We’ve left Colombia and arrived in Lima, Peru.
Full post coming soon, but for now, a quick tour of our aribnb apartment.
We’ve left Colombia and arrived in Lima, Peru.
Full post coming soon, but for now, a quick tour of our aribnb apartment.
Have you ever been sitting in a movie theater on the 4th floor of a giant shopping mall and felt the whole building shake? We hadn’t either, until tonight!
We went to the 6:20 feature of The Jungle Book at the Victoria Mall in Pereira, Colombia. About 30 minutes into the movie we felt the whole building shake. It was a weird sliding motion, not too extreme, but enough to really feel. At first I think we all thought it was an effect or trick of the senses from the 3D movie. When we realized that the whole building was moving, we got up and headed straight for the emergency exit.
About a quarter of the theater had the same idea, but people were so casual about the whole thing it was weird and frightening. They were moving very, very slowly, many of them just standing around in the stairwell and blocking the exits. As we were making our way out of the theater the lights came on. No one was panicked and people didn’t even seem to be talking about it. There were no announcements and no visible security or direction from staff. We got out of the theater and into the main part of the mall. There it was as if nothing had happened. Nonetheless, we got down to the ground level as quickly as we could and went outside, straight to the middle of a large plaza on one side of the mall. We wanted to be somewhere safe if another, stronger shock hit and buildings collapsed.
No one else seemed the least bit concerned, or seemed to be doing anything at all. Apparently we were overreacting by local standards. Hey, better safe than sorry as far as I’m concerned! How could we know if that was it or just a small tremor kicking off a much bigger series of shocks?!
Apparently what we felt were shocks from a 7.8 earthquake centered in Ecuador. The news is currently reporting 28 dead there and a tsunami warning. This is what it looked like in Ecuador:
We’re getting ready for bed, and while it seems highly unlikely that we’ll have a dangerous quake here, we have an exit plan worked out should we be surprised with another set of tremors overnight. Sweet dreams!
With the picturesque town of Jardin, Colombia has won us over. This place is great.
Jardin is tucked into the mountains, about 3 hours south of Medellin. It’s name (“Garden”) fits it well, as the town is full of beautiful roses, orchids, and it seems that everything grows in its perfect climate. The surrounding mountains are lush with jungle, coffee, banana palms, and green, green pastures. The average high temperature is about 70F and the average low is about 60F – every month of the year! Can you say “perfect”?!
Jardin hasn’t really been discovered yet. It’s not in most guide books and there are very few foreign tourists. We arrived on Tuesday having read a few blog posts praising it, but not really knowing what to expect. Our original plan was to spend three nights here, but given the town’s charms, we ended up staying a week.
We left Medellin last Tuesday afternoon by bus. Actually it was in a van that seats ten. The van left from the southern bus station in Medellin, which was surprisingly clean, modern and efficient. Tickets were 20,000 Pesos each. The drive was a fast and winding one, through beautiful mountain scenery. Our driver was a bit heavy on the accelerator and late on the brakes.
The drive went by quickly and before we knew it we were stepping out into the picturesque town square of Jardin.
We weren’t sure where our hotel was and Google Maps wasn’t working on my phone, so we walked over to the middle of the square and took a few minutes to get our bearings. While we were sitting on a bench, a bunch of kids playing a game of “color tag” started using us as “base”! It was really sweet. Jardin is the kind of town where even the littlest kids run around and play on their own.
We got directions to the hotel, which was on the south edge of town, about a 5 minute walk from the square.
The hotel is very simple, but nice and very clean. We met the super friendly couple that owns the hotel and it turns out that Juan Felipe, the husband, is a TV producer and director who just did a show on adventure travel, culture, and nature in Colombia called Expedicion Condor de los Andes.
They had a national contest to select the cast members from all walks of life and from all parts of the country. The assembled team gets to go an adventure all across Colombia (something that probably wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago) white water rafting, spelunking, skydiving, bungee jumping, exploring ancient ruins, meeting local artists, etc. Colombia is a diverse, beautiful country and with the violence of the past decades, Colombians themselves missed out on the opportunity to explore their own country! The show is on one of the national channels Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30, so we all sat around last night and watched it together. It was great.
OK, so back to Jardin. We spent our first couple of days here just wandering around town and working intently on math. Jette has adjusted her study schedule and has decided to spend 4 hours per day on math until she has finished all of the remaining 5th level math workbooks. When we left Medellin, she had 3 workbooks remaining, and today only one and half. I expect she’ll have them all complete today or tomorrow. So, mornings we spent on math and afternoons exploring town.
