Colombia 🇨🇴: A packed family holiday in the land of contrasts & variety

Foreword

The idea of going to Colombia was born somewhere on our last ski holiday in Austria where Laura joined us for the first time. In all honesty, I never thought it would happen. After all, parents can be quick to say “yeah, good idea” only to fold later. Furthermore, in the view of my parents Colombia was a rather dangerous place (information sourced from narcotics documentaries and random news) and with a serious lack of development (my mum literally would’t take her new trainers on holiday expecting Africa like conditions!). To be fair to them, bad prejudice is widespread even though the country has come a long way since the times of Escobar and especially since the FARC agreements. For travellers of South America, including many younger ones, the journey usually starts in Peru or Ecuador and heads south from there. So plenty of views to correct on our journey ahead.

Gathering in Bogota

Already on the taxi journey from El Dorado airport in Bogota to our hotel, my mum was openly surprised how modern Bogota presented itself with its many offices of domestic and international companies. Also the hotel and the district of Candelaria (arguably one of the best areas of Bogota) went down well. Before hitting the bed after lengthy travelling, we took a stroll to find some food and ended up in a local supermarket canteen for lack of better options. Empanadas, salmon and a first taste of Colombian beer set us up for the night. Frances joined the team halfway through the night and come breakfast, the family was complete for now. Ready to explore Bogota.

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Rehn gang: First breakfast in Bogota

Monserrate, La Candelaria & Zona T

We visited Monserrate towering over the city and offering spectacular views in addition to providing a good feeling for Bogota’s huge dimensions. Next up was lunch where the Aijaco soup set a first culinary highlight before we explored the district of La Candelaria – the historic center of Bogota. We sampled Chicha (a fermented sweetcorn based drink with 1-2% alcohol) although it would remain a one off tasting, took endless pictures of the colourful houses and graffitis and recovered in a local cafe over a few cocktails.

Evenings in Bogota often lead to Zona T with lots of restaurants and bars. It was first of November and it seemed everyone was was still dressed for Halloween – what an effort people make here. memories of my first trip to Colombia in Oct 2017 when I celebrated Halloween with a bunch of locals in Cali (Cali es Cali!) A favourite of mine is the Bogota Beer Company with some tasty beers – a place I first visited with Laura and her sister Lorena (Santa Marta & Bogota: Family introduction 👧🏻 🇨🇴). The dinner at the Italian place was ok, but we didn’t make it a long night for we were all pretty tired.

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Very dog friendly homeless

Anyway, great first day. No kidnappings, no armed robberies, Bodo impressed with how well Uber works … my parents must be seriously surprised this is possible!

Zipaquira – Underground Salt Cathedral & Overground Colonial Beauty

Our second day took us outside Bogota, about an hour by Uber (yes, we were lazy). I have to note here that Uber is often the best option for a group of 4 people given low prices per person. We drove to the city of Zipaquira to visit the worlds largest underground Salt cathedral (two others you can find in Poland the guidebook told us). The current cathedral was completed not so long ago as it replaced an older version that was no longer save. To reach the cathedral, you follow a path the describes the 14 stations of the cross until you reach the highlight of the cathedral – a 10m cross.

We were all pretty hungry after the walk and hit the center of town. I have to say, just the colonial center of Zipaquira would have been worth the journey. Beautifully restored and pretty lively on this beautiful Sunday. We had lunch at the main square before wandering about town. Ahhh, before I forget … Zipaquira is the hometown of the first ever tour de France winner from Colombia – Egan Bernal, 2019.

Hello (again) Medellin

I had been to Medellin only recently with Laura, but also feel a bit like coming home everytime after the 3 weeks I spent here studying Spanish in 2017. Welcome back to myself then!

Pablo’s legacy

After checking into our new home (nice pick Frances!) for the coming threw days, we began exploring medellin in the footsteps of its most famous (be it very much disliked) son – Pablo Escobar. The government and people of medellin do their best to eradicate his legacy and speaking his name feels as prohibited as mentioning the villain Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter.

The house where he used to live no longer exists I am told (different to my visit two years ago), but you can still visit the location of his infamous prison. I say the location, for there is not much more to see. The museum has been closed following some inappropriate action of visitors. My last visit was more insightful.

