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

 

Week 3 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 3 in Medellin, Colombia

We had really enjoyed the city tour that we done in Rio. Visiting some of the most iconic sites in Brazil such as Escadaria Selaron, The Sambadromo, Sugarloaf Mountain, Rio Olympic Stadium and the statue of Christ the Redeemer, had been a thoroughly entertaining, aswell as fun activity to do in Brazil. Usually Josh and I took a dim view of what we liked to call “organised fun” which included doing day trips with random strangers but since we had enjoyed our tour in Rio so much we decided that it would be a good idea to find another tour to do whilst we were in Colombia.

Tour with Tor’

A walking tour that had been recommended on lots of online blogs was one by Real City Tours. It was a free walking tour that promised to take us around the centre of Medellin to explain the transition of this most formiddable city. We weren’t sure how many people would turn up but as it was a free tour we figured that it would be quite a few. When we arrived we spotted the other participants immediately because they were: Gringo’s. And there wasn’t just one or two of them but a very large (and growing) group of pale skinned Europeans who looked as if they had just stepped off the boat. The realisation that we were going to be doing the tour with so many people didn’t fill me with much enthusiasm as I had no desire to make small talk and worst of all, they were the “backpacking types”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against people who backpack (indeed my own sister isn’t a “backpacking type” per say but she had been backpacking so I know that there is a difference), but what I mean when I refer to someone as being a backpacking type is the type of person who goes from hostel to hostel, looking for the cheapest accommodation going, a person who is happy to wear the same frowsy clothing day after day, or to live in squallor as a kind of small temporary inconvenience because it allows them to do what they love: travel.

Now of course I also love travel so that isn’t the problem. Alas I am not willing to forgo certain creature comforts in order to do what I love.

Unfortunately, such people who do not care for comfort or cleanliness also occasionally have something else in common: Stench.

They have body odour because they have a limited rotation of clothing and those clothes are not washed very frequently, and because they have become used to not having private access to a shower they probably limit their wash days too. Usually in these type of hostels that attract long term travellers, people not only share the communal areas, including the kitchen and lounge, but they also share the bedroom itself (with randoms of BOTH sexes), aswell as the bathroom. I don’t find the idea of being in such close proximity to bio bodies to be particularly appealing, alas I also know that travelling isn’t cheap. Especially when you’re doing it for a reasonably long amount of time and require certain accomodation standards (as I do).

Some of these people who had turned up for the tour had the unfortunate odour of infrequently washed bodies and clothes. The men looked dishevelled, as clearly they hadn’t been able to shave and their clothes were crushed and dirty. I wrinkled my nose and moved to the back.

The tour guide’s name was Hernan. He had a very strong Colombian accent but could speak perfect English. He told us that his name was Hernan and not Hernando as many people had assumed and that he had been born there in Medellin. He said that he used to be a teacher but that for the past 10 years, after becoming disillusioned with the lifelessness of work with no creativity, he decided to give it up to become a tour guide for his city, which he felt was in need of a sympathetic but genuine account of the history of his city, Medellin.

There were around 20 people in our group. Before we began to walk around he asked us to fill in a form which would tell him our names and which countries we were all from. After we filled it in he asked us to take a seat (on the ground), where he proceeded to welcome each of us individually BY NAME to Medellin. I think we were all gobsmacked because he had remembered each of our names, including the correct pronounciations of them perfectly – it was as if he had a photographic memory or something.

He went on to tell us about the history of Medellin, including a timeline of it’s progress up until this point. He included of course, the story of what he chose to call “the infamous criminal”. He refused to say his name he told us because Colombian people were very nosey (as I had already noticed), and they would come and stand next to you or behind you out of curiosity to try and hear what you had to say (and butt in if they didn’t agree!). When it came to matters regarding the “infamous criminal” people in the city were still very touchy about it. Many of them, particularly those who were around when he was causing mayhem on the streets, still didn’t like to talk about him or hear his name being mentioned in public. They had a very dim view of his “legacy” where over 38,000 Colombian people had died as a direct or indirect consequence of his drug wars. He told us that more people had been displaced then in any other country in the world (bar Syria) as a result of this tragedy, so for the locals, knowing that people around the world were celebrating him like he was some kind of humanitarian via the popular Netflix show Narco’s, when many of them had had friends and family who had died in the conflict made them angry.

