Monday, June 10, 2019

2 Weeks in Medellín

Garmin Map and Info

Medellín at night, view from my hotel

Stormy Medellín

My arrival and welcome to Medellín in a dramatic thunderstorm was truly amazing and unexpected. It turns out that torrential afternoon and evening rains are common in Medellín. These rains don't happen at the coast and caught me by surprise. I had heard that Medellín is significantly cooler than the coast as well. The city is at about 5,000 ft in elevation with a population of about 2.5 million. People at the coast describe Medellín as a place that is cold. It is definitely cooler than the coast but still very warm except when the rains start. Sometimes the rains come on very quickly. The skies can go from sun to cloudy, windy and rainy within an hour. The rains typically last for an hour or two where the roads become rivers of water. When the rains pass, the temperatures rise quickly and the roads become steamy as they dry and the humidity returns.  

Dramatic downtown
Another view from Hotel Nutibara

Medellín is a fascinating and vibrant city full of mystique. I had been looking forward to visiting since the start of my tour. My plan was to study Spanish, live with a family and discover the magic this city has to offer for 2 weeks. In the morning, I found a wonderfully quaint restaurant for breakfast just 2 doors down from the hotel. It was ridiculously cheap. I spent $1.75 for a full meal with excellent coffee. 2 priests were sitting at the next table and asked what I was doing. I explained this was my 1st time to Medellín and today I would be riding into the city center for one night before finding my homestay family for the next 2 weeks. They both gave me their phone numbers and said to call if I needed anything.  The likelihood that I would need to call them was small but the gesture was heartfelt and I really appreciated it. Even though my Spanish is still more basic than I wish, these guys had the patience to talk to me for quite awhile. They had ideas for how I should ride into the center of Medellín and things to see. They made me feel very welcome.

Medellín with mountains in the background

Botero square
The hotel reception lady also had ideas for how I should ride. Her idea was to get on the metro train which would have been very direct but sounded complicated with the trike and my panniers. I decided to do what I always do, follow Google Maps and I had a delightful time on traffic filled roads. I had to cross a few bridges over expressways. I took a risk and stayed on the sidewalk on the left side of the road only because there was a barrier to cross the road to the right side. The sidewalks were barely wide enough for the trike and there were lots of people walking. Everyone was so nice. I must have said 'excuse me' or 'pardon me' 60 times but I made it. As I crossed the bridge my biggest fear was there was going to be an obstacle and, somehow, I would have to turn around. But, luckily, there wasn't. In fact, there was even a cut out to get down from the sidewalk to the road at the other end. I got lost a few times where the Google directions were confusing. There is something about the trike that takes a situation that should be stressful and turns it into something fun. Everyone was honking, yelling and giving me the thumbs up. As I approached the center of town and the hotel I had randomly picked out I was on a wide oneway road with plenty of room. Traffic was very disorganized. It seemed like no one was driving in a lane. I stopped a few times to ask for directions and the last time I asked I was actually across the street from my destination. The person I asked simply pointed to the hotel which was huge and historic. The location was right in the heart of the touristic area and by the metro as well. 

Apartment living, Medellín

Botero replicas
The Hotel Nutibara was across from Botero square and the Antioquia museum. My room was very nice and Myrtle was given her own locked storage room. The hotel staff was accommodating and generously helped me with everything I asked. This hotel has a rich history going back to the beginning of the city. Even though it could use a refresh, this is the hotel that everyone famous has stayed at for the last 70 years. The hotel has delightful deco architectural details. There were wonderful and grand historic buildings all around the plaza square. The plaza park had large replicates of famous Botero sculptures. It was really fun to walk around them. That afternoon there was another violent and dramatic storm. This storm took out the electricity to the hotel and the surrounding area. My room was on the 5th floor and I had to walk up and down stairs many times. The cleaning and maintenance people did too sometimes carrying heavy equipment. 

Mango season

Wait, where am I?

In the morning, the electricity was still out. But now it was only the hotel that didn't have electricity. Electricity had been restored to the rest of the area. The staff had a difficult job to get breakfast ready for the large hotel. The coffee was only lukewarm as was most of the food. They apologized but there wasn't anything they could do. The electricity returned by mid-morning and it was nice to use the elevator again. I went across to the famous Antioquia museum but they couldn't open because the security system was damaged in the storm. I would have to return another time. I walked around taking pictures and then went to the hotel to pack up and find my way to the homestay family in the El Poblado barrio.

More beautiful juicy mangoes

The ride out to the Poblado neighborhood was long and very difficult. The road was almost an expressway and it was very loud and busy. The road had exits like a freeway where I had to stop and wait for a break in the traffic. Most drivers didn't use blinkers and there was no way for me to know if it was safe to cross the lane until no one was coming. Sometimes I had to wait more than 5 minutes and there were many of these exit lanes to cross. It was a slow and frustrating ride but I eventually made it, much later than I had texted the family that I would arrive. Beatric and Carlos live in a large apartment building with a gated entrance and 24-hour security guard. The guard was expecting me but needed identification to verify who I was. How many older gringas riding a tricycle was he expecting? 

With Beatrice, enjoying a nice Malbec.