From there we went on to visit the Escobar family grave in cementario jardins montesacro. That one is still there and accessible and also well cared for.

Comuna 13: Never fails to impress

We did literally the same walking tour I did two years back. With the same guide and  the same story (well, what should have changed – after all it is history). Still quite amazing. Meanwhile the tour guides house has been expanded with a roof terrace and bar for tourists. Progress (and more dinero as she no longer asks for tips at the end of the tour, but right in the middle of the comuna 13 maze – clever!).

While in the area we also headed up to La Aurora with the cable cars (departing in San Javier where tours of comuna 13 start & finish). Similar to the idea of the escalators, these metro cables link poorer neighbourhoods to the center and provide access to all kinds of services and work.

We even found time to visit plaza Bolivar with the famous statues of Colombia’s prime artist Fernando Botero. And then someone almost nicked my mobile … but I managed to fend him off. So we even got to see a little bit of street crime ;o)

Lake & house spotting in Guatape

My second visit this year after the July trip with Laura. It turned definitely into a highlight as both views from the rock and the pretty town with its colourful houses impressed. My sister was particularly taken by the colourful houses of Guatape, which ended up taking the largest share of the lovely photo-book of the holiday she put together. The men also enjoyed the place and also got to to enjoy some football while the girls went shopping.

A visit to Parque Arvi

Before the time in Medellin was finally up, we headed up the cable cars again and enjoyed a stroll in Parque Arvi. It seemed pretty large and next time I definitely would book a bike tour.

Santa Marta: Nightlife central!

We had a late flight into Santa Marta and arrived in darkness. Once we checked into the colonial house we would stay in for the coming three nights, I met up with Laura. We quickly decided to pick up the others as well for a late night drink. They immediately picked up the special vibe Santa Marta’s historic center has at night … and to my surprise we kicked off with shots! Mum included ;o) It should only be one night of many to come!

German coffee tour in Minca

After a brief visit to the city beach (must to the disliking of Laura & family … as it is not the best beach around), we headed to Minca to visit the Victoria coffee factory. The way there is rather adventurous on a road that is in a terrible shape (that might actually be too kind!). Once we arrived, however, things looked up. We bumped into the owner (well, the wife of the now deceased owner), a lovely lady from Germany who offered to do a tour in German. I was rather happy about this alas my sister … less translating to do!

Sweating in Tayrona

When in Santa Marta, visiting Tayrona park is a must. A friendly heads up – do book your tickets in advance as waiting in the queue can be rather lengthy given the shockingly slow speed of service. Once in, we hiked a few hours to Cabo San Juan. Beautiful, but given the high humidity a rather sweaty exercise. At the end, a refreshing swim and freshly fried fish waited for us. Tasty.

For the way home we booked a speedboat … wow! We get pretty wet and the aves were at times pretty intimidating I have to admit. But we made it in the end and got safely to Taganga.

Family dinner at Laura’s

Christmas came early it seemed as a nicely decorate x-mas tree greeted us at the dinner party in Laura’s house. Lot of nice food prepared and Lorena busy handing out cocktails. Main course were burritos. In between drinks and food, I was busy translating between the Deisy and my family. Great evening altogether. Muchas gracias!

Cartagena: The mystic disappearance Frances’ pendant?

The bus ride over to Cartagena was reasonably comfortable, but took ages due to several stops waiting for customers. Once in cartagena, we explored the magnificent old town finishing at cafe del mar. Great spot to enjoy sunset though it was rather wet that day. We just about managed to escape the hefty shower of a dark cloud. It poured down. Thank god we paid in time.

The second day we headed to the island of Tierra Bomba to enjoy the beach away from the hustle of the mainland. Well, we got hustled nonetheless! During a massage my sister had to take off her golden necklace … and somehow the pendant disappeared. Despite all 5 massage therapists and us looking for it, it was gone. Most likely in the pockets of the therapist herself (though a search neither yielded a result).

Back in Cartagena, we explored the beautifully restored colonial city. Amazing!

P.S. Frances got a new pendant from her best friend for x-mas … how thoughtful of her!

