Locked Down and Out (Week 4 in Cartagena, Colombia)

Locked Down and Out (Week 4 in Cartagena, Colombia)

When we returned to Cartagena after spending a few days on the coast in Palomino, we could immediately see that it wasn’t the place that we had left. For starters, many people were wearing face masks. And we were beginning to get the occasional glances from the locals as if to say they were perplexed as to what we were still doing there. It felt like we were walking into some kind of apocalypse utopia. Nothing made sense anymore – since when did Cartagena start worrying about Coronavirus?? – a few days ago the most pressing issue of my day had been in trying to ignore the sleazy yellow taxi drivers who overcharged and who didn’t know where they were going.

At what point did things change to such a degree where the Cartagena taxi drivers didn’t feel it necessary to beep or holla at you as you walked down the street anymore? And since when was it the norm for shops to be closed in busy and bustling Getsemani? – something wasn’t right…

The city felt strange. Like as if it was a completely different place. It was hard to believe that we’d only been away for a few days. Though Cartagena was very different in comparison to Palomino and it’s laid back beach lifestyle, this was something different. There was an energy in the air that I couldn’t place. It just FELT different to me.

And not in a good way.

We had been starting to feel at home in Cartagena. We loved the historic city with it’s maze of crumbling, colourful streets, colonial architecture and incredible salsa music floating out of restaurants, bars and cafes and we had found a way to deal with the annoying taxi drivers too: Ignore them and never use their service.

Moreover, we were still discovering new places in the city, including some great rooftops bars and restaurants, so we weren’t completely done here yet. But a different type of energy and erratic behaviour had started to emerge here in Cartagena and we were right in the thick of it.

The day after we arrived back from Palomino we went to a local cafe as usual to get some coffee, chill out, do some work etc when a table of loud Americans arrived and promptly started bellowing at their usual far too loud volume. They seemed completely unaware of the inconsiderate conversation level in which I was forced to listen to them bleat on about their entire life story and about the emerging dilemma that they (and we too) were now faced with with regards to the increasingly escalating Coronavirus situation.

Frankly, they were so annoying that I was eager to leave the cafe and go somewhere else but many of the shops, including the other cafe that we liked to frequent in the beautiful mall La Serrezuela was suddenly and mysteriously closed. There had been no note on the door to say why it was closed or for how long for but we figured that it definitely had something to do with the nightmare that was Covid 19. Alas, despite the Americans annoying antics, they began having a conversation in Span-glish with a waiter that peaked our interest: it was concerning the increasingly serious Covid 19 pandemic that had now arrived in Cartagena. According to him (and we were blatantly ear wigging at this point), ALL shops, restaurants, bars and infact everyone in Cartagena, most especially in the centre of town (where we were staying) was to quarantine themselves at home from 18:00 onwards until 4:00 am the following morning, effective immediately.

Cartagena was going to be on lockdown.

Not even the UK was on lockdown and they had waaaay more cases then Colombia. This meant that we had precisely 3 hours to get any supplies we needed including food and drinks, before we were required to be off of the streets and at home. We were strictly forbidden to come out after that time and the Colombian government was actually deploying the army and the police to enforce the lockdown, the consequences of which as a foreigner I didn’t wish to even contemplate!

After the loud Americans left the cafe, I asked the waiter in my Span-glish whether what we had overheard was true: did we really have to quarantine ourselves from 18:00 today? “Si” he replied with a very grave look on his face. Then he proceeded to elaborate on the new radical restrictions in place in Cartagena. Not only did we have to stay at home from 18:00 until 04:00 am the next day but at the weekend the city would be in 48 hour lockdown with nobody allowed to leave at all during that period.

I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing but I had already seen that things had changed in the city. People were taking it very seriously – probably because their health system really COULDN’T cope with an overload of cases, and especially not foreigners who had potentially brought it over there in the firstplace. The waiter was going around thoroughly disinfecting every table that was vacated and the intensity of the chemicals was beginning to tickle the back of my throat.

As I looked out of the window I saw that most people had masks on their faces (the effectiveness of which had been called into question by people in the medical profession many times but people were obviously too panicked to listen), and people had already started to look at someone suspiciously if they coughed. And for us, as Brits here travelling in Colombia, well just put it this way, we weren’t their favourite people right now as it was a European who brought it over and infected a local with it in the firstplace. But they still had only 2 cases. I was very surprised to see Colombia acting so swiftly and decisively.

The last days of freedom

Whilst they had deployed the army after having 2 cases of Coronavirus in their bustling tourist city, the UK were still allowing people to largely go about their business as normal, schools hadn’t closed and though people had been arguing over toilet roll in the shopping isles, most of the workforce was still going to work, using the public transport and generally being quite normal. But not here in Cartagena. Cartagena wasn’t joking. They had closed their borders to tourists entering and now they were implementing contagion limitation by imposing a mandatory quarantine.

I was already worried about being away from home due to the fact that my Mum was in the “vulnerable” group of people and my Grandad had recently been admitted to hospital after complaining of a persistent cough (one of the symptoms of the virus). And the worst thing was that the hospital was clearly so overwhelmed with the number of people that they were treating for Coronavirus and other existing medical problems that they had discharged my elderly, Dementia having Grandad without even testing him for the virus when they told us they did!

I was sick with worry thinking that as they had announced a few days ago, this virus was coming and we had to just ride the peak and build up “herd immunity” but I thought to myself who are these people you are sacrificing in your non-action to build up this immunity of which you speak? – because I most certainly DO NOT agree to sacrifice my Grandad to satisfy your death numbers. I’m sorry.

Aside from my Mum who had been told by myself, my brothers and sister that she wasn’t to leave the house, my Aunts and Uncles who were also in bad health were now having to step in in place of my Nan who was clearly being put at risk for having my Grandad back at the house with her where he could then potentially infect her. None of them couldn’t risk catching the virus either! I was feeling very anxious reading all of the many messages going back and fourth from my family back in the UK and abroad about my Grandad’s deteriorating health, especially after the hospital discharged him (which they SHOULD NOT have done as he was apparently being treated in isolation), and now his health seems to have taken a bit of a downturn, with my Grandad complaining of having a high temperature and his stomach hurting.

What on earth did they do to him in there? And why didn’t they do the Coronavirus test that they said they did??

I understand that the NHS are under stress but my Grandad is in the “vulnerable group” that they keep banging on about. Shouldn’t they be taking extra special care of him whilst we are approaching this “peak” that Boris has mentioned so many times? If they can’t even look after my poorly Grandad now then they are most certainly not ready for the waves and waves of patients heading their way in the coming weeks, possibly months.

It was time to go home now. The end of our travels had been definitively ruined (though not shortened thank goodness), however now we were looking at more then an unsavoury end to our epic travels, we were looking at real and very worrying concerns, namely the health and safety of our families who we were too far away from to help. It was one thing choosing to be away quite another to be trapped in a foreign country with no way of getting home, and things were changing so swiftly that that was coming more and more likely with every passing day. It was time to go home.

Once we had collected our supplies we made our way back to our apartment. I didn’t mind being quarantined really. My concern had always been the state of the “panic buying” upon our return to the UK and the general low level atmosphere that was certain to follow. I had no problem with staying at home reading, writing, talking to friends and family, cooking, watching Netflix and cuddling my cats Frankie and Sansa, no problem at all. And being here was perhaps even better as I could at least enjoy the weather, which really was pretty glorious, go to the beach, sit outside with a cocktail and listen to great music in the restaurants and cafes that were still open during the day. But the issue wasn’t that I was keen to get home because I preferred to be there, I didn’t, my concern was about what would happen if they closed the airports and I COULDN’T get back even if I wanted to, making it excruciating to not be able to be there for my family if/when I needed to be.

Thankfully we had a balcony in our apartment so we were able to sit out there and at least watch the world NOT going by. After a few hours it became abundantly clear that the Colombian people had listened to the demands of their government and kept themselves at home – the streets were completely empty apart from the occasional police car and army truck going by to enforce the ban.

Crazy times. A couple of hours later whilst we were getting the latest update from Boris’ daily address on BBC about the pandemic, our power suddenly cut off. This wasn’t too unusual as Colombia had the occasional powercut but it generally only lasted for a couple of minutes, alas after 10 minutes of no lights, phones, TV or even the coffee machine and with the strict instructions from the authorities to stay inside, we NEEDED to have this situation resolved.

We went outside on our balcony and we could clearly see that this outage was only in our building as other buildings had their lights on. But as we sat there waiting for the power to go back on again a disconcerting feeling came over me as I could see that there was literally nobody on the streets. Not even on their balcony’s. It was deadly quiet, with no sounds at all apart from the occasional police car and ambulance going by. We decided after 15-20 minutes of waiting that we would go downstairs to the concierge and ask him when the power was likely to be back up and running again. He told us around an hour but as we went back upstairs to our apartment to await the power returning Josh announced with a panicked expression on his face that he couldn’t find the keys to our apartment.

Never, not in 6 months of travel had he ever misplaced or left his keys at home. He’d never even done it in the UK. But true enough, after a frantic search of his trouser pockets he announced that he did not have them. They were in our apartment!

Now we are in a situation that was already pretty unique in it’s utter awfulness, but we have an additional mounting disaster. I tried not to panic as in my mind I reasoned that the concierge downstairs MUST surely have a spare key to our apartment or a master keys to get entry into any apartment in the building but when we explained our situation to him he told us that he didn’t have a spare key, and furthermore he then reiterated the fact that we were unable to leave the building because of the lockdown situation that was now in effect. We told him we knew about the lockdown but currently we couldn’t get into our apartment!

After a period of expressing our utter horror once we fully realised the impact of the situation, Josh spurred into life trying to get hold of the manager for the apartment who he hoped would have a spare key. The batteries on both of our phones were low, we were getting hungry, we didn’t have our passports on us should we need them and our language skills were limited, but thankfully after spending some time trying to get hold of him, finally we managed to and communicated our dilemma to him. His English was limited but he understood after some explaining that we were unable to get into the apartment, we didn’t have wifi because the power was down in the building and the city was currently on lockdown and we were told that we couldn’t leave the apartment. He reiterated what we just told him about the city being on lockdown by the military and police and asked us if the concierge had a car and could drop us to him to collect the keys? – what a ridiculous thing to suggest! The concierge had barely been useful when we asked him when the power would be back up and running let alone asking him to leave his work post to drive some British tourists through a lockdown zone where we were very likely to be stopped by the authorities asking us where we thought we were going to collect a set of keys! I don’t think so somehow.

Even though we couldn’t physically get to him it was a relief at least to find out that he actually HAD a key, otherwise another option that Josh had been seriously considering was busting the door in! If we didn’t get the key from this guy tonight during the lockdown it would mean that we would have to wait until 04:00 am the following morning before venturing outside the apartment. This would mean that we would be unable to eat, drink or go to the toilet until we returned home and we would have no choice but to sleep in the wholly uninspiring reception until we were allowed to leave but the batteries on our phones would definitely be dead by then. No thanks.

After some pondering we finally made the decision to take our chances and leave the comfort of our apartment building and go and get the keys from this guy. The concierge was of no help whatsoever so we were essentially on our own. We looked outside to see if maybe we could get one of these low level scam artist Cartagena taxi drivers but for the first time since we’d stepped foot in this city they were nowhere to be seen and nowhere to be heard! The streets were completely deserted. With nobody allowed out of their houses the taxi drivers were more then probably taking the night off.

We were in a bit of a pickle. With no taxi’s we were looking at walking, and when we looked at the map to see where the guys house was we could see that it was right in the middle of the centre of Cartagena: the place we were expressly forbidden. Undoubtedly if there was going to be any area that was locked down by armed police denying entrance it was the entrance to the walled city: exactly where we needed to go!

We downloaded a local taxi app and tried to call a taxi (which required you to bid on a driver) but it wouldn’t work. The app said that it was trying to find a driver but no drivers picked up the job (funnily enough).

We really didn’t know what to do, we were out of options and my anxiety was steadily rising faced with this completely crazy and out of the ordinary situation that we were experiencing in this foreign country. We couldn’t walk there as weren’t allowed on the street and I didn’t know whether they would just fine us on the spot if they saw us or lock us up! We couldn’t get a taxi as there was nobody on the streets and this guy couldn’t bring the keys to us as he wasn’t allowed out either.

What on earth were we to do?!

Finally after some time waiting with no idea which decision to make for the best we saw a Colombian traveller laden with luggage rushing off to jump into a taxi outside to go to the airport so Josh stopped her and asked her if she wouldn’t mind if her taxi took a short diversion and dropped us off at the entrance to the walled city so that we could go and collect the keys to our apartment?

Thankfully she was very nice, could speak English well and allowed us to jump in the taxi with her. Then when we arrived at the entrance where as expected there were police and army officers carrying guns barring entry to all people, she jumped out, explained our situation to them and asked them if they could let us in and they did. We thanked her profusely, gave her some money towards her taxi and ran down the dark and eerily empty streets towards this mans house as the authorities had given us only 5 minutes to be in and out! Goodness only knows what would happen to us after that time.

My heart was beating loudly in my mouth. I was terrified that if we came across anymore officers we wouldn’t be able to explain to them our reasons for breaching the curfew. Anything could happen to us. I was also furiously angry, not at Josh as I knew that he didn’t do it on purpose, but I was angry at the situation we had found ourselves in. One that was already unique in it’s severity and it’s swiftness of implementation and I was scared because I didn’t know what was going to happen now, tonight, tomorrow or the day after with this rapidly escalating global pandemic. And the consequences for me, Josh and our friends and family. For the world!

Though we had come to the end of our travels anyway, I could have never imagined in a million years that something this devastating would happen to change our world so completely. As of that moment not only didn’t I know whether or not I was going to be promptly locked up by Colombian police, but I didn’t even know whether we would be able to get on the flight/s that were due to take us home as everything was changing so dramatically from day to day, with flights being cancelled left, right and centre and countries imposing border closures preventing people from coming in or leaving. I felt as if I was in some kind of computer simulation and none of it was really real. Back in the UK, people were continuing to panic buy, and boxing each other other the head with the last toilet roll. Did I really want to go back into that? – I wasn’t so sure.

And here, things were changing too. There was nobody on the street! Nobody. Just Josh and I running down the dark empty streets, our holiday flip flops echoing against the stone walls. It was insane, utterly insane. I was imagining at any moment the sirens that I heard wailing in the city were making their way to us to find out why 2 Brits were on the run in their city like thiefs in the night!

The horror of the situation was beginning to take it’s toll on me. I was exhausted from thinking of how to get around this particular dilemma and prepared for the Colombian police to take shots at me from above. I saw faces of shocked locals through their windows peeking out, wondering what on earth we were doing running through their streets in a lockdown. I understood their horror. I too was horrified and felt sick to my stomach when considering the consequences of what would happen to us should we get caught. I daren’t even consider the return journey!

Eventually, we made it to the mans house in one piece. Thankfully he was in and we were able to pick up the keys without being picked up by the police. We returned the way we came, showed the police the keys that we had collected and slunk off down the darkened streets of this deserted silent city to return home.

On our way home it was even more scary as we had nowhere to hide. We saw police patrolling the streets, their sirens bleating out a warning to people even THINKING about venturing outside: us. Thankfully we made it home to home sweet quarantine.

Week 3 in Palomino, Colombia

Week 3 in Palomino, Colombia

  

Rudely awoken by our alarm clock going off at 04:30 am, we felt pretty rubbish. But we couldn’t complain too much as the reason for our early rising was so that we could catch our early transfer for our road trip to Palomino.

Palomino is a small village on Colombia’s Northern Caribbean coast. Relatively unknown to the rest of the world apart from to the most ardent and determined travelers, it has for the most part escaped the tourism buzz in other parts of the Caribbean but it is nontheless a destination that has an abundance of nature, hot, sunny weather and pristine Caribbean beaches. Infact we ourselves hadn’t heard about Palomino until we arrived in Bahia, Brazil – from a friend of a friend we met there who had just returned from Cartagena (which she hated), and the city Santa Marta and Palomino (which she loved). She described it as being like Trancoso was about 10 years ago which we took to mean that it had a natural charm, a simple, laid back glamour and a strong connection to nature and the local culture. And after experiencing 2 weeks of Cartagena (and really liking it), we couldn’t wait to experience the place she compared to magical Trancoso before it became the best address in Brazil. We were sold.

The only way to get to Palomino was either via a taxi (which cost around £90-£120 one way), or by a tour bus which cost around £23. Taking the bus option was obviously a no brainer. The whole journey was due to take around 5 and a half hours in total which meant that after leaving Cartagena at around 5:45 am in the morning we would get there around lunchtime.

The journey to Palomino wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated mostly due to the fact that the van had a powerful air conditioning system and the seats were surprisingly comfortable. The view of the Colombian streets outside of my cushy, air conditioned, curtained windows was something very different though. As I had been shocked beyond words in Medellin by the sight and scale of the barrios, and the drug addiction, prostitution, destitution and homelessness that resided there, I was again being reminded in the most dramatic way that Colombia was still a second world country. Despite the impressiveness of Colombians cities like Cali, Bogota and Medellin, most of the Colombian population was still living below the poverty line and I’d seen this for myself in the time that we spent in Medellin. I will never forget the day we went to Botero Square, on the way encountering the worst levels of poverty and displacement that I ever remember seeing.

As I looked out of the window, the thing that hit me most after seeing all of the people with their clothes in tatters coming out of buildings that looked more like abandoned shells then homes, was the very apparent recycling problem. I had read somewhere that Colombia had a big problem with waste disposal, with rubbish being strewn everywhere on the roadside, piles of offensive odour producing waste, a variety of unwanted food, mixed with domestic, industrial and commercial combined in one big ugly health and safety hazard heap. Besides the fact that it was extremely unsightly and nausea inducing because of the vile smell it omitted, it also attracted vermin such as rats and mice. But it was clear from looking outside that this was a serious problem here. People were literally living on top of piles of rubbish!

Women with young children in tow walked casually between piles of unidentified rubbish heaps as if it was the norm. Despite my window being closed I could SMELL it from a mile away and I was disgusted to find that people were being forced to live like this. As we drove on, I became increasingly more shocked to discover the scale of the problem, this was definitely something that I was not prepared for. The level of pollution and quite frankly, destitution of the majority of the people living here, was not something you saw on the glossy magazines promoting romantic, salsa music and rum filled vacations in Cartagena. Far from it. What I was seeing here was more akin to the type of poverty that I would expect to see in a third world, not here in Colombia. My sympathy and deep sense of helplessness hit me like a tonne of bricks. I couldn’t look anymore. I closed my curtains to the scenes before me. My guilt pondered the unfairness of a world that makes survival so hard for some just because they happen to be born in certain places.

We stopped off twice for toilet and refreshment breaks and before we knew it we had arrived. At the bus depot that was. We hailed a passing tuk tuk (who also looked as if his vehicle was on it’s last legs), and off we went. Our hotel was located down a long and narrow, stony road amongst dense foliage. In some ways, as Josh and I clung on for dear life with our rucksacks in tow it was exciting, reminding me of our adventures in Bali, but at the same time the mans tuk tuk was so old and worn down and couldn’t seem to go much beyond 10 miles an hour that we concluded that even after being exhausted from 6 hours of travel it may have been quicker to walk!

Alas he got us there in one piece, and without us tumbling out of this very precariously constructed vehicle.