Lunita, house puppy ready for her walk

Best teeth cleaning ever and only $20

Cut and Color - nice result

The security guard called Beatrice who welcomed me warmly escorting me to the garage to give Myrtle her own parking space. Then she showed me to my room in the large apartment and introduced me to her husband Carlos. They had lived in New York for 20 years. In fact, Beatrice has dual country citizenship. Beatrice spoke English very well but Carlos didn't like speaking English. This was fine with me as I was there to learn Spanish. They were both very sweet, generous and helpful. Beatrice helped me with anything I needed. The 1st thing I wanted to do was find a microphone adapter for my GoPro. We went to an upscale mall that was close by and found a huge electronics store. They had a good selection of GoPro accessories and I picked up a shorty tripod handle and an extra battery with charger. But, unfortunately, they didn't have a microphone adapter. I went to many more electronics stores all over Medellín and never did find an adapter. Beatrice helped me with many, many things I wanted to do while in Medellín. I got routine bloodwork done, a hair cut and color, a pedicure and probably the best teeth cleaning I've ever had.  She answered all my questions about Medellín, her family and my Spanish homework. 

Guatape from a distance

The Rock of Guatape from below

Climbing the rock

Drone shot of the rock

View of the reservoir and top of the rock
My stay with Beatrice and Carlos was fantastic. They were so sweet. Beatrice took me out to nice restaurants and we explored the beautiful El Poblado neighborhood. This area is more upscale with modern buildings, chic shops, hip bars and restaurants. Just like Bogotá, there is lots of street art and colorful murals everywhere. I really enjoyed walking around the interesting streets. Beatrice and Carlos took me all over town including up the impressive metrocable that goes high above Medellín. This is a terrific experience to see the city from so high up. The metrocable went above a huge, very poor and crowded slum built into a steep hillside. It was fascinating to have a bird's eye view. The metrocable continues a few miles over a dense jungle and ends at a park with lots of hiking trails. Through the language school, Total Spanish, I went with other students to see many things all over the city as well as outside Medellín. My favorite excursion was visiting the village of Guatape and the Rock of Guatape. I climbed 700 steps to get to the top of the rock and there was an amazing view of a huge reservoir. I brought my drone and flew it from the top. I'm not sure what happened but as I landed the drone, when I was planning only to change out the battery and put it back in the air, it crashed. I lost control and it drifted into a wall 3 feet from where I was trying to land which was very embarrassing. I still don't understand what happened. The drone was fine but I lost confidence and put it away. Guatape is about 3 hours outside Medellín and the drive was beautiful. We stopped at a few small villages which were colorful and interesting. The village of Guatape was historic and I'd like to return to spend more time and explore.

View of Medellín from the Metrocable

Colorful street art
Kids bike course, ciclovia

Dad and daughter on a scooter, ciclovia
Like Bogotá, every Sunday and holiday there is a ciclovía route in Medellín. I think 20 miles of roads are blocked off to car traffic and thousands of people come out to ride bikes, walk, jog and skate from 7 am to 1 pm. All ages of people were out and there were lots of families. I didn't see any recumbents or trikes and only a couple of e-bikes. Medellín, like Bogotá, is built on a mountain plateau - a valley between higher peaks and is quite flat. I rode for a few hours and didn't finish the route. This route went along the metro tracks and some of it isn't very interesting. There are 2 long routes that intersect and I really enjoyed riding back because it had a gradual downhill grade. I wanted to ride again the next Sunday but there was so much to see and explore in Medellín, I didn't have enough time. I would love to come back to Medellín to spend more time checking everything out.

Ciclovia crossing
Bowling with students from Total Spanish

Visiting a famous cemetery

With students on a windy day.

My Spanish classes were the best of any school I've attended so far. The 1st week I was studying privately with Natalia who was very patient. Private classes are much more demanding. I probably learned more but enjoy being with other students. The 2nd week I was in a class with 2 other students and we were a good mix. Our teacher was enthusiastic, encouraging and a fireball of energy. My time at this school was fantastic and I can highly recommend Total Spanish. I hope to return to Medellín and would love to stay with Beatrice and Carlos and study again at Total Spanish.

Fruit tasting, Total Spanish

With one of my fabulous teachers, Natalia

Heading home

2 weeks went by so fast. Soon it was time to head back to the US. My visa to stay in Colombia was expiring in only a few more days. One of the greatest things about studying a language at a language school is the school people help you with everything and anything you need. 1st they set me up to live with Beatrice and Carlos. Now that I was leaving I needed transport to the airport with my trike. Cindy, the manager, made a reservation for a larger vehicle to pick me up at the apartment at 1 am.  My flight was at 5 am and for international flights, the airlines like you to check-in 3 hours early. With the trike, I like to be checked-in extra early, before the rush of customers. Beatrice and Carlos saw me off at this ungodly hour. The taxi arrived and it wasn't a larger vehicle. Beatrice and Carlos pointed to the trike and none of us thought it would fit in the car. The driver 1st tried to put it in the trunk but that didn't work. Then he and Carlos tried many ways to get it in the back seat.  I was so nervous I had to go upstairs to use the bathroom. When I returned to the garage, the driver had performed a miracle and made the trike fit. I couldn't believe it. What a relief! I said goodbye to sweet Beatrice and Carlos and started the hour long drive to the airport. 20 minutes into the drive I realized I forgot to return the house key when I went upstairs to use the bathroom. Hhhmmm... I asked the driver if he could return the key and he said he would. The drive was uneventful and I gave the driver a very healthy tip for making the trike fit and returning the key for me. He was nice and resourceful.