San Andres: Island life (again)

It is not that long ago that Laura and I spent almost two weeks on the Caribbean island of Aruba (Aruba 🇦🇼: Happy Island Life). Now we headed to the island of San Andres for the last five days of my parents in Colombia. The island is part of Colombia for historical reasons and actually located closer to Nicaragua.

I am not gonna reveal a big secret saying that we spent much time on the beach near our hotel, but there was lots more. Be it tuna fishing with local fishermen, touring the hot spots nearby like Johnny Cay by boat, cruising around the island in a golf car, diving or meeting the miss San Andres over a lovely dinner that left our chef Bodo well impressed (and all of us regret why we only came here for the last night!).

From here we headed to Bogota for a night and said goodbye to the parents. Their journey was over after 2,5 amazing weeks. They were impressed and took a very different view of Colombia home to Germany. Nice one!

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Our journey, however, was not yet finished! The jungle was calling …

Amazon: River boats, monkeys & dolphins

We used the night in Bogota to watch the new Joker movie. Scary stuff, but really well played by Joaquin Phoenix. Chapeau! I sincerely hope they do another movie and continue the story from the vantage point of the joker. Before watching, Frances sampled Canelazo and we visited the street market. Bogota already felt a little more different than a few weeks earlier. More real maybe. Next day we took off to Colombia’s southern border and the city of Leticia.

There is really not much to see in Leticia, but it is the hub and there is no avoiding it. Our task was to fix a tour. We ended up opting for a self-organised trip up the Amazon with the daily river boat service. First stop – monkey island!

Isla de los Micos

After a short night to catch one of the early boats out of Leticia harbour, we got on the river taxi. It was a grey and rainy day making the ride less pleasant. In order to keep the rain out, they covered the windows with some tarp like material meaning no view for us. Once on the island, the monkeys didn’t wait long to visit us … essentially all over us. Three, four or five monkeys at a time.  Different to the monkey I encountered in Asia, the micos are not aggressive. Just a little dirty and so the wet wipes came in handy!

Nature reserve: Jungle walk & Native village

After a few hours with the monkeys, we continued to the nature reserve. Accommodation proved difficult as the host claimed the place was fully booked though we only spotted a group of four over dinner. Well, we got a place to stay where usually the workers stayed (who were busy building a tree hut).

After lunch (where suddenly two tourist boats dumped a bunch of tourists to join the feast, we headed into the jungle to a nearby native ticuna village. awesome place. We shopped a few handmade bracelets (for COP2,000 or USD0.6) and joined a tour of the local heritage museum with one of the village leaders. Very interesting indeed! Later on, Frances and I did a jungle walk to see some of the massive trees around and listen to childhood stories of our guide.

At night the jungle really comes to life and near the pond in our resort sprung to life. We spotted frogs (in some poisonous looking colours), a small caiman, a snake and lots of other little creatures. Then it was time for bed to be up on time for our next tour.

Breakfast in the jungle

It was a 5am start though we ended up waiting a fair bit. Some idiot stole the engine of the hotels river boat overnight (something that happens frequently here apparently).

Once a replacement engine arrived, we went downriver into a side stream of the river for a bit of fishing. Frances and Laura both caught two, mainly piranhas which as I already knew from Suriname are super-tasty.  Our guide prepared a tasty breakfast with the fish, eggs, platano and hot chocolate …. jummy!

On the way back to nature reserve we also spotted some grey dolphins … well, not all of us so for them dolphin spotting had to wait.

Puerto Nariño: Simply paradise & Finally pink dolphins

Almost our last stop in the Amazon was tiny Puerto Narino. A quiet little town without motorised traffic (apart from the river taxis to Leticia or Peru and one vehicle) and with a very relaxed feeling. From here we took a great dolphin tour on Lake Tarapoto – this time seeing pink and grey dolphins, did more fishing (where I also managed to catch a few for a change) and a little swim in the lake (piranhas don’t attack unless there is an open wound somewhere). The sunsets and evenings generally are to die for. If you come here, budget a few days. It is really worth your while.

Brasil for a day: Chaotic Tabatinga!

Before heading home, we used Leticia’s position in a tri-border region to visit Brasil (no visa required here). It was rather chaotic (partly due to our own faults) and a real step down from Leticia (who would have thought!) with lots more people & poverty. While heavens were emptying themselves, we enjoyed a beer amongst locals and were unexpectedly happy once back across the border in Leticia.