Arriving at our beachfront hotel which was built amongst generous grounds featuring a beautiful landscaped garden filled with coconut trees, plants and flowers, with 2 sizeable pools, a restaurant, games hut and individually designed beach huts facing the sea I felt a world away from Cartagena. And when we were greeted by the friendly check-in staff whose name was Juan, and taken to our stunning seaview beach property it only got better. More like a hut then a villa, our spacious accommodation had huge windows on all sides, giving us a 360 degree view of the surrounding property, including the paradisaical looking grounds with their tall coconut trees and tropical flowers, an incredible view of the Caribbean sea, the Sierra Nevada Mountains which could be seen in the distance and a generously sized wraparound balcony. It had been decorated in varnished dark wood with a playful nautical theme. Lots of books in multiple languages were stacked on the shelf above, perfect for cosy nights in listening to the sound of the roaring sea. It was very spacious, but it also had a homely feeling. When I had looked for somewhere to stay in Palomino I had immediately been drawn to the property for it’s clever use of it’s grounds, which meant that it felt as though you had the whole place to yourself even if there were others staying at the hotel. It was perfect for some real r & r which after crazy Cartagena we really appreciated.

The beautiful and tranquil grounds of our hotel in Palomino

Home away from Home 

Swing time 

We dumped our bags and went to explore the grounds. Our first stop was lunch at the restaurant. We had breakfast included but not lunch or dinner so we figured that after more then half a day of travelling it would be best to have lunch there at the hotel restaurant rather then go out searching for something to eat and then go out for dinner afterwards. It seemed as though we were the only ones at the hotel.  Juan actually asked us if we would be having lunch there so that he could inform the kitchen! What kind of place is this that asks whether we know whether we want to eat there or not when the restaurant should be open regardless?

I had to remind myself that we were in Palomino, a small, relatively unknown beach town in Santa Marta and not in tourist-centric Cartagena or even Medellin. The chilled out, small town vibes that we had come here for unfortunately meant that facilities weren’t as readily available as we were used to. I guess I would have to start getting used to it.

Lunch was a terrible disaster. We thought that the safest option in this deserted hotel and restaurant would be to order something simple. Something that didn’t require incompetent cooking techniques, so we went for a Tuna Salad, but when the salad came it looked like something that a dog would reject. It looked like it had been dead for longer then it had been alive – dry with a questionable looking hue. I figured that being right beside the sea surely their tuna MUST be fresh so I tried not to look at it too much, left out the burgundy looking pieces of fish and just ate the rest, but Josh wasn’t so convinced. He said it was the worst looking piece of tuna he’d ever been given and that they shouldn’t have served it at all looking like that. I agreed but said that perhaps that’s what tuna looked like in these here parts, afterall the tuna that we’d had in Brazil in my humble opinion was far worse. Now THAT tuna tasted like dogs food mixed with sick. Bloody awful!

Needless to say we left the restaurant hungry. Had we of been equipped to communicate our horror about the standard of the food we would have done so. As it was we were just eager to get the heck out of there!

The grounds of the hotel really were a picture to behold. With so many areas for rest and relaxation including a large thatched roof hut with hammocks and beach recliners, we were literally spoilt for choice. After checking out the impressive games hut, which had a full sized pool table in it complete with a cue rack we made our way towards Palomino Village via the beach. The sand was a peculiar mixture of black and dark grey sand, not my favourite, but the sand was soft and the beach was wild and beautiful. Not many people were on it which was surprising since Palomino Beach was one of the best beaches in Santa Marta. But as we walked down towards the town which we were told was approximately a 15 minute walk the idyllic calm of this beach, with it’s ferocious waves and picturesque beachy good looks, started to change. We started noticing a smattering of people sunbathing on the beach. But these were no normal beach goers: these were “traveller types”.

No, I’m not referring to the Gypsy (aka Romani) community, I’m referring to the types of people that frequent hostels. The ones that go EVERYWHERE with a backpack on, even when their back in their respective countries. I’m talking about the type of people who secrete an odour as they go, one of musty unwashed-ness. This is in part due to their limited washing options, in part because they’re nearly always on the move and in part because, well frankly, washing isn’t a big part of their priorities. Unfortunately, washing for me is very high on my priority list. I wash only do it because I need to do it but also because I very much enjoy being, feeling and SMELLING clean. That doesn’t just go for washing my body but also my clothes and it is why I was so elated when our luxurious apartment in Medellin had such an big and powerful washing machine. I was in cleanliness heaven!

But these people, when I looked closely, were not the cleanliness-coveting types. These were the types of people who just wanted to sit on a beach, preferably one that was quiet, smoke a spliff, preferably somewhere they were allowed, strum a guitar, preferably with a group of friends, stay in a hostel, preferably somewhere cheap, and live their lives simply. A little too simply? – Well, I thought so. Especially when from looking at the state of them I had determined that essentially they were unemployed. Who else sits on the beach, smelling as though they hadn’t washed themselves or their hair for days, eating food from the unbelievably cheap beach sellers for months on end, living in hostels that cost a pound a day? – these people were clearly trying to eek it out for as long as humanely possible before they had to return to their “normal” lives! And some of them had no intention of returning at all, preferring to sit around smelling like the great unwashed, selling cotton bracelets to anyone who had the misfortune to buy them in order to pay their hostel way.

I couldn’t yet see how in any way this place was comparable to Trancoso. Sure, it had a small, laid back feel, and the nature was breathtaking, but the standard that Trancoso was clearly at was far beyond what this place was presenting. For starters they didn’t have smelly people, they certainly had hippie-types, but that was something different. There are hippies and then there are travellers who smell. Those kinds of people look like travellers even when they’re not travelling!

I could also clearly see as we walked on that we were staying at the best resort. All of the other places that we passed were essentially hostels. Though some of them did look better then others (and we passed one that was actually in the process of conducting a wedding), it was still a pretty low standard overall. And at each one we passed was the same type of person that we saw lounging about on the beach which made me worry about what we were walking into. Juan had told us that the centre of the village was only a 15 minute walk but we hadn’t seen any signage for it on the beach so we walked for about 30 minutes until we came to a lake. The lake was otherwordly beautiful, reminding me a little of Nativo’s Beach as it contrasted with the blue of the Caribbean sea that was on the other side of it. We were unable to cross there so we realised that we must have passed the turn off and turned around to go back the same way we came. We had previously passed a restaurant where there were lots of locals trying to encourage us to go in there so we figured that we would ask them where the village was.

As we figured, there was no signage whatsoever but one of the locals told us that we had to walk through the restaurant and keep walking. The narrow roads got increasingly quieter and more rural as we went, and soon there were no tourists, smelly or otherwise on the trial at all. We began to wonder whether we were even going the right way but we couldn’t see any other route to take so we continued walking. Soon we came upon a large and imposing looking army base, with an armed guard with a huge gun “on look out”. It seemed odd for an army base to be in this small, quiet village and as there was noone else about it made us feel a little uneasy but we went up to him and asked him just to be sure if we were going in the right direction to get to the centre of town and he told us that yes, so we continued walking.

After passing the scary looking army base, we came into a residential area, where I got to see firsthand just how bad the poverty was in this place. Filled with homes made up of a few bricks with metal roofs and no windows, trying not to look inside but unable to stop myself seeing the solitary dirty mattresses laying on the floor. And the children with ripped up, dirty clothing living within, I didn’t have any idea where we were but it wasn’t somewhere that I wished to remain for too much longer. I felt very uncomfortable just being there. I didn’t belong there and I didn’t wish to see the awful ways in which people were forced to live. It was heartbreaking.

After being forced to walk through this very poor residential area we suddenly came out to a busy main road. We hadn’t a clue where we were or what we were looking for exactly and we didn’t have a map with us so we were looking for some sign of life, restaurants, cafes (or tourists!), but there was nothing but cars, motorbikes and lorries whisking by and annoying Colombians posted up underneath trees across the road on their mopeds shouting out at us. It was a little too Cartagena-esk for my liking. We were definitely NOT in Palomino Village.

Frustrated and annoyed after walking around aimlessly for an hour, we went to the nearest shop to get a drink and rethink our next move. Soon thereafter, after being hassled by the customary moped local, Josh pointed out some gringo’s (it was abundantly clear who gringo’s were in this town as almost every one of them had a backpack on!). They were coming from the road to the side of us, before arriving on the main road (which had nothing to offer whatsoever), and consequently turning back around to go back the way that they came. Josh announced that that road, because of the fact that it was gringolinered to capacity, must be the centre! So we promptly left to follow them down what it was soon becoming clear was the only road that was set up to receive us.

In stark contrast to the busy high road we’d just come from and certainly from the sad looking residential one was an oasis, where “traveller types” including a group of 6 women with matching side head shavings, dreds and baggy “festival” trousers stood around talking and laughing, and where small businesses, including restaurants, cafes, bars, hostels and tour offices lined the narrow stony streets. Tuk tuks whisked two and from taking tourists with their customary gigantic backpacks in tow to their awaiting hostels and the tie-dye, hammock swinging, unwashed odour producing, backpack carrying, guitar strumming that was here in abundance confirmed my worst fear: this was traveller territory.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood why this place had been compared to Trancoso. It was small, it was intimate, and it was very laid back. This wasn’t a place for mass tourism, large fancy shopping malls or designer shops and there was an abundance of natural beauty in the area including the beaches, lakes and mountains that surrounded it. People that were here had rejected resort hotel luxury in exchange for something a little more rustic (no, much more rustic), and they wanted a judgement free, nature filled environment with which to do it. Also, the place was very cheap which allowed them to live a simple life free from the material trappings of the societies that they came from.

But what was their excuse for not washing regularly? What was their reason for not washing their clothes? And why did they all look exactly the same? Did being a traveller mean that you needed to dress the same, live the same, smell the same? – did being a traveller mean that you were required to walk around spending each and everyday counting your pennies, dictating your standard of living along the way?

I respected the peace and tranquility that came from removing yourself from the fast pace of modern life and an anxiety ridden society. The sense of simple pleasure that can come from being surrounded by that which is natural, away from tubes, trains, shopping centres and the constant demands of media engagement. But I was not a traveller, I was travelling, and that was very different. It meant that I did not look for the cheapest possible accomodation going, in the most rundown of locations, room sharing with randoms or in places that were intended to be “social” in nature. It meant that I looked for clean, boutique hotels or if possible a private apartment where I didn’t have to discuss with Hannah from Sweden or Nate from Perth in Australia which countries I had come from or where I was going to. I had no desire to gloat about the last hike I done, or which street food I had been sampling lately. It was not in my interest to know where the best surfing spots were or where I could find the best place to get a “travel tattoo”. I had no desire to take an overnight bus through a country for 16 hours to get to my next destination, and I demanded space – which meant large “organised fun” activities were not on the cards.

Despite my dismay at the apparent “free and easy” way in which the people here were living, including the locals, who looked as though they hadn’t seen a shower in weeks, this was where we were going to be spending a few days. We were going to have to relax into it (to a point), and the first step in doing that was to get some proper food.

Soon we came across a restaurant that was serving Lebanese shawarma’s so we ordered some and sat down at one of the outside tables. From there we were able to see people coming and going and get a real feel for the place with no judgement. Though most people were quite young and almost all wore backpacks, it didn’t seem to be that these guys were in any particular hurry. They looked very relaxed in this chilled out environment, protected by the craziness of the outside world. Infact, this small village town on the Caribbean coast seemed completely unaware of the pending pandemic that was soon to be headed their way. We were too.

The shawarma was quite a disappointment. It arrived late and was warm when it was given to me aswell as being dry and flavourless – a far cry from Brixton’s Lebanese restaurant that we had been frequenting before we left the UK. This worried me because the women who served it to us seemed to be pretty chuffed with herself as she gave it to us.

Was this a sign of things to come?

After our early dinner we took a leisurely stroll back to our hotel, checking out all of the local restaurants, cafes and bars as we went. The village was quaint and undeveloped like Trancoso was in some ways but it was lacking the glamour, it was lacking the infrastructure, it was lacking the standards and quite frankly it was lacking the cleanliness. The clientele who were here were not the same as the ones in Brazil. Trancoso was very expensive, possibly the most expensive part of Brazil. Only the most wealthy could afford to go there. They were not rejecting society, they were selecting the best parts of it. In contrast, the people here were the types who had rejected society completely. They were not here to seek peace and tranquility in and of itself (though it certainly did provide that and lots of untouched nature too), they were trying to escape capitalist societies and modern life. They weren’t seeking luxury, or bohemia, they were here for cheapness, plain and simple.

BUT to be fair to our British friend who told us about this place when we met her in Bahia, she DID say that it was similar to Bahia in some ways but about 10 years behind. Though I hadn’t been there 10 years ago I’d bet that it was many years more. We were fast learning about what our simple living threshold was and finding that this was perhaps a little too low for us.

The people who surrounded us were not weird. WE were the weird ones. We had come into their environment expecting it to be different. Instead it was full of hippie types wearing baggy tie-dye trousers, with body odour and bad teeth smelling as though they were a couple of days too late for a shower. This was a backpackers paradise but it wasn’t a paradise.

Now that we had assessed what we were dealing with we decided to stay near our resort which by far was the best one in the area from what we could see and afforded us not just a great deal of privacy due to it’s low occupancy but a real sense of what this place was meant to be about: the surrounding nature. After returning from dinner via the beach as that was the only way to get to and from the village without taking a tuk tuk which took far longer and was not readily available I realised that being amongst all of these questionably unclean people had made ME feel dirty so I rushed in to have a shower.

What I was NOT expecting was for the water to be STONE COLD. Perhaps you think that because I was in a hot country then I might be partial to taking cold showers? WRONG. I don’t think I have ever taken a cold shower before, not intentionally anyway. The water situation in our Medellin apartment was pretty shit – it was intermittent which meant that once the boiler ran out of hot water (which was annoyingly frequent), then we would have to make do with having the remainder of our shower with cold water. But the water wasn’t stone cold like it was here. And I was so desperate to have a nice hot shower after our long commute, my encounter with the great unwashed and after walking along the beach in this surprisingly humid climate. But in order to do that it meant that I had to hold my breath and prepare myself to be iced in order to get clean. I know they say that showering in cold water is refreshing but I can assure you it wasn’t!

Languishing on Palomino Beach 

The following day after having a restless sleep due to the to the fact that I couldn’t block out the sounds of the wildlife outside our door for love nor money, I lay awake listening to the sounds of the creatures of the great outdoors making a surprisingly loud amount of noise, including the resident dogs who for some reason felt it necessary to bark at us warningly upon our return to our apartment.  Indeed at one point I was worried that they might even go for us thinking that we were “intruders”. In addition it seemed we had a resident red squirrel living on our porch, I saw his fluffy little face popping out inquisitively and in the early hours of the morning we heard him borrowing (loudly) into the porch roof where he had clearly built his home. He was very sweet but he was a little too loud for my liking. Alas, red squirrels are a rare occurrence back in the UK because the grey squirrels have killed them all off so I decided that rather then get frustrated I would try to block out the noise and enjoy seeing his fluffy little red tail knowing that I wouldn’t see any again once I left Colombia.

We spent the day chilling out at our hotel, enjoying the lovely pool area, sunbathing and even playing a game of pool in the games room. It was pretty perfect as it still seemed as though we were the only ones at there. Judging by the types of people who were in Palomino it was clear to us that this kind of hotel was a rarity in this location and if we didn’t have hot water that meant that all of these hostels didn’t either, which would explain why the people were walking around so unkempt.

That evening we went out for dinner and found nice looking restaurant (one of only 3 according to our tastes). The food was okay, we had a meat and chicken platter and they gave us enough meat and chicken to last us a good couple of weeks. The meat was pretty tough. A common theme here it would seem! But the restaurant had a lovely ambience and nice decor. It’s that outside eating that I love so much and that I will greatly miss when we’re back in miserable, grey UK. There was a musician there (if you can even call him that), an acoustic musician who thought it would be a good idea to sing popular American songs in his forced gravelly voice. I personally didn’t wish to hear American songs and I couldn’t understand why they didn’t just stick to their own music, which from the sounds of it was far superior to what he was coming out with, but no, we had to sit there and enjoy his mediocre voice singing mediocre tunes. Not great. Unfortunately, the guy felt the need to move closer to our table so that we had no escape!

There were a few activities that we wanted to do whilst we were in Palomino such as River Tubing, a very popular sport here in Palomino and visiting some waterfalls nearby. We went to a local tour office and booked the River Tubing first not knowing how we’d feel about doing both when we still wanted to enjoy a few beach lazy days. The guy there had a few options and after some consideration we went ahead and booked a tour that including a motorbike ride through the jungle to the start of the hike, then an hour’s hike to the start of the Palomino River Tube location, and then 2 hours of floating down the river, some leisurely parts, some fast moving and a little more adrenalin increasing, all the way down to the beach. We thought that it was a perfect activity in order to experience some of Palomino’s most beautiful nature that wasn’t accessible on foot, and to try out an activity that was very popular here.

Many of the local businesses were closed and we couldn’t really work out their opening times, in addition the area seemed to be more then a little broken down and on more then one occasion I thought that a restaurant was in the process of being constructed only to find that it was infact open for business which just meant to me that this place was deliberately doing this extremely low level offering to it’s consumers. There were stray (extremely dirty looking) dogs roaming about the place, children with dirt smeared on their faces, their clothes in tatters running up and down the street, backpackers walking as if their bags were forcing them to walk with a hunch, owners of cafes and restaurants looking as if they hadn’t seen a proper meal (or a wash) in quite sometime, and hippie cloth wearing individuals selling cotton bracelets.

All of this on the one road which had been designated (safe) for tourists to venture on. Just the fact that we were strictly told where we could and could not go in this village was a bit of a problem for Josh and I. Also what I didn’t like was the fact that because there was no other route to take unless we wanted to do a 15-20 minute tour on one of those rickety tuk tuks which seemed as though they were on their last legs, meant we had to walk on the beach in the dark (because of course they didn’t have proper lighting here either). That in and of itself wasn’t a problem – it was the crabs scurrying to and from in the pitch black that I didn’t like! Eww.

We found a great little cafe/restaurant the following day playing Spanish reggae music. I’d never heard Spanish reggae before and it came as a bit of a pleasant surprise. I managed to Shazam one of the songs that was playing and found some music from a group called Las Cafres – reggae music via Colombia from Argentina. It was really good. I made sure I put them on my Youtube favourites list.

The one good thing about Palomino (and Colombia in general really) was the lack of creepy crawlies roaming about. Though since arriving in Palomino I had been bitten a few times by mosquitoes it was NOTHING like what I had experienced in Bahia, and that was despite having a heavy duty mosquito net on my bed and closing all windows and doors promptly at 5:00 pm every night. Here, I had only been bitten a few times and I had hardly seen any horrible crawling things at all, either here, in Cartagena or in Medellin. In Bahia we were UNDER SIEGE from a growing (and very hideous looking) variety of creepy crawlies that found their way into our villa and scurried around on the street. Bloody horrible!

The following day was our river tubing tour on the Palomino River. We got up early and were picked up by 2 motorbikes who proceeded to take us to the starting point of the hike. The motorbike journey was perilous and it took all of my energy to hold on as these bikes were navigating their way through extremely steep and rocky jungle via barely there pathways and that was just to get to the starting point!

