October 22, 2016


As I mentioned in a previous post, flights into Colombia was, the first time for us, in South America, where things started totally sliding into pseudo chaos on this trip.  Nothing that couldn't be managed, but a way of existence that requires more flexibility and less commitment to our US perspectives.  Turns out, in South America, plans are more like dreams.

Very poor photo of Montserrat, Bogota and the funicular up.
They may or may not happen as you wish, but only time will tell.  This sounds very metaphysical, but in reality, it's much more practical.  Like laundry, hot water, electricity, the ride to the transit you need, these are the things that may happen "Ahora" which, I learned in my most recent Spanish school does *not* mean "now" here.  Instead it means something more like "sometime," and at least in Medellin, if you mean now, you must say "Ya" which means "already" as in, "Necesito mi cafe ya, tengo que irme" or "I need my coffee already, because I"m leaving now, not, in 30 minutes, which is apparently the normal local interpretation of 'now'".  I agree with the young woman who interrupted our lesson to say, "Excuse my language, but this is mind-fuck!"

In Bogota, the first night, sleeping in a Western business hotel on points, I started to get very uncomfortable when I realized that our plan to get to Panama had some serious flaws.

This weather forecast did not bode well for 5 days of sailing in a small single-hull vessel.
Flaw #1 -- E doesn't handle heat and humidity well, and the weather in Cartagena didn't look great, nor would the boat from Cartagena to Panama have air conditioning.  Flaw #2 -- sailing in thunderstorms and rain sounds like the kind of thing that was going to be a bit hard to endure and would probably burn through a *ton* of wife points.  I'm already running a bit low with this whole year of travel where much of it involves too much unpacking and re-packing, moving, chaos, laundry, and cultures, and other difficulties in foreign languages that E'd just as soon avoid (to be clear, he's totally doing it and enjoying it (toughing it out?) with me, but I do have to acknowledge that much of this year is about us following my dreams and him being a very supportive partner rather than him checking off items on his bucket list).  Flaw #3 -- both getting to Cartagena on late notice and getting back from Panama to South America was looking *very* expensive from my flight searches.

One of many breathtaking murals from the Bogota graffiti tour.

Initially, I figured, hey, let's just skip Panama, problem solved.  But, turns out, one of the things E *really* wants to do on this trip is see the Panama Canal, in action, so that option was off the table.

Bogota graffiti

After a bunch of late night searching on gloriously dependably functional Wi-Fi (oh, Western hotel chains, how I do love thee), I finally found some budget fares direct to Panama City from Medellin on VivaColombia to a random US-military base in Panama City (Howard AFB) and we agreed to put off Cartagena for another trip.  I was disappointed to eliminate Cartagena as we'd heard so many wonderful things about it, but since arriving in South America, we'd heard nothing but absolute raves for Medellin from other travelers we'd met (several admitted to spending way more time than they intended), and the Toucan Spanish School looked like it would be a good fit for me to do a week of intensive study while E chilled out in a relatively modern well-appointed city.

Bogota/US cultural center commissioned piece -- gorgeous.
So, for the first time (but no doubt, not the last) we dropped some of our plan.  Bye-Bye Cartagena.  We'll have to visit another time (hopefully with the sail to Panama and the San Blas Islands, too).  I was sad to let it go, but also relieved.  After the chaos just of our flights into Bogota (a large international airport) I'd started to opt into my other travel-self.  The one that just sort of goes with the flow and assumes that at least 50% of stuff probably won't work (the self I'd developed living in rural Italy.)

My absolute favorite Bogota graffiti piece
We loved Bogota -- it felt like a real city with a functional economy that was more amused at us as tourists rather than dependent on us.  Emboldened by how comfortable we felt in Bogota, we got over the sting of our last AirBNB failure (with the bad review) and applied for and got accepted as guests at an apartment in Medellin for a week, near the Aguacatala metro station as recommended by several bay area travelers (all Cal alumni or students, oddly) that we met in Bogota.  We arrived without incident and found it to be perfectly functional after a bit of investigation and experimentation.
Medellin apt hot water heater -- runs on 2 D batteries.

Gas switches in the apt -- if off, no hot water, nor gas for cooking.

The centrifuge on our Medellin apt washer -- multiple spin runs per wash load.

The washing compartment of the washer.
The dryer.
I definitely love Colombia and am looking forward to the next trip when we do Cartagena.  Medellin is a wonderfully livable city and we very much enjoyed our time here.  I did 26 hours of teacher-led Spanish study in 4 days at Toucan School and while my brain is fried, I can finally speak reasonably in the past tense, which is much more important and useful than you'd realize unless you are stuck without it.

View of Medellin from the Metrocable.
We tried to go to the Bolivian embassy in Medellin, but the address we found was a mechanic shop.  This is one sentence to describe, but it took several hours.  This, plus "Ahora" not meaning "now" and delicious cheap food with friendly people is our experience of South America thus far in a nutshell.

Initially, we figured we could just go get our Bolivian visas at the embassy in Panama.  But when we started researching flights to La Paz, we were shocked out how expensive they were.  Again, after much investigation and soul searching (should we go through Peru and across lake Titicaca or some other bizarre route?) we decided to cut out yet another part of the trip.  Bolivia will also have to wait until another time. 

Bandeja paisa (typical Medellin meal for BT) and buffalo steak for E - $14 total, with beers.
Finally, after several hours of travel hacking we booked multi-city flights from Medellin to Panama, to Rosario (Argentina), and then to Cordoba (Argentina).  From Cordoba, it's a short hop to Santiago, from where we fly back to Atlanta.

You may note that I'd mentioned earlier that we'd already booked reasonably priced flights from Medellin to Panama before we booked the AirBNB in Medellin.  Turns out, due to travel ridiculousness, it was cheaper (like even after throwing away the Panama one-way flights, we saved $400 US per person) to do the multi-city flights from Medellin to Panama and back including the additional Argentina stop than it would have been just to do the one-way flight from Panama to Argentina (or pretty much anywhere in South America), so we have 2 flights to Panama today, but we'll just not be showing up for one of them.  (Travel tip -- Copa Airlines subsidizes the hell out of flights that include a stay in Panama.) 

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