Bogota and Before

Nice weather in the city folks always say is cold and rainy. The paisa (locals) in Medellin are hard on this place but it is working for us. On Sundays they close a major street and open it to pedestrians, runners and cyclists. All morning and into early afternoon come the crowds of bikers and runners, kids, grandmothers, and everyone out for fresh air. Instead of feeling crowded, it is more like sharing and enjoying. We did three hours with only one sideswipe from a kid. Of course, we stopped for coffee. We bought some last week after watching our guides ask many questions. Most packages here have a “sniff and savor” patch which folks take seriously. Coffee culture is big and growing and is a big part off an expanding tourism.

We have found the mountains and canyons which attracted us to explore Colombia. The landscape and views are lovely but we pay our dues by miles on hard roads. After some miles each town and city draws us into its central plaza, now lit up for Navidad, and we sip on fruit drinks or coco lemonade or Club Colombia, the local cervesa. Pizza is good here and all the fast food places have a presence in the cities. Local Colombian fare is fine but we miss good bread and eat their croissant instead of arepa.

Colombia has their high desert which is scrub and hardly impressive to our spoiled Sedona eyes. A lasting impression are flowers we cannot name in glorious profusion and a good variety of vegetation and trees. Motor scooters weave in and out of fast traffic and cafes are full often. Still, life in the village is pretty slow and can be primitive. We have always to use our halting Spanish and we are received ever so nicely. Stranded at the Bogota airport in pouring rain, a kind man made a call for us and pointed us toward the right transfer.

We have missed the late night salsa scene which our Cali guides claim is best in their city. One of the disadvantages of being silver-haired in the land of long hair. What do curly-haired people do here?

A Month in Medellin

November is rainy season and we chose it to avoid the December crowds around early school holidays. We also chose to live “city life” which is in direct contrast to our normal routine.
We found two young artists at a local gallery who are teaching us to draw figures and faces and who give us homework. “Muy good” makes us all smile.

We cafe lunch or fine dine on our way home from class. We have learned about the local bus which takes us to the Metro which is above ground and reached by enough steps to make you breathe hard. Medellin is very proud of its sleek system. Yesterday we took bus, metro and second bus straight up the mountain through several pueblos which gave us a close up look at street life. Parque Ecological, Envigado, has lovely views, picnic sites and gazebos, a zipline, paths to stroll and beautiful plants and trees. It brought us a needed dose of green in this concrete world of high rise and we were stopped in our tracks by a most unusual bird with a brilliant blue head and a longish plume of tail. It made our day. Good thing,too, as it is pouring again today.

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We exchange only smiles and !hola! With our building porters and Camillo at the corner coffee shop because none of us has enough skills to do more than a sentence or two. At a holiday duplicate bridge party about 1/3 of attendees had a little English. Everyone at our age has lived through the drug cartel violence but it feels rude to ask how. The crowd playing cards is well-heeled and well-dressed and the party is a gracious one. I am complimented on my Spanish accent and we get a lesson during the dinner break from a married couple who befriend us.

We have met few ex-pats and are on our own all of the time. Climbing up steep hills to our apartment gives us some exercise but we are glad to be leaving the city next week for more travel. We will see colonial towns which we like, more mountains and Colombian high desert.

Last week we had Peruvian food and tonight, a French bistro in the neighborhood. Our typical Colombian lunch is soup of the day, fish or chicken, potatoes and a slice of avocado. Some of the simple cafes do fine. We are certainly not overeating but we have enjoyed local food and natural juices.

We continue to notice the very open and agreeable attitude of the paisa(Medellianos)one to another. Their greetings are so polite and cheerful. The city driving is aggressive but understandable because frustration is high due to traffic. Taxis are difficult to flag down so we walk a lot. We have not felt unsafe at all.

That’s it from the land where the women really are beautiful and the body-builders work out on the street corner for all to see and enjoy.

Neighborhood life in Medellin

The city is growing and transforming after years of fear and isolation. Nearby construction crews and machines wake us too early everyday. We are in Provenza/Poblado, a great part of this 3m city which is described both as mellow and innovative. The contrasts are great-sparkling,sophisticated high rises, gleaming medical complexes,manicured grounds next to muy typico cafes, family shops, street corner vendors,ubiquitous coffee shops and open air casual dining. The streets are surprisingly clean, the hills steep, the motorbikes fast and furious around corners. Everyone complains about the traffic and when you ride the bus you get rap performers or messages of salvation followed by a donation cup. Riding the metro is easy and people are polite and give up their seat to mothers with babies…and to me with my grey hair!

Out our front door are many choices for lunch, drinks, a nice or low key dinner, think of an upscale NYC neighborhood. College friends from FL are in town so we are touring a little and speaking English, a welcome treat. The city is full of young people, maybe studying Spanish? We could use help.

We are working with some young artists who agreed to give us some drawing classes; we go twice a week for couple of hours, even do homework! We met them at an art store after making inquiries for a class. Julio, Valentina and Daniela are talented and delightful. Later, we were picking up a couple of food items at a neighborhood store and ran into the gallery manager but none of us could do more than smile. Still, we felt like we knew someone close to home.