The Colombians were relieved now to see that people were starting to trickle into their country on the quest to discover the real Colombia, a country that had long been forgotten in this tale of misery and violence. I sensed their curiosity and enthusiasm when they discovered that we had English accents and at many points in our tour (where it was clear that none of us were from there and were all there to learn more about the city), we had lots of Colombians coming up to us either to stand and patiently listen to what we were being told (no doubt to ensure that the city was being represented properly!), or to actually interrupt us to tell us how happy they were that we were there, ask us whether we were enjoying Colombia and/or welcome us to their city.

The highlight of our tour was when a thoroughly wrinkled granny (who couldn’t have been less then 80), came up to us to express her thoughts on what we should do next after doing our tour (taste some real Colombian food). Alas, we had already looked into the Colombian cuisine and we had found it wanting. On the menu of one of the highest rated Colombian restaurants in the city was a menu that included things like: tripe, porcupine, a dish called”sweaty chicken” (which as I chicken lover I just couldn’t justify eating), and other questionable sounding things. But other then that I found her to be adorable.

I loved the way that the locals felt free to express their curiosity, admiration, give suggestions or advice to tourists. I knew that such a thing would never happen in England in a million years as butting into peoples private conversations was generally considered rude and I could tell that our tour guide Hernan found it to be a little off putting, but I found it quite endearing. I thought it was lovely that they cared so much.

He took us around the city walking around the busy and traffic heavy streets, past the streets filled with every conceivable (counterfeit) product you could imagine. Unlike in Thailand, these people weren’t just selling fake designer bags and accessories, they were also selling blatantly fake clothes and trainers. So many trainers! Nobody had bothered to even try being authentic – each shop was packed to the rafters with every brand of trainers imaginable, so much so that every shop was starting to look identical. What was the difference between that shop full of trainers and the one either side of it? – Nothing much, as in both places you could haggle on the price for the merchandise. But the scale of the shopping area was seriously impressive. I had already noted how much it seemed the Colombians liked to shop as there was seemingly a shopping mall on every street corner but this obviously was for people who were looking for a bargain.

Papaya Level 5

After taking us around the shopping area he took us to a place which looked familiar to me. I wondered whether we had been there before without knowing it but before long he stopped walking and told us about this thing called the “Papaya Level”

Nothing to do with the fruit papaya, but a scale of awareness for safety purposes, we were constantly reminded of the danger still posed by many of the cartels who operated in this area. Despite the police presence being extremely high in Medellin, there was still alot of crime in this city, most of all robbery. Being pick pocketed or just being outright robbed was something that I was very mindful of in Colombia. I had heard so many stories of people who had gone there, most of whom had had some kind of robbery experience or another. Thankfully for us, we were 3 weeks in and we hadn’t had any such experience but I did sometimes sense the low level energy which let me know that it was still very possible so to remain vigilant at all times. Naturally, being the drug capital of the world, it was also still full of people dealing with (and addicted to) drugs. Josh had been approached many times already and though I had noticed each occasion that he had been approached, I still thought that the guys who approached were pretty slick when doing it.

According to our tour guide, we were now approaching Papaya Level 5, the area where we needed to take the most precautions as this was where the criminals targeted unsuspecting people in order to pickpocket them. He said Colombians being Latino’s had a habit of coming close to you as they didn’t understand the concept of personal space as we do in Europe and it was with that that strategy that they were able to take your wallet, phone or whatever. The thing that Josh, myself and my sister found amusing as we walked around was all of the areas that he took us to where he proclaimed that it was a Papaya Level 5 was all of the same areas that we had walked just a few days before. Indeed, the area which he told everyone in the group to simply not go to as it wasn’t safe was the area which I had been so shocked and dismayed with on our visit to Botero Square: the area that had been filled with vagrants, the homeless, drug abusers, the mentally ill, prostitutes and refugees with babies in their arms. The place where people looked so poor and in need of help that I had been simply shocked to my core. I  couldn’t believe that all of the transformation that I had seen with my own eyes had not yet been extended to these poor, destitute people. I wasn’t surprised that he considered that to be a no-go zone as I too felt that it was no-go. It was a no-go zone for them too!