Back to Bogota – hello riots, hasta luego Frances!

For Frances it was almost time to head back to Germany, but her flight didn’t depart until late at night. So we headed into Bogota (for the third time). First cause for excitement was a police stop. They had figured out that we were using an Uber against the rules. Despite our best efforts to deny it is an Uber, we had to get off. Yet we refused using a normal taxi out of principle and soon after boarded another Uber. I sincerely hope the driver won’t get into too much trouble. As an aside, by now Uber has ceased operations across Colombia.

Bogota, along with the rest of the country was now host to huge demonstrations. People were (and remain) unhappy with the president. The bus stop (transmilenio) opposite our hotel was completely smashed. Not a single pane of glass intact. As we would find out later, the same fate happened to most bus stops in the center. Later on, from the save seat of an Uber taxi, we saw demonstrations live.

Unimpressed by all this … we enjoyed sushi for dinner and found a really nice cocktail bar to finish off the trip. After three weeks we said goodbye and Frances disappeared into the night onboard an Uber taxi.

Hasta luego! Next time we meet on the ski slopes in Austria.

Tracing Pablo Escobar & adios a Medellin!

And three weeks in this fantastic city are already over. One thing is sure – it was not enough time and I will be back! Hasta luego!

“Quien no conoce su historia esta condenado a repetirla”

“Who does not know his history is condemned to repeat it”

Banner in Pablo Escobar prison, Medellin

School got off to a late start after the Ayahuasca weekend. The last week at Toucan wasn’t all happy though. I got a little fed up with our group session (where things got repetitive after a teacher change) and some organisational issues at school.

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Vegan burger in Medellin … thanks to Uri i now know a bit more about that cuisine

However, the private lessons got me started on future and past tenses and seriously make talking easier. In the end I made to the bottom range of intermediary level and can express myself reasonably well. Understanding free-flowing Spanish remains a challenge. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

Outside school I managed to see a few more places in Medellin including Pueblito Paisa and some spots of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. And there were also a few goodbye’s from friends.

Pueblito Paisa, a reconstructed traditional village in the middle of the city, was great. It also offers good views over Medellin. The x-mas decoration that was put in place further served a timely reminder that i need to sort presents ;o) (weather here makes you forget that all too easy).

The Pablo Escobar trip, however, didn’t meet my expectations after it had been praised so much by friends (i booked the afternoon session with free tours). We basically saw his old apartment house in Medellin, his prison and his grave (alongside family). His big countryside finca was too far away and probably offers a bit more. Some stories were interesting such as Pablo inviting seemingly not loyal partners, kill them and feed them to their subordinates later on. Would have liked to see the picture of their faces when Pablo announced what they had just eaten – their bosses!

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Ancient medicine: Recollections of my Yage (Ayahuasca) retreat

What a surreal weekend lies behind me. Hard to put into words, but I give it a shot anyway in this blog. I had been thinking about joining a traditional retreat for some time. Curiosity and the healing power of ancient medicine attracted me. Already in Russia I spent quite some time reading up about Yage (or Ayahuasca), what it does, where it is available etc. During my search I came across ‘Camino al Sol‘, which offers bi-weekly, traditional retreats close to Medellin in a circle of the ‘karari’ people (a group of indigenous & white people honoring old & new traditions and gods of various origins). After a cross check (thank you Siddharta) I booked my session to find out for myself.

“Wherever the art of Medicine is loved, there is also a love of Humanity. ” (Hippocrates)

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group pic at 6am Sunday … can you spot me?

Preparation

In order to prepare body & soul as well as to respect tradition, participants should adhere to some rules for (at least) the week preceding the ceremony. This includes no alcohol, no meat, no drugs and no sex. I met all conditions by the time I arrived … some proving harder to adhere to than others. In the end, I already felt pretty good going there after one of my healthiest weeks in recent memory.