If you look at the map, you’ll see that Jardin is a tiny little town, so it is quite easy to walk all over town in a very short time.
The town square is lined with cafes, restaurants, bars, and of course the church. It’s really the center of life, and in the evening it is packed with people.
One thing that was huge contrast to the bigger cities of Bogota and Medellin is the almost total lack of police, military, and creepy dudes. We haven’t seen any of the latter, and only a couple policemen in the week we’ve been here. This place feels really safe, and all the little kids playing in the streets and in the square is sure a nice thing to see. This is a town of hard working people who live in a real community. They clearly take pride in themselves and their town, and it shows. Everything is well maintained. From the simplest shops and homes to the grand church and beautiful gardens, there are clearly strong values of pride and responsibility in ownership.
Most restaurants serve the Colombian versions of meat and potatoes.
Colombian food is not highly seasoned, often fried, and heavy on meat. It is not light. After a couple weeks in Colombia I can almost guarantee that you will be craving a salad! That said, there are some delicious dishes and we certainly haven’t gone hungry. If anything, we’ve struggled with the quantity.
On Thursday we hopped into a Jeep and headed for the mountains outside of town.
We drove for about 20 minutes up into the lower mountains where we were to trade the Jeep for horses. We saddled up and rode up higher, all the way into the clouds.
We rode for about an hour and a half. The views were absolutely spectacular, with winding, narrow trails through jungle and high mountain edge vistas. We stopped for lunch at a little ranch tucked into a valley and had a delicious banana leaf meal.
After lunch we hiked up into the jungle. It was about half an hour of climbing along steep, narrow, and often slippery trails to La Cueva del Esplendor, a small cave with a beautiful waterfall cascading down from the ceiling of the outer chamber. It was really pretty.
After some time at the cave, we hiked back to the horses and rode back down the mountain. On the trip down, Jette was up front with the fast group, her horse sometimes trotting and even galloping. She had never been on a galloping horse before, much less a galloping horse on a beautiful mountain in Colombia! We all had a blast.
On the way back to town in the Jeep, we stopped at a cute little house. There were beautiful flowers, and behind the house, a simple shed with smoke coming from a chimney in the middle of the roof.
In the shed there we piles of sugar cane, a sugar cane press, and a series of big wood-fired pots for boiling sugarcane juice to make panela. We got to see the whole process and taste the finished product. It was actually really interesting to see the process from start to finish. It is amazingly simple. They sell a ton of panela in the local markets, but we still haven’t figured out the various ways they use it here in cooking.
If you can’t tell, we had a great time in Jardin. Colombia is such a beautiful country, and the people are among the friendliest of any place we’ve visited. I could go on, but I’ll wrap it up here with one more video. Jette and I made a wild zip line crossing of one of the canyons on the edge of town. We put on our harnesses, helmets and leather gloves. The right glove had extra layers of leather stitched onto the palm, as they only way to “brake” was to reach up, grab the overhead cable, and squeeze! As it turned out, it was quite a steep and fast ride and Jette’s arms weren’t long enough or grip strong enough to grab the wire with any force. Once she gained speed, her hand simply bounced off the whizzing cable. Yikes! This lead to a dramatic ending.
If you are wondering, yes, she would do it again, but I’m not sure we would want her to! That was a little bit too exciting.
Throughout our time in Bogota we heard virtually everyone rave about Medellin. Other travellers sang its praises, as did Bogotanos. Bogotanos always said its climate was great and it had a Metro. That’s a big deal in Colombia, and as we would learn, the Medellin Metro has great symbolic value for Colombians and especially Paisas (The dominant cultural group found in the state or Department of Antiquia).
We got up at 3:30 on Saturday morning and headed for the airport. We had a 5:30 flight to Medellin and we just made it. It was a short flight. An hour after takeoff we were on the ground in Medellin. From the airport, which was smaller and quieter than we expected, we caught an Uber to our hotel.
