Remote Year: Weeks 2 & 3

WOW. Unsure how I blinked my eyes for a second and I’m already starting week 4 but here we are! The past two weeks have been a whirlwind and keeping up with my blogging has been harder than expected. To avoid writing a NOVEL of a post about how easily I fell into a routine and felt like I was home, how much I love this country, or how I genuinely want to buy an apartment here and never leave, I’ll touch on all the amazing adventures I’ve had the chance to experience.

Free walking tour

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, free walking tours are my favorite way to introduce myself to a new city. You get the lay of the land all while learning some history and fun facts. Even though we have had several orientations about the city, I also wanted to hear from some people outside of the Remote Year bubble, which is exactly what I got.

After taking my first ride on the city’s highly regarded Metro, I found myself in Medellín’s city center. Unlike most city centers, there wasn’t a ton of sights to see but the history that was shared, greatly made up for it. It’s no secret Colombia has a dark past but how it has risen out of the ashes, is beyond incredible. We saw this in the building of the Metro, the free wifi in all of the parks, the addition of schools & libraries everywhere, and the pride the Paisas have in their city. There is so much more to say on this topic, and quite honestly, I’ve tried to write it a multitude of ways but I think the only way you can truly understand is to visit and immerse yourself in the city’s story. Also, read this article because it made me really proud to be able to visit such a wonderful place.

Long weekend in Santa Marta

Santa Marta is about an hour plane ride northeast of Medellín, near the border of Venezuela. The temperature hopped up about 20 degrees and the humidity reminded me of the summer in Virginia Beach. While the main OUTDOOR house didn’t have air conditioning, our rooms did, a much-welcomed amenity we don’t have in Medellín.

The town, although brightly colored with some cute boutiques & restaurants and plenty of rooftop hostels, left a bit to be desired but the nature surrounding it fully filled my heart. We were right on the edge of Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, “a coastal stretch of palm-fringed beaches backed by lush mountains with ruins of a pre-Hispanic town”, as told by Google Maps.

We had the opportunity to float (alongside some alligators) down one of what I would imagine is many rivers that opened straight out into the Caribbean Sea all while watching the snow-capped mountains behind us grow smaller and smaller. Jumping in the giant waves of the sea, I honestly didn’t think I could be happier until we made our way to a tiny resort where we were served fresh juice and got to lounge in hammocks on the beach.

I was quite sure I couldn’t be any happier than that until the next day we were taken out on a sailboat and found ourselves in Bahía Concha surrounded by the lush mountains of Tayrona National Park with unlimited water toys.

To top things off, we sailed back watching the most beautiful sunset over the sea.

Envigado

Desperate to explore one of the many other neighborhoods of Medellín, we set out to Envigado to experience street food, aka empanadas. We were invited into this woman’s home to sample each of her famous fried foods and then we took shots of Aguardiente (aka Ouzo or black licorice alcohol… not my favorite thing I’ve ever had), cheersing with cheek kisses despite the language barrier.

Later in the week, we made our way back to the same neighborhood for their Christmas festival. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much holiday pride as I did in that square and it gave me all of the feels. I also had one of my favorite meals the entire month that night.

Comuna 13

Comuna 13 used to be one of the dangerous areas in one of the most dangerous cities of the world and is now a community of hope expressed through dancing, art, and food. It was incredible to hear the stories of how this community, that would have daily shoot-outs, weekly car bombs, and witnessed death every single day, has flipped the table and is now one of the most beautiful sections of the city.

It’s hard to put everything I learned from this tour and the free walking tour into words, so I’ve compiled a list of book and documentary suggestions should you want to dive deep into it:

About Colombian’s history and the conflict:

  • Colombia: A Concise Contemporary History by Michael J. LaRosa and others.
  • Between Legitimacy and Violence: A History of Colombia, 1875-2002 by Marco Palacios
  • 50 Años de Conflicto Armado by Alfredo Molano (Spanish).
  • La Historia de las Guerras by Rafael Pardo (mostly dedicated to all the conflicts in Colombia since colonial times, but also touches briefly on international conflicts. Also in Spanish).
  • Colombia, una nación a pesar de sí misma: David Bushnell. 2007 (English versión from 1993)

About the transformation of Medellín:

  • Social Urbanism and the Politics of Violence: The Medellín Miracle by Kate Maclean.
  • Medellín: Tragedia y Resurrección by Gerard Martin (Spanish)

About the drugs subject:

  • The Candy Machine by Tom Feiling
  • Narconomics by Tom Wainwright

Documentaries:

Guatapé with Do It In A Van

This day trip was WILD. We set out with Rafa and David at 8:30am in their old school vans with blasting music and headed up into the mountains.

We picked up a man along the way who was a one man show with an incredible voice and then stopped for one of the most incredible views of the city where people hopped up on the roof of the van and started dancing with the musician we picked up.

From there, we headed to Rafa’s house where we had an incredible breakfast, nearly broke a trampoline, and pet all the pups. We then hopped on top of the vans and drove down the mountain perched up high. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t freaking out at first – I mean these vans are pretty old and those mountain roads are pretty tight & winding… I lived to tell the tale though so 10/10 recommend.

From one scary thing to the next, we headed to a bridge where we proceeded to jump off of it. It was about 12 meters high or 40 feet. I’m terrified of heights but for some reason, I was very confident saying I would do this. As soon as I sat on the edge though, I was maddddd shaking. We counted down from 3 and down we went. I screamed like a baby the whole way down and got a massive wedgie but it was also the most incredible feeling. The beer afterwards helped too 😉

After drying off and changing, we headed to the Piedra del Penol where we climbed 720 for the most beautiful panoramic views.

Another delicious meal at Rafa’s new home was our prize to walk back down or else I would have stayed up there all damn day. To end things, we walked around the town of Guatapé, filled with colorful bas-reliefs. I was on the hunt for some artwork, a poncho or some earrings but I unfortunately left empty handed because I was too distracted by all of the pretty colors.

Coffee tour

We all know caffeine is not my friend but you can’t go to Colombia and not go on a coffee tour, plus I was on the hunt to get coffee for Michael from every country I visited. We spent the day learning about the entire growing process, getting the opportunity to plant our own seeds, pick the coffee cherries, separate them, ending with a full coffee tasting. We learned that it takes 50 coffee beans to make ONE CUP of coffee so next time you’re sipping on your morning brew, make sure to give a silent thank you to whoever picked it for you. Also, not all coffee is created equal and if you’re drinking the commercial coffees… you should switch because it’s not pretty.

Soccer game: nacional vs. tolima

You haven’t been to a real fútbol match until you’ve been to a Colombian one. These kids are crazy but my goodness was it a fun experience! From the moment we entered the stands to the time we left, they were constantly clapping, singing, and cheering on their team (Nacional, obviously).

I was afraid I was going to witness some deaths – we were on the second story and these kids were standing on the railing with only a cloth banner holding them up that was semi tied to the railing they were standing on… not something I would ever do but hey, they made it out alive so it must be okay, right? 10/10 recommend buying season tickets and following this team everywhere.

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