When we arrived I saw that I had cut my finger pretty deeply no doubt whilst I was holding on for dear life on the back of the death bike. I didn’t have time to moan about it to Josh because as soon as I jumped off the bike, we were ever so briefly introduced to the extremely young looking Colombian tour guide (who couldn’t speak one word of English), who would be taking us on the tour and so consequently was in charge of our lives. Looking at his baby face that hadn’t yet matured enough to produce any facial hair didn’t reassure me that I would be safe.

It was another extremely humid day, just our luck it was definitely the hottest one since we’d arrived in Palomino, and the climb up the mountain was much knackering then I had anticipated. After 15 minutes of a fast paced climb up the steep incline of the mountain where we had to constantly watch where we were putting our feet, I was already out of breath. And since this young Colombian man couldn’t communicate with us it was even more testing since I was sure it was a longer walk then we had been told it would be. We stopped twice to catch our breath and I think he thought that we would use that as an opportunity to take some pictures but it wasn’t pictures I was interested in it was the start of the tubing trail as I really was done with this trekking lark! It was far too hot, and he was moving at a very inconsiderate pace for us tourists.

Sunset on Palomino Beach

Along the way we had to stand on a precariously rocky ledge in order for a mountain horse to pass. Thankfully, this guy at least understood that I, as the weaker sex (a woman), could not possibly be expected to carry the huge rubber tube that I would be using to float down the river on aswell as hike. So he made Josh carry his own, and he carried both his and mine which to me which unbelievably impressive considering how cumbersome the thing was and how tiring it was just carrying my body up the mountain let alone a gigantic blown up rubber tube. When we booked it they called this part of the tour the “Eco Walk” but since the guy couldn’t speak English he didn’t bother trying to give us any pointers about what we were looking at as we went so it was pretty dull really. Eventually we arrived at the lake, which was beautiful, green and wide and which gave me an immediate sense of peace just looking at it. I had imagined that there would be many other people, locals and tourists alike doing this tour but there was nobody else there just us so I was very happy to know that we would be able to enjoy this experience thoroughly.

I wasn’t sure whether I was brave enough to use my iPhone 8 whilst I was tubing down the river as even though Apple claimed that it was waterproof up to 5 metres I wasn’t entirely sure that I believed them. Either way I had to put my plastic bag with both mine and Josh’s sandals plus the clothes that we were wearing on my lap. I lowered myself down onto the tube which felt surprisingly comfortable, and then away we went. Lucky for me the young guy wasn’t just in charge of directing us on which way to go but he actually used his foot to keep my tube close to him the entire time which allowed me to relax and enjoy the ride – I didn’t even have to paddle! lol.

Josh however was left to his own devices but he didn’t mind as it was so much fun! It started off fast, the tire bumping and whooshing over lots of rocks that were just loitering beneath the water, and then gently floated for what seemed like ages though dense forest on either side. There was nobody else there but us and it was wonderfully peaceful. We passed by a tree full of monkeys, indigenous people who were using the clear waters to bathe and a herd of cows being guided through the lake. It was tranquil, the sounds of nature echoing throughout the lake, and no sight or sound of humans anywhere. Though it was enjoyable, and there were many exciting moments where I thought for a moment that I might plunge into it (it wasn’t really that deep but it was very fast moving and had a strong current in some places), most of it was more of a gentle meandering down, and after awhile it did start to become a tad bit boring, lol. After over an hour of gentle meandering I was very ready for the tour to come to an end, but it went on, and on, and on, and on! Beginning to feel restless eventually I felt compelled to ask our guide how much longer it would be and I was told around 20 minutes but 20 minutes certainly felt like 40 so by the end of it I was truly done!

Hiking up to the starting point of the tubing tour

Getting ready to take the plunge!

Leggy Josh

Dinner that night was at one of the 3 acceptable choices of restaurant that we’d found in Palomino. It was a seafood restaurant that had live music. Though the musician was a local (another dirty looking fellow it has to be said), he made blues music, which he played with his harmonica, sang with his voice and strummed on his guitar. He was very talented. Unfortunately though, Palomino is a small town and no sooner had we started to tap our feet along with his music did we see the guy from the restaurant the other night, the one whose music was shit and who couldn’t sing for toffee come trawling into the restaurant with the obvious hopes of scoring a gig there! Oh heeeell no!

Freshly Caught Seafood: Oh what delight!

Afterwards we jumped into a local tuk tuk which took us home. The journey which walking took around 10 minutes along the beach took the guy almost 30 minutes because his tuk tuk was so old and busted that it struggled to get beyond 10 miles an hour and wobbled and shook all the while. I felt really sorry for the man as clearly this was the way that he made his living and I could see that he was just doing the best that he could with what he had. What an injustice that some people can’t even afford to buy the equipment they need to do their work. Infact just while I was pondering on the sadness of his situation the tuk tuk did infact break down, and the man didn’t even have a phone with a light to look underneath the vehicle to fix it so he had to use ours. Considering we had essentially being avoiding the taxi drivers of Cartagena due to their continual dastardly ways, the fact that this man had to go through so much just to get what worked out to be less then what those lowly Cartagena taxi drivers were charging seemed to be a bit of a crime.

The following morning I searched high and low for the hair band that the Dutch friend that I made in Brazil gave to me but I couldn’t find it. It seemed hard to believe that I had managed to lose it since I remembered that I had been wearing it whilst we were on our tubing trip, and I don’t generally lose things, alas it was gone. We checked out the pool area just incase and turned the bedroom upside down to try and find it but it wasn’t there. I was extremely upset. Not only because it was such a great hairband that kept my hair in one piece with a great brown colour that camouflaged perfectly against my hair colour, but it had been given to me by a very special friend, a friend who gave it to me in Brazil on NYE. So it was very upsetting.

I had been talking with a friend back home casually about the Coronavirus situation, which had been rapidly escalating back in the UK recently with people snatching the last packs of toilet tissue out of other people’s hands, clearing the shelves of food and supplies and generally exhibiting very nasty and selfish behaviour. Josh and I had began to talk about how relieved we were that we would be free of it and would soon be on our very luxurious cruise around the Caribbean.

Before we’d come away we had planned every detail about how our travels would go and that was the piece de resistance! A cruise around the Caribbean with my favourite cruise line and on her newest ship which I had been dying to go on ever since I’d heard about her. But just as I relayed to my friend our plans to leave Cartagena to fly to Miami in order to pick up our cruise, news started coming in about their being problems with certain cruise lines, and after what seemed like a matter of hours the seriousness of the situation dramatically increased and then suddenly we were being told that our cruise had been cancelled with immediate effect and as a matter of fact so had all cruises worldwide for the next 30 days due to the Coronavirus.

What on earth is going on?

This was a massive blow to us not only because we had been so looking forward to it but also because we had specifically coincided the flights we had booked so that we could go to Miami FOR the cruise!

But that was only the start of our worries. Soon we were being told that Europe was now the epicentre of the disease which was spreading like wildfire throughout not just Italy now but France, Germany and Spain also and many countries were beginning to close their borders to slow the spread of the virus. All except the UK of course because we always like to be different!

This put our plans into a bit of turmoil as we soon heard that the US had suspended travel to and from Europe with immediate affect but of course the UK was exempt from such draconian measures as he likes Boris (why else not?), alas that statement was soon retracted as the UK doubled their infection rates within just 24 hours. Now the UK had been added to the list.

Would we get caught out trying to get home in time before the ban was introduced to people returning to the UK? Would we be able to change our flights with no penalisation due to the extreme nature of all of these border closures, airport bans, flight and cruise cancellations and extreme uncertainty? – it was hard to know!

Also of course, I worry about my family. I need to get home now to be near them, just incase. My Mum is at risk as she has a lung disease so is considered to be a vulnerable person, and then there’s my Dad, who had treatment for Cancer just last year, My Nan and Grandad who are in poor health anyway and elderly, and then there’s Josh’s parents who are the same.

I can’t afford to get caught up in between countries with no way to get home right now. Even though I can’t be with them I need to at least be near them. This is scary times we’re living in. With no real answers being given, no clear ones anyway. Are we really sure we know what we are dealing with?  because I don’t understand why if children are carriers, schools aren’t being closed with immediate affect, or why if it’s not airbourne and is infact contracted via contact, concrete floors are being sprayed. Who touches the floor??

I feel like either the government, doctors and scientists don’t really know/understand what’s going on or they know and aren’t telling us. Could it be biological warfare? – though I don’t know who the perpetrator would be since the virus is affecting everyone around the world. These are crazy times we’re living in with no end in sight.

Shit is getting realer then real and here in Colombia, though there has been no sign of any immediate changes to peoples day to day lives, and certainly no empty shelves or panic buying we have now just heard that Colombia has just reported their first 2 cases of Coronavirus so we will see how this country will react to such news or indeed whether we will get caught in the middle of it.

After hearing that my Grandad had taken ill, with a high temperature and cough (the symptoms of the Coronavirus), I was ready to leave this place. We were due to go back home to our apartment in Cartagena for a few days before our flight to Miami (which we hadn’t yet decided whether or not we were going to cancel). But before we went back to the village for a coffee and some lunch. There was a sign for a cafe which we’d seen called Maria Malata which we’d been meaning to go to (or Josh had anyway, I couldn’t actually see the place because it was around a corner so I worried a little how “safe” it was), but we walked straight in.

The first thing that struck me was just how dirty it was.

What kind of place is this?! I demanded to know. The place was filthy, with broken down brick a brack, dirty tables and chairs, flys buzzing around the place, and including what it looked like they were trying to promote as some kind of horrible looking art installation. Before we’d had a chance to turn around and go back the way we came, a dirty looking man, with straggly, greasy hair which was hanging down over his eyes preventing us from seeing him properly, with mud smeared all over his clothes, busted up trainers and blackened teeth approached us with 2 ripped up, flimsy looking menu’s asking us what we’d like to eat. I was speechless with horror to look around and see that this establishment, with it’s hideous and unwashed looking patron was serving anything at all let alone food!

But I could see the great unwashed clientele that was clearly having themselves a good ole time frequenting this establishment, completely oblivious to the pieces of food stuck in the bar mans long moustache, mangy dogs scratching their flea bitten bodies to death, the whiff of a frowsy body that passed them or the sweaty waiter with yellow and black rotten teeth that stood before them. In short: This was their domain, not mine. So as to not be offensive to them, even though my skin was positively crawling and I felt as though if I hadn’t caught Covid 19 by then then this was surely where I would, we ordered 2 cappuccino’s then got the hell outta there!

Bloody awful. AWFUL I tell you!

I think if you’re happy to live an extremely lowly existence with no luxuries to speak of, and bathe in stone cold water but be amongst nature and a beautiful beach then Palomino is for you, but if not, if you need a certain standard to live by and in, certain luxuries, a certain level of cleanliness and access to decent food then stay well away. Perhaps they are on track to become a little more developed as time goes on but I’m sorry to say, they have a VERY long way to go.

 

Week 2 in Cartagena, Colombia

Week 2 in Cartagena, Colombia

The weather here has been simply glorious. Sunny with clear blue skies and gentle to strong winds depending on where you are located, we have really experienced what living on the Caribbean coast really feels like and we like it!

Unbeknownst to us, we had actually arrived in Cartagena’s cooler season, the ideal time to visit because of the year round humidity in the historic city, which according to the people who lived here, made Cartagena almost too intense to bare. Infact we had been warned of the heat and humidity of Cartagena, but we had found the weather to be much milder in comparison to Bahia in Brazil. Still it was hot, very hot, hovering steadily in the early to mid thirties everyday, so I couldn’t imagine how it could possibly get much hotter then it was but I was very relieved that it seemed as if we had come at the perfect time!

We had booked a trip to one the nearby beaches, Playa Blanca. Playa Blanca was touted as the best of Cartagena’s beaches due to the sand which was very white, and the sea which was very blue – much more like the type of typical Caribbean beach that I was hoping to see! The tour included transportation to the beach (you could go by boat or by sea but we opted for the road option because of the reports of the boat being small and fragile looking, and the sea’s being rough). We were then going to be taken to Nena Beach, said to be the best beach resort on Playa Blanca and it included a beach cabana there for the day with a welcome cocktail, beach towels, lunch and drinks. There were other, cheaper options available but we wanted to get the most out of our experience, and since we didn’t plan to do endless trips to the beaches in Cartagena due to the fact that we were going to be seeing even better beaches once we got to the Caribbean islands on our upcoming cruise, we thought that it made sense to visit the best one on offer.

In addition, after some 2 months of joining us on our travels, my sister had booked her ongoing trip to one of the ABC islands: Curacao, and would be leaving us in the next couple of days to spend the remainder of her time there before she went back to the UK. Living as a threesome, or #thethreeamigos as we’d affectionately called our group of three, had been lots of fun. The bond between my sister and I is a given but thankfully Josh and my sister also get on like a house on fire, which has made the 2 months that we’ve spent together in Colombia pretty easy.

We lived together in our beautiful Medellin apartment for 6 weeks and then since moving to Cartagena we have spent the 2 weeks that she has been here checking out the area and going out and doing activities together. For Josh and I, travelling is a way of life for us and our passion, but we also enjoy sharing our experiences with our loved ones and we’ve had a great time with my sister in South America.

Since we were staying in an apartment (that none of the local taxi drivers seemed to be capable enough to find), we told the tour guide to collect us all from my sisters hotel instead. We were told that we needed to be there ready for collection before 8:00 am in the morning, which for me now that I was used to rising late every morning, was truly painful. But despite being there on time, we all sat there like numpty’s waiting for this guy to collect us way past the time that he said we would be arriving as nobody showed up. Eventually after waiting for over 30 minutes we made contact with the company and they told us that he would be there very soon. Soon thereafter, a guy wearing a green t-shirt who had been standing in the lobby for awhile saying nothing to no one, approached us and asked Josh if he was awaiting collection to Playa Blanca. Well of course he was you fool! Honestly.

We jumped into the mini-van and then a couple of stops later we transferred into a large mini-van which was already patiently waiting for us to join them, no doubt who had been delayed because this man didn’t have enough common sense to announce that he had arrived at our hotel! The journey was relatively short, just under an hour, and on the way we passed by 2 of the areas that we had yet to visit: Manga, which had been touted as a very nice area despite it being very far away from the city walls, and Bocogrande, the more modernised part of Cartagena.

But what had appealed to me most about the city was the very things that these “modernised” areas didn’t have – an abundance of historic buildings. Sure, they were crumbling, many of them needed repainting, and quite a number of them needed rebuilding, but the architectural beauty and historical value of these buildings was exactly what made the city so appealing. Without them, Cartagena was just another city trying to fit in. I didn’t particularly like the look of the buildings in those areas – they looked modern but already dated, much like our apartment – they had probably at one point been quite stylish but modern architecture oftentimes doesn’t age well and this I was seeing being played out many times here in Colombia, as in Medellin they had had the same problem leaving them with no legacy buildings to decorate their streets.

The iconic city walls at night 

When we arrived at Playa Blanca, gringo’d up to the nines with traveller backpacks in tow, we trawled through the clearly desperately poor town where the locals stared openly at us as we walked by, passed the multiple sellers of unwanted tourist-centric tatt, through the dust filled dirt roads which smelt like a mixture of rotting food, open drains and feces. Following us, a group of locals, clearly with the intentions of following us to see where we went so that they could proceed to offer their services (whatever they may be). I had previously been warned about the fact that I would be encountering an abundance of beach sellers at this beach resort, who very much like hyena’s waiting to pounce upon any tourist that ventured through their area were very insistent and would continue bothering you until you gave in.

At this point in time I found it hard to imagine that this place, with it’s bad odours, piles of rubbish that had just been dumped on the floor in the car park, and broken pieces of glass and brick a brack, could possibly have the beautiful beach that it had been described as having, but once we got through the sad looking town and car park area and down onto the beach I could finally see what people had been talking about. The sea was even better then expected: clean with an eye-catching light powdery blue colour which against the white sand looked very inviting.

And though the beach did have lots of beach clubs, restaurants and hotels alongside it, our beach resort Nena Beach, with it’s beachy bohemian good looks, decorated with wood in white and light natural colours with lots of comfortable looking private cabanas was most definitely the best of the lot. All in all, I was quite surprised how undeveloped this beach was as it was clearly very popular, but then I was still being surprised with Colombia, in particular with how underdeveloped the most expensive city in Colombia was (Cartagena) versus Medellin, which was much more developed in comparison.

Dinner cocktails at Candé Cochina 

Beach Scammers

Not long after we’d locked our personal items away in the accompanying wooden chest that came with our cabana and been given a welcome cocktail, did two “beach sellers” approach my sister and I before I’d even gotten the chance to swig said cocktail, did they begin their tirade of sales spiel to try to convince us to try their beach massage services. I wasn’t in the least bit interested, but Josh and my sister were so they proceeded to prepare themselves for their 30 minute full body massages and then before I knew it another masseuse was upon me proclaiming the benefit of her massages and telling me that I was very stiff. Well yes I am very stiff because I’ve literally just arrived to the beach after an hours drive in a cramped mini-van and here you are harassing me before I’ve even had a chance to breathe! I haven’t had a chance to do the relaxation that I came to the beach for!

Unfortunately, this woman wouldn’t go away. As I’ve mentioned before, these people are very pushy and determined, and they can talk for Britain. No matter how many times you say “No Gracias” they just relentlessly bang on until you surrender. But I didn’t want a bloody massage from this woman because I knew that I wouldn’t be satisfied at the end of it. I had been spoiled in Thailand, with having the best massage in the world (Thai Massage) from the women who do it the best, and having massages in Thailand is like a social activity, it’s as casual as you going to get your nails or hair done – men and women alike simply stroll into one of the many massage parlors on the highstreet, at breakfast lunch or dinner or even all three and get not only the cheapest massage you’ll ever get but the very best.

So having this predatory Colombian woman provide a massage on the beach, which I knew wasn’t going to rival that experience seemed pretty pointless to me, alas this woman was clearly so desperate to have me change my mind that she offered to give me a “demonstration”.

I didn’t want that either but she started massaging anyway. About 20 minutes in it occurred to me that this woman might be trying her bits, and continue massaging in the hope that at some point she could guilt me into paying for her services because she had been doing it for such a long time. In addition to the massage which was below par as expected, the woman kept on banging on to her masseuse mates who were massaging people near by. She simply wouldn’t shut up!

Any chance for relaxation was ended swiftly as she talked and cackled her way through her “professional work”, slathering on lots of watery feeling oil with no scent whatsoever as she went. The fact that this was supposed to be a professional enterprise on the beach was laughable. This woman was having a laugh! The massage felt like she was simply giving me a rub down, it was a tickle NOT a massage, infact I would have been surprised if she had any masseuse qualifications whatsoever.

Alas after 40 minutes of oily rubdowns it was clear to me that despite the incessant talking that i’d had to endure, and despite no skill being shown whatsoever in the task of massaging, and far too much low grade oil running down my back, I knew that this woman was expecting payment. When it eventually ended after about an hour, at pretty much the same time as did my sisters and Josh’s, all three masseuses were put their hands out demanding payment for the full hour. We’d all been duped. They as masseuse should have stopped massaging once the 30 minutes was up as was requested but they knew that we would have no idea when 30 minutes was up so they went on until they could fleece us for the full hours fee. What bitches!

Arguing with them in Spanish wasn’t an option and in some ways unfortunately I wasn’t in the least bit surprised with their shady antics. The Colombian people of Cartagena had unfortunately been exhibiting some very shady behaviours in our encounters with them since we’d arrived I was afraid to say.

Needless to say after that encounter, I didn’t feel in the least bit relaxed.

