Colombia has definitely kept me busy to the point that I never get around to writing. But here comes another long one.
I last left off when I was in Cali, which seems like a while ago. This is another city where I had a tough time pulling myself away. I met some great people there, Colombians, Europeans, Americans. I was going to stay 2 days but ended up staying 5, again each time saying ¨I am leaving tomorrow¨ until the 3rd or 4th day. I dón´t know what it is, but I have been getting more and more attached to places later in my trip here.
So on the Friday of my time in Cali, I took a walk around the city. There really isn´t much to see in the city, which is why ít´s weird that I couldn´t leave. The real difference is the people and the dance culture. It´s just a fun atmosphere and a different lifestyle. I was walking around the city and found a little festival outside of a church with food and dances. It was an event for the Semana Santa, the whole week of holidays leading up to Easter. From Monday of the week of Easter until Easter, some cities have events each day. The biggest are Thursday and Friday of the week. So pretty much everyone takes off the whole week for vacations, like we would for Christmas. From what I can sense, it is almost as big as Christmas here. The event had traditional dances from the more indigenous population and also some crazy salsa. Definitely got some good videos.
Later in the night, I went out with some of the people I met, and we stopped by a bar to see some of their friends. Outside this small bar/hostal was a guy drinking a beer on the steps with just a few other people around. Nothing special. But it was Manu Chao, the guy I saw in concert in Quito a few weeks back. Funny to see one of the most famous musicians in the world sitting at this small place with nothing seeming to be special about him. I shook his hand and said hello, seemed like a friendly guy. Afterwards, we all went and had some drinks at a nice, relaxed restaurant with a terrace overlooking the city.
The next morning, I was planning on leaving but they convinced me to stay another day to volunteer at a local school to teach English. Every Saturday they go to this elementary school on the outskirts of the city to teach kids. There were about 20 volunteers, almost all of them being Colombian. Was a cool experience, and I quickly remembered how tough it is to teach kids.
One thing I was happy to run into in Cali was a Dunkin Donuts. In the 90 degree heat, nothing is better than an iced coffee. I went there 3 times in 5 days. Just like living in Boston.
The one American guy I met was wanting to see the Final Four game, so we called around to see who had it. The only place we found was Hooters, so I watched Kentucky against Louisville at a Hooters in Colombia. Felt like I could´ve been in the US for sure. Later in the night, of course another salsa place where I was again destroyed by the skill of the others.
So finally, on Sunday, I took a bus out of Cali to a place called Circasia. There was a couchsurfer that messaged me when I was in Peru to see if she could stay there, but I was already leaving by the time she was coming. But I told her I had plans to come to Colombia so we kept in contact. Plus this is a place where not many tourists go so it was a good chance to see a more typical town.
So I got there and she invited me to her family`s house for dinner (they are renovating rooms so didn`t have room to host me). I thought it would be for everyone, but they had already ate so her mom cooked me up a nice meal. Definitely not necessary and extremely generous. That night, we just had a walk around the town. For being a town of 10,000 people, it was very active until late. Until midnight, there were so many people in the street on a Sunday night. Most small towns I know are dead by 8pm.
The following day, we had another walk around the city before I took a 20 minute bus ride to Salento. Salento is a pretty popular place for tourists because it`s a beautiful little town in the main coffee region of Colombia. I rented a bike and went out to a small farm where they give coffee tours. I was the only one there for the tour, so the guy gave me a quick rundown of the farm, had me pick some coffee beans (who knew there are green coffee beans, red coffee beans, and others?) Then he showed me the machines that take off the skins of the beans, and then how they package and package the beans. He said 90% of all of the coffee is exported. After the tour, I got a free coffee. I was honestly disappointed by the coffee. To me, it was no better than what I can get from Dunkin Donuts. Being at the farm, I thought it was be extremely fine, but they just took it out of a package grinded and put water through it. I was planning on buying some to take back home, but realized I can buy better at home. Was cool to see the farm and the process, though.
I had a nice bicycle ride on the way back, stopping in a tiny village to get some fresh juice. About a half of a liter of freshly squeezed mango juice cost about 60 cents…something I was extremely happy with. After an hour of biking uphill, I got back to Salento in time to watch a group of churchgoers walking the streets with live music and carrying a plastic Jesus. Semana Santa captivates this country in this time!