We have not met Americans yet! Our guides, earlier in our trip, have been fascinating (thank you, upscale Amakuna Travel, Boris Seckovic)and yesterday we did a beautiful Lake District tour with a charming local, Willisbestguidemedellin.com. Always lets to learn. Today we will try to play duplicate bridge at a nearby club followed by a farewell dinner with Mimi and Bo. We are figuring out how to order medium rare beef!

Impressions, Colombia

Unfailing politeness
Many opportunities for niche travelers/entrepreneurs
Construction and traffic-Medellin
Great pastries
Bird life abounds
Magnicent countryside
Occasional English
Shopping malls
Endowed women
Cartegna Romeo and Juliet balconies
Everyone loves dogs
Fabulous coast north
New airport
Metro works
Thanks to Boris at Amakuna Boutique Travel
Long, straight hair
Fresh seafood, good soup
Delicious fruit juices
Holidays often
Impressive Bogota graffiti murals
Authentic experience
Rainy season is real
Safe and clean
Air BnB apartment
Water and taxis fine

First week Medellin and more

Called the Coffee Triangle, the countryside from Pereira airpordt to our drop dead gorgeous Hacienda BuenaVista, is full of fincas(farms), bamboo forests, plantations of pineapple, banana and avocado,fruits and flowers of all colors hugging the windy road. We imagine everything we see are coffee bushes but it’s not true.

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We learn most of the coffee operations are small and family owned. Farmers join a collective to operate, distribute and sell. Santiago, our coffee owner, runs his family farm with his sister and they will travel to Portland soon for coffee testing/competition and contacts. The business is many-layered and Santiago is a young man with a vision.

From the infinity pool and terrace, the river valley spreads below us in silent, vulnerable beauty beneath mountains often covered in morning mist. Late in the day we take a drink on our balcony while we scan for bird life. We are rewarded with flashes of fluorescent scarlet and brilliant yellow. We walk out the front door to a nearby path with binocs in hand.

We visit the famous wax palms and have lunch of river trout with the locals. Again, more lush green and bougainvillea and who knows the names of all these blossoms? Or birds? Rob S., where are you when I need you?

Colombia is huge so it takes another plane and car to deliver us to an ecolodge retreat on the ocean. Our drivers is lost, it is very hot and we slap at mosquitoes as we check in. Two dogs greet us affectionately but Dan is allergic so we are careful. The ocean pounds away as we find fisherman hauling in a catch and the sun sets on an idyllic curve of Robinsoe Crusoe beach beneath a range of mighty mountains.

No one speaks English or so it seems since the 8 other guests only smile and nod at us. We play cards as we sip mojitos, then drink table wine with really fresh fish. The starry night rivals Sedona. We enjoy our private, al fresco shower often especially after yoga and tubing the river. We have the guide and river ( which ends at ocean’s edge) to ourselves, a great privilege.

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Colombian tourism is growing rapidly and we certainly hope for a new Santa Marta airport for all concerned. It is rainy when we are greeted in Medellin and arrive at a lovely part of town, high in the hills. We get a good work out daily as we wander and explore. Booming and coming into its own after too much violence, there is construction everywhere and it is noisy near us, too bad. High rise buildings own the skyline even as a creek runs almost outside our door, next to chic cafes with a Latin beat.

We learn a little about the bus and metro as we navigate to the University and Botanic Gardens. Tomorrow we will draw and paint at home and at a gallery around the corner (after Paula’s pedicure). Just another day in Medellin.

PS Later for Cartegna and Bogota…running too long!

Trip to Colombia

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Map of Colombia with our travel route, Paula and Dan.

Why Colombia? Ten years ago we had such great fun at language school n Ecuador (and twice before in parts of Mexico) that we decided to do two months again, but this time in a country just being discovered and readied for visitors. We liked the idea of something new that would make us stretch and explore. We decided to live on our own this time instead of with families, probably because that was totally in Spanish and pretty exhausting. Getting to know the families does have it great appeal, however.

Now we are in Medellin and it has rained for several days so our city exploration is curtailed. We are learning our neighborhood, shopping for food and wine and finding not many English speakers, but many smiles. Today’s big aha is finding we can have groceries delivered! Yesterday’s treat were g & t out of our own kitchen after trekking in humidity and up many hills.

We feel very safe and have 24/7 security at our Airbnb apartment which is spacious, modern, and in a lovely area near cafes, clubs and more. We use the outdoor living and dining room a little, wearing fleece. Most unusual; it is normally warmer.

Just last week we were At the coast NE of blazing hot and totally charming Cartegna tubing on the river seeing toucan and howler monkeys. All was simple and quiet ecolodge living. We had a fascinating conversation with a local(indigenous) about his land, traditions and family. During the Violence these farmer tribes were displaced and disrupted along with other thousands. Like Vietnam, the earth holds sorrow and stories.

More later, some musings about Bogota and coffee country. BTW, our trip is coordinated beautifully by AMAKUNA Boutique Travel, Boris Seckvic owner, uwhom we found and vetted via Google “luxury travel in Colombia.”