Day 1 – Friday

A bus picked us up from Poblado Park at 3pm (well, a bit later after waiting for all clients) to take us to the retreat near Santa Elena (45min transfer). Located at 2,640m it boasts a much chillier climate than Medellin (1,600m). Once arrived we all settled into the dorm rooms and then had a brief info session with the organiser. Our first night would involve a plant bath, fire ceremony and the Yage ceremony itself. First up though was a little introduction as to what we have to expect in the days (nights) ahead.

Plant bath

Its basically hot water where they have three plants simmering for a while. These are lemon grass (limoncillo in Spanish), basil (albahaca) and rue (ruda). You shower yourself slowly with the mix while thinking of the questions you want to ask the Yage remedy later. The mixture is meant to cleanse your body, protect and harmonise you.

Fire blessing

You take off your shirt and get some incense on your body, arms and neck as well as pants on the outside. Then fire in a bowl is used to bless your body.

Yage ceremony

The ceremony is held in a maloka (round hut with straw top) around a fire. The elder is in charge of the process. This time, we had an elder with his wife from the Cofan tribe visiting from Putumajo – 23h travel away. Before any Yage comes into play, men are given tobaco essence on the hand (‘ambil’, looks like sticky Marmite) and dried, crushed coca leaves to chew (‘mambe’). Women get tobacco and some corn base paste to lick (which wasn’t available that night, they don’t get coca leaves). We then moved to another tradition – the circle of words. Here often a topic is picked for discussion (love, tradition etc), but this time we discussed the native culture these people preserve. While listening & speaking, a cup with pineapple juice passes round for everyone to take a sip (or a few). Everytime when someone finishes speaking/singing it is greeted with a ‘hey’ by the audience.

Who participates

It was the whole community of c30 people. Less than 10 were foreigners giving the whole ceremony a very authentic feeling. Literally all age groups were present (and participated in drinking medicine) from 5y to say 65y. Amazing really. Some kids, like Christoph who at the age of 12y can solve the magic cube, have been given the medicine since birth (he will become shaman). Everyone is taking it regularly in this community.

My first experience

You receive your cup from the shaman. I estimate some 5cl of Yage. The first 10min nothing happened, then very quickly colours come and you begin to drift into another world. You see colours and shapes, hear sounds, gaze at the ever-changing fire in the middle of the room and I saw memories of old episodes of my life as far back as my childhood and more recent ones. Others even saw their ancestors many generations ago. I never let myself drift properly though, but by opening my eyes kind of came back to this world only to see the net clip played when i closed my eyes again.

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tobacco essence

The whole trip was quite intense by now. At some stage I left for the toilet opposite the maloka under heavy rain. I felt a bit stuck there, as it seemed quite far to get back and i had little desire to maneuver around the little creeks that had formed by now. At this stage, the natural side effect of yage saw many people vomiting (purification process) and/or having diarrhea. I was fine as would be the case for the whole weekend.

After a while I was off to the hammock room to rest and see my visions in a more comfi position. There were voices everywhere in the room, loads of colourful visions yet also many clear thoughts about a range of issues in my past and future life. The mix of hot and cold I went through left me a bit uncomfortable and I was still fighting to drop too deep into my visions out of fear to see something negative (which you often face with ayahuasca and is part of the healing experience). Generally though, I felt in control.

I skipped/missed the 2nd round of drinking and only wandered over to the maloka for life music & singing in early hours of Saturday before sleeping a bit more. We finaly all laid down in our proper beds at 7.30am.

What is Yage/Ayahuasca? Ayahuasca is a brew from the Amazon that is traditional mixed of Chacruna (DMT) and Caapi (MAOI). Over time, people started experimenting with the ingredients and found that Mimosa (DMT) and Harmala (MAOI) is the most potent and smooth trip if used correctly. Used for over 5000 years by the shamans or healers or teachers Ayahuasqueros as a way for the expansion of consciousness (Soul). And now it is used in Peru to help drug addicts and a substitute for antidepressant pills. (https://www.soul-herbs.com/what-is-ayahuasca/)

Day 2 – Saturday

After a relaxed afternoon around the camp, we started with a long circle of words around traditions with all foreigners speaking including myself. It was a good moment to share some of my background and motivation to be here and express my gratitude for being able to join this community.

