yourself into other groups.  Initially, I felt a little unprepared for the other hostel formalities that include drinking, drinking games, and more drinking.  The partying made me feel a little old and I decided that I would try to go through Couchsurfing in the future.

Oh, but oh!  You Unknown you!

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The next day, after some incredible explorations of this magnificent city and some alone time for deep thought, I came back to the hostel to meet Ben, Gabe, Clive, and Michelle.  These were to be my travel companions to Guatape, a small town about an hour and half east of Medellin, where we would see beautiful and crazy things.

What do the majority of worldly people have?  Patience, gratitude, curiosity, kindness, passion, and, of course, a great sense of humor.

What I had forgotten, living in the land of the “settled,” was that there are people, like me, exploring the world and The Unknown!  They know all about it!  They have incredible stories and photos and, at the same time, are able to be present with all that experience!  And they are able to take in MORE.  More friends, more connections, more stories, and more photos.  These kinds of commonalities create a strong bond in a very short amount of time.  As if you have known these others for much longer than one day.

So, once again, I lucked out and found these amazing people who invited me to Guatape.  We all left for the bus station early in the morning, and the ride was beautiful.  Food stalls, farmers, and livestock took place of the soccer fields, apartment buildings, and traffic.  The bus climbed the mountain that surrounds Medellin and an incredible view of the city sitting in its valley was visible from the window.

Guatape sits on a lake.  We arrived in a fit of excitement from being out of the busy city and even more so for my travel companions who were reuniting with friends they had met at the hostel a week before.

Tomaz and Beppie, who we were meeting, had already arranged a boat rental with a captain named Ivan.  After settling in, we began all the preparations for the usual boat trip; beer, rum, water, chips, and bananas.

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Ivan took us out on the boat and around different islands and islets, where cabanas and vacation homes were built or being built.  Event though it was cloudy, the consensus was to swim, and Ivan found a beautiful cove just for that.  Only after a short while, and swimming in the magnificently clear waters, the sun came out.

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At some point, before we launched, we had adopted one of the village dogs who jumped on the boat before we departed.  This proved to be a bad idea once we were ready to leave our swimming hole when Zoro, the dog, refused to come back to the boat for over 20 minutes while we called and waited for her.  The most annoying part was that we could hear her barking happily away and chasing the vultures.

However, Zoro came back and we all headed back to shore.

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Other uneventful events happened before dinner and later in the night we ended up at a dance club.  Colombian music burst from speakers that were strategically placed so that every corner of the club made you vibrate in your seat.

Dancing began, rain started to fall, and as we sat on the bar stools near the open window, we noticed some locals who were riding a horse that was still in the process of being broken in.  I don’t know a lot about horses, but it was not difficult to tell that this horse was still in training.

The rider tied the white beauty to the tree outside and from where we were sitting and we could see the animal pull and tug at its rope.  Ben and I began to question what would happen if we set the horse free.  Deciding against doing anything to upset what we discovered was a very drunk caballero we continued dancing.

I was reaching in my purse when all of the sudden Ben grabbed my shoulder, shaking me, and yelling,

“LOOK!!!”

I looked to where he was pointing, and saw our white beauty trotting away down the malecón.  The horse looked back as he was jogging away as if it knew it was making its getaway.  It was about another hour until someone else returned with the creature.

I was so excited in the moment of the escape that I will never be able to think about it without laughing.  Like so many times, it was as if I manifested something I wanted to happen.  The horse had its moment of liberation and it was enough to satisfy our previous desire of setting the animal free.

Soon after, a glass broke, the lights went up, and it was time to leave.  A fight had broken out on the other side of the club.  We went outside to say good-bye to our brave friend, white beauty, when more drama ensued.

The drunken caballero was attempting to get on the horse while it moved in unending circles.  Other spectators got involved and one woman in particular was smacking the horse’s ass.  Ben and I moved calmly away before the horse got too wild.  However, we were not away from the drama just yet.

We stood for a minute watching the fiasco when all the sudden a man wobbling next to Ben did his best to pick up a rock the size of a watermelon and chuck it at, well, who knows who (not us just to clarify!)  The drunken man had a companion who was trying to stop the rock from being hurled across the street.  The result ended with the rock thrower slipping in the grass and the rock being tossed behind him only a foot away from Ben.

“It’s time to go.”

We turned our heels and briskly walked laughing the entire way home.

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