Lunch was delicious though, a combination of locally caught fresh fish (that had been fried as the Colombians love frying things!), with coconut rice, plantain and salad (a staple Colombian meal really). But the fish I’d never tasted before and it reminded me very much of fried chicken, lol.

Beach sellers were a big (and very annoying) problem. Of course I know that in many parts of the world this is very much a thing on the beach but Colombians, particularly those in Cartagena, are noisy people. They talk loudly, talk to you even when you are clearly not interested in hearing what they have to say, talk at you, after you and goodness knows what about, and they bother you incessantly. These beach sellers were no different and coupled with the fact that we were all still seething from the encounter with the scam artist massage ladies on the beach, and the strong smell of petrol fumes coming from the many jet ski’s that were zooming through the sea close to us, it was becoming increasingly harder to relax.

So we went for a walk but that wasn’t very relaxing either as people were playing music at full blast through their very distorted speakers and talking loud enough to be heard on the neighbouring island. All I wanted was a bit of peace and quiet on a beautiful Caribbean beach but I was being treated to something else entirely. Eventually things quietened down a bit and I was able to have a snooze on my very comfortable cabana bed and go for a swim in the inviting sea. Unfortunately on my first attempt I lost my sunglasses as I ducked down to avoid being blasted in the face by on oncoming wave and they were consequently ripped off my face in one swift motion and none of us could find them after that.

I hadn’t really enjoyed being in the sea anyway as there were very big rocks on the sea bed and despite the light blue colour of the water, you couldn’t actually see your feet (perhaps because of the chemicals from the jet ski’s?) and thus I was tripping over the rocks, almost stubbing my toes. No, the best place for me was actually back in the safety and comfort of Nena Beach, where I could at least sit on one of the wooden swings at the front of the raised restaurant looking out at what looked very beautiful but also had a few undesirables lurking within.

I had enjoyed myself at Playa Blanca but had no plans to come back due to the annoying beach sellers and the intense smell of petrol fumes that permeated the air almost making me gag.

Beach Loveliness on Playa Blanca 

Relaxavous for two 

Nena Beach Club 

There are infact no mosquitoes or cockroaches in Cartagena. I know, I’m as surprised as you are but honestly I haven’t seen any cockroaches (though I have seen a couple of beetles), and I haven’t been bitten by any mosquitoes. In Medellin it was the same but here I assumed that it would be different because of the climate, which is extremely hot and humid, alas I am pleased to say that we have had the pleasure of being able to leave our windows and sliding doors to our balcony open all hours of the day and throughout the night because of our confidence that there are no lurking beasts here to venture in.

I have been especially happy that I haven’t had any mosquito bites to attend to as I am allergic to mosquito bites and it can be get pretty bad for me, and was particularly bad in Brazil. I’m sure this won’t last forever though, as we have booked a couple of days in Palomino, which is also on the coast of Colombia and I’ve been reliably informed that they definitely DO have mossies. But for now I’m revelling in my good fortune!

My sister has now left Colombia and flown to Curacao, a little island in the Caribbean. We got to spend lots of quality time together in Colombia so I’m not sad she’s gone and of course I will see her again when I (unfortunately) return to the UK! 😦

My sisters last night with us in Colombia 

#thethreeamigos

Honk Honk!

These people are crazy, that’s all I can say. I do not know what on earth is wrong with them but their low down behaviour and scam artist tactics is so predictable that it’s become the norm. I hate using the local taxi service here because of this but as my sister lives 10 minutes away from us and the walk from ours to hers is through a very undesirable area (aka stab alley territory), we thought it would be safer for us all if after a night out we all jumped into a taxi from the old town and then went via ours to drop us off first before driving onto hers, however these taxi drivers seem determined to try and scam us, with every trip home, the same distance and to exactly the same addresses (which are basically walking distance), charging us wildly differing prices for the trip. They have no metres in their cars so it is is very easy for them to do this, and the worst thing is that they do not even know where they are going!

They charge obscene prices for going a few metres down the road, and sometimes do not even give back change, or in the case of my sister, give her the wrong (lower value) note back as change. They are thieves! Plain and simple. It pains me to say this as I do not wish to think of the Colombian people in this way but unfortunately each trip of them has shown that this kind of low down culture permeates as they all do it!

They overcharge, give you back the wrong change – all whilst clearly knowing that we are tourists and can’t really speak the language so they are clearly doing it on purpose which is disgusting! And if you thought they would redeem themselves with knowing where they are going then think again because they haven’t got a clue! They are asking us (tourists) for directions! – They don’t use sat navs (I don’t think they’ve even heard of a sat nav) and they don’t use maps either, they just expect you to direct them to where you want to go and then overcharge you for the privilege!

The last straw was when my sister took a taxi to the airport. Sick to the back teeth of using their crooked service she used the app Cabbify to book a taxi instead but then one of the “local” taxi’s turned up! So even when you try in earnest NOT to use them you fail as they are signed up to this app too. Bloody buzzards. Anyway she had prepaid the journey as the app (much like Uber though Uber is now banned in Colombia) is connected to her credit card, but when the driver arrived at the airport he demanded payment from her!

She paid because she was in a rush and didn’t in that moment remember to check her account to show him that she had infact already paid plus she didn’t want to have to try and argue with this abominable man in Spanish but it turns out that of course she had already paid and he would have known that. These people are shoddy beyond belief!!

The bus drivers and taxi drivers honk their horns at you as you walk down the street, motor cyclists beep, locals shout out of their car windows, cyclists ring their bells, men driving the horse carriages yell – it’s all too much honky honk lark if you ask me!

In addition to the questionable taxi behaviours (which it seems as though anyone can qualify to do so long as they can afford to buy the car!), the honking of car and motorbike horns on the road in general is VERY frequent and VERY noisy. They honk their horns so often for no apparent reason that I’m genuinely worried that I’ve come so disensitised to it that if anyone honks their horn at me in the UK I won’t react and possibly cause an accident!

It also seems as though the men here are on heat, with the most filthy kind of lustful looks cast my way that I’ve seen outside of Italy. Shameful. Disrespectful (as they can clearly see that I’m with Josh but they don’t care), and they are very vocal about their approval too. The level of the men here I’m afraid to say is very low. I doubt very much that they have anything of substance to say judging by the way that they behave and it’s such a shame because I still think that Cartagena is a very beautiful and romantic place. It has such a character about it. The way the light hits the walled city, and sunsets at Cafe Del Mar is really something to behold. And there are so many places we continue to discover.

Places that you wouldn’t expect, hidden away in the maze of roads in the walled city, behind iron gates and heavy intricate wooden doors. And then there’s the music, so good it makes your heart sing and your feet move. The feeling of being in Colombia is strong and is what I love so much about this place. It is authentic, with beautiful colonial buildings, salsa music drifting out of the flower filled balcony’s littering the old town, such energy and fun. But it’s also very dirty and more rundown then I would reasonably expect a UNESCO heritage city to be, extremely busy, the taxi drivers are crooks, and it’s quite sleazy and very hassley with a distinct air of desperation and aggression coming from many of the street sellers who hang around on the street corner. So, not all perfect!

Windswept on the wall 

The Coronavirus virus has been spreading rapidly in all parts of the world, including in South America, where there has now been one death in Brazil. Now the prediction of how bad things are going to be as time goes on seems much more certain and as a result people have began to panic. According to the news, shelves have started to empty back in the UK with people walloping other shoppers over the head with the last packs of toilet roll no less! It’s things like this that make human beings, already predisposed to selfish behaviours, even more so, and their nasty, selfish reactions to this crisis has already began to show.

This is despite the UK being far behind in comparison to the rest of Europe and Italy in particular which has been suffering badly with the pandemic, quarantining whole villages and closing schools. And who knows whether the same will happen in the UK? – All I know is I’m glad to be out of it.

At present, South America is far behind in comparison when it comes to Covid 19 cases. Colombia doesn’t appear to even be aware that there’s a worldwide pandemic going on and infact they don’t even have the sanitiser gel that the World Health Authority have been telling people they need to be using, infact I don’t even think they even know what hand sanitiser is! So we are without any anti-bacterial gel or wipes out here but then at the same time I’m not worried about catching it here anyway. When we leave here to go to Miami now, that might be a different matter!

And of course there’s always the possibility that we will be quarantined on our cruise ship like the other 2 cases that I’ve heard of. But even Amazon is low on stocks for the gel and the ones that are available have been hiked up to 10 times the price. Josh and I have seriously considered making our own with a mixture of 60% + alcohol and Aloe Vera Gel – or failing that we’ve even thought about using Sexual Lubricant since that has alot of Glycerin in it, another ingredient that can be used! lol

Vera at the Tcherassi Spa and Hotel

We had previously passed the Tcherassi Spa and Hotel on one of our strolls around the city. It had immediately stood out because of it’s mysterious air and beautiful smell wafting out of it. You entered through a beautiful latticed iron wrought gate and gigantic wooden door and beyond that was a light and airy courtyard with a running waterfall and glorious looking pool set against a living plant wall. The owner of the restaurant Silvia Tcherassi, is a highly regarded Colombian fashion designer and this hotel, her very first one in the city where she was born, is regarded as being one of the very best in the world according to Condé Nast Traveller. Naturally, I just had to go!

We booked a table in their Italian restaurant Vera and I wore my fancy Havaianas as I didn’t think I could face walking the streets of Cartagena in heels but I brought my heels in another bag just incase as I knew that it was a very fancy establishment. Thankfully they were okay with my footwear and showed us straight away to a table overlooking the pool area in the gorgeous courtyard. I loved the lovely stone walled courtyard, filled with greenery and flowers. There are so many of them in Cartagena and it’s something that only places with a reliable amount of sunny days can pull off. The floors were cream marble of the highest quality, the furniture was rattan, suiting the tropical Caribbean environment perfectly.

Beside the long pool was the stunning plant wall which clearly was being pampered very well indeed to keep it looking so immaculate. White walls all around, open in the middle to allow the sky in, the intimate tables with their immaculate white table clothes looked very elegant against the beautiful exposed brick arches they were underneath. A simple cream rose decorated each table. Design wise this was very us. Both Josh and I thought it was gorgeous. Unsurprisingly being that this hotel was the namesake of a designer, the decor had been very well thought out and it’s simple but classic elegance was very romantic.

The service matched in professionalism and warmth and the food came out promptly and was both delicious and creatively presented. There was a live salsa band there too, where we were sitting it was a little awkward to see them as one of the beautiful stone pillars was right in front of our table but they sounded fantastic so I found it hard to eat without jiggling about in my seat. We would most definitely return with no hesitation!

Tcherassi Spa and Hotel

Beautiful interiors at Vera Restaurant 

Sated 🙂

The following day we dined at Alma, one of Cartagena’s fanciest seafood restaurants (with a price to match!). The food was very good but unfortunately the restaurant was full of loud Americans who can’t seem to keep their conversation level to just their table -they have to advertise their whole life story for the whole restaurant to hear!

Tomorrow we’re off to the beach resort of Palomino for 5 days 🙂

Art on a plate at Alma Restaurant 

Week 1 in Cartagena, Colombia

Week 1 in Cartagena, Colombia

We were warned by a friend of a friend in Brazil to avoid staying in Cartagena for longer then a few days.

We were told that it was too busy, that there wasn’t enough to see or do, and it was far too hot. Far too hot?! Considering that at the time we were sitting there sweating our lives away in the most humid place that either of us had ever been to (Bahia, Brazil), I couldn’t possibly imagine being any hotter. I wondered how could it be, that Cartagena, on the beautiful Caribbean coast of Colombia (which had already provided a few unexpected surprises during my travels), could be so poorly rated by a fellow Brit? But how could I ignore advice coming from someone who had chosen the beautiful Bahia as her home??

It didn’t take long for Josh and I to decide to ignore her advice. Afterall we had already booked our Airbnb accomodation for the entirety of our stay in Cartagena and the cancellation policy was quite harsh.

Also, Josh and I didn’t take her advice and shortcut our trip to Cartagena partly because we didn’t appreciate being preached to about where we should and shouldn’t go especially when we didn’t know this woman from Adam – we’d only just met. No. We would bare her “advice” in mind but we were going to travel the only way we know how: #slowtravel. We weren’t looking for a “quick Cartagena fix” we wanted to get to know Cartagena properly – it’s good bits and it’s bad.

Cartagena was only a 45 minute flight away from Medellin. My sister was booked on a seperate flight to Josh and I but had a hotel booked just 10 minutes away from our apartment. Being that I hadn’t done much if any research on Cartagena beforehand I didn’t know much about the area where our apartment was located – just that it was on the seafront, and was walking distance to the historical UNESCO world heritage site of Cartagena Old Town – with it’s iconic crumbling ancient walls that surrounded it’s secrets and beautiful Spanish colonial architecture within.

I’d heard that the city beaches of Cartagena were nothing to write home about but as our last apartment in Medellin had been in the middle of a busy city with a view of the majestic mountains but no beach I thought that it would be a nice contrast for us to have our next place on the beachfront with a view of the Caribbean sea and the sounds and smells that went along with it.

The first thing that hit me when we touched down in Cartagena was the heat. Nowhere near as humid as I was expecting but quite a few degrees hotter then Medellin, it was a welcome change of climate and I loved the fact that I could now see palm trees swaying gently in the breeze.

As expected, both the beach and our apartment wasn’t anything special, for starters our apartment was very small and though it clearly at one time had been quite stylish it seemed to be in a bit of a state of disrepair and lacked the comfort factor that our Medellin apartment provided. A decor update was way overdue! But it was in a great location being walking distance from the old town and in addition to us having a seaview, we also had access to a pool (which was very much appreciated in this heat) and 2 bikes to use that came along with the apartment rental.

 

Our new “bijoux” but centrally located seaview apartment in Cartagena 

The wind coming off the ocean was so strong that we couldn’t leave the windows or sliding doors to our balcony open. The beach promenade was certainly not very inspiring – with cloudy, murky, grey-ish water, rough waves and a dark hard sand beach right next to a busy 4 lane road  – I had no intention of luxuriating myself upon it. Despite this though, I was glad to be in this new place that was so very different from the place that we had just come from in so many ways. After unpacking and somewhat acclimatising to the intense heat of Cartagena in comparison to the fresh spring like feeling of Medellin, we met up with my sister and went in search for food and whatever else the city had to offer.

The first thing that I noticed when we started walking down the main road towards the walls of the old city was how dusty it was everywhere. Plumes of sand blew onto the road and into our faces, gathering at the pavements making it tricky to walk across without getting it into my sandals. Endless traffic went to and from at high speed, blasting out plumes of visible pollution into the air, and unlike the relatively calm and organised nature of Medellin, there was distinct sense of urgency and aggression in the air from these people – men yelled across the street at us, streets sellers pushed their unwanted drinks in our faces demanding that we buy them, people packed in like sardines on dusty old buses staring out the window at us, men wolf whistled, taxi’s slowed right down beeping at us and blocking us from crossing the road offering their services (which we did not need), and drivers in cars with blacked out windows heckled us. I did not understand a word that these people were saying but I felt the intention: we had already been identified as being non-Colombian.

For the very first time since arriving in Colombia I felt on edge. How could somewhere so close to Medellin feel so very different?

Cartagena was noisy. VERY noisy. And that was just on the highstreet – we hadn’t even made it to the ancient walls yet..

Soon we could see the towering walls in front of us, 4km long of intimidating looking stone built in 1796 after an attack on the fortress by Sir Francis Drake. Worn out and blackened by time it made a stark contrast to the clearly very modernised city life that went on behind it. We entered the city via one of the walls arches, being beeped by the local taxi drivers all the while.

An assault on the senses ensued as we began walking around the maze of streets within the city walls. Not pedestrianised as I had imagined it would be, the streets were very much alive, with lots of tourists (mostly Colombians) bustling around, coming out of cafe’s, restaurants and shops, loud salsa music blaring out of the bars, horses pulling along carriages with excited looking passengers coupled with a throng of local yellow taxi’s clogging up the roads doing their customary harassment by beeping their horns and yelling out of their windows, groups of young Colombian boys proceeding to follow us down the street free style rapping a song at us in exchange for a few peso’s, and lots and lots of street sellers bellowing in Spanish at anyone who cared to listen what they had for sale.

Amongst this, streets that were classically beautiful, if more then a little grubby with the distinct smell of drains, the Spanish Colonial Architecture that had earned this Caribbean city it’s UNESCO heritage status stood out. This was a place of extreme contrast, and though I had to adjust my breathing to reflect the fact that these streets didn’t smell like the colourful flowers that decorated them, I could feel that there was something very special going on here.

The following day we decided to follow the list of recommended places to see in Cartagena that had been given to us by our Airbnb host. Though we were not especially impressed with the standard of our accommodation (particularly when we compared it to the incredible penthouse apartment we’d just come from in Medellin), the list that our host had given us was very comprehensive, perhaps the most comprehensive recommendation we’d received by an Airbnb host!

So we took our time and walked around the city, stopping off at plaza’s, tiny cobbled streets filled with bijoux cafes, hidden restaurants, hotels and private mansions and all the while I was thinking what an enchanting place this was. There was such character in this city – beautiful architecture delighted me at every turn in the pastel and rainbow hued colours of the Caribbean, coupled with the sounds of a very busy Latin city, salsa music playing everywhere. My heart jumped when I saw all of the grand architecture decorated with eye wateringly beautiful flowers that cascaded down the intricately carved wooden doors and across the hanging balcony’s. For the people who lived here, perhaps this was nothing new to them, but for me, seeing these architectural marvels across the clear blue skies, feeling the history of the place with every step I took, seeing the people that represented this diverse Latin city, and hearing all of the incredible music that got my body moving, I felt that finally, I had really arrived in Colombia.

An oil painters dream 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I had been in Medellin I had felt that it was generally a very interesting, safe, modern city. Though I had heard many stories of how Medellin had been turned around from the days of the drug cartels that littered it’s past, I didn’t expect it to feel quite so grown up. Certainly, for one seeking a good life with reliably good weather, it was a hit.  But for me, it was lacking something. Not quite so stark as Florianopolis was in it’s quest for being thoroughly European despite it being in culturally rich Brazil. But I had found the people there came as a bit of a surprise. Medellin felt to me like it was a little too well behaved to be a Colombian city. But here in Cartagena, finally I had found what it was I was searching for.

A riot of colour and noise everywhere, the Colombian people were the diverse mix of skin tones and ethnicities that I had imagined that they were, the city was a little rough around the edges, many of the buildings were faded and crumbling, many more a safety hazard boarded up and unloved, and the people were very aggressive, shouting at you from up close and far away, the men extremely sleazy, licking their lips at you as you walked by, whistling their lips irrespective of the fact that I was walking with Josh and slowing down in their cars to get a good look at my sister and I, taxi drivers annoying with their constantly honking horns, reggeaton and salsa music being blasted confidently from every other shop on the highstreet.

This was certainly no picnic. But despite all of this, Cartagena Old Town had an undeniable charm and old romance about it. It was dirty yes, but it was also very sensual, with secrets doors to secret places all over the city. Wrought iron gates led through to plant and flower filled courtyards with sunlight streaming down on it, against a backdrop of exposed brick and brightly coloured flowers. The icons of Colombia, the Afro Colombian women who sashayed down the street with bowls of fruit on their heads wearing colourful dresses in the colours of the Colombian Flag (women who are also known as Palenqueras) so beautiful and distinctive.

 

Learning how to balance a bowl of fruit on my head “Palenqueras” style!

