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.
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
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