We passed by the Palace of Justice and Botero Square where an incredible mural had been drawn of the timeline of the city. But it was Hernan and his thoroughly captivating way of telling the story of his city that I found to be most appealing. He went into great detail to talk about how the city was rebuilt after the “infamous criminal”, he spoke of Colombian politics and he was candidly frank about the unfortunate realities of crime, prostitution and the rights of the indigenous community (which is basically so minimal as to be almost nonexistent).

As prostitution was legal in Colombia this explained why we had been seeing so many scantily clad ladies standing around on the streets (and outside the church!) obviously touting for business. Many of them looked down and out and so it wasn’t a pretty sight seeing them standing there in their suspenders and crop tops with flabby stomachs hanging out over neon coloured mini-skirts advertising their availability for sex.

We asked Hernan about all of the signs we had seen around the city warning people that sex tourism wasn’t welcome. But when probed our guide admitted that there had been a sickening development: The prostitution of minors had been happening on the streets with disturbing frequency. Apparently people were actually pimping out children! He asked us to report it if we saw anything like that straightaway. I felt sick just hearing him admit such a vile thing was happening here in Colombia but of course I promised to report it if I saw it without hesitation.

There was a road renowned for porn too. Not that people were actually making porn on that road (though they were probably doing that too considering the amount of available prostitutes),  but that you could openly buy porn DVD’s on this particular street. For amusement he took us there. On the one side there was fake merchandise for sale, including watches, trainers, jewellery and bags etc, and on the other in a kind of “Deptford market” type setting, with men sitting under partially covered tables and when I looked what was on those tables I got the shock of my life:

Bad Booty 1, 2, 3 and 4, Latino Da Dunk a Dunk, Women who Blow and every other imaginable porn DVD combo and offensive title going was available ON THE STREET with seemingly no amusement or attempt to be discreet by the sellers whatsoever. And this was with the po-po walking around with gigantic sized guns that could blow anyone they saw fit away. The guys were advertising Cum Quest 1 like as if it were the latest best selling Harry Potter book – with complete indifference to the graphic imagery on the DVD’s. Unbelievable.

And this was all despite Colombia being 87 percent Catholic. Which just goes to show you that religion is no guarantee of morality. But then again, you already knew that!

Before we left, Hernan took us to the a place with more Botero’s sculptures that we hadn’t been to before. One sculpture was of a bird, a voluptuous bird of course which was his signature. And the other one was of the same bird but one that looked like it had been blown up. He explained that the other bird had indeed been blown up by one of the drug cartels but that the artist had insisted that rather then remove the statue as if to pretend that it had never happened he wished to keep the statue in exactly the same position as it was left, in order to remind people of Medellin’s dark history with the hope that they could look to the future.

Afterwards, my sister and I bought some earrings from an American lady who was there to help the indigenous peoples who had now been relegated to dancing on the street to earn money to feed their families despite this being their country, one that was colonised by the Spanish pushing them to the margins. The earrings were lovely but most of all I was happy to just be able to give back to these sweet, gentle people who seemed to have gotten the raw deal.

We were happy to give Hernan a generous tip for his efforts as a tour guide as we felt that the tour was not only informative but comprehensive, entertaining and it put many things in context for us, such as the grandad’s that we’d seen standing around everywhere with a gormless look on their faces. He told us that they came there to escape doing chores at home!

We had lunch at a Vegetarian Hari Krishna restaurant (which wasn’t very good), then we walked around the shopping area – a riot of shops and merchandise and I picked myself up a pair of bell bottom jeans and some fitness wear clothes (and before you ask no I do not have any intention of going to the gym, lol), I just thought it might be nice to walk about in as many of the Colombians do. The brand of fitness clothing I got (a black bra top and leggings), are a popular Colombian brand from here in Medellin so I thought it would be nice to have a bit of Colombia to take back with me like I did with my Havaianas from Brazil!