 

A secret door leads to secret discoverys!

And then I came across La Serrezuela..

Is this the most beautiful shopping mall in South America?

Not really one to get excited about going clothes shopping (though I certainly do enjoy getting new things particularly if it’s through the convenience of online shopping), I initially thought that this incredible building in front of me was a hotel or something. But after spotting some people sitting in what looked like a fancy coffee shop, we ventured in to discover more.

Well, I was simply blown away when I realised that this stunning piece of architecture was not a high end hotel at all but infact a glamorous shopping mall. Originally a bull ring, this UNESCO heritage building had been built around the existing round bull ring structure to create a very unique building that included the circular ring in a spacious, light and airy marble filled shopping mall, complete with individually designed boutique shops over 3 floors – the ring part which was resplendent in dark wood included theatre style seating for special entertainment events, and on the roof top was bars and a restaurant section where you could get everything from Sushi to Peruvian to Steaks or French Bistro. In addition to this, the entire mall smelt incredible. Just being in there was a delight. Infact after having sushi at the amazing sushi restaurant on the top floor whilst overlooking the hustle and bustle of the city below I found it hard to remember having ever being in a mall quite this glamorous.  From the outside it was beautiful but inside it was even better as you were able to get the detail and the sheer scale of this architectural marvel.

In my personal opinion La Serrezuela was the most beautiful shopping mall that I had ever seen. Sorry Westfield!

 

The very sophisticated shopping mall La Serrezuela in the heart of Cartagena Old Town

La Serrezuela at night 

 

 

 

Minding my business in one of La Serrezuela’s many luxurious shops 

On our list of recommendations we had been told about Cafe Del Mar: The ultimate chilled our bar located on top of the old city walls (which you could walk the length of with no restrictions). We were told to get there early for drinks so that we could catch the sunset.

Thankfully we made it just in time as the place was completely packed with tourists and locals alike, waiting patiently with cocktails in hand at the perfect place to watch the sunset and meet friends for drinks. We got talking to a couple from Peru who were on holiday in Colombia, on our table also a couple from Biarritz in France and people from other parts of Colombia, a real mix. The Pina Colada went perfectly with the chilled out vibes of the house music playing in the background whilst the Colombian flag fluttered in the wind against the backdrop of the Caribbean sea and a soul stirringly beautiful sunset.

Chilled Cartagena Nights at Cafe Del Mar

 

We found a great lunch stop the following day: Pezetarian, so named because it only served food for Pescatarians, which was fine by me! Being that we were by the sea, it seemed apt that we should eat seafood and the quality of the food was no less then what I had been experiencing in all of the restaurants in Cartagena so far. I don’t know why I had been worried about the quality of the food in Colombia but according to many blogs I had read about, the food wasn’t anything to write home about. But I had found that both here in Cartagena and in Medellin too, the food was infact very good. It certainly may be true that the Colombian food itself wasn’t anything that special, much like Brazilian cuisine it tended to be based around a few basic ingredients: corn, rice, fish and plantain, and it definitely wasn’t spicey but unlike what we had experienced in many of the Brazilian restaurants, the standard and the creativity of the dishes available was impressive. They had especially cottoned onto the fact that Peruvian cuisine is world class, and we were able to get Peruvian food pretty much everywhere.

I had booked a fancy restaurant for us to go to that evening. Candè had been recommended as the best place to get an authentic Colombian-Caribbean experience. From the reviews it sounded as though the food was pretty good but it was the incredible colonial Caribbean decor and live entertainment that I was especially interested in. We were greeted by hostesses wearing smart black dresses with matching headwraps in a glowing foyer with high ceilings, wicker chairs and hanging lanterns with checked black and white marble floors. I could already hear the music: Distinctly Caribbean with a reggae-calypso vibe. The staff, who rushed around carrying intricate looking plates of food in the maze like dining room, were very smartly dressed, the women in smart black and white outfits and matching shoes and the men wearing white shirts with kravats and matching suspender belts. Initially we were put in a back room (which was beautiful), but Josh asked us to be moved to the main dining room and then we were promptly taken to a table right at the front of the restaurant where there was a stage set up for the band who was due to come and play. Immediately I was impressed with the impeccable decor of this restaurant. The lighting was incredible, casting a warming glow from the abundance of lamps and hanging lights that littered the restaurant. Above us on the high ceiling we could see right through to a level above with intimate seating surrounding the colonial style white stone pillared structure.

In the middle of the room stood a centuries old tree with a commanding look bursting up and out of the rooftop, exotic plants scattered throughout giving the space a distinctly tropical feeling. After a short dance routine by a couple wearing traditional Caribbean clothing then came the band who were just brilliant. Playing a succession of very catchy salsa songs, they played along whilst food was served from the impeccably dressed staff. The restaurant had an immense amount of carefully crafted ambience and reminded me that I was definitely in the Caribbean now!

 

Lobster Bisque with a Caribbean Twist!

 

 

The Coronavirus is now very much a thing. Though it had initially been shrugged off as just media hype there have been so many cases of people catching, spreading (and being killed by) the virus both inside and outside of Asia now that it seems that finally governments have started to take notice. I had said a few weeks ago that it seemed as though the virus was everywhere accept for South America but now with the first case being announced in Brazil, this is a thing of the past. I am not especially alarmed but obviously I do not wish to catch it or have the inconvenience of being quarantined anywhere because of it. Our Caribbean cruise is still booked for the end of March and I have been getting regular updates from the cruise line as the situation changes (and it has been rapidly changing, in particular for Italian citizens who have been the worst hit in the whole of Europe). I do have a trip planned to Tuscany in August which I am mildly concerned about but for now I am much more concerned about my cruise not going ahead, or even worse being quarantined on the ship because of an outbreak. Now THAT would be bloody awful. Returning to the UK early is not something I wish to even consider and I certainly do not wish to be stuck in the UK for the foreseeable future when I return because of this virus business because that is not how I choose to spend my time!

 

I pimped my Brazilian Havaianas in Colombia 🙂

Getsemani Walking Tour

Getsemani (or Jetsetmani as it’s also affectionately known) is Cartagena’s Medellin. Once a poor neighbourhood and predominantly black as that’s where most of the descents of slaves could afford to build their homes, it is now very much Cartagena’s up and coming boho hang out, decorated with graffiti art on the crumbling walls which tell the story of the cities history on it’s artisan bakeries and boutique b&b scruffy but narrow art littered streets. This is where the real people of Colombia live, a stark contrast to the centre of town which is full of commercial businesses, shops and hotels, but that is changing.

Nowadays due to the gentrification of the area and tourism, a recent phenomena in this part of town, the people who previously lived here for generations are being pushed out: they can’t afford the rent. It is a sad but in some ways necessary evil for a city that wishes to attract new business and money but oftentimes forgets the people and culture that gives a place it’s unique appeal. Our guide explained a little more to us about the history of the city, including the slavery that built the historic buildings and walls that we now admire. Though of course I knew much of this history already hearing him say it came as a stark and sad reminder to me of all of the nations in the world who have benefited and enriched themselves through the blood, sweat and tears of Africa.

He also said something that I will never forget: that the reason why the Spaniards insisted on using African slaves as opposed to the Native Indians who were already here when they arrived was because they were strong. The native people died too easily or they ran off. What a curse hard work, strength and determination was in those days.

Getsemani felt very different from the old town, for starters there seemed to be much less tourism here and it was more residential but our guide assured us that despite the police presence that we could see currently occupying the main square due to a recent spike in drunkenness, drugs and prostitution in the area, it was very safe. Infact, he said, it was his favourite area to go on a night out and he recommended a few places for us to try. It was still very early so there wasn’t many people about but I was starting to see the rustic charm of this place. It was effortlessly cool. Soon we came upon a local fruit seller so we stopped to taste a strange looking fruit which looked like a giant edamame bean but tasted nothing like it. It was a little sweet and had a furry white texture – you were only meant to suck the juice from the bean and then throw it away. I hardly saw the point in the odd little fruit at all as it didn’t really taste of anything. Afterwards he took us to one of the local shops to try the local beer which was very refreshing in the intensity of the mid-day sun.

Fruits of the Caribbean

Then onto the point of our trip here: the art.

We hadn’t done the graffiti tour in Medellin partly because I had already learned much about the history of the city, including the developments of it’s more poorer parts of town: i.e the barrios. In addition, I personally had no desire to traipse about in the poor part of the city marvelling at what how much it had progressed simply due to the addition of a few new pieces of artwork. But Getsemani was different. Here in Jetsetmani, the whole story of Cartagena was told through the artwork, and indeed, this specific part of Colombia was the exact spot where the declaration of Cartagena’s independence from Spanish rule was announced so it held immense historic and cultural value to the whole of Colombia.  I was really looking forward to seeing this story being told by way of the walls of Getsemani.

The first thing that struck me was the scale of the art. Some pieces were HUGE, taking up the entire side of a high-rise building in some cases, and always with a striking use of colour. Secondly, was the purposeful use of making black women the focal point. Street after street showcasing and celebrating the most beautiful visage of black women in this exotic Caribbean environment. I was simply speechless by the amount of detail, the use of techniques and colours to bring these pieces of artwork to life. And proud to see black women being honoured in this meaningful way. This was afterall, their neighourhood. They had been brought here to work, rear their families and been instrumental in making it the vibrant, diverse and colourful place it now was. Of course they should be celebrated!

I was getting giddy from all of the incredible artwork I was seeing in this small but mighty neighbourhood. It was absolutely fascinating to be able to get a little glimpse into this unique little place. On the way to leave Getsemani I popped into one of the art shops that was advertising it’s incredible artwork on the pavement outside where I came across a beautiful piece of art that I surely would have purchased if I had the room in my overflowing suitcase to host it! It was truly stunning. I had seen similar pieces being sold in Cartagena Old Town but nothing quite as arresting as this. The colours were perfect.

Our walking tour through Getsemani had definitely been an eye-opener. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting from the tour but it was infinity better then my expectations.

 

Discovering the neighbourhood of Getsemani on a Walking Tour 

 

 

 

Getsemani’s resident “sleepy” muse 

The piece of art that stole my heart 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second fav

Look at the scale!

Horse Carriage Ride

One of the things that we were determined to do whilst in Cartagena was take one of their horse drawn carriage rides. We could see that they were being offered on the quaint little historic streets and it looked very appealing. The only thing was choosing a horse that looked like it was being looked after as I could think of nothing worse then taking pleasure from one of these beautiful animals transporting me around when he was malnourished or looked as if he was depressed. No, I’m not a horse whisperer and I can’t claim to understand “horse body language” all I knew was that if I felt uneasy when looking at the horse I did not want to ride on him – for instance I didn’t like it when they put blinkers over their eyes so that they could only see straight ahead and I also didn’t like it when the horses head was down as that indicated to me that they were not happy. I sometimes I wish that I weren’t so afraid of horses as I really do love them. I think that they are absolutely beautiful animals and I’d love to stroke one but I fear that it would buck me so I daren’t try, lol.

Eventually we did find one – a grey and white horse with a red leather halter and lead and his eye blinkers were minimal allowing him to see out of the side, also his head was all the way up – he even glanced at me as if to check who he was going to be transported. Unfortunately our leisurely ride through the streets of Cartagena how I had imagined it would be didn’t really materialise as the traffic was utterly horrendous. Yes, there was a horse traffic jam in the heart of town! Our driver eventually got out of the carriage and left us in the care of the horse (or the horse in the care of us who knows?) and he was gone ages! We guessed that he went to go and see what the hold up was but after waiting around 15 minutes we finally gave up. We didn’t have allnight afterall. We figured that the horse would simply wait until his owner got back but if you ever see a wild grey and white horse roaming the streets of Cartagena then you will know why! lol

 

Sister Squad 

 

 

 

We were overdue a night out so we decided to check out Alquimico, one of the rooftop bars that our Airbnb host had recommended to us. We were all dressed pretty casually as we were just passing by which I regretted once we got there and realised how people dressed to come to this really popular place! It was free and quick to get in though we had to queue to get onto the rooftop which seemed to be a bit of a hit. Unfortunately though the rooftop wasn’t much to write home about – there was nowhere to sit, it was packed full of GUYS (I know, makes a change doesn’t it?) and people were chain smoking. I was expecting it to be a great place to get some fresh air but it turned out to be too noisy as the large groups of guys (who surely must have been on some kind of stag do), were bloody noisy, and the air was certainly not fresh as people were smoking at all point of the rooftop and the smoke was starting to give me a headache.

So we went back downstairs where we stayed for awhile drinking cocktails in the beautifully designed building – which looked like it was once used for something very grand indeed. Cartagena was still revealing surprises at every turn!

 

Very cool decor in this grand old building which now houses the rooftop bar Alquimico

 

LOW LEVEL People

I don’t know what it is with these people (something in the water perhaps?) – that makes them so very aggressive. When Josh and I identified Colombia as a country where we wanted to spend an extended amount of time, it was other people’s description of how friendly the people were that had been a big highlight for us. We had no interest in going somewhere (like Italy for instance!), where people were unnecessarily unfriendly, judgemental or angry for no reason and thankfully we’d had nothing but good experiences so far in Thailand, Bali and Brazil and the people of Medellin, Colombia had been very nice also, but for some reason the people of Cartagena were very different. It wasn’t that they weren’t friendly (they were), they were just very, ah, aggressive!

To be sure, it’s mainly the men, and since I do not have the foggiest idea what on earth they are yelling out to me as I walked on by you could be forgiven for thinking that I got the wrong end of the stick. But I know vibes, I know intention and I sense that these people are simply low level. Colombians stare. I have come to get used to it. But unlike the (somewhat) polite but nosey behaviour exhibited by the Medellin residents when we were doing our walking tours, these guys do not wait to hear what’s been said, see what you’re doing or find out what you want, they just verbally accost you on sight.

For people who are perhaps not used to the very forward way that Latin Americans communicate this kind of agrressive behaviour could very easily be too much. Touts are annoying yes, but I’m not talking about street touts, I’m talking about regular people who you pass by on the street and despite them clearly seeing that we are tourists (or perhaps because we are tourists), they are desperate to get your attention and will talk about you as you pass, stare openly at you as you walk by, yell at you from across the road and if they are driving (taxi or resident alike), they will beep their horn and shout out of their cars relentlessly until they get your attention. And this is when Josh is right there! They simply do not care and they are shameless in their pursuit. It feels intimidating and is very unpleasant and this is in the old town, the place where we are told is the safest place for tourists to go!

What on earth do the guys outside the city walls do?!

But no doubt about it, it is infact the yellow taxi drivers who are the worst. You know, the guys who are supposed to represent this town and care for the many tourists that visit it? – oh yes them. Well they are bloody awful I tell you. AWFUL. There are taxi’s EVERYWHERE in this city – far too many in my honest opinion, perhaps that’s why they carry on in the despicable way that they do. And they roam the streets beeping their horn at you as if to beg YOU to use their service not the other way around (which by the way is pretty rubbish since for the most part they do not even know where they are going and overcharge if they can get away with it!). Then they slow down so much that you literally cannot cross the road. They have a habit of rolling down their windows and shouting out at you when you are not even looking for a bloody taxi – you are simply walking down the street TRYING IN EARNEST to enjoy the pleasant summers day in peace! And to make matters even worse, on the rare occasion that you actually do need a taxi (out of pure desperation I have to add), then they are nowhere to be seen!

They drive past you when you put your hand out for one (as is customary in literally every country that I have ever visited who have a city taxi service) and you can’t even see inside the car to see the drivers face or see if it’s free or not as the cars are completely blacked out front to back. Utterly ridiculous!

The slowing down whilst I’m trying to cross the road, blocking my pathway and almost causing an accident is definitely the worst thing about the taxi’s – it’s as if they are TRYING to piss you off. Oh and there are motortaxi’s too doing the same thing. Well congratulations guys, you will NEVER get a fare from me.

 

Soloio – part cafe part clothes shop

San Felipe Castle

We visited San Felipe Castle too which was pretty impressive with it’s gigantic stone fortress and hidden underground chambers but it was much less impressive then I thought that it would be. We managed to walk around the entire thing in less then an hour (dark and dingy underground tunnels included)

My sister is due to be leaving us in the next couple of days to go to her intended Caribbean island. She hasn’t booked anything yet but is considering going to Curacao since it’s pretty close and there seems to be more there to do then on the other ABC islands. Before she leaves we are all taking a trip to a PROPER BEACH (since Cartagena does have local beaches but they’re not all that), Playa Blanca, which is described as being the most beautiful beach in the whole of Cartagena. Oh joy!

San Felipe Castle

Colombian Coffee Culture at Cafe Quindio 

Week 6 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 6 in Medellin, Colombia

This is our last week in Medellin. I think that the time has gone pretty fast here, this past week in particular, but we have made good use of the time as we’ve managed to do and see lots of things whilst we’ve been here. I feel like I really know Medellin now – I’m a proper Medellin resident, or “Paisa” (meaning a local), however I am ready to move on to our next destination now: Cartagena, Colombia.

Carmen

Josh had booked a table at one of Medellin’s top restaurants to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Though we had decided that we didn’t want to go out on Valentine’s Day itself it had still been hard getting a table there since the restaurant was so popular. Tonight would also be the first night in 6 weeks that we had been out just the two of us as my sister was still with us so we were both really looking forward to some quality time. I decided to wear the black jeans that Josh had bought me the week before. Since they had flared bottoms and were quite long I was a little worried that they might drag along on the floor but thankfully I had brought a pair of heels with me (the only pair of heels that I had brought with me on my travels!). When I put my heels on it felt weird and then I remembered that I hadn’t actually worn any heels for around 5 months! Bahia was definitely not a place where you could wear heels as the ground was too dusty uneven and it was also very hilly not to mention ridiculously hot there, and Florianopolis didn’t really have many fancy places where I could wear them.

I put on the cream silk blouse and fancy stud earrings that Josh had bought me for my birthday last year and then I was ready to go. Unfortunately the Carmex lip balm that my Mum had posted to me weeks ago STILL hadn’t turned up so I was having to make do with a much inferior Nivea Lip Balm that didn’t feel as though it moisturised my lips properly. I’m not even sure that the Carmex will turn up before I leave now which is very distressing as I really need it!

We took a cab to Carmen. All of the cab drivers in Medellin seem to do “laptop navigation” – they don’t use mobile phone holders here -every driver we’ve ever had either holds their phone in one hand whilst they’re driving (not a good idea), or puts the phone in between their legs and glances downwards to see the map (also, not a good idea). Driving in general here in Colombia seems pretty dangerous with nobody really sticking to the rules of the road – they just make it up as they go along. It is very mountainous here with lots of twists and turns and steep hills but the drivers speed down them as though they were competing in F1, barely using their indicators and hardly ever checking their mirrors. To make matters even worse, there are lots of motorbikes and scooters on the road and nobody seems to be using any form of road safety. It certainly doesn’t encourage me to wish to try driving here especially as a newly passed driver. These people are crazy! On the other hand, they do play some pretty good music in their cars so perhaps I can let them off 🙂

Carmen was an upmarket Latin American restaurant in the hippest part of town El Poblado. My first impression of it looked small to me at first but when I went to the toilet later on I realised that the restaurant extended all the way out the back with an outdoor garden area and they had a downstairs too. It was fancy like many of the Medellin restaurants that we’d been to, but the food I’m disappointed to say, was good but not outstanding. The way that this place had been hyped up and the fact that it had been so hard for us to get a reservation meant to me that the food should have been incredible especially considering the general high standards of the restaurants here. But though it was good, it was not amazing.