At 11pm the first cup got me going pretty quickly with colours and some visions. Visited again some places of my past and childhood and saw lots of LSD type colours, but was always in control (open the eyes basically, that doesn’t always work though). I again retired in my hammock to meditate, but took my watch this time so not to stay too long and miss round two and not to be lazy. After less than 1h I was back in the main tent. By then I had already landed and still not purged. Others were busier working with the medicine.

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At 2am we got a second cup – much bigger than last (80cl?). This one caused me some diarrhea, but otherwise wasn’t very strong when it came to visions. By now I had already gotten the understanding that I am probably not on such a bad path in life and had less to deal with than others. At 4am we were brought to the maloka again. Three guys already sitting topless in front of the fire (including one on a heck of a trip with constant vomiting). I joined together with Uri – my friend from Israel who I study spanish with. Once undressed we were rubbed with some essence before shamans were gathering around us, spitting some watery stuff at us all the time humming and waving while the other tribal people dance in tune to the drums. Quite an experience where i got repeatedly told off not to cross my arms or legs (probably to let the energy flow).

Day 3 – Sunday

The main difference on our last Yage evening was that the elder had left and we held the ceremony in the way they do it in Santa Elena. First that meant we started at 8pm and not 9-10pm. Second it meant a lot more music and singing. The effect of both the first and second cup were even weaker than before (although there should not be a memory effect) and seemingly all participants had an easier time (well, not so Shannon). The fire ritual I went through the night before was repeated for three others (where I participated in making music and danced) and I got a nice therapy (meaning back & shoulder massage).

My thoughts throughout Sunday were very clear and I had loads of time to think about what lies ahead (I keep that to myself though). My mind wasn’t the only clear thing, it was also the first night without rain. Most of us went outside at some stage to gaze at the bright and plentiful stars (even saw a shooting star). We all felt by now as part of the community. Initial awkwardness had disappeared. And so, with loads of music and singing, we ended a wonderful weekend retreat.

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It shall not remain the last one for me and whoever feels like trying the medicine … look no further than Camino al Sol. You are in safe hands.

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Even scopolamine (‘devils breath’) grows in the garden

Week two at school & more of Medellin’s

Short, but sweet week after the bank holiday Monday in Guatape. We had a new teacher as we moved up to A1.2 level (spanish speaking only this time), an interesting visit to Comuna 13 (formerly the most dangerous part of town), hanging out in Colombia & Envigado district and the cable car to the top of the hills surrounding Medellin. 

Spanish classes: Week two of my Spanish education is already over and things are looking up. Our new teacher Lorena is a quite cheerful person and, more importantly, speaks 99% in Spanish. Really helps and I feel the progress is really good across the class (even though top marks on my weekly assessment didn’t materialise). Key issue for me grammatically is the lack of past/future tense (just makes it awkward to tell stories) though most challenging remains to understand spoken Spanish. It’s just so fast. Friday we went to Minorista food market and practiced our fruit & veggie pronunciation skills. I guess we ended up more chatting away, but it was fun.

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Comuna 13 – looking back at Medellin’s dark past: Before the rise of cocaine in the US in the 70’s & 80’s, this area of Medellin was not a bad place to live. However, once drug lords around the Medellin cartel took over this changed drastically. Worse still, was the period after the assassination of pablo escobar on 2 Dec 1993. With the head of the hydra removed, fierce power struggles made the place the most dangerous area in the city (with the city being the most dangerous globally). So going to Medellin included a free pass to hell back then.

This changed for the better after the government intervened with force on the 16 Oct 2002 with operation ‘Orion’. 1,500 police men supported by helicopters. It was pretty bloody, but eventually paved the way for a peaceful period lasting now some 15y. Crime hasn’t gone completely though, as the mafia still extorts protection money from local businesses. Yet, it’s perfectly safe to visit if you follow some simple rules. I went with zippi free walking tours. Naturally, loads of Germans including two ladies from Hamburg & Cologne who I had the pleasure of sharing the final bit of the tour. We even visited the guides house in the comuna. So good insights over all.

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Germany is never far away in Colombia …

Another step in the recovery was the installation of a 384m escalator route up the steep hills in 2011. This enables better access to the city and was welcome by all our walking tour participants. It’s certainly has become a landmark of the suburb and Medellin by now. I liked most the many graffiti’s you find in comuna 13 – be it those that were created over time or the ones added during a graffiti contest in recent years. Most of them reflect to a high degree the troubled past and the revival now.

