I am writing this post as my attempt to try and keep in touch with everyone that is someplace other than I am.
I flew into Cartagena, Colombia with no plan, and no friends, but I do have a whole lot of ambition and adventure, so no worries. I won´t lie to you though, despite the picturesque buildings and all the beauty of Cartagena, my first day wandering around was pretty lonely. I kind of started to think to myself, maybe I really was wrong about this and I should have listened to my friends and family when they said I was crazy. You are all right though, I am crazy. I made a promise to myself and said I will meet new people every single day, otherwise this trip is going to suck. The places I am visiting are nice and everything, but the journey is really about the people that I will share it with.
The second day I went on a day trip to Las Islas Rosarios by Cartagena. I met some Peruvian girls, a German, and of course some Brits and tons of Colombians. The islands were great, I got to go snorkeling and swim in Playa Blanca, I had a really good time and met all kinds of interesting people. I was really scared at first to talk to somone in Spanish because my Spanish isn´t too great, but once I started talking to the Peruvian girls they were really friendly and supportive of me practicing so it was nice and I felt comfortable.
I went to this crazy mud volcano the next day which was basically like a grey orgy of people just trying to move around but completely immobile. It was literally a volcano of mud that you climbed up and jumped into, it was so bizarre. I can understand how and why people drown in quicksand now.
That night in Cartagena I went out with a very interesting older British lady I met in the morning, looking for some live music. We met a really friendly Colombian-American girl and her friend who ended up taking us out all night and showing us the town from a locals eye. We went to all kinds of crazy places and ended up at the beach for sunrise somehow. It was really great to be shown around town by a local who really loved her city and her country and was just so friendly and kind in general. So much for all that propaganda about Colombia being really unsafe and stuff. After two weeks I have yet to feel unsafe even once.
After watching the sunrise on the beach I hopped on a bus upto Santa Marta where they had a huge festival going on. I stayed there a night and went to Tayrona National Park which was unbelivable. I met a really cool Israeli American guy that I hung out with most of the time. You have to hike through the rainforest for a couple of hours and then you are greeted by massive boulders and the power of the Caribbean Ocean along with lots of signs that say no swimming. With my ´´great´´ swimming skills, of course I decided to have a dip and the current was the strongest I have ever swam in. We continued walking down the beach for another hour or so all the way down and just chilled out for a couple days. I slept in a hammock, cooked with my friend on an open fire and spent a few days exploring true natural beauty.
From there I went to Taganga for a night to check out some festival or party on Wednesday nights at garaje which was really interesting. I met a guy that was traveling in Colombia with his sister and he was only 17! He really impressed me and I love to meet people like that because it pushes me to do go even further and do more things.
From Taganga I made the 17 hour bus journey down to Medellin, the city of eternal spring. I met Brett and Susy (friends from Oman) and was able to stay with them and their family which was awesome and really really nice of them. We went straight to the feria de flores, but we were a bit late and weren´t able to get great seats to see all the stuff. Nevertheless, it was still really cool to be part of the whole parade and everything with a real local family. Brett and Susy showed me around town for a bit and then we went on a chiva organized by AIESEC which is basically just a big open party bus that drives around town, it was glorious and it was raining.
The next night I met people from Chicago! In the last 3 years of traveling and such, I have never met someone else that was traveling from Chicago. I was talking to one of the older Colombian guys from Chicago and I asked him (in Spanish) to teach me something about Colombia that I can´t find in a book or online. He thought for a second, looked at me and just started grinning like crazy with his teeth. He said ESO ES COLOMBIA! He told me that these are the happiest, friendliest people you will ever meet in the world and then he proceeded to prove it to me. He grabbed my arm and took me over to a group of Colombians singing and dancing in the park where we were and he just started grinning and dancing and motioned for me to do the same, so I did. The people were great and everyone was saying hi, hows it going, where you from, etc. and I sat and talked with them (complete strangers introduced to me by a semi stranger) for at least 20 or 30 minutes. This was the best interaction I have had with people so far on my trip and it just proved that Colombia is safe and people are friendly and happy as ever despite what the news says.
The next day Brett and Susy took me to some Paisa Pueblos and I had some authentic bandeja Paisa and desserts as well. I wrapped up my last day in Medellin running some errands with Brett and just wandering around some places we hadn´t seen before. Medellin was really a beautiful city and I can´t wait to show you all pictures of it, I really hope I go back to the city of eternal spring very soon.
I hopped on another overnight bus from Medellin down to Popayan, a small village that usually has lots of students. I finally got to meet up with someone from couchsurfing and it was GREAT! She took me around to all her favorite little local places like this cafe her friend owned and the Morro from where you could see the whole town. I had some local empanadas, fruit juice, and tamales that you can only find in Poapayan that I would not have otherwise known about. She introduced me to her group of friends and all of just hung out at the cafe and I loved it, I felt like I was just another one of their friends hanging out in the cafe. I really wish I could have stayed longer here. Later at night I even met a friend that is really into photography so we went on top of the Morro and walked around town taking pictures at night. Popayan was really nice and a quaint little town, I would really love to visit when there´s lots of students and see how it feels in relation to U of I.
Popayan was kind of the end of my Colombian journey. I hopped on a bus from Popayan to Ipiales (border town) via Pasto. From Ipiales I took a minibus to the border and then walked accross. In Ecuador I hopped on another bus to get to Tulcan (another border town) From TulcanI hopped on another bus that brought me to Quito and here I am now. That is my trip so far, only 5 weeks left. Ecuador here I come.
Ciao for now