I made my way back to Circasia to hang out with my friend and her family again. Again, her mom cooked me dinner (even though my friend wasn`t even there, and I didn`t even mention that she cooked me breakfast as well!). Afterwards, we went to the plaza and hung out and had a couple drinks. It`s cool to feel at home with people who you have just met.
The next morning, I took off for Medellin, a 6 hour bus ride north. Medellin is one of the bigger cities in Colombia and is where Pablo Escobar lived. Some years back, this used to be one of the most dangerous cities in Colombia. Now, it`s not so bad. I have to admit that walking around in the central, the people just looked rough. A lot of homeless, a lot of people who just had that rough look. I definitely didn`t keep my camera out much walking around. In the city, there isn`t a whole lot to see, just a park with a bunch of interesting and funny statues, and then a small replica of a typical village in the region.
My first night in Medellin, I posted on Couchsurfing and got a few responses of people wanting to do something. So we went out and had a drink and got to know a few of the places around. I stayed in a part called El Poblado which is one of the richer and the safest area of the city. I stayed just the one night and then took a night bus the following day. I didn`t get a great feel for the city, but am happy that I know at least a bit about it.
The next day, I found myself in Cartagena, an absolutely incredible medievil city on the Caribbean coast. It`s a city of about 1 million people, and the part outside the central old town is very poor. However, the historic center is one of the most beautiful I have seen in South America. Once you enter the walled city, you feel like you`ve gone back in time. Horses and carriages are hauling people around. Tiny streets lined with colonial architecture, colorful balconies, and tourists dressed up in their nicer clothes. The Caribbean ocean is located just outside the walls of the old town along with some beaches. It`s 90 degrees and humid during the day but the sea breeze cools everything off at night. Being Semana Santa, the city was full of Colombian tourists, so it was always lively.
I met some Americans in my hostel (some guys from Miami, and girls from Minnesota who are studying in Venezuela), and we went out a few nights. The second night was to a really cool live salsa place, which was the first time I had heard live salsa I think.
After 2 nights here, I took a 4 hour bus ride (the last long bus ride in my trip) to Santa Marta, a bit further east. Funny story on the bus. When I got on the bus, I heard a bird but thought it was coming from outside the bus so I thought nothing of it. An hour into the trip, I saw a guy come from a seat behind me, go to the seat across the aisle from me, reach down to pick something up (while having a funny smile on his face). I had no idea what he was doing. Then I saw that he picked up a small chicken that he had been holding but somehow lost and it was on the run. Classic!
Santa Marta is a decent sized city (500,000 people) on the coast and used to be one of the more important ports in Colombia. Now, many tourists come for the beaches in the city and just outside the city. I was a bit disappointed in the city when I arrived. Before getting here, I thought it was a smaller, quieter city which I was looking forward to. I got here, and it`s not a bad looking city, but the beaches are pretty dirty and I didn`t find much special about it except that it is on the coast. I met some Canadians and Kiwis in my hostel, and we had a walk around by the beach for the night. That`s about all I did in the city before leaving this morning. I did see some more people carrying Jesus through the streets and into the churches, including one group with a very nice clear coffin taking about 20 people to carry it.
So this morning, on Easter morning, I came to Taganga, a small what used to be fishing village just outside of Santa Marta. Now, the town is a big tourist destination for it`s proximity to some extremely nice beaches (or so I have heard, haven`t seen yet). My main reason for coming here, as I decided a few weeks ago, is to get PADI Scuba certified. This is one of the cheapest places that you can do it, so I thought I would give it a try. I have never been Scuba diving before, but definitely something I am looking forward to trying out. For about $300, I have a 4 day course (including day 1 of about 5 hours of videos and lessons I did today). Overall, I will have 6 dives and will end up with my PADI certificate. We`ll see how it goes, but I think it has potential to be a big interest of mine.
So that`s my catch up. I wish I had taken more time to write before since I can do it in more detail when it`s little by little. Colombia has kept me busy and I haven`t used the computer much. But it`s always a trade off.
So just a little over a week until I come back. Hard to believe how fast it has all gone, but looking forward to seeing everyone at home!