Getting checked-in with the trike was easy. Somehow, I am always TSA pre-check which makes going through airports and security much faster. Unfortunately, my flight was canceled and I was put on a later flight that would 1st go to Bogotá instead of El Salvador. They gave me a $50 voucher compensation for my next flight. I think I'll be able to use the voucher on my next tour which is already taking shape. The delay meant I had a long time to wait in Medellín and then in Bogotá. The flights were easy and there were no problems or extra fees for the trike. On the flight from Bogotá to Los Angeles I had a whole row to myself and was able to lay down. Not super comfortable but more comfortable than sitting the whole way. I've never been able to sleep on flights but I did relax and listen to music. 

Once in Los Angeles, I quickly went through immigration, customs and security. My friend Mary was originally going to pick me up but with all the delays that didn't work out. I ended up taking a $29 Super Shuttle from LAX to my aunt's house. Surprisingly, they didn't charge extra for the trike. This was a very long day and it felt good to, finally, arrive and be with family. My stay in Los Angeles was going to be quite a bit longer than usual. 

Many people know that my living situation in Portland is different. I have been house-sitting for a friend for 6 months every year for the last 11 years. When my friend Mitzi goes to her house in France for 6 months over every summer, I go to her house in Portland. It is a lovely house with a terrific view of the city and a car for me to use. This arrangement has worked out very well for both of us. She has someone to take care of her house and I have a comfortable place to relax in between tours. The timing with my visa expiring and Mitzi going to France didn't quite line up and I ended up spending 3 weeks with family. There are very few people that I can stay so long with. Most people are ok with 3 day stays but any longer is a drain on the household rhythm. Fortunately, my aunt loves having me and we have a great time together.  I was able to help prepare for the family Passover Seder which takes a week to get the food and the table for over 20 people ready. My aunt is 93 and has a very busy life. We do more together than I do with anyone else. Eve is an actress and is still working. She works in tv, movies, commercials and is a member of a theater company. She has a recurring role on the show Baskets starring Louis Anderson and Zach Galifianakis. We went to the season wrap party where I met most of the main actors. As usual, we also went to many plays, musicals, movies, museums and restaurants.  

Myrtle wrapped and folded for the flight home

I made a reservation for a $69 flight to Portland from Burbank for 2 days after Mitzi left for France.  My friend Mary was able to drive me to the airport which was fantastic. Again, there was no extra charge for Myrtle and the flight was very easy. My friends Dave and Edna picked me and Myrtle up and gave us a ride to the house. Wow o wow was this easy. It was great to see them and be back.

Panniers getting weighed
Well, that ends my incredible tour of Colombia. This tour turned out to be so different that I originally expected. I also did things on this tour that I've never done on previous tours and I liked the changes so much I'll probably adopt these changes for future tours. For instance, I stayed at every stop for at least 2 nights. This made the tour much more relaxed. I had plenty of time to take care of everything without pressure to move on. I loved studying Spanish and staying with families. Everyone I stayed with was outstanding and these experiences made my trip much richer. I would also like to do this again on future tours. Another unusual thing I did was start intermittent fasting and the Ketogenic diet. I ended up losing close to 30 lbs of weight and feel much better. One big surprise was the availability of hotels. There were hotels everywhere and I never stayed anywhere sketchy or in places that made me nervous for my safety. I brought a tent and never used it. I don't mind camping but I don't have the courage to camp alone especially in a foreign country. The tent weighs almost 3 lbs and takes up a lot of room in my panniers. Maybe I'll leave it at home for my next tour. The other surprise was the costs for everything was very affordable and cheaper than I expected. I have a healthy budget for my travels and I was able to save a substantial amount of money over the 6 months I was in Colombia. (I'll be able to use the savings to replace some of my camera and computer gear for my next tour.) Being so close to the equator, the weather was hot, especially along the coast, but not as hot as I expected and not as hot as my Mexico tour last year. There was very little bad weather. From Bogotá to Medellín I had no rain while I was riding. It was just dumb luck that the wind was at my back riding along the coast where the winds were very strong every day.  I chose the route simply because I could ride on the ocean side of the road. The people everywhere were helpful, generous and patient with my cycling speed and poor Spanish language skills. My photo was probably taken 10,000 times. My only real disappointment was with the cooked food. There is simply too much salt in the food and I found it to be overwhelming. All the salt made everything taste the same. But, all in all, I found Colombia to be a very welcoming country with little foreign tourism. Colombia is a gem of a country and well worth a visit. I expect to be back again.

Thanks Colombia for a wonderful tour and to everyone for following along!!!

Thanks for following me on FaceBookTwitterInstagram and subscribing to my YouTube channel