Still on the Road – South America Version

It has been a few months since our last post!

We covered a far bit of territory over the months since we returned to Canada from Mexico and now we are in our second month in South America (Colombia). This blog is organized around our time in Canada and our first couple of months here in Colombia. We have added at the bottom some general information about traveling in Colombia just in case anyone is thinking about spending some time here…or if we come back:)

First a bit of a catch up. Arriving back in Kelowna at the end of April, we rented our neighbor’s suite for two months (May and June). This gave us an important opportunity to stay connected with friends and family and also to get some yard work done at our house. We invested in a couple of kayaks while we were in Kelowna. These kayaks have now been  hauled out to the island for a month (July) and then back across the prairies and north western Ontario to the Sault (Sault Ste Marie, Ontario). It has been wonderful to be able to get out on the water and see the world from a different perspective. We are looking forward to many years of getting good use out of them.

Our month on Vancouver Island (in Victoria) was spent helping Rachel and Dave settle into their new home. Both Larry and I had big projects to tackle while we were there. Larry pulled a lot of weeds, cut back some deadwood on the trees and built a lovely rock wall at the front of the house. I (Penny) took on a huge pile of mulch and installed a low maintenance irrigation system in the front yard. This is the most time we have spent in Victoria proper and we enjoyed the easy access to the Galloping Goose trail system and the local beaches. Such a lovely city and we are looking forward to spending more time there next year!

The early part of August we spent driving back to Ontario, visiting friends and family on the way. Many thanks to Christine and Art, Jenny, Marilyn and Aldain, Stan and Donna, and Laurie and Marcus for their hospitality as we wound our way across B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

We arrived in Ontario just in time to house sit for Cam and Gail for a couple of weeks (as well as pet sit one of our favorite dogs). Cam and Gail generously welcomed us for 2 months at their place – less our 10 day excursion to the Eastern Townships of Quebec and Southern Ontario. I think their friends were a little shocked at how long we stayed but it worked out pretty well all around. We had lots of time to help build a tree fort and stairs out on their property, visit with Penny’s mom and family, visit with friends, and get in a little bit of kayaking.  Our short trip to the Eastern Townships of Quebec was a great introduction to the biking trails and the wineries of that region. We drove some of the slower highways along the St Lawrence River on our way to Toronto, taking the time to see some of the lovely Ontario communities that dot the seaway. Our main objective was to get to the Blue Jay’s game (they lost). Unfortunately, while we were at the game our bikes were stolen. Next time better locks, take a wheel and the seat off, and don’t go to Toronto!

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Spending time with Penny’s mom at Batchewana Bay, Lake Superior is always a time of visiting memories. And dinner afterwards at the Voyager restaurant is a part of the tradition!

From Toronto we drove through south western Ontario to stay at Penny’s cousin’s cottage on Lake Huron. Such a beautiful place. Even though it was September the water was still a lovely temperature and the sunsets were awesome too. After a couple of days in Ancaster to visit relatives, we headed back to the Sault. We really managed to travel the full width of Ontario and almost circumnavigate Southern Ontario.

We left Ontario early October and flew directly to Armenia, Colombia. Arriving in a new place, especially when the language is different always seems to be a bit of a shock. Being able to stay with our friends Steve and Heidi made our adjustment pretty smooth. While there we explored the surrounding coffee country, watched some parades and just hung out with our friends.

 

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Salento – a small coffee town outside of Armenia. Picturesque and surrounded by green hills, fincas, and wax palms

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Overlooking the Valle de Corcora: a national park that protects the wax palms trees. Again lots of hiking and also trout!

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Coffee valley view from a coffee shop in Buenavista.

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Big Decisions! What coffee to have and what pastry to order 🙂

We spent three and a half weeks in Armenia and then the four of us flew north for a week in Cartagena and Santa Marta. Cartagena was delightful. We stayed at an Airbnb in the old town which allowed us to leisurely explore the streets, parks, sunset viewing sites, and the restaurants. Our time in Santa Marta allowed us to visit Minca (a small village up in the mountains not far from Santa Marta) and Tayrona National park. Both places lend themselves to longer stays either camping (or staying in a hammock) or in hostels, boat trips to more remote beaches, or multiday hikes to lost cities.