Interesting architecture in Medellin designed by a Belgian architect

A restored Colombian Building in the centre of town

The inside of one of the shopping malls – one of the oldest buildings in the city

 Botero’s famous “derriere” sculptures

The sculpture that aims to spark a conversation

The back of Botero’s sculptures, with and without terrorist attack

Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Gardens

We had to leave the house as the cleaner was coming that morning so we decided last minute to go to a place that I had on my list to visit here in Medellin: Joaquin Antonio Uribe Botanical Gardens. Only around 20 minutes by car from our apartment was these serene and beautiful gardens which had been thoroughly manicured to represent the very best of Medellin’s flora and fauna. In this tranquil gardens filled with mesmerisingly beautiful trees which surely much have been hundreds of years old, we passed by a collection of plants including an abundance of cacti in the dessert gardens, palm trees and one of my personal favourites: bamboo trees. Reaching higher then most of the other trees in the gardens these slim, green reeds reached high over my head, swaying gently with magnificent strength and silent beauty creating a most wonderful green cocoon.

We ate in a restaurant inside the park, where we had the misfortune to witness a couple sucking each others faces off for the entire duration of our meal. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand raw unadulterated passion but I just didn’t understand why a restaurant whilst people were trying to eat their lunch was the place where they would choose to display it. Talking of lunch, mine was a disappointment. I fear my lack of language skills are allowing people to get away with producing badly cooked food as I cannot properly complain!

On this occasion it was Tilapia, which had been described as coming with a side of salad, plantain and coconut rice. So far so good eh? Well, this tilapia had been fried to within an inch of it’s life. No longer the meaty and flavoursome fish that I was accustomed to, this one had been fried so much that it had shrunk and no amount of digging into it’s encrusted flesh with my fork would release it from it’s crusty crutches. And as for the plantain? Well that was just a joke. A flattened, hardened, fried mess of a joke. I couldn’t saw into it with my knife for love nor money and I was afraid that if I did just pick it up and bite into it then my teeth would fall out. It was a seriously shoddy meal indeed.

Despite it’s lack of historical architecture, a violent past that it’s residents no longer wished to remember, and the severe poverty that lurked within the city, I could still see that Medellin had a lot to offer. A small city, which looked huge to me because from the balcony of my apartment I could see it in it’s entirety, it offered an easy life if you knew where and how to live. Buying property here for foreigners was still very cheap and you could live very well because of the low cost to buy, the price of transport and the standard and abundance of quality accommodation. And then there was the infrastructure, though I could surely attest to the insanity of the traffic, with Colombians driving just as bad if not worse then Brazilians taking serious risks with their lives and others, the abundance of options when it came to getting about the city was impressive. With trams, a metro system (which they are very proud of), lots of buses and even cable cars, it offered a lot of transportation variety and at low cost.

And then there was the weather: Perfect really. They don’t call Medellin “The city of eternal spring” for no reason!

Yes, living here could be easy. If you had good Spanish (or were willing to learn), I think for city living you couldn’t go far wrong, especially since for just a longer drive outside of the city you could have the countryside within easy reach. Alas, danger was still of concern. Many of the people in the countryside had moved from the countryside to the cities to escape the grip of Left and Right wing groups determined to make money from the land that they owned. Many were killed and still many were displaced and there were still many places that we were advised not to go which for a Londoner confident that I could go anywhere in my city, was a bit of a concern.

Thankfully I have managed to improve my hair situation somewhat. I am still debating whether I am going to get it redone as I don’t want her not doing it how I want her to again, and then of course I will have to take this hair out and pay her again too. So we’ll see. But my sister has said that she is planning on getting her to redo her’s so I might talk to her when she next comes (using Google Translate of course!) and see if we can come to some sort of arrangement. But my hair does look better now – and this is for a few reasons:

Time – its not shedding as much now

Braiding – I like to have the ends of my hair out but in order to make it less frizzy I braided a few individual braids all the way down and that has seemed to make it look a little neater

Dipping – Having braids requires the hair to be dipped on completion into a bowl of boiling water to seal the ends. So I plaited it again and dipped it again and now it looks more defined and less voluminous.

However the thing that I cannot improve about my hair is the blonde highlights that are in it. I fear that the blonde may just be a little too light for my personal taste. I wanted it to be subtle but it’s not really and there’s so much in it that it really stands out.

The entrance to the tranquil gardens

 

 

 Joaquin Antonio Uribe

In Situ Restaurant

Look at the size of this banana tree!

The Coffee Plantation Tour

The one thing about doing tours that I was adverse to was this idea of spending the day with randoms and of course the longer the tour the longer time spent with people you otherwise had no interest in knowing. And the more people in the tour the more the chance of annoyance. So far we’d had a pretty good experience with no overly annoying people accompanying us.