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Metrocable: Right from San Javier station (where you stop for comuna 13 tours anyway) departs another means of transport that connects the city with poorer areas. There are two such cables in Medellin – I went up to La Aurora station to take in some great views of Medellin at sunset. Recommended. Safe. Cheap.

Mercado del Rio: Located in the district of colombia, it’s a great venue to go for an evening meal or drink. You have many stalls offering all varieties of food though come naturally a bit pricier than your standard colombian restaurant. Thanks Claudia.

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Envigado: This neighborhood is located some 6km from central poblado. I had heard about it from Uri, my Israeli fellow student, and wanted to see what its like. First up a visit to the park (where some Saint was honored that day) and, following Claudia’s advice, then off to calle 30 (calle buena mesa) for dinner. It’s a really great area and significantly more local than gringo-Poblado. Probably the area I like best so far.

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¡Hola Medellin! School, gym & Paisa life

Time flies really. The first week at school is over and Medellin feels already somewhat familiar – at least the district I live in (Poblado). First city tour done. First Spanish test was ok-ish. Signed up for the local Muay Thai classes. First night out.

The name “Medellín” comes from Medellín, Spain, a small village in the Badajoz province of Extremadura. See here for a my travels in Extremadura.

Paisa people: Their ancestors are chiefly immigrants from Extremadura though also Andalusia, Basque region and some of jewish origin (not much of the Jewish reliegion remains, however). Their spanish is spoken fast & soft and distinct from rest of colombia (to the expert, niot me). Most importantly, they think very highly of the themselves in particular vs. other colombians (not to point only at Bogotans).

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12h overnight bus to Medellin from Neiva

Arguably I arrived pretty exhausted on Tuesday morning in the 12h overnight bus from Neiva. My sunburnt back also made sure that I didn’t get much sleep. Still i made it to my 6am appointment at my new gym ‘MMA Colombia’ for a Muay thai wake up session. My first decent work out in quite a while. Felt really welcome and signed up for a month. Should also least get me a little prepared for the Muay thai camp in Thailand next year.

Thankfully the check in to my airbnb in Poblado (the location of the cities origin) was flexible so to drop off my bags before school. Great place by the way. Large flat with many separate rooms/travellers. Very different to russia it dont need to tiptoe around the place. Was a little concerned about that if i am honest.

Noteworthy in Medellin: most dangerous city globally just 20y ago

  • Most gang related activity only happens on some outskirts of town (there remain no go zones). There is a huge police presence across town and additionally private security in many places.
  • Men are prohibited from riding as passengers on motorcycles between 8 a.m. and 12 midnight, a measure that the government says has cut targeted killings by motorcycle riders (the so called ‘sicarios’)
  • Uber drivers will ask you to sit in front seat so they are not spotted as taxi’s by regular taxi guys who have in the past turned aggressive & territorial

Back to school … little español on the agenda

School was fine. We are just six people in the group (vs 10 in Russia). Uri from Israel, Jack (UK), a dutch couple (Rukhia & Lukas) & Bilal (Germany). Our teacher is a young Colombian who also studies his masters in oxford.

The first day was tough. I lacked any sort of vocabulary really. But over the week it picked up. Amazing what 20h of language lessons (+ homework) can do. But then i guess this is the equivalent of say 10 week of your typical once a week language course. By Friday we were already out in poblado park speaking to people. Gladly we had the dutch couple as icebreakers ;o) the friday test was tough though. Partly because i hadn’t revised for it (making some irregular conjugations harder) and partly due to topics covered in the previous week (eg time). But i counted well above 50% right. Motivating.

Settling into the city

Outside school activities included a few things in my first week.

  • a salsa lesson (i think i made more progress in Spanish),
  • a 4h walking tour (free tour with real city tours, i thought it was ok but not brilliant, see here tripadvisor link for the “no1 tour”

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  • Colombian sweet tasting (love the SUPER TURRON SUPERCOCO!),
  • a Friday night MMA event with plenty of fighters from my gym (on balance on the winning side),
  • a solid day & night out in Poblado (Lleras Park etc)