The drive from the airport into town was on winding, mountain roads with spectacular scenery. There was a haze or fog or smog hanging over everything, so the distant hill tops were often obscured, but from what we could see, the landscape was beautiful. There were tons of cyclists out for a Saturday morning ride in the mountains. I bet we passed 150 or more, riding alone and in groups, outfitted in spandex and many on expensive bikes. Here’s some not very good cellphone video to show you what it looked like coming into Medellin:
El Poblado is one of the most popular neighborhoods for tourists and wealthy people in Medellin. It’s a sprawling neighborhood of mid and high-rise apartments, shopping, and nightlife. I think the nightlife in Medellin (and Colombia in general) is a big draw for many visitors. Obviously it’s not something we care about at all or have experienced. Anyway, I was surprised when Mila said the hotel she booked was in a neighborhood called Prado and not in El Poblado. Prado is in Central Medellin, which like Bogota, is on the grittier side. In fact when I googled it, one website put it right in the middle of Medellin’s “no-go” areas for visitors and described the neighborhood like this:
Prado, located downtown on the northern side of 10th district, is the old residential neighborhood for the city’s wealthy. The neighborhood has been deemed cultural heritage because of its spectacular architecture.
However, the neighborhood is also a hotspot for crack cocaine dealings and child prostitution. The area around it, known as La Candelaria or El Centro, has the highest homicide rate in Medellin.
During the day, El Centro is also filled with bankers and business people hard at work in office buildings, but between 6PM and 8PM all commuters and cops go home and the downtown area becomes one of the most desolate districts of the city. Prado even more so.
In fact it was one of the hotels with the best reviews, and while most reviews acknowledged the neighborhood, they also indicated that the hotel was secure and a great place to stay. We decided to go to the hotel and check it out. We would simply find another hotel if we were not comfortable. As it turned out, the neighborhood was definitely on the grittier side, but the hotel was nice and secure. We decided to stay and it turned out to be a good spot. It was one of the more social hotels we’ve stayed in lately, and we met a number of other travellers in the hotel courtyard and restaurant.
After checking in and getting cleaned up, we caught another Uber and headed to the Centro Comercial Santa Fe, a big luxury mall in the El Poblado neighborhood. We were curious about El Poblado and Jette needed a new pair of sandals, so that seemed like a good place to start in Medellin.
Jette didn’t find sandals that fit, but we had a good afternoon. In the center of the mall on the lower level, where there might normally be a skating rink, there was a dog park. Obviously this was right up Jette’s alley!
We had a late lunch in the food court on the upper level which featured a huge balcony overlooking the city and the mountains. Like many buildings in Medellin, it was totally open air. The climate is such that many buildings are open to elements, even big, modern shopping malls.
In the photo above it was so smoggy it is difficult to see the mountains in the background. It turns out that on the days that we were in Medellin the local government made most public transportation free and banned most private cars from the road in an attempt to fight the horrible air pollution.
We were home by dark (again by Uber), had a light dinner at the hotel, and were in bed before too late. The next morning we took another Uber to El Pablado, to a restaurant that had good reviews online for breakfast. It was closed. The streets and sidewalks were empty and everything seemed closed. We walked a few blocks and down a cute street lined with (closed) bars and nightclubs. We don’t care about nightlife, but I suspect this is a main draw for many of Medellin’s visitors. We walked some more, through a cute park, and finally found an open restaurant. We had a very mediocre breakfast of rice and beans, arepas and eggs with sliced up hot dogs. The choices were limited and the quality not so great. The restaurant was on the corner and open air. Imagine open garage doors instead of walls on two sides.
As we were finishing our meal, a rough looking guy – young, dirty and disheveled – stopped on the sidewalk next to our table (we were “inside” but there was no wall separating us from the sidewalk, only a column). He sat and stared right at us for some time, making Jette extremely uncomfortable as she felt like he was staring at her. He was positioned in such a way that the column blocked my view of him. When it was obvious that we were talking about him, and when I leaned around the column to make eye contact with him, he came over and asked for the leftover food on our plates. I shook my head yes and he retreated a bit. I ordered another full meal to go and as we were leaving, gave him the freshly prepared meal instead of the few scraps on our plates. Probably a futile gesture, but at least that was a meal that he didn’t have to get through thievery.
By this time the neighborhood was getting more active and there were lots of people out and about. Jette wanted to go back to the park we had walked through earlier because they had some exercise equipment that looked like fun. We walked back and were surprised to see how many people were wearing their exercise outfits and “working out” on the machines. I don’t think anyone was working hard enough to break a sweat! For many of the yoga-pants-tank-top-possee it seemed more a social activity than exercise.
After some time exercising, we wandered around the neighborhood a bit more, stopped for a tea, then walked to a famous soup restaurant called Ajiaco y Mondongos for lunch.
We ordered two soups to share. Ajiaco is a pulled chicken and corn soup. Cazuela de Frijoles is a hearty bean stew. They were both super delicious. Yummy! The Monongo in the restaurant name is a tripe soup. We haven’t tried that one yet.