But there’s always a first..

The Toucan Cafe in Medellin was a centre where expects could meet each other, work digitally from their cafe that was open 7 days a week or even do one of their tours (such as the coffee plantation one that we had booked), learn Spanish or how to dance salsa. So it was a great hub of activity and the ideal way for travellers to Medellin to get to meet other travellers. For us, this idea of going to a centre full of gringo’s didn’t really appeal as

1) We already had a pretty awesome place to work from: our beautiful apartment and 2) We weren’t single travellers so didn’t feel the need to “socialise” with other expats. I had decided that I wanted to do a private salsa class but I wanted to do it somewhere that I felt was a little more authentic so I decided that I was going to wait until we got to Cartagena.

The coffee plantation at Cafe De La Cima sounded appealing. We had looked at a few coffee tours online but this one stood out because it had been recommended by the tour guide of the walking tour that we had done, it went further into the countryside and therefore was in a more untouched and beautiful location, was a family run working coffee farm and it included breakfast aswell as lunch. The price was pretty good and we really wanted to have an authentic Colombian coffee experience so we went ahead and booked it. The only problem was that the drive to get there and back was a long one.

We arrived at Toucan Cafe just on time (8:30 am) and before long we were being ushered into a mini van with 4 other people to begin the hour and a half long drive to a town where we needed to pick up another car (a jeep because it was too steep to get there in the mini van), to take us to the farm.

No sooner had we settled down into the clean, air conditioned vehicle then the incessant talking ensued…

Of course I understood the politeness of getting to know who you were travelling with (though that in and of itself is not necessarily important), but what I did not understand was the volume or the length of time that the talking went on for. The 3 in the back (2 Canadians and an Indian girl), yapped on and on and on and on for the entire duration of the drive. It didn’t seem to matter one iota to them that nobody else was doing so, or that the American-like volume that they were talking at was annoying and unnecessary. I was still feeling tired after having a late night and an early morning – I mean it wasn’t even 9:30 am yet, why all of the verbal diaorrhea?

I’ll admit that there is generally a difference between how Canadians and Americans speak – I find Americans to be almost unbareable because they speak so loudly, have an annoying pitch, they love the sound of their own voices, their conversations are usually very base and superficial and they don’t take social cues, but I had no idea that Canadian’s could be quite this annoying.

When I found out that the Canadian guy actually spent most of his life in San Francisco then it made much more sense. These individuals were INTENT on yapping for the entire duration amongst themselves (they didn’t even try to engage anyone else in conversation), and at the end of the drive there I was mentally exhausted by what I had been forced to witness. The Canadian guy had an annoying high pitched voice that made him sound very effeminate but unfortunately for me, because I was unable to block out anything that they said I knew that he was very much hetero. His high pitched cackle which came in 2 second intervals was unbelievably irritating. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to survive the next 6 plus hours with these people. I came here for a coffee tour not nonsense chat!

Once we arrived in the town we transferred into a bright yellow jeep and then began our descent up the very steep, narrow and extremely bumpy mountain paths. Even though it felt uncomfortable to me to be in such close proximity with people and not say a word to them I was so pissed off with the fact that my sitting back relaxing and enjoying the surrounding countryside as we drove through Medellin had been spoilt by their constant yabber. I was at a loss as to why they couldn’t pick up the body language of the 3 Brits (me, my sister and Josh) and the softly spoken Belgian guy who were quite capable of having conversations without broadcasting it to the entire van, to act accordingly.

What is it about that part of the world and their need to be heard??

The Indian girl should have known better as she was from India, currently living in Switzerland and claimed to have many European friends and so should have the girl from Montreal as she had actually been born in France but unfortunately she moved to Canada when she was 6 and Canadian culture like it or not is more similar to US culture then to European and it shows!

Soon we were told by our tour guide that we were going to have to walk the remainder of the way to the farm as there was road works so we got out of the vehicle and along with the Canadians, the guy from Belgium and the Indian girl we began our trek up the mountain in the 30 degree plus heat. Thankfully we had been warned of the heat previously so I had brought a hat with me as I didn’t wish to get sunstroke.