I thought that the Peruvian restaurant Rocoto that I loved so much was better. But the cocktails that we had were good and very creative, and the decor, ambience, music and of course the conversation (since we hadn’t really had much time to talk just the two of us for awhile), was lovely too. Afterwards we walked down (me gingerly as I was still feeling a little uncomfortable wearing my heels), and found a bar so we stopped there for a few drinks first before calling another taxi to take us home. It was a really lovely evening.

Braidy Bunch

Finally after 7 days of frustrating communication with the hairdresser using Google Translate, I was able to arrange for her to come back to redo mine and my sisters hair. I had been starting to get worried that she just wouldn’t bother turning up but eventually she did (late, again) and then she started doing my sisters hair. I had taken my hair out that morning and washed and conditioned it so all the girl had to do was just braid it with the hair that I had provided her in the way that I had asked her to. Thankfully my sisters hair didn’t take very long so before long she was doing my hair and this time I had bought a mirror so that I could actually see what she was doing. Not to spy on her you understand, I didn’t wish to have to check up on her but I also didn’t want to be dissatisfied with how she done my hair again. Especially since I had to pay for it! The last time she done my hair, despite me showing her a picture of what I wanted it still looked very sparse and she used too much blonde hair. The quality of the hair she had provided was bad – it was dry and brittle and broke off constantly littering the apartment with dead hair: no thanks. It took her the whole day to do both our hair so we had to provide her with lunch and dinner.

This time I had told her not to bother using any blonde hair at all as I couldn’t check on her to see how much she was putting in. I told her to just use the hair I had provided instead because I couldn’t have anymore bad quality hair, I also wanted her to make the braids smaller, with smaller partings to ensure that it didn’t look thin and straggly and to make the length of the hair slightly longer. Well she did all of the above apart from the length – she cut the hair so that it is much shorter then it was the last time despite me asking her to make it longer! I couldn’t really what she was doing the entire time (as it was ridiculous to keep checking in the mirror every single braid she installed) so I just had to trust that she would do as I asked with regards to something that was so basic: keep the length. But no, she had cut it and now it was barely halfway down my back. Aside from that not being what I asked her to do I do not like it when it’s too short because the hair gets in my face. At least when it’s long I can just flick it over my shoulder and it’s out of the way but when it’s of a certain length it sweeps forward getting in my face and it’s bloody annoying!

Alas Josh and my sister liked my hair and despite my annoyance with it’s length I could agree that at least it WAS an improvement from the previous occasion nonetheless, it wasn’t what I asked her to do. I did wonder why she couldn’t just do what I had asked when I usually am able to get exactly what I want in London with no problems whatsoever. Hmpf.

Parque Explora

When we were at the Botanical Gardens we noticed that there was a science museum, planetarium and an aquarium (South America’s largest freshwater aquarium no less) nearby called Parque Explora so we decided that we’d do a daytrip there and check it out. We had no idea what it would contain or whether it would be any good but we were all curious.

When we arrived, the first thing that we went to see was the aquarium – the entrance fee was a mere £6 to get in see a pretty cool aquarium complete with fish, amphibians and mammals such as turtles, poisonous frogs, a boa constrictor and a gigantic python! With octopus’, piranha’s and a gigantic electric eel, this was sea heaven. The condition of all of the tanks had me especially impressed: they were all spotlessly clean: no murky water and no questionable looking floaters. I had never seen an aquarium with so many different varieties of sea creatures and fish, including beautiful tropical fish and impeccably kept coral reefs, that was so clean and well appointed. I couldn’t imagine how much effort it must take to look after all of the species of animals here but I could clearly see that whoever was in charge was doing a good job and I was really glad to see that. I don’t really agree with animals being locked up so I’m not a fan of zoo’s and I’m especially not a fan of Seaworld (if you haven’t seen Blackfish on Netflix then please do), but I thought that this aquarium was fantastic.

There was lots of information given about the fish shown,  about their living and eating habits, and some very important information on the current state of their environment including a fish tank displaying floating plastic bags to highlight the cycle of deadly plastic in the sea’s. Very effective and very scary.

After we’d had had our fishy fill, we went up the escalators to see what else there was on offer. From the outside we could see that the building was pretty big but since we hadn’t done any research before we’d gone we really had no idea what else there was to discover. We soon came to 4 buildings which were all interactive games studios.

They were called Time, On Stage, Music and Mind. Being the music lovers that we all are we first went into the Music building. The space was made up of a huge series of rooms on 2 floors. The first room that we went into was one with a number of odd looking instruments, rather they were household items that were used as instruments. Attached to them in this soundproofed room were drum sticks for the purpose of hitting the instruments with. Once we were certain that we weren’t going to get told off for making a racket it didn’t take any further prompting for Josh, my sister and I to start playing aka bashing away on these instruments with full and enthusiastic force. I really couldn’t believe you could just walk in a place like this and start playing instruments without supervision and without having to book it months in advance! (I’m talking to you UK). And that was just the start! We soon found out that the entire building was a nonstop musical adventure, including rooms with games to play, puzzles to solve, a karaoke room, a dance room and more.

We didn’t get the chance to go into the karaoke room as it was very popular so was permanently occupied. But I did have a go (okay, a couple of goes), on the hilariously entertaining Orchestra Conducting Interactive Game where you had to choose a classical composition (such as the popular Carmen by Georges Bizet) and then follow the hand gestures of the song, as if you were the conductor. If you done well you would finish the entire song but if not then you were booed off the stage by the orchestra on the screen in front of you. Even though the hand gestures were very slight and looked easy it actually wasn’t as easy as you would think. But it was so much fun!! I’ve always thought that I’d love to try being an Orchestral Conductor and now thanks to Medellin’s genius interactive museum I could now have a go! Josh and my sister had a go too and we had a great time seeing each other get booed (loudly!) off the stage, lol.

Afterwards we went into another room, this time one that was filled with actual instruments used in Colombian music. An attendant guided us and the couple that were in there along as we attempted to follow the screen in front of us to play along to some traditional Colombian music along with the instruments. The sound quality was incredible as the room was soundproofed and I really felt as though I was in a salsa band. It was very intense and thoroughly enjoyable. Josh and I both had the bongo drums and the rhythm we had to play wasn’t easy but it was so much fun! My sister had another instrument and she was having a wail of a time playing along to the music. I really wanted to stay in there playing along to some of the other songs that they had available but I didn’t wish to hog the drums, especially when I could see that there was a growing crowd of people outside looking on in envy of our riotous music making antics!

A particularly simple but nonetheless extremely effective part of the exhibition was a room showing film of different parts of Colombia surrounded by mirrors which gave it a really interesting effect, along with the music representative of that specific region. It was very powerful.

Afterwards I had a go dancing to some Arabic music in a room following a choreographed dancer on a video screen – from the outside you could see only my silhouette!

I couldn’t believe that all of this was available to the Colombian public for just £6. There was absolutely nothing like this that I knew of in Europe and certainly nothing like it in the UK but if we had something like this then it would be game over for every other museum because this would be an absolute HIT. So much fun for everyone of all ages and so informational! I think it’s really hard to make learning fun but this place had done it effortlessly with an unbelievable variety of things for people to see and do. I was really glad that we had gone in the week when it was still relatively quiet as I could imagine that it was a very different story on the weekend.

In the Mind room it was all about our brains and how this powerful machine works to keep us alive, work things out, understand things, and occasionally fool us. The interactive games in showed how we are all susceptible to bring tricked by our own minds, with things like hallucinations and lucid dreaming.

We were also able to participate in an interactive story game, where we were characters in a story which you could then send to yourself via email. We went into another room that initially looked as though the walls were spinning but when we went further in it felt as though I myself was spinning!

Another room allowed us to play along to old musicals with the instruments they used in the studio at the time to mimick sounds like the wind and the clip clopping of horses’ hooves. They even had a slide that children (and adults!) could go down rather then use the stairs that were provided. There were so many other things that it’s hard to even remember them all. The place was simply incredible. Infact even though we had spent almost the entire day there we almost had to be ushered out as we were one of the very last to leave.

Had I known about this incredible museum a few weeks prior I probably would have made it back a second time. Out of all of the tours we had done around the great city of Medellin this one was by far for me the most enjoyable.

 

Josh and I vibesin’ it up at Parque Explora 

 

My sister reconnecting with her inner child 

Tropical Fish at Parque Explora Aquarium

 

Creatures of the deep!

 

Let the (interactive games) begin!

 

 

The salsa music here is incredible – I have been introduced to many new Latin artists here, ones that I definitely wouldn’t have come across if I were back in the UK because this music is coming from the source – the Colombian people love their music and they play it at every given opportunity, whether that’s in a taxi, restaurant, hairdressers, bars you name it! When I hear a song that I like I have been able to use my faithful Shazam app in order to find out what it is and most of the time it works, so I have a fresh batch of incredible music to indulge in. There was Bossa Nova in Brazil and Salsa in Colombia – I have been in musical heaven! My favourite artist is a Puerto Rican singer called Hector Lavoe, who I discovered in the many taxi rides we’ve taken around the city – the man is a salsa genius, his music is so catchy! I’ve tried to find his albums on Amazon Prime for download but of course, they wish to charge for it. Buzzards dem.

Women here are very proud of their voluptuous good looks and to be perfectly frank, their bodies put most physique’s to shame, gym or no gym, alas there has been an interesting development: much like the fad of having boob jobs in the west here in Colombia women have resorted to getting a “Brazilian butt lift” or worse yet wearing fake bum pants, which accentuate their, eh, behind! I noticed it immediately because of the very big and unnaturally round shape and I asked my sister about it and she told me that there was such a thing as fake bum pants. Can you believe it?!

Panka

We had seen this restaurant on the day we went to the restaurant OCI. It was right next door to it and the design of the place immediately caught my eye so we decided that since we were going to be leaving soon, we’d go there for dinner. We didn’t bother making a reservation, we just turned up and thankfully the three of us we were able to get a table straight away. It was really busy, populated with all of the beautiful people of Medellin and further afield (I heard quite a few foreign accents). The illuminated bar stood in the middle of the restaurant, surrounded by stunning dark wood lattice work, allowing the light from the night sky to stream on in. An explosion of greenery decorated the space which was darkened seductively, making you feel like you were in some kind of a night garden – it was really beautifully done. We were all feeling hungry so we planned to have starters, mains AND desserts, however after the main courses had arrived we all knew that we were done. My main was average which surprised me in a place like this, but my sushi starter was nothing but. The sushi I had was the tastiest I have ever had before, with bags of flavour and texture, divine with the soy and wasabi. It was to tasty that it was a challenge to share, lol.

Whilst we were eating our starters we heard loud yelling coming from a large table of people to our left. When the shouting (coming from a female) got louder, we (and the entire restaurant) looked over to see a furious looking girl standing up with a glass in her hand, who was being held back by another girl shouting obscenities (such as the word “Puta” which I understood to mean whore, lol) over at another girl and the guy that she was with. He jumped over the seats to go after her, another guy went to hold her back and the girl that she was calling a whore was trying to go after her. Seeing this domestic being played out with such a passionate Latin twist was highly entertaining I have to say, lol. Eventually the staff managed to pull the angry girl away and usher her outside. Medellin moments indeed!

On our last night we went back to a Thai restaurant we’d been to previously. The food was good, but we weren’t going for the food – it was the incredible sangria we were interested in. Josh and I had shared a jug between us the last time and it was delicious, and very strong! We left there feeling very merry indeed. Since we hadn’t yet had a chance to check out one of the salsa bars in Medellin after that disastrous attempt a few weeks ago where all we could find was “fun time girls”, opportunistic locals and a bunch of gringo’s, we planned to check out a few of the bars after dinner. The food was good (not authentically Thai perhaps), but tasty nonetheless – I ordered Pad Thai, which complimented the potent Sangria perfectly. Like the last time, I was feeling very tipsy when we left there to go in search of a bar. I don’t know what it was about that particular Sangria, because I’d had many a Sangria since arriving in Colombia, perhaps it was the apples that were infused in it, I just knew that I would definitely be hungover the following morning! We tried a local Rock bar first as per Josh’s wishes, but they told us that it was full and they weren’t letting anymore people in. Just aswell really because I definitely couldn’t hear them playing any rock music, only pop: no thanks.

Afterwards we went to a rooftop bar, where they were playing merengue music – not my favourite, I much prefer salsa, but the couples there were absolutely loving it and were doing their two-step moves to every song that came on. It was something to be admired – couples of all ages dancing together. It is something that doesn’t happen in the UK and it was so nice to see. I’m still hoping that Josh and I will find somewhere in Cartagena where we can take some private lessons. We had a great night – good food, drinks, company and much laughter. As predicted, I woke up the following day with a horrendous headache. It was worth it though!

 

View from our penthouse apartment 

 

 

 

Medellin had confirmed a few things. Firstly, that it’s a great city. A beautiful city filled with an abundance of trees, plants and flowers, with the ever present mountains surrounding and incredible views from all angles.

The food scene: Impressive. Though I couldn’t say that the Colombian food itself was anything much to write home about (though we do like their Chocolo Arepa’s), there was definitely a foodie scene here with an abundance of very good restaurants and all at bargain basement prices.

Prices: Yes, life here in Medellin is cheap. Cheap for food, cheap for coffee, cheap for transportation and cheap for accommodation. What else do you need?

The Music: I have LOVED hearing Salsa music playing in restaurants, shops, and taxi’s. They are clearly very proud of their musical heritage and though they (the younger generation in particular) also very much enjoy their reggaeton (which I do not particularly like), I love hearing them playing their own traditional Colombian music and not playing whatever pop flavour of the month is currently being pushed. I’m not a fan of Shakira though and all of the Colombians seem to like her (probably because she’s the only very famous singer that’s made it out of Colombia)

Our apartment: Not specific to Colombia I know but they do seem to have a penchant for building these high-end modern high rise buildings and since the view of the city is so spectacular we have found the time spent in ours very comfortable. The apartment is spacious and beautiful with the most incredible view of a city that i’ve ever had the pleasure to see. Every moment spent in that apartment, whether lounging in bed, looking out on the balcony, cooking dinner or watching Netflix provides a view to die for.

The roads: People here drive like crazy people and that includes the taxi drivers and the buses!

The Weather: Wonderful. Well they don’t call it the “city of eternal spring” for nothing! The weather has been pretty perfect – everyday has been sunny, we have hardly experienced any rain and it hasn’t been that humid. Sunsets here are beautiful.

The People: The Colombian people are nice with a generally sunny disposition but I haven’t found them to be quite as friendly as in Brazil. However, they seem to love the fact that people are starting to visit their country and this is still a city so perhaps they will be friendlier in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.

Crime: We haven’t had anything bad happen to us whilst we have been here and we haven’t felt on edge at all really apart from the time when we go shopping and feel as though we are literally going to be pounced upon by the shop staff! But I know for sure that there’s been alot more crime back in the UK and Europe in general since we’ve been here (such as multiple terror attacks), including one where I live so I’m very glad that I’ve been here and not there!

Seediness: Yes, there is a seedy element in Medellin. In part because of the Colombian women who are generally very attractive, and partly because it’s cheap and legal to get a prostitute here! It does mean that there are many scantily clad women standing around on the street corners parading their wares coupled with sleazy men on the prowl (not a good look). In addition there was “Porn Road” where pornography was on offer freely on the streets. They don’t attempt to hide it infact they even have sex shops in the shopping malls.

The Barrios: Everywhere has their poor community and of course I didn’t actually GO to the barrios but I passed through them and I was pretty shocked by what I saw. In comparison to the rest of Medellin that I had seen which was orderly and clean the barrios seemed to be a law unto themselves: The forgotten part of Medellin. And there were literally thousands of homes in the barrios, I could only imagine how many people must live there in such squalor: It must be tens of thousands.

Language: It hasn’t been easy in part because I never learnt Spanish in school or before I arrived here. I learnt a little Portuguese before I went to Brazil but that was that and I don’t really have any intentions of learning Spanish because I wish to learn French so it’s been a little challenging but not too bad for the most part. It’s certainly an easier language to learn then Portuguese or French.

Parque Explora: Is the best museum I have ever been to. I loved the Perfume Museum in Paris and I have a soft spot for The Natural History Museum in London because I’ve always loved learning about all of the animals that inhabit this planet with us ever since I was young and my Dad has always really been into science, however this museum takes learning to the next level with literally hours of interactive learning. Getting bored in this place is almost impossible – and we never even made it to the Planetarium! The sheer creativity of the place really blew my mind. I would love to see this kind of museum in Europe.

Crepes and Waffles: It might not sound very groundbreaking or original but trust me this place is a hit in Colombia! There are franchises literally everywhere and everyone, no matter the age (or dietary requirements I hasten to add), goes there. This is because Crepes and Waffles offer more then just Crepes and Waffles even though their Crepes are Wonderful and their Waffles are Fantastic – they offer them along with the largest variety of fresh fresh and vegetables I have ever seen and they do excellent salads and desserts too. The only thing that lets them down is that they don’t currently have any gluten free options. For the gluten free people (such as Josh and my sister), the only choice is to have a salad, but thankfully the salads are delicious too, and at least when you have had a salad for lunch it doesn’t make you feel too guilty when you then have a dessert (well that’s my excuse anyway!)

Poverty: I’d have to say that the level of poverty that I’ve seen in this city has been second to none. People on drugs, refugees with very young children begging for food, shady looking people trying to sell their (possibly stolen) wares, people with severe disabilities, people with mental health issues, the homeless, and many prostitutes all congregating in the same area. It really was a sight for sore eyes and came as a bit of a shock when contrasted with the well organised, clean, leafy highstreets of Medellin.

Mosquito free zone: 6 weeks in and I have only been bitten once on that trip into the mountains for the coffee tour. It might possibly be because of where our apartment is: very high up in a slightly cooler part of the city, as my sisters friend who was staying in Laureles said that she had been bitten multiple times and she’d only been here for 4 days but mosquitoes usually ravish me so this has come as a bit of a pleasant surprise that I haven’t been bitten. On the other hand perhaps it wasn’t mosquito’s that bit her at all? – she was staying in hostels afterall and I really do not know how clean they are – it could have been a midge, bed bug or flea or something.

So, could I live here? – well as a matter of fact, yes I could. It hasn’t “touched my heart” like Bahia did but then I’m not sure a city ever could. Well, not one I’ve ever been to anyway, but with respect to the basics of having a good life: good weather, activities, safety, culture and food, Medellin hits the nail on the head. So if I were someone who was considering moving out of Europe and it didn’t really matter where (I’m not because I don’t want to be to far from my family), then I would certainly not discount Medellin: The city of eternal spring.

Week 5 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 5 in Medellin, Colombia

Medellin is a Latin American shopping mecca. A shopping lovers paradise. With literally tonnes of malls, markets and designer outlets, Medellin satisfy’s even the most ardent shop-a-holic. Being primarily an online shopper myself, as I have no desire to go trekking the streets searching clothes racks, carrying heavy shopping bags or elbowing militant grannies out of the way, seeing all of these venues for shopping enjoyment was a little overwhelming. But I had decided that I wanted to find a good pair of jeans so we planned to go to an area with lots of designer outlets to see what we could find.

