Trip Start Apr 21, 2003
Trip End May 07, 2004

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Sunday, March 28, 2004

Yes - I managed to leave!

Of course I missed the day bus I was supposed to take.

And I stayed about two weeks longer than I originally planned.

But I'm on the move now! Already did nearly a week in Medellin, and am now soaking up the sun in beautiful Cartagena...

St Paddy's Day, Bogotá

The night before I left Bogotá was bizarre. My co-worker's father is Irish so I thought it would be cool to go to the only Irish Pub in Colombia with him for St Patricks day (an interesting thing for me to do, given I've never celebrated St Patrick's day in Canada).

We expected to find a few ex-pats drinking in the pub, but as we rounded the corner we were met with a crowd of more than a hundred people piled into the street. Quite a sight. Especially when we spotted the brazilian-like dancers in tight shiny spandex dancing to some strange irish-brazilian beat. They were dressed in green, at least.

And the extranjeros were there, as well as a good number of Colombians - either friends or curious participants.

I hadn't realized it, but I hadn't been around other foreigners for over a month. And I reacted in a strange way. There were quite a few Canadians speaking English and talking about 'in Toronto...' and whatnot, but I had absolutely no interest in talking to them. I hid from them.

Don't get me wrong. I wasn't under any kind of illusion that I was less of a foreigner than them. Many of them had probably been in Colombia longer than me, and I probably speak English way more often than Spanish here, and worse Spanish than most of the other foreigners. But for some reason I didn't want to talk to any of them. Which got me thinking about how strange it would be to be in a backpacker's hostel again in less than a weeks time, even though hostels were pretty much all I had known in the seven months leading up to my time in Bogotá.

Predictably, Missed the Bus

So the following day I went to the bus terminal at around 11am, having refused to listen to my friends from Medellin who told me that if I arrived too late, I'd get stuck on a bus that would have to wait til the road re-opened, making the trip 13 hours instead of 8.

Of course they were right. And arriving in Medellin after midnight wouldn't have bothered me if I was going to a hostel. But there was no way I was showing up at 1am on a Thursday night at some family's home that I had never met, and were already being gracious enough to let me stay with them for nearly a week.

So I decided to leave my bags behind the desk and booked the 9pm bus, which was scheduled to arrive the next morning at the slightly more civilized hour of 8am. Now I had 10 hours to kill.

Wandered over to the closest shopping mall and some of my friends met me for lunch. Then I decided to take in a movie. 'Archivos Privados de Pablo Escobar'. Yes, this movie is too advanced for my level of Spanish, but it looked interesting, and I wanted to see what I could get out of it, given I had been marginally successful in following the Spanish subtitles for the Portuguese movie 'City of God' the previous week. Pablo Escobar was a wonderful caring, compassionate community leader who took care of the people in Colombia, especially Medellin. And Colombia is much worse off because he's gone. That was a load of shit, which I knew, and every other person in the theatre made a point of telling each other or me after the film ended. Very glad I saw it.

And then I went to buy a gift for the family I was going to stay with. The obvious choice would have been something traditionally Canadian, but as I told my friend Jimmy when he suggested this, was that the only authentic Canadian thing I had after 11 months of travelling was a smelly old pair of jeans. Probably not going to be the most well-received gift.

So I took Sergio's advice and bought bocadillas. And also went with something that I recognized - danish butter cookies in a tin. I know bocadillas are edible, but I still don't know what they are or how they taste. The butter cookies were offered around on a couple of occasions while I was staying with the Gallegos, but I never saw the bocadillas again. Which says to me, a) either that family is not as big a fan of them as Sergio's family, or b) that they are so wonderful that they didn't want to share them with me. I might buy a pack of them to find out for myself.


So I arrived in Medellin after a very painful bus ride. The only sleep I got was in the 3-4 hours we were kept at the aforementioned closed road. The buses in Colombia are wonderful. The roads would be, if they didn't switchback through the mountains every 4 1/2 feet.

And then I had to call a family that I had never met, and ask them to pick me up at the terminal - in Spanish. There is nothing I hate more than speaking Spanish on the phone. In person they can see you thinking about what you want to say, so I feel less pressure. And writing is even easier because I can spell what I want to say, often I just can't pronounce it.

Luckily Señor Gallego was super. He just asked me very simple questions that I could answer 'si' or 'gracias' to, and he described his car, and I told him I would be a 'mona' with a backpack, and all was good.

This set the tone for my stay with the family. They talked a lot more than me. I understood about 2/3 of what they were saying, and answered as appropriately as I could. Andre's little brother had just come back from 6 months of living in New York, so he spoke English, and thought my Spanish was terrible, so he let me practice sometimes, but mostly when I was with him, we did the English thing.

My first day there we got straight to it. The fed me breakfast. I showered and before I knew it, we were downtown, learning about all the buildings and parks and churches. And the metro. There is only one metro system in Colombia, and the Paisas (people from the Medellin area) are very proud of it.

It was a fantastic week. The Gallegos welcomed me into their home and made sure I was as comfortable as their own daughter. Went out dancing with Juan David at the famous Mango's and a few other really cool places where all the beautiful, and artificially enhanced, people from Medellin hang out. We went to Piedra del Peñol which is a giant rock on top of a hill that overlooks a spectacular system of lakes. Rich Paisas have cottages there and take their kids water-skiing. It really reminded me of Canada in the summer.

We went to the Botero museum, which is one of my favourite museums ever (having only been to about 10 in my life, I can't hope to claim anything here, but I really enjoyed it).

And we went shopping. Somebody needs to explain to me why I felt the need to go shopping and spend an extraordinary amount of money (because everything is cheaper than it would be in Canada?), when I have been able to live with fewer than 30 pieces of clothing for the last year, and have an entire wardrobe waiting for me back home in my parents' garage. I went shopping with the aim of buying a decent suit (in the event I have some interviews at some point in the future) and some running shoes to replace the ones I bought off the street in Tanzania. I came away with everything but those two items.

But I'm dressed to kill in Cartagena! Of course, I'm backpacking again and have worn the same skirt while alternating two tops for the last four days. I am also the only backpacker with a cell phone, which I am taking in stride.

Cartagena is a lovely little town. Truly one of the most beautiful I have seen. It's all colonial architecture, set right next to the sea. I've spent a couple of days wandering around admiring the buildings and being hassled by locals (back in tourist territory!). And on Friday night it was Cartagena's women's day, which meant that there was a huge party in the square, and no men were allowed in unless they had special passes. We drank our rum straight out of the bottle the way it's done here, danced to the live music, and the locals laughed at the extranjeros. It was a very fun night.

Today I went to a mud volcano, which was amazing. You stroll up this hill that doesn't look like much and some men help you into a pit of mud, which you float on. It felt like I was lying on the softest bed in the world, and for a $3 tip, people massage you on and off for two hours. Afterwards you wander down to the fresh water lake and the women sit you down and bathe you. I felt like I was 4 again, in my mom's tub, but I have never felt so relaxed.

I'm also getting in a bit of beach time, finally. And tomorrow or the next day I am off to either Playa Blanca or Isla Grande, where I will sleep in a hammock and waste away a few days.

The countdown's on. Two weeks and 4 days and I leave Colombia. I'm excited to see everyone, but I already feel my heart ripping because I have to leave this wonderful country.

I'll stop writing now. Not because there isn't more to say, but because I have been sitting in my bathing suit since I got back from the mud volcano, and there are still bits of mud in my ears, hair and nose. I gotta shower. And I gotta eat.

Lots of love to everyone,
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