When we got to the farm we were all pretty knackered and we hadn’t even started yet! The family welcomed us warmly to their home, which was located on the precipice of the impressive Andes mountains which surrounded the city. The views stretched out for kilometers with densely covered forest, mountains and the valley below. It was an incredible sight, just what I had imagined Colombia would be like.

Here everything was quiet apart from the sound of the animals that lived there as aswell as being a coffee farm it was also a working farm with cows, pigs and chickens. The son of the coffee farmer Humberto, was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable about coffee, but he couldn’t speak a word of English so the tour guide that was with us translated his words. Before taking us around we had breakfast, which consisted of Arepa’s de Choclo which was basically corn that had been fried and a type of Colombian cheese that was produced there on the farm. To drink: Coffee. I loved the idea that we were eating produce that had been made there on the farm and it was all pretty tasty.

Afterwards Humberto took us around the farm, showing us the full process from seed to bean of how the coffee was made. Not only was it very fascinating, but it was educational too. I never had any idea the level of labour and processes that were involved in making the coffee that we enjoy everyday and most surprisingly, I never knew how little these farmers were getting for their efforts.

Colombian coffee is well renowned the world over for it’s body and taste yet these farmers get next to nothing in return. I couldn’t believe it when Humberto explained how one bag of coffee produced by them would only yeald around $20 US dollars profit. Considering how much we pay for a cup of coffee, it seemed criminal to me to think that this mans work for the year, taking into account how many bags of coffee beans he sold in the year and the profit he made on each, would come to less then $1,400 dollars. No matter which way you look at it ,that is OBSCENE.

After explaining to us the harsh realities of the coffee business, which was becoming more and more competitive because of the highly competitive and big commercial coffee corporations (like the dreaded Starbucks for instance), he and other Colombian coffee producers were being squeezed and many had decided to stopped producing coffee altogether because there was no longer any profit in it. Hence him doing these tours: To educate tourists and to make some money from the coffee that they could sell at the end removing the middle man.

He took us onto the farm located on a very steep incline on the mountain and then he asked us to pick the coffee beans. Though it technically wasn’t picking season he told us that we would still found some beans. We were told to pick only the red ones. This coffee bean lark wasn’t as easy as it looked. For starters, it was bloody hot. Soaring well beyond 30 degrees, not even my sunhat could protect me from the intense rays. And then there was the mosquitoes. 3 weeks in and I still hadn’t been bitten once yet here mosquitoes were everywhere and they were seemingly ravenous – biting me on every piece of exposed skin available. Then, the terrain: Dangerously steep. And we were required to stretch up on this steep mountain in order to pluck the red berries from the trees. After having a little slip in my determination to get the most berries from a tree that was located in a very awkward spot on the mountain, I set about my task of picking the red berries for around 20 minutes until Humberto told us that our time was up. I was quite pleased with my little coffee bounty but I was left in no doubt of just how physically exhausting this work was. He told us that a coffee picker could expect to earn around $2 per basket they filled up which seemed like pittance to me when you considered how long it would take to fill up a basket.

He then showed us how to remove the fleshy skin from the seed which we did to find a slimy, honey like syrup underneath. Once the skin had been removed you would then need to wash the honey from the seeds and leave them to dry. They used a kind of drawer that could be pulled out and be exposed to the sun to dry them quicker. The drying process took around a day. Afterwards the outer shell for the coffee bean needed to be removed (goodness knows who and how this process was worked out btw), and then usually the beans were selected for their grading based on colour and condition and then sold oversea’s. Apparently the Colombians themselves didn’t yet have a taste for the coffee they produced (even though Colombia is the third largest producer of coffee in the world after Brazil and Vietnam), so all of the “good” beans were shipped oversea’s where they were roasted to their preference and then sold.

Since the whole process was so time consuming and most of the farmers didn’t know how to, the Colombians didn’t do the roasting process themselves. They were just in control of growing the beans and then preparing them for sale. However Humberto’s Dad, who was a bit of an entrepreneur, had seen a gap in the market and had recently started roasting them and selling them himself, keeping in control of the entire process from seed to bean. They showed us how the roasting and cooling process was done too which was pretty cool.

After having lunch we had a tasting session with some of the grades of coffee that the farm produced being offered to us. Humberto explained to us how we should all, now that we know what was involved in coffee production, be more mindful of where our coffee was coming from and only purchase good quality coffee from official fairtrade companies like themselves.