Once again we were back at our hotel before dark, had a light dinner at the hotel, and an early bedtime after doing some work.
The next morning we were up early for a walking tour of downtown Medellin. It was a very good tour. Our guide Juan gave us some excellent insights into Colombian history, culture, and of course, Medellin. The tour covered a section of Central Medellin, not far from our hotel. It is an area that is often labeled a “no-go” area for tourists. From city hall and the main municipal buildings to busy markets, we saw quite a bit in the four hour tour.
Juan did a good job of explaining Paisa history and culture. In a nutshell, descendents of Basque Spaniards, Jews and the native people lived in relative isolation in the mountainous areas of Medellin and Antiquia. They are the Paisas. The climate and geography was excellent for coffee and other produce, which they grew, but the mountains kept them relatively isolated and limited their ability to trade and profit. In the 20th century they built the first railroad in Colombia, linking them to the outside world and creating an explosion in trade and industrialization for the region. Paisas developed a reputation as industrious, hard working, good business people.
He also gave us a brief history of the Colombian Conflict, which began in 1948 with a decade long period of conflict known as “La Violencia” and continues in a limited form today. Juan grew up in the 1990’s. He said he had 8 close friends. 6 of them were killed. Given a 50+ year history of conflict, corruption, crime and the high levels of poverty it seems fantastic that Colombia is ranked yet-again as The Happiest Country in the World (Washington Post: Here’s what we can learn from Colombia – the happiest nation in the world).
I didn’t take many photos on the tour. In fact we haven’t been carrying a camera or other valuables when we are out and about in Colombia. I’ve been carrying a cheap phone I bought in Kuala Lumpur, which is one of the reasons our recent photos and videos have been few in number and low in quality!
The Colombians have an expression, “No dar papaya” which translates as, “Don’t give papaya”. What does this mean? It means don’t give anyone the opportunity to take advantage of you. If you leave your house, lock the door. Don’t flaunt wealth in public. Count your change. Don’t be a sucker. Don’t be an easy mark. Don’t carry anything you don’t want to lose (like a camera!). On the one hand, I understand it. On the other hand it seems a bit “blame the victim” and I wonder if this cultural belief isn’t fueling the relatively high crime rates and the general acceptance of them. In my mind, there is no excuse for theft and certainly none for armed robbery. In a society that won’t tolerate it, there will be little. In one that does, much. It is over simplistic, but am I wrong?
Anyway, on the tour, we had “Papaya Levels” to indicate levels of alertness as we moved through areas that were known for pickpocketing and such. We had no issues at all. Everyone was friendly. In fact, every time we stopped as a group to talk, we had odd characters in various states of sobriety join us out of curiosity and in the spirit of brotherhood/sisterhood. You can see a couple in the video below. (The intoxicated woman on the left and the nice older man who chimes in at the end). Our tour guide knew most of them by name and knew that they were harmless:
Another interesting thing that we learned on the tour regarding crime is that in Colombia, areas of crime and “sin” are often right next to churches. It is quite convenient as once the “sinners” commit their crimes, they can then walk immediately into church, pray, and be instantly cleansed of their sins. Juan likened it to a convenient bottle of hand soap that never runs out.
The tour was not all crime and violence. I seem to be having a hard time talking about Colombia without making it sound scary, and while it is sometimes, mostly it’s not. We learned a lot about Colombian culture, street life, markets, politics, the symbolic importance of the Metro, and more. Jette and Mila even got to eat some ice cream along the way! We saw some excellent shopping streets, with a variety of street performers, and full of people from a wide swath of humanity. To the eye most of Medellin seems less gritty, less impoverished, and generally “nicer” than many of the Asian cities we’ve visited. Bogota and Medellin are fantastic cities with vibrant street life and friendly people. It is simply it’s well-earned reputation for violence that gives one pause.
After the walking tour we walked to a nice restaurant on one of the main shopping streets and had lunch. I had a delicious lentil soup and Jette had a whole, fried fish.
Fried foods like fried chicken and fried fish are popular in Colombia and are often served with a set of plastic gloves so you can eat them with your hands and not get your fingers greasy. Jette joked that she felt like a “lunch lady” but I told her she was missing her hair net!
All in all our visit to Medellin was good. We certainly didn’t see it all, but we felt like we at least got a sense of it. The thing we can’t figure out is why people seem to like it so much more than Bogota. We liked Bogota more. We liked the weather and we liked the city, we like the people. Maybe it’s the nightlife in Medellin that people like? We just don’t get it. Medellin is interesting and it has some attractive features, but if we had to choose, we’d choose Bogota. To each their own, I suppose. We certainly enjoyed our time in Medellin.