November 5th we said our sad good-byes to Steve and Heidi. They returned to Armenia and then on to Paraguay while we headed to Medellín. We were welcomed to Medellín by the slight challenge of securing a seat on the bus at the airport, followed by pouring rain and numerous attempts to grab a taxi. We did eventually arrive at our hostel a little wet and a little late! We have spent a month here exploring the city, living the routine of day to day life, meeting delightful people at our  hostel, continuing to learn spanish, and going to a local gym.

Medellín was known as the murder capital of the world a few decades ago and Colombia has been known in the past for its political conflicts, drug cartels, and a lot of violence. Today the country is on a path to peace and Medellín has been transformed into a cosmopolitan city with amazing infrastructure (the metro is a good example as well as drinkable water from the tap), commerce, sports and culture. There is still a need for caution in some parts of the city – but mostly during the night and on days when the vendors and stores are closed. If you come to Medellīn we highly recommend the Real City Walking Tour as a way to learn more about the city and its history.

Medellin’s transformation has come from the resilience of the Paisas (residents of Medellín) and a principle based city plan that includes social planning combined with architectural design, education with dignity, and transportation links to the poorer communities. Libraries have been built in the poorest communities and their building design has included skateboarding parks, story telling spaces, and computer access. Downtown areas have been reclaimed by putting in place social programs and creating public spaces that are open and inviting. Communities that were once considered dangerous have been reclaimed, in part, through public art and music. These are impressive achievements. However, the people of Medellīn will also talk about the continuing problems prostitution and drug use. They remain proud of their city and we were often approached with a ‘welcome to Medellīn.’ Here are some pictures that will speak better than words.

And a few pictures from a small town outside of Medellín called Guatapé. A worthwhile day trip (and it would make a nice overnight trip as well).

We leave Medellín on the 5th of December. Right now the plan is to spend a couple of months in Ecuador and we are considering Peru as our final destination before heading back to Ontario in mid March. We must be in Victoria for the last week of March because Rachel and Dave are expecting our first grandchild in early April! We are excited to be there to help out and we will be staying in their basement suite over the summer… After that the slate is blank but I am sure we will begin to get a plan together for our next travel plan.

Travel Tips:

  • Colombian currency is in thousands (mils). $10.000 is 10 mil and converts to approximately $4.50 CDN.
  • The international airport is an hour outside of the city. It is pretty easy to catch a public bus (cost $8.000). The bus stops at San Diego and then should also go to the downtown Hotel Nutibarra. Ours didn’t seem to be doing the second stop, so we were directed to the Metro. The metro is easy, but it would be a good idea to download a map before you arrive in Medellín. We ended up catching a cab. They are inexpensive.
  • Street addresses in Medellin for the most part reflect the Carrera and Calle for the location. For example our hostels address is Carrera 81a #47a-48. This means it is on Carrera 81a, 47a is the cross Calle, and 48 is the house number. Very helpful to know.
  • The metro costs a little over $2,000. You can buy a pre-charged card at the ticket booth (it is a tap card for the entrance gates). When you use the last ‘ticket on the card, you just drop it in the slot on the turnstile and then it will let you enter. There is also a civic card which I have not figured out 🙂
  • You can drink the tap water in Medellīn!
  • If you are staying near the Floresta metro station, check out Mercado la America. it is a bit of a walk, but the food there is good quality and good prices.
  • Wine is expensive (and this is in the context of being cheap spenders on wine:)) in Colombia. We found cheap wine at Un Tiendo on Cra 80 and at the Exito.
  • If you go to the escalators electric in comuna 13, try to connect with the grafitti artists. You can buy original art from Chota 13 or check him out on instagram @chota_13
  • Cross the streets carefully! Always look both ways many time.
  • We often heard that such and such a place in Colombia is dangerous and we shouldn’t go there. Subsequently we would meet someone who had been there and really liked the place and had  no problems. Our conclusion is that many places in Colombia are changing and what used to be dangerous is now getting better. Ask around (and even Colombians can be out of sync), and take the normal common sense precautions.

Recommended Places to Visit and Things to Do in Medellín:

  • Parque Arvi
  • Cable cars (2 now and a third is apparently coming)
  • Museo de Arte Moderno
  • Museo Antioquia
  • Jardin Botanica
  • Parque Botero, Berrío, de los Pies Descalzos
  • Comuna 13 and Viente Julio
  • Cerro Volador
  • join a gym or check out yoga
  • Find a Spanish Tutor (I recommend Mile Your Spanish Class Medellin)
  • Stay in a hostal. It is a fun way to meet people and to learn from their experiences. We recommend The Yellow House)

 

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