Knowing what I know now I will never see coffee in the same way again!

We said goodbye to the family and thanked them for a really enjoyable day and we went on our way to commence the almost 2 hour drive back to the city.

In the van on the way back, utterly exhausted from having to walk again down the mountain in the heat to get to the local town and then do another 25 minute ride down the bumpy, narrow, pot hole filled roads in the jeep, Josh, my sister and I were ready to relax on the way back, maybe even get some shut eye. My body was feeling drained from physical exertion after a day spent listening to the laborious process of coffee making in the heat.

And what I was certainly not expecting, but what I received much to my utter horror, was a continuation of the conversation that never ended at full volume and with complete disregard to anyone else being present, of the 2 Canadian’s and the Indian girl, who waffled, gossiped, prattled, babbled and cackled their way for the entire duration of the ride back. I was absolutely fuming.

They spoke about:

Operations: The Canadian girl had had an operation on her shoulder. The Canadian guy had had an operation on his arm after an accident in a snowboarding session where he developed concussion a few days prior and couldn’t remember anything . He had to have physio for a year a half after hurting his arm and it’s still not 100% better.

Relationships: The Indian girl was single and wasn’t currently looking for a relationship right now. She wasn’t even on Tinder, and she didn’t have Instagram. The Canadian girl was divorced but was now dating a guy called Max, who was friends with the Canadian guy, which was how they met. The Indian girl said that she did not care for the institution of marriage.

Work: The Canadian guy had been running a startup and was now just travelling around. The Canadian girl worked in the medical field and gave the Indian girl advice about the growing, painful corns that she had on her toes. The Indian girl works for the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Health: The Canadian girl had some stomach problems but it wasn’t so bad today.

Politics: The Indian girl does not like her current president but she doesn’t think that he will ever be voted out of office.

Travel: The Indian girl was here for 10 days in total staying on her own after visiting Bogota and she had previously been in Goa (where she was born). The Canadian girl was here with her boyfriend Max but had not long come back from Katmandu, Nepal which she found to be unbelievably noisy and busy. The Canadian guy had just been in Thailand and was planning on moving to New York after his travels in Colombia.

Family: The Canadian girl’s family were originally from Algeria and she was an ethnic minority in her country. Her family were very conservative as was the Indian girl’s. The Canadian guy had previously lived in San Francisco but his Mum and Dad (who were of Irish descent) spent most of their time in Trinadad.

Countries of Birth: The Canadian girl was actually born in France so she has a French passport but her sisters do not have a French passport as they were both born in Algeria.

Languages: The Canadian girl can speak French because she was brought up in Montreal, a French speaking city in Canada. She can also understand some Spanish and of course she is a fluent English speaker (as are they all).

Drugs: They have all tried drugs especially the Indian girl, who has had marijuana, mushrooms, ecstasy and acid. Acid is her favourite because everything seems more vivid, like colours, shapes and sounds and the high lasts for a longer time (around 6-7 hours).

Brexit: They all had an opinion on Brexit which they didn’t bother to consult the only actual Brits in the vacinity on (us!)

Harry and Meghan: They all had an opinion on that too.

In short: If you are as shocked as I was to learn that all of this very personal and intimate information was exposed in the course of a few hours then you will understand how absolutely furious I was to have been subjected to such low level nonsense against my will.

To think that people can talk incessantly like this with no awareness whatsoever of their surroundings is quite a shock to the system. No, Canadians aren’t as bad as Americans but after that mind numbingly dull episode I think that I might be growing an aversion to them too!

P.S Once we’d left the vehicle (and I was far too vexed to say goodbye to any of them), the 3 of them then went on to yap some more at a local sushi bar.

Goodness gracious me!!!!

The beautiful surroundings of the Cafe de la Cima residence

Getting ready to pick some coffee!

My and my sis working hard on the plantation!

 

Josh earning his keep 🙂

Views for days

 

 

 

The process in stages to make Colombian coffee

A small coffee seed

The flowering coffee plant

Josh imparting his “expert coffee knowledge” to Humberto

Drying the seeds in the sun and removing the bad ones

Grinding the seeds to remove their outer shell

Grading them by size and colour

The roasting process

The end result: Delicious Colombian Fairtrade Coffee!