Over the last 7 months, we’ve taken a a lot of buses (disgusting amounts, really), taxis and even a couple of boats, but our flight to Medellin was the first plane we had seen in months. What a luxury. We probably saved about 17-18 hours that we would have spent on some of the windiest roads in Colombia. The best part? Domestic flights in Colombia cost just about the same as the bus tickets. We flew with our Finnish friend, Laura, who joined us for about a month and a half. She’s the one to first suggest that Chris should keep growing his beard, a bit of advice he’s taken very seriously.
Medellin will always stand out to me as a city of ridiculously nice people. Sure, it has a tumultuous history of drug trafficking and violence, but the people here make it hard to believe the stories. Within minutes of getting off the plane, a girl guided us to our shuttle and explained exactly how to get to our hostel about an hour away. After disembarking, the girl handed us a piece of paper with her email and phone number and said we could get in touch with her if we needed anything. People did this kind of thing everywhere. If you looked even slightly confused (which apparently I sometimes did) a local would approach and offer to help. They would also make sure that you were enjoying their beloved city and country. I’m convinced that if you said you weren’t, they’d invite you to their house and entertain you until you changed your mind. They seemed genuinely happy to have us there and we couldn’t be more grateful for their hospitality. For example, we met up with Sebastian in Medellin, a Colombian dentist that we met briefly in Costeno Beach. He met us at our hostel and took us out for drinks at what would become our favorite bar, Eco, which has a huge outdoor seating area. Sebastian told us all about Medellin and Colombia and even took Chris to play soccer with him and his friends that weekend. I hope he comes to visit us in San Francisco so we can return the favor.
I will also remember the people of Medellin because they really are a good looking bunch. People come here to ogle over the women and I can see why. It’s the plastic surgery capital of the world and I couldn’t believe how many enhanced ladies strolled the hilly streets in 5 inch heels (sorry, I didn’t capture any on film).
In addition to the people, the city of Medellin has plenty of charm. It’s known as the city of eternal spring, so the weather is almost always perfect. We took a ride on the gondola to Arvi park where we found a small cluster of vendors selling homemade jams, obleas, tamales and empanadas. The gondola treated us to very cool bird’s eye views of the city slums lining the hills around the city.
We planned to hike once we got to the top, but despite what I just said about the weather, it started to rain so we took cover in the metro. Another day, we ventured out to a food market that we had heard about on Anthony Bourdain‘s No Reservations. We were probably the only gringos that stepped foot in there since he filmed the show. We found out later, that the vibrant produce market is not really a neighborhood tourists are advised to visit. In fact, most locals don’t venture out that way. We felt surprisingly safe in Medellin so the reaction was a little alarming. We walked away in one piece and with all of our belongings and thought it was one of the cooler markets we had seen. It was a good reminder though that every large city has it’s problem areas.
After a couple of days strolling through the streets of Medellin, we took a two day trip to the nearby town of Guatape. Guatape is known for a very big rock that has 740 steps leading to the top. Chris, Laura and I got up early to get these views from the top all to ourselves.
We stayed at El Encuentro, a charming hostel on a hill above the lake. It’s owned by a San Franciscan who picked up and moved his life to Colombia a few years ago. We even got a great thunderstorm while we were there. It was a loud, torrential down pour with very bright lightning that lasted for hours. Everything you could ask for while tucked away in the warm hostel.
Chris had been eying a traditional Colombian dish for some time and in Guatape, he finally indulged and ate this Bandeja Paisa. Try and figure out what’s on that plate. I’ll give you a hint, he got his fill of protein for the day.
We came back to Medellin for a couple of days, met Lisi from Austria, and together, the 4 of us traveled south to the coffee region. We stayed in Salento, a small town between Armenia and Periera.
Salento is beautiful and we quickly got comfortable there and ended up staying a week. We were there during the coffee strikes in southern Colombia which would prevent us from crossing the border to Ecuador for a little while. Spending some extra time in Colombia didn’t bother us at all. I could have easily stayed there for a few more weeks.
While in Salento, we did the stunning hike through Cocora Valley, known for Colombia’s national tree, the wax palm. We got a little lost in the cloud forest when we missed a turn off and spent almost 2 hours walking uphill, away from the trail we were supposed to take (oops!).
We also played some Tejo in Salento. Tejo is the Colombian version of horseshoes, only much more fun. You walk into a bar and are handed heavy stones which are meant to be thrown at a clay rectangle. In the middle of the rectangle is a metal ring with small triangle packets filled with gun powder. Hit one of the triangles and the gun powder explodes and everyone cheers in excitement. There’s also a scoring system, but I wasn’t good enough to keep proper track of it. The locals were amazing to watch, they could throw the stones 3 to 4 times farther than most of us. We wondered why we didn’t have this great game at home, but then realized how quickly heavy stones, no barriers and beer would turn into a liability disaster in the states.
Salento is in the heart of the coffee region in Colombia and, after our disappointment in Minca, we were excited to finally try the good, freshly brewed coffee that Colombia is known for. We hiked to Don Elias, a small, family run coffee farm where we enjoyed freshly brewed coffee.
We also treated ourselves to a taste of home at a little restaurant called Brunch. Philly cheesesteaks and peanut butter brownies galore. Sometimes you need a break from rice, beans and meat so you fill up on other, more familiar, unhealthy options.
It was hard to say goodbye to this little town, but it was time to head to Bogota.
Up next: Bogota, Tatacoa desert and San Agustin.