We’ve done so much and blogged so little lately, I’m not sure where to begin! We spent two weeks in Bogota, which we really enjoyed. Our first airbnb apartment was on Calle 59 and Carerra 7 on the edge of the Zona G neighborhood (Zona Gastronomica).
It was OK. We spent three or four nights there and then moved North to the Bella Suiza/Usaquen neighborhood, which we really liked. Our apartment there was fantastic and the neighborhood was great. It’s an affluent, mostly residential neighborhood that felt much safer and had nice amenities.
Our first week in Bogota was Semana Santa, the week before Easter. The city was fairly quiet and many things were closed, but this ended up being a good thing for us as it meant that the normally horrible traffic wasn’t so bad, and we could get around town pretty quickly and easily. We took a walking tour of the La Candelaria neighborhood where we stopped in a chicheria and got to taste chicha. It wasn’t bad, but it was hard to get the image of a bunch of guys chewing corn and spitting slop into a communal pot out of our minds. Yuck! The modern chicha sold in Bogota chicherias is made more hygienically, without any chewing and spitting. I guess that’s a good thing. Jette thought it tasted like apple juice mixed with beer. I agreed and added, “Not very good beer!”
We also visited the Museo del Oro which is a fantastic museum. They have a really incredible collection of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts. It’s the largest collection in the world and the presentation is top notch. Some of the pieces are just amazingly beautiful.
On Easter Sunday we walked over to the Usaquen park, had lunch at a nice restaurant, then went down to La Candelaria to the Catedral Primada de Colombia on the Plaza de Bolivar. We poked our heads into the cathedral to check out the Easter service (note the police presence), then walked around a bit.
One of the main streets was closed to vehicles and was full of people. There were street performers, vendors, and tons of people just out for a stroll. We strolled for a few blocks and watched a guinea pig race!
Downtown/Centro Bogota can be a bit gritty. There were some creepy characters about, Jette was feeling nervous, and it was getting late, so we decided to head back North for a different kind of fun. We hopped in an Uber and went to the Unicentro mall. It was packed with wealthy Bogotanos enjoying, food, shopping, and entertainment. It was quite a contrast to downtown, and probably not too unlike Easter afternoon at a any other mall in any wealthy suburb anywhere else in the world. For the kids, there was a clown performance and an indoor “train” for the really little ones.
We had some nibbles then caught a movie – Kung Fu Panda 3 – in Spanish.
It’s great that the movie was in Spanish because it was great practice. The very next morning at 8 am we started Spanish class. We had signed up with a local language school called Nueva Lengua for their intensive Spanish class.
It was a group class. Our classmates were mostly twenty-somethings – there were three women from Amsterdam, a Canadian guy, an Australian guy, and us. It was a good group, and a good class. We covered a lot of the basics in that week. Thanks Marcela and Carlos!
Since I started with no Spanish at all I was a bit behind the others, especially when it came to speaking. I didn’t have the pronunciation down and didn’t have the vocabulary (“Uno, dos, tres. Hola Big Bird!”; “Yo quiero Taco Bell!”) I still don’t, but I progressed a lot last week. My verbal and written comprehension is much improved and I feel like I am off to a good start. I still can’t say much, but I’ll be digging in and trying to learn the numbers and some vocabulary words so I can start putting real sentences together and getting my point across. Both Jette and Mila started with more Spanish than me and I think they got a lot out of the class too. It was a good experience, and one we may repeat.
In addition to Spanish, there were some after school activities. Dance lessons, cooking lessons and an international pot-luck lunch on the last day of class.
I would post the video from the dance class, but Mila might kill me!!!
For the pot-luck on Friday Jette and I cooked hamburger muffins, which I renamed “empanadas gringas”. Sounds better than “muffin hamburguesa,” right?!
All-in-all we had a really good time in Bogota. We had a great apartment. We loved, loved, loved the weather. The average temperature is in the mid to high 50’s year round. Our apartment didn’t have AC, a heater, or a fan and the temperature was always perfect. Oh, did I mention that there are no mosquitoes? So nice. We also found lots of good food, and met lots of nice people. On Friday night we were a bit sad to be packing our bags. We caught a few winks of sleep, got up at 3:30 am yesterday morning and boarded the plane to Medellin…
Here are some random photos from Bogota: