The Good, the Bad, and the Gracias’s – Colombia
Here I am! Yeh, I know it’s been a bit too long. I left you without a Drop Me Anywhere ending. I seemingly went under the radar and, for all you knew, decided to go live with a lost tribe in the Amazon (would you be surprised?). Or, perhaps Tarantulina Jolie decided she no longer wanted to be friends. In an effort to improve my editing skills, my challenge is to tell you about it in 5 sentences. Here goes: Immediately after returning from Colombia, I began leading a couple of tours (writing isn’t famous for its livable salary) which had me working 80-90 hours per week. During this time, my friend Rose had an emergency back in the Congo. I’m head of her foundation (yeh, I have a few secrets but, now that you know, check out www.RoseMapendoFoundation.org) and we had to gather some money for her to return. Then to New York, for meetings and to London for a conference (with a stop in Norwich, UK to, you know, sleep). Immediately following the conference, I flew to Vienna because, when you’re location independent and have to be somewhere anyway, why not Vienna.
So, Vienna is where we’ll finish talking about Colombia with our traditional final article on a location, The Good, the Bad, and the Gracias’s. This is where I let you know what was good in Colombia, what was not so good, and who I have to thanks for helping me along during my visit. I’ll also tell you how much things cost me, so you can figure out your budget should you decide to do a similar trip, as well as rounding up all of the various links to hotels, restaurants, local tour companies, and more, which were included in the serious. Yup, they’re wrapped up in one nice package (with the receipt attached should you wish to return it for something you really like).
First, a couple of small things to note. It is Colombia, not Columbia. This is not Washington DC (District of Columbia), but a whole different place. It’s even pronouncedd Co-lōm-bia. And, as I learned, Medellin is pronounced Me-de-jzean. Traditionally “ll” is one letter in the Spanish alphabet which would be pronounced as a “y”. This is why most of the world pronounces it as Me-de-yeen. For some reason, nobody could explain why, but Colombians don’t pronounce it that way. And, for those who would argue, might I just bring up Arkansas, Worcester, and all of those UK “shire” places pronounce much differently than they’re spelled. Medejzeen it is!
Where to begin? There was so much good!
- Let’s start with the people. Colombia makes it into my top three places with the nicest people. Ireland comes in at number one, and Colombia is now tied for second with the people of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Hell, it might just pull in front of St. John’s. Or perhaps that’s only because it’s been a while since I visited there. Regardless, I’m reassured that there are extremely nice people all over the world.
- The beauty. Colombia is beautiful. The green mountains, the jungle, hell, even the birds (I’m really not a bird person) are gorgeous. The Corcora Valley has made its way into my top 10 travel experiences and the striking beauty is a big part of it. And Medellin, that’s the big city which doesn’t just lie in the base of the mountains but is part of the mountains. As my taxi climbed over the hill from the airport it gave me a spectacular first view of this city in the mountains, which literally took my breath away. And the taxi driver was so proud of it that he insisted on pulling over so I could take a photo.
- That’s another good thing; the pride of the people in their cities and the country as a whole. They remember how bad things were and are so very proud of how far they’ve come. It wasn’t all that long ago that Colombia was a place which must not be visited. And, if you did, you might as well have bought a one-way ticket as there was a good possibility of you being murdered by a drug lord. From the people who were anxious to show me around their cities to those who simply shouted out on the street, “Welcome to my community!” their pride in their homeland is both remarkable and a joy to experience.
- Their games. ‘What?’ you say. ‘What’s this about their games?’ The Colombians are full of From the men playing chess at tables set out on the street to Carambole, the three-ball billiards game I somewhat learned in Salento, it’s clear that a sense of play is part of the culture. And, Tejo, what Colombians call their national sport, involves beer and gunpowder. What could go wrong? The game is played by throwing a hard, metal disc at a rectangular board filled with soft clay which has been set at an angle on the ground. A circle of small, triangular packets of gunpowder is set around the center. The object is to land your clay disc in the center. Should a player miss by just an inch, the disc will hit the packet of gunpowder and, boom, well, that’s even more fun. Oh, and drinking beer while playing is part of the game. Now, who couldn’t love a country like this?
- The travel warnings. I’ll be honest, my sister really didn’t want me to go to Colombia. She’d read the travel warnings put out by the U.S., the U.K., and Canada, and was so concerned that she had her family and friends voting for another location. Still, some out there really wanted me to go to Colombia and, for every vote she and her family cast, there were two or three votes for Colombia. Sure, Colombia has its dangerous areas and cities like most other countries, but I felt as secure heading out alone after dark as I have in most other countries and even more comfortable than in some.
- The coffee. What? So here’s the thing; it’s not that the coffee is terrible, it’s just that it isn’t the great coffee I’d expected to find in a country known as being one of the top coffee producers in the world. I like my coffee like I like my men – strong and bitter. Their coffee (like many men) disappointed me. It isn’t terrible, just a disappointment if you expect to drink some of the best coffee in the world. I learned that the excellent coffee which they’re known for is exported to make money, while the crappy stuff stays within the country.
- Big thanks to my new friends Fabian and Marcella. Fabian, for telling me so much of his story and the story of his country, as well as inviting me to the 130th Anniversary party of El Espectador and introducing me to Marcella. To Marcella for taking me shopping and introducing me to new areas in Medellin, and for allowing me to have some much-needed girl time. I’m often asked if it gets lonely being location independent; these are the people who help that loneliness subside.
- Gracias to El Espectador, for allowing me to come to your party and meet the very handsome mayor of Medellin. May you continue telling the stories of your country for another 130 years.
- Gracias to Hector and the entire staff at La Cabaña Eco Hotel Your lovely place showed me what heaven on earth looks like, and your dining experience by the fire will always be a memorable night for me.
- Thanks to the Volunteer Hostel for the good work you do and for hooking me up with FEM who are also doing good work helping to educate the kids in more economically challenged villages. And thanks to Kristy from Cartagena Connections for showing me the Bazurto Market, as well as hooking me up with these folks. Please click on the links below to read more about these wonderful organizations.
- Thanks to the wonderful people of Colombia. From the lady on the airplane who invited me to stay at her farmhouse (perhaps next time when I have more time) to the people in Medellin who taught me Colombian blackjack, to Jean Paul at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana who offered to give me a lift to a town two hours Seriously, these Colombian people are so darned nice.
- Finally, as always, thank you to you, my Virtual Travel Buddies. For reading, for traveling along with me, and for patiently waiting for the ending of the story. I hope you find it useful and worth the wait. I plan to return to Colombia this winter to write, work on the Drop Me Anywhere book, and enjoy the beautiful people and scenery. I hope to see you there.
Should you ever decide to do a similar trip (mine was 27 days), here’s the breakdown of my costs so you can have an idea of a budget:
Airfare/Bus – $709.81 (Airfare from Phoenix to Cartagena and Bogota to Phoenix; bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta; flight from Santa Marta to Medellin; bus from Medellin to Salento; flight from Periera (Salento) to Bogota.
Accommodations – $1,119.96
Food/Drink – $368.84
Taxi’s, Mass Transit, Bike Rental, Motorbike rental, etc. – $114.27
Admissions and activities – $97.50
Tips, Luggage Fees, other Miscellaneous – $80.69
Total cost – Approximately $2,490.27
Hotel Lomas 10 (Medellin)
Volunteer Hostel (Cartagena)- Stay here or even check out their place to purchase crafts made by, and supporting local indigenous communities.
Oviedo Mall (Medellin)