First we took a taxi to Mercado Del Rio, a food market that was nearby. The market was huge, located in a warehouse like building in the middle of a busy business district. Inside the gastronomic market there were lots of restaurants and bars offering a variety of different cuisines such as Indian, Italian, Asian, Peruvian, Mexican etc.  I really fancied Greek or Lebanese food but unfortunately they didn’t have any so I settled for Indian, which I hadn’t had since I’d left England. The food was good, especially the chicken, which was tender and well seasoned and slightly blackened just how I like it, I couldn’t say that it was authentically Indian per say, however it was tasty.

After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves, we went on to the outlet region, where an abundance of designer outlet shops such as Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel and Superdry beckoned to us to part with our hard earned cash in exchange for their wares. Eventually I came across a shop called Studio F, a Colombian womenswear brand that had lots of clothes that I quite liked. Contrary to popular belief, despite the low prices of most other things in Colombia (transportation, restaurants, accommodation etc), the clothing there wasn’t necessarily cheap. In the end I managed to find a pair of flared black jeans that fit nicely and being that Valentine’s day was coming up, Josh bought them for me as an early Valentine’s present 🙂

Afterwards we ventured towards an outlet mall where Josh picked up some clothes from one of his favourite shops Superdry and then we all went and had lunch at a steak and rib restaurant in the mall. To be honest the ribs weren’t all that great and they certainly weren’t as tasty as Bodean’s ribs which I absolutely love but we were all pretty starving at this point.

The following day we had booked another tour, our fourth one in Colombia, to Guatape.

Guatape was a popular resort town approximately 2 hours from the centre of Medellin. It was especially well known for it’s traditional Colombian feel and the brightly painted colours of the buildings. In Guatape, all of the homes, businesses and shops were painted in a variety of different colours and included hand painted emblems representing their trade or family crest.

The tour that we had booked commenced at the obscene hour of 07:00 am and we were told to meet the tour group at the front of the church in El Pablado at no later then 06:50 am. In some respects I couldn’t believe I was even contemplating doing another tour, let alone one that started so early in the morning and lasted for approximately 12 hours, but I was determined to see Guatape before I left Medellin and this tour sounded pretty good – it included breakfast and lunch aswell as a boat trip and a visit to Guatape and it was pretty reasonably priced too.

Our first stop after jumping into a big coach with a large group of mainly European tourists, was breakfast. We were taken to a local restaurant where we were served a hearty and traditionally Colombian breakfast of fried Arepa’s with locally made cheese and scrambled eggs. You could have it either with traditional hot chocolate (which I was told would be very sweet), or coffee. I opted for the coffee which was pretty good.

Afterwards, we went on a visit to Roca del Penol Church, needless to say I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing a church but I probably would have been if it were one of magnificent beauty alas this church was basically a huge rock with a few doors and windows on the side. It wasn’t exactly an architectural marvel and didn’t inspire me to leave the vehicle in order to take a picture of it.

After our horrific Americanised-Canadian encounter a few weeks ago I had made certain that I didn’t book with the same tour group that we had taken to do the Colombian Coffee Tour and thankfully the people on this trip seemed a little more self aware and kept their conversation levels to a minimum. After passing the rock church we then moved onto the Fenix Bird, a huge statue in the middle of the town which represented it’s history of arising from the ashes. As with the fenix bird, the story of the town of Penol Village consisted of it being burnt down to accomodate a new town, including a man made lake, that we would later visit. We got to walk around the village and checked out a few of the many gift shops (where my sister bought Josh a lovely Colombian pen) aswell as having some strong Colombian coffee at a twee coffee shop with the best view in the village overlooking the Penol Reservoir. Thankfully the day was overcast which worked very well since the visit to Guatape Rock aka Penol Rock required a hike to the very top of it in order to get the best views of the surrounding countryside. I really couldn’t imagine doing it in 30 degree heat!

Coffee with a view at Penol Reservoir

 

I knew that the hike up 700+ stairs would require a bit of extra energy but I figured that nothing could compare to the trek through and up the mountain in Brazil to get to the isolated beach Lagoinha do Leste, the intensity of which shocks me til this day!

Following a leisurely walk around the town we jumped back onto the bus to be taken to the reservoir for the boat trip around it. Many of the tours included a walk around the colourful town of Guatape but they did not include a boat tour so I was really looking forward to it.

I had imagined that the boat trip would be on a small boat and that we might do it in little groups but when we got there we were piled onto a huge double decked boat along with a number of other tour groups and then “party music” was cranked at its highest volume so that we could get the party started right. It was still horrendously early and I was in no mood to party. The weather was overcast making the skies look a little dull, but it was still a beautiful sight as we cruised past luxurious looking villa’s and mansions built on either side of the lake with dramatic green hills and mountains in the background looking like it was straight out of a travel magazine ad.

One of the tour guides decided to take this time to use the extremely poor quality tanoy, to talk about what we were looking at but the sound was so muffled that we could hardly hear him. After awhile of hearing him bleat on incessantly I really wished that he would just shut up and let us enjoy the views. Soon we came to a sprawling windowless property on the banks of the lake which looked as if it had been set fire to or something. I could see that the building was blackened, with smudges of black smeared onto the stone work. We were soon told by the guide that this property was an iconic property in Colombia, as it was the former hideout of the infamous criminal Pablo Escobar, the lavish estate covering 20 acres of land in this idyllic location, was named La Manuela Hacienda, after his daughter. One of Pablo’s favourite properties (who at one point was the richest man in the world), it featured a heli-pad aswell as pools, stables, a seaplane dock, tennis courts and even a disco tech. This was a place where Pablo stashed his ill-gotten gains such as cocaine and cash. Eventually, at the height of the drug wars with the Cali Cartel, it was bombed by Las Pepes where it has remained derelict and empty ever since.

I’d never wanted to do a Pablo Escobar tour whilst in Colombia as I knew how much the locals detested the mere mention of the man, and also I had no real interest. To me it was bordering on tacky to take the experiences for which we outside Colombia have no real knowledge about (and even less if you’re going by what’s portrayed in Narco’s on Netflix), to make light of it and find some kind of entertainment value in seeing the places for where tens of thousand’s of people died and many more were displaced. And I had no idea that on this boat tour we were going to sail by one of his prized venues, the place where he done alot of his criminal activity’s and no doubt the scene of many a murder but I was glad that I had seen it nontheless. It showcased Colombia’s willingness to leave their questionable past in the past. They didn’t even wish to honour the building with a regeneration, they just wanted to leave it just how it was: empty.

Pablo Escobar’s Residence La Manuela Hacienda

 

 

I’m sure the boat tour would have been slightly better if the weather was sunnier but I thought the fact that we were on such a big boat which surely must have had about 300 people on it was a bit of a let down. I would have much preferred a smaller boat with less people and less of the tanoy-action. After exiting the boat we then went on to the main event: Penol Rock.

 

Penol Rock, Guatape’s Giant

 

Ten million tonnes, this goliath was a granite rock remnant that jutted up from the earth with an unbelievable view from it’s summit. To get to the top though it first required a bit of a climb. The first climbers of this giant monolith, climbed it in 5 days but it has since been made into somewhat of a tourist attraction with the addition of a 700 + stone staircase built into the side of it. To climb it you have to pay, and the climb was knackering, but the views at the top was well worth the inconvenience and the price.

Astoundingly beautiful, all around we saw a view of the surrounding countryside, and the lakes that surround them as far as the eye could see. It was such an incredible sight that I hardly wanted to leave at all but it being a popular tourist attraction meant that everyone else and their dog was there too: No thanks.

 

We made it to the top of Penol Rock!

 

After descending from Penol Rock we then went onto lunch at a restaurant nearby for a really good (and neccessary!) lunch of avocado, chicken breast, rice, beans and eggs all washed down with a local drink that reminded me a little of Starburst. It was really good and just what I needed after that exhausting trek to the top of Penol Rock.

After lunch we were then taken to the last point in our tour which despite it’s long length was actually going pretty quickly now that we’d done the climb: Guatape Town.

Guatape was Colombia’s most colourful town, possibly even in the world! Every house, building and shop in the town had been painted in all the colours of the rainbow and then some! and featured hand painted emblems (also called zocolo’s) to represent them.

Cobbled, windy streets with everything from the local bakers, to restaurants, coffee shops, jewellers, gift shops, shoe menders and florists, each with their own rainbow coloured zocolo’s to announce what they were shouted out at you in the most adorable of ways. Meandering through these streets, even when full of tourists and whilst the strength of the summer sun was beating down on you was possibly one of the most enjoyable activities to do outside of Medellin. Seeing the painted butterflies, flowers and sunflowers on the sides of the buildings just makes you smile. You can’t possibly be miserable in Guatape and it’s clear why:

After ending our tour back at the starting point, and being given a lovely little gift from our tour guide: a hand made yellow, blue and red bracelet to represent Colombia, and not feeling at all like we had just spent 12 hours with her, I could say that we had definitely had a most wonderful day. From seeing Pablo Escobar’s Hideaway La Manuela Hacienda, to the view at the top of the reservoir, to climbing to the top of Penol Rock to have my breath taken away by the most astounding natural beauty of the landscape, to the simple but tasty traditional meals we ate, to the unforgettable town of Guatape, which was possibly the most colourful town in the world, I could say without hesitation that we’d had the most amazing time.

 

Tuk Tuk Time!

The beautiful painted buildings of Guatape

It’s true 🙂

It’s a hard life: Josh contemplating the hard question of whether or not he should eat this ice-cream

Going in for the kill!

Hair Problems

I contacted the hairdresser about coming back to do both mine and my sisters hair and can you believe it’s been 5 days of communication just to get this booked in? – it’s bad enough that I’m having to communicate with her using Google Translate but she doesn’t seem to understand the basic questions of when are you coming and how much are you charging? – Seriously, these are basic questions. Basic! 5 days I have been back and forth with her and I am still no further forward! Hmpf.

Valentine’s Day Prostitute Watch

Though we generally do not celebrate Valentine’s Day on Valentines Day back in the UK, knowing as we do how much of a commercialised non-event it generally is, Josh had instead booked a romantic meal for us at one of the top restaurants that I had been wanting to go to: Carmen a few days AFTER Valentines Day. We did not wish to be rail roaded into having one of their “Valentine’s Day set menu’s” complete with single red rose, pathetically cheesy crooner and a fight to get the best table in the restaurant: no thank you.

Being that my sister was still staying with us, we figured that it might be a little strange for us this Valentines Day being that we were essentially operating as a three-some, but since we didn’t plan to do anything particularly special on Valentine’s Day anyway we decided that we’d all go shopping instead! We decided to go back to the area near Botero Square where all of the discount shops were. I decided that I wanted a sporty zip up top that I could wear with anything, one that wasn’t too thick, just something that I could wear if it got a little chilly.

In Medellin, people wear alot of sportswear and trainers so I figured that it wouldn’t be too hard to find what I was looking for.

Queue Colombian Harrassment: The problem is that unless you are a local I guess you don’t really venture into these sorts of shops. But we did, and we do, and thus the Colombians, probably thinking that we didn’t know what we were looking for and thus could be persuaded to purchase whatever it was they were promoting, proceeded to hound us if we got anywhere near there shop. Baring in mind the fact that that they were standing outside the shop just waiting for someone, ANYONE to walk by, and here come 3 tourists clearly looking for something, and they went in for the kill. Worse yet was when we went into the former Palace of Justice which clearly nobody whatsoever ventures into as these shop owners looked as though they hadn’t seen anyone step foot in there for years and they were literally following us around the mall as if we were their last chance at survival! It was horrible. And very aggressive.

I understood perfectly that they were not meaning to be aggressive but their style of communication came across that way and rather then make me intrigued as to see what they had in their shop (when I didn’t even glance in the direction of their shop at any point!), they just made me wish to get the hell out of there. I simply couldn’t take it. All of the yelling in our direction by multiple Colombian shop owners was too much to take and it was giving me a headache. I had absolutely no idea how they were making any money since I didn’t see anyone else going into their shop and they were basically all selling the same thing: sportswear and trainers.

After emerging from the mall out into the open air where I could finally breath we were then approached by another guy who wished to know what it was we were looking for (seems they don’t know the concept of browsing in Colombia!). Through broken Spanish and sign language we were eventually able to describe to this man what we were looking for and then he told us to follow him.

He then proceeded to take us to 3 different shops to try and see if he could find something that matched my description. I was impressed. It was like having my own personal Colombian shopper. Eventually I was able to find a pale grey Adidas tracksuit that I quite liked. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and the jacket was bigger then I would have liked but it was pretty close to what I was looking for and I didn’t wish to put the poor guy through any further distress as I could see that he was clearly doing the best he could to find me something I would be happy with and frankly I couldn’t bare the idea of going into anymore shops. So we bought it and then we went in search for somewhere to have a drink. All of this personal shopping lark was making me very thirsty!

In the end we decided to go back to the Hari Krishna restaurant Govinda’s that we had been to before for lunch. I had no intention of eating there since the food we’d had there last time (especially the mushrooms which tasted as though they had just been plucked from the earth, soil and all), left alot to be desired, but the restaurant had without a doubt the best people watching viewpoint in possibly the entire city.

Down the road from Botero Square and adjacent to the shops, Govinda’s was located directly opposite the church, which coincidentally was also where Medellin’s most hardworking prostitutes went to promote their bodily wares. It did seem a bit of an unbelievable contrast to see people entering and coming out of the same church where scantily clad prostitutes (one with her naked boobs blatantly on show) were negotiating their hourly fee from the questionable looking men who approached them. But try as I may, on this Valentines day, I just couldn’t look away!

The entertainment value of sitting in a religious establishment such as we were (Hari Krishna), to look upon another religious establishment which was the location of the most obvious prostitution activity I think I’ve ever seen in my life, was spell binding. It was simply too enjoyable to watch! lol

We saw women redoing their hair and makeup on the church steps, hiking up their skirts to show a bit of leg, taking pre-payment from clients, giving men they didn’t wish to “do business with” dirty looks, posing to catch the attention of potential clients, looking bored, checking the time, gossiping with the other prostitutes and even walking off with a client to get down to the business at hand.

I couldn’t believe that I was spending Valentines Day on the rooftop of a Hari Krishna restaurant in Colombia with Josh and my sister  overlooking high traffic prostitution activity besides a church, but I was and it was bloody brilliant, lol.

Week 4 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 4 in Medellin, Colombia

Uber is now illegal in Colombia, which is a shame as we were using them on the regular to get about the city!

Even though the public transport is generally pretty good here (and super cheap!) I really don’t see the point in traipsing to a bus stop to hail a bus for the equivalent of a few thousand peso’s which add’s up to literally pennies, when I can just jump in an Uber which will pick me up directly from home and take me directly to wherever I want to go in air conditioned luxury for just a few pounds. Uber is crazy cheap here. Sometimes I felt really bad after taking an Uber (or the now equivalent local taxi app called Beat) as I just couldn’t understand how these drivers who were sometimes only getting £3 to do a 30 minute journey could possibly survive on such pittance. I gathered that the petrol was seriously cheap here as I found out that petrol is actually Colombia’s biggest natural resource, but is petrol cheap enough to guarantee a good life on less then £2 a journey to their drivers? – I wasn’t so sure. Still, the Uber crackdown in Medellin is real, and now the app won’t even work so we’ve had to resort to using Beat, an inferior alternative, which was not only adding unnecessary minutes onto our journey, but often the drivers would ask us where we were going despite having the full address on their system, they would cancel journeys out of the blue, the app would crash’ and there aren’t as many drivers available, so all in all a pretty shoddy alternative.

I’ve no idea whether this Beat app was a Colombian invention or from somewhere else, all I know is that I didn’t see the point in them getting rid of Uber only to replace it with an almost identical service that wasn’t as good. No point whatsoever.

Unfortunately for me, my tan, which I had been cultivating with such pride in Brazil is beginning to fade. The temperature here, though steadily remaining in the high twenty’s/early thirty’s is simply not powerful enough to keep it going, and thus I have had the unfortunate experience of having to exfoliate the dead skin away with my exfoliating mitt, reminding me that soon I will be returning to cold, grey, rainy London Town. I can acknowledge that most of the people back in the UK, currently battling the latest storm: Ciara, don’t feel very sorry for me but I feel sorry for myself, lol.

Talking of London, there are lots of things that I have missed out on whilst I’ve been away. Things such as the general election, where the British people, so obsessed with enacting Brexit, voted for Boris Johnson, who was seemingly determined to provide it. And as of the end of January he got his wish as we were officially separated from the European Union with the terms of the divorce to be agreed upon within the next year so I’ve heard (I haven’t been watching tbh).

And then there was the Streatham terrorist attack which happened in January. Aside from my obvious disgust and repulsion at hearing about someone who would just randomly go around stabbing innocent people because of his ideological rage here in the form of extreme Islam and possibly a great dollop of mental health issues too, I was also horrified to hear that he had decided to do this where I reside, in sleepy residential Streatham, where nothing much happens at all. I was offended that he chose to do his insanity rampage near where I like to go for a coffee and a slice of carrot cake on a Sunday afternoon. Why Streatham for goodness sake?!

Yes I know, I know, why anywhere at all? – well to be perfectly frank with you, whether it was some kind of twisted ideology, religious, political or otherwise, we all are and will all continue to be at risk from people who believe things without evidence.

All of these extreme behaviours and actions come from someone’s sincere belief that they have some kind of mandate from God (or some other figure who claims to be God-like) that give them just cause to do what they want and all of the motivation they need to justify their actions. And who are you to tell them that they are mistaken? – Since one cannot argue with God (as anyone of us can conveniently claim his existence and that he “talks to us”) without having to provide evidence of it, and since society has mandated that belief itself is enough, who are we to argue against his conclusions??

 I think we are going to start to see more tragedy’s such as the one that happened in Streatham and the one that happened in London Bridge in November much more. And there is absolutely nothing that any one of us can do about it.

Saying that though, I am very relieved that I wasn’t at home in Streatham when it happened. The funny thing to me is that when I told people that I was coming to Medellin in Colombia, the birthplace of one of the world’s most notorious criminals which was at one point the murder capital of the world, many people expressed concern. They had heard so much about all of the crime that went on here, the murders, the shootings, the gang warfare but in the month that I have been here I have lived a charmed and stress-free life with no indication of crime, no coronavirus (which is presently making it’s way throughout Asia and Europe at an alarming rate), or any terrorist activity whatsoever! So for all intents and purposes, I feel very safe here, and infact I feel much safer then I would do in England right now.

Talking of the coronavirus, it has has been spreading and they have even quarantined some cruise travellers on cruise ships in Asia. Josh and I are going to be doing a cruise around the Caribbean to end our epic travels, so I’m very much hoping that they have this virus thing under control by then as I do not wish to be inconvenienced. I shouldn’t think it will affect us too much though as we haven’t been in Asia, nor are we going to Asia. From Cartagena in Colombia we then fly to Miami and pick up the cruise from there, and the Caribbean haven’t had any outbreaks yet. As for the cruise line we are going with – well, they seem to be taking the whole thing very seriously. We have already received a few emails from them telling us that they won’t be allowing any travellers who have come from or through Asia to board, and they will be testing all passengers with a Chinese passport before they board. They have also said that they will quarantine anyone who looks like they have flu-like symptoms so Josh and I need to make sure we look lively! lol

Before I left to come travelling I was in a bit of panic about how I would manage to maintain my skincare routine, hair and eyebrows for 6 months in Latin America. I hardly wear makeup anyway and it was certainly not required in a humid country like Brazil, but my hair was a real concern. I thought I’d made the right moves, packing reserves of my most important Liz Earle skincare products, my haircare products and a a tweezer for my eyebrows, and now that I can see that I am coming to the end of my time I think I’ve done pretty well considering. I have been plucking my own eyebrows, doing my own nails when I can be bothered to and I still have enough of my skincare products to last me to the end. To make my haircare products last longer I’ve mainly been using the local Coconut Oil rather then my own stuff as when that’s gone that’s gone and I haven’t seen any alternative products for afro hair in any of the shops.

But there is one thing that I cannot do without that I’ve had to order from Amazon and my Mum has posted on to me and that’s my Carmex. For some strange reason these Latin Americans don’t believe in having well moisturised lips. My lips have never felt so dry! All of the shops I have been in and trust me I’ve been in many, do not have Carmex or anything like it. They only have wax like lip balms and I want moisture. Carmex is brilliant because it has great natural ingredients in it such as cocoa butter and beeswax, which seals the lip balm aswell as provides sheen and it has sun block in it too. But I can’t get the bloody thing anywhere here or online and I can’t go without it much longer so I had to buy it on Amazon.co.uk and had it sent to my Mum and she has posted it on to me. I can’t wait for it to get here so that my lips can feel properly moisturised again! I made sure that I bought 4 too just to be on the safe side. As for my hair situation, it’s not so bad and could possibly last me until I return to the UK but I’m still going to get that Colombian girl who done my braids the last time to redo it before I leave here.

Ceviche Virgin

We went back to that Peruvian restaurant the other night: Rocoto. I had been dreaming of that food ever since we tasted it the first time and we all agreed that after days spent working at home, we deserved a nice slap up meal, and that was just the ticket. There are so many great restaurants in Medellin that we are literally spoilt for choice, and many of the the best ones (such as Rocoto, Malanga Tropico and OCI), didn’t even require a reservation – we just rocked up. As soon as we got there they told us that the menu had changed slightly (including the prices), so we knew then that the cheap as chips meal that we had there the last time would no longer be cheap as chips (by Colombian standards, which is still pretty cheap tbh). I had the same cocktail as last time: A Pisco (which I’d never had before until now), with a cool name like Mahala Ancestral.

Shamelessly I also ordered the same main course that I had been blown away by before: Causa – a potato dish made from red peppers with avocado, breaded chicken and what they liked the call their “dynamite sauce” – it also featured an ingredient that is not often used in cooking: Limon aka Lime. Limes of the Peruvian persuasion are used in most Peruvian cuisine, including as a key ingredient in their national drink Pisco Sour, in Causa and in the cuisine they are most known for: Ceviche. As I hadn’t tried ceviche yet, skeptical of it’s authenticity coming from a country that I didn’t think could possibly be capable of producing an authentic enough version of it (I’m talking about you UK), I had decided that my ceviche tasting days were yet to come. But now I ordered it as I starter as what better place to have ceviche then in Latin America?

From what I had understood, ceviche was basically raw fish that had been marinated in lime juice, so that the acid in it essentially “cooked” the fish (as much as you can cook raw fish without fire that is), and it was accompanied by onions, spicy pepper and cilantro. It’s a dish that is simple in ingredients but massive in taste. From remembering the mind blowingly complex flavours I’d had the first time, I trusted that this place was where I would finally end my ceviche virginity. And I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed. The tanginess and freshness of the lime, coupled with the delicate texture of the fish, which through it’s marination process had not only taken on the flavour of the lime which was illuminating the delicate flavour of the fish but was essentially changing it’s texture too, making it more juicy, and much more succulent. Then came the sweetness of the red onions, which in their very important way, provided a sweet crunchiness to the dish, which was balanced out by the addition of the cilantro, with a little chilli to provide some heat. It was an incredibly delicate balance of flavours that really encompassed a little of everything: Sweet, sour, heat and texture. I loved it. I only wondered: How on earth had I managed to miss this foodtastic experience before?

People drive crazy here. Medellin being shaped like a bowl, and very mountainous, had encouraged most drivers in the city to turn into wannabe F1 drivers as the whole city is essentially one big racing track with twists and turns everywhere, and they don’t seem to pay too much mind to the traffic lights or using car signals, they just put their feet on the acceleration and drive like their lives depend upon it swerving in between lanes crazily. The po-po, who are still very much present, don’t seem to mind either, indeed they probably drive just as dangerously.

There has been talk of the glamour of the Colombian women in Western countries, and being here now I can attest to the fact that they are indeed glamorous and do like to dress up. The ladies love wearing tight jeans here that accentuate their “generously sized” nether regions, and the men clearly approve. They take full advantage of the many malls at their disposal to shop like crazy and make sure that their hair, makeup, and tight clothing quota are looking on point. But it’s really hard to pin down just what a Colombian woman looks like. Generally, the typically Colombian women that I had always imagined were of a darker hue with long shiny black hair, but here you can see women of all complexions and all features, and they are also very much Colombian, so the idea that they have a particular look is a little false since they themselves (much like the Brazilians in some respects) are comprised of a combination of many different ethnicities so naturally they have different hair textures and skin tones. Of course they are very attractive, and in terms of attractiveness in comparison to the men, the women of Colombia it has to be said are more attractive. I personally haven’t really seen many attractive men here in Colombia at all (and before you ask of course Josh knows that I’m keeping my eyes peeled in this regard, lol), whereas in Brazil I would say that it was almost 50/50 with the men just taking the lead in the looks department.

Anyway, enough about such superficiality’s as looks! lol

Contrary to popular belief, we have actually been trying to work here. When we were in Bahia it was increasingly difficult to get down to doing some work as the heat and the humidity coupled with the lack of available work locations, was a challenge. I remember sitting in our apartment trying to make some important phone calls with two fans pointing directly at us, closing the balcony door so that we could get some peace and quiet from the noisy, dust filled road we lived on and it was pretty disastrous. We regularly ran out of water, as unlike here in Medellin, we couldn’t drink water directly from the tap and we were drinking much more water then because we were always so dehydrated, and to make matters worse getting said water was physically and mentally exhausting. Simple necessities such as these cannot be taken for granted.

Obviously, now we are living in a very modern apartment with multiple supermarkets within walking distance and everyday here is like a beautiful spring day. We hardly ever sweat. The convenience of this cannot be overstated since in Bahia they didn’t even have such a thing as Uber which meant that like it or not whenever we ran out of emergency food supplies or water we had to do the painful trip up the hill in the ridiculously hot heat that seemed to just radiate from the floor and from the sky in order to get whatever we needed and then go back again. Many times just doing this would take us allday as first we needed to somehow garner the energy to do the walk in the firstplace! And as always, we needed to make it there and back by 18:00 because by 18:15 it was pitch black out there and we required a torch just to see where we were going.

The contrast to that place, and where we are now in San Lucas, Medellin is like night and day. In Brazil I was mostly panicking about what I could wear that would keep me from looking as though I had just had a dip in the sea so sweaty was I when I walked about. Here, all of my summer clothes has been left untouched in my incredible, spacious walk in wardrobe, as being in a city I don’t really feel like floating around in a summer dress, I require practicality. Even though we are on the 13th floor and feel uber safe here, we also have a security guard who is posted in our building 24 hours a day. And then there’s the distinct lack of creepy crawlies. Despite the odd fly here and there, there has been nothing: No cockroach, no spider, no mosquito. I still, 4 weeks in haven’t been bitten at all apart from on our trip to the coffee farm.

The crabs that I encountered each time I left our chalet in Bahia have been mysteriously swapped for an immaculately clean lobby, a working lift and even a bin shaft so that all of our rubbish doesn’t have to remain in our apartment and can instead be sent down the bin shaft to be disposed of by somebody else.

But we have found it hard to work here despite this being the easiest place to work out of all of the places that we have stayed so far in our travels, mostly because my sister is still staying with us and it’s hard to be regularly disciplined enough when she is here to put the necessary  time aside for work when there are other (easier) things that we could do.

The ingredients for working online is a little more complicated then it would at first seem. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not simply about having a good internet connection and a laptop. For me, the perfect working environment means that I need to have an ambient temperature (as I cannot work in extreme heat), which was why it was almost impossible for us to work in Bahia.

When it’s that hot you just can’t concentrate – it frazzles your brain and you can’t think properly. Then there’s the wifi situation – it needs to be stable and it needs to be fast. Those things don’t always go together, and indeed in many cases (even in coffee shops), they haven’t had any wifi at all! So annoying.

Then we need to have comfortable chairs. I personally need a chair with a back because I tend to lean forward when I’m working and that’s not good. A chair with a back allows me to maintain a good posture while working which means that I don’t suffer afterwards.

Then there’s the space itself – I don’t like a place that is too oversubscribed, such as the gringo heavy Pergamino’s in El Pablado. Pergamino’s had previously been identified as a good place for digital nomads to work as it had good wifi, good coffee and lots of places to work, but when we went there all I could see was gringo’s galore and that for me is not appealing. I didn’t come to Colombia to see Americans, Germans, Swedes and people from the UK thank you very much, I came to see Colombians.

But then if you decide to shun the relative ease of working in somewhere like Pergamino’s then you have to choose a local establishment and that can also be a bit of a problem as a) they are usually quite small and don’t expect to have people working there so you are taking up vital space that another customer could have and b) the coffee is usually pretty bad.

Thankfully, the last couple of days we have been strict and either left the apartment in search of a coffee shop in order to get down to some work or told my sister that we’d be busy working for the next couple of hours and it’s been fine.

It still seems hard to believe that this is my life now, and not some kind of a fantasy life. I keep on thinking that it’s going to come to an end but it doesn’t, it just goes on which is pretty awesome. To think that when I return to the UK my life will be my own to do with as I will as I will have no office to report to on a Monday morning to put in 7.45 hours of my time any longer is fantastic. I feel like I’ve just bought time itself!

Of course all of this city living convenience comes at a bit of a loss. We have no beach here, and Nativo’s Beach in Bahia is certainly one of the finest I have had the pleasure of sunbathing on. And then we have lost the nature, as when we were living there, monkeys came to visit us and our teacher friend in Trancoso even saw a sloth! True, the view from our apartment is second to none. From here we can look out to a panoramic view of the soaring mountains which surround the city and to the towering high rise apartments that are everywhere, and which twinkle with bright yellow lights at night – the best city view I’ve ever seen. But we also miss the simplicity of the sunrise and sunset from our chalet on the beach.

I miss the rustic simplicity of Trancoso: the quadrado, the friends we made there, the music and the colourful and charming beauty of the pousada’s, but we have gained the greenest city I have seen, with magnificent trees, plants and flowers everywhere alongside the hustle and bustle of a city on the up that never sleeps.

But this is what this experience is all about – contrast. I’m sure it’s hard to know at times just where you’re heart will lead you or what you might discover on your travels. And that’s why we like switching it up – a beach here, mountains there etc.

I guess for me, I’ve always known that cities offer alot but cannot offer everything. And sometimes it’s the simple things that melt your heart, such as the sound of the birds in the trees, the way the light reflects the moon onto the ocean, the look and the smell of that particular flower on a dusty road. It’s what I live for: the discovery of the simple things.

Talking of discovery, I have just finished watching a Brazilian period drama on Netflix called Most Beautiful Thing or Coisa Mais Linda in Portuguese. Based in Rio in the 1950’s it tells the story of a woman from Sao Paolo who dreams of opening a Bossa Nova club in Rio De Janeiro. The main actress is beautiful she looks a lot like Audrey Hepburne actually and she has the most amazing clothes. Considering I’ve just spent 3 months in Brazil, including spending some time in Rio, I LOVE Bossa Nova music, the glamour of that era and it’s all in Brazilian Portuguese, it was the perfect thing for me to watch. They are making a second season but it has no release date as of yet – I really hope it comes out this summer!

Coisa Mais Linda

Arvi Park

One of the supposed highlights on my Medellin things to see list was Arvi Park. Located at the top of the mountains, with a commanding view of the city, we would not only get to see Colombia’s ecological nature reserve, but also get the chance to experience the city’s cable cars to get there, which took us from the heart of the city through the clustering of Medellin’s famous barrio’s up to the highest point where Arvi Park began. A girl that my sister had previously met on her travels through Ecuador, had messaged her to tell her that she was now in Medellin and wanted to meet up with us for the trip to Arvi, so we jumped in a taxi and met her at the station.

Unlike my sister, who since staying with us at our apartment in San Lucas, was now living in relative luxury, this girl had been moving from hostel to hostel, with some questionable experiences along the way, such as having a drunken guy who was staying in her dorm (as you know these hostels have mixed sex strangers sharing the same room), trying to get into her bed and start feeling her up in the middle of the night!!

Can you believe such a thing? And then that same night another guy weed on the dorm room floor! Imagine that-  urine and drunken urine no less in the area where you sleep! Bloody awful. But these kinds of things, such as a guy trying to take advantage of a single girl travelling on her own, surely must happen quite regularly in these kinds of establishments. What I want to know is what they’re doing to prevent it from happening or to deal with it afterwards. If I was them I would have chucked this guy out on his ear! Nasty buzzard.

Anyway, the girl seemed very nice. She was originally from Germany and could speak both perfect English and Spanish which was just aswell because the journey for Arvi was a little more complicated then I expected it would be! We first had to get to Acevedo Station where we needed to buy tickets for the cable car which took us up to Santa Domingo Station, and then change onto another cable car to take us to Arvi. The journey took around 25 minutes in total – the longest cable car ride that I’d ever done, but the views of the city were worth it.

We had been told about another walking tour by the guide of the coffee tour we had done and by my sisters friend who we’d met up with a few weeks ago, but I didn’t like the idea of it and here’s why..

The tour that we had been recommended to do was a graffiti walking tour in the heart of the Colombian ghetto.

The city of Medellin, much like Rio and it’s Favela’s, was a highly populated area in the city where the most poverty stricken people lived. Typically, ram shackled homes which looked as though they had been built very precariously with cheap building materials and no building regulations were located. They were on the outskirts of the city and in the case of the Barrios of Medellin, were high up in the mountains with no access to transportation. In 2010 the Colombian government decided that the people of the barrios who made up the highest population in the city (with tens of thousands of homes there), put in a cable car system after deciding that the people of the barrios should have access to the city and therefore access to new jobs. In another surprising twist for the city of Medellin, they now had one of the most sophisticated public transportation systems in Latin America, which served the thousands (I still can’t find any official figures on just how many people live there) of people who lived in the barrios.

But I could find no enjoyment in “poverty porn”. Walking around the barrios just to gawp at the people who resided there didn’t sound like fun to me. I didn’t want to do it in Rio and I wasn’t going to start doing it here. There was something about it that seemed a little distasteful especially when in most cases on these tours I would have been accompanied by other gringo’s thus making it even more apparent that I was there to stare. I understood that the point of the tour wasn’t merely about staring at the poor Colombian people as the tour guide also took people to see the graffiti art and told them the story of the city, but I just didn’t feel comfortable with it.

Thankfully now that we were going to Arvi Park, I was able to get a birds eye view, and undoubtedly the best view of the barrios without having to actually go there. The houses, a sprawling mass of small makeshift brick houses with metal roofs, perching precariously on the mountain seemed to go on forever. Crammed together with no outside space or doors and windows on steep, windy streets that were surprisingly well paved considering, this part of the city was a whole city in itself: the one that nobody talked about, and if you didn’t live there you certainly never visited.

Despite my acute horror at seeing so many people living in such poverty, I also saw a sense of community there. Being so cloistered together, the forgotten part of Medellin’s growing elite, they seemed somewhat oblivious to the speed and level to which their city was growing. Children ran in between the houses, giggling, playing hide and seek. Of course they were completely unaware that they were essentially at the bottom of the heap as far as Colombian society was concerned. Children never really know do they? – so long as their parents are able to provide a roof over their heads, clothing and food, and have friends who were never too far away, they could be happy and stress-free.

How would they know their parents wished for a better life? one where they wouldn’t have to beg, steal and borrow to provide for them. A life where they were unable to get employment in the big city because of where they lived? and one where it was a struggle just to afford the transportation to get them there in the firstplace. I noticed that the cable cars that had been promoted as a way to connect the barrios to the city but there were huge distances between the stations. And were they free for the residents? – I certainly hoped so but didn’t think so.

Keeping the children safe from the crime in the area I’m sure was neigh on impossible for parents as such a level of extreme poverty essentially bred a survivalist mentality. And don’t get me started on medical care as surely that was simply a luxury for these people. These were the stark realities of life in the barrios and though I had never been there I certainly had an understanding of what it must be like and I had a deep empathy for them. Those people didn’t choose to live there, they certainly didn’t choose to be poor, but the reality was that for most of the people, they would never leave.

They were luckier then most residents of Medellin in one respects though: they had the best view of the city: A 360 degree view of the city, with a backdrop of the towering Andes mountains: Spectacular.

Medellin’s Barrios from the Cable Car

 

 

When we arrived at the top of the cable cars we went first to the information desk to see if we could get a map of the park. Considering it had taken us so long to get there we figured that it must be a gigantic park with lots to see but when we asked for a map we were told that they didn’t have any. This I couldn’t understand. An ecological park of this scale with no map, and scarcely any information? Sure, our lack of Spanish speaking skills wasn’t a bonus but my sisters friend could speak it fluently yet even she had no idea where we needed to go or what highlights the park had to offer. There was also no promotional material around explaining so it was hard to know.

In the end we just started walking and before long we came to an area where some buses were parked. We asked one of the bus drivers where he was going and he mentioned a lake so we said sure, we’ll go there. Seeing a lake can’t be at all bad! I thought.

When we started driving further up the mountain we realised that it really must be a big area if they were having to get people to take a mini bus to take them to different parts of the park but after we jumped out and paid to enter we came to a large grassy area that looked almost completely empty. There was a part where it looked like people could picnic and/or camp, a stage, a restaurant and yes, in the distance the lake, but there was hardly anyone there and there was nothing particularly inspiring about the place it was just an empty grassy field. Was this it? We looked around and it appeared as though, yes, this was it.

There was a butterfly enclosure, so we went in there and, after my sister stopped screaming at them for fluttering too close to her, we walked around looking at the gorgeous coloured specimens. Afterwards we went in the direction of the lake where we saw a few ducks, but apart from that there was nothing. Like, was this what this park was all about: a basic looking lake, a few butterflies and a duck??

The Butterfly Enclosure

We walked in the only other direction that we could without going back on ourselves and soon we came upon a sign for a hotel so we went towards it. We climbed the steps towards the direction of the hotel which advertised having lots of exotic animals such as armadillo’s and sloths but we didn’t see a thing. We didn’t even hear any birds. How can you not hear any birds in an ecological park?? We still didn’t have the foggiest idea where we were going but we figured that if anything we could at least get a nice view of the lake and perhaps a drink while we were at it but when we got there we saw that the hotel too was like a ghost town.

The whole thing was starting to become a bit strange.

We walked around the hotel which was eerily empty despite it being high season until eventually we decided to get back on another bus and go back in the direction we had just come from. We still didn’t know just what we were looking for, or what we would see when we got there and the surrounding town that we had to walk through also seemed weird – people were just sitting about doing nothing and staring blankly into space. Eventually we were told (by a fellow traveller no less), that there were some waterfalls nearby which sounded great but by the time we got there after walking around aimlessly for hours and seeing nothing worthy of note, we arrived to find the gates firmly closed.

What a very peculiar place!

“Nothing to see here” at the lake in Arvi Park