I haven’t written in more than a month. March 12th to be precise. A lot has happened since then, to put it lightly. But now I am back to chronicling my 9 months away from home, during the months of June through February.
The last article “The Journey Begins” chronicled my whirlwind tours in Chile, Bolivia and Peru over 18 days. By June 18th, I was ready for some rest and was heading to Colombia for more than a month. I was planning to chill out and call it my home for a while.
My first stop was Medellin. As luck would have it (good or bad, you decide) I was having some knee problems when I arrived in Colombia. The Colca Canyon Trek near Arequipa, Peru had done me in. Luckily I was staying at the NH Medellin Royal, not a bad place to be immobile for a few days with a nice pool and amenities. They even paid for a doctor to come out and examine my knee. A few days of 800 mg Ibuprofen thrice-a-day regimen and I was good to go! I realized I had needed the rest and the down time was great.
Once I felt better, I took a tour of Comuna 13 in Medellin. It blew me away! The graffiti lining the streets was so colorful and unique and each picture painted an elaborate story.
You see, Comuna 13 was once one of the roughest neighborhoods in Medellin and had the highest gang-related death rate in Colombia at that time. After a couple of decades of heavy violence during an era we all know about, when Medellin decided to turn things around, they did it with heart and conviction. Now Comuna 13 is one of the safest neighborhoods and I felt perfectly secure there. It is an example for other places!
Another day I decided to check out Parque Arvi. It was an adventure for me because I would be taking public transport all the way! That meant, one trip by metro, followed by two trips by cable car. Once again, expect the unexpected. One of the cable cars was out of service and we would have bus service instead. So I would have an unexpected bus ride through a dangerous comuna! Great. On top of that, the bus drivers drive up and down the hills like Formula One champs and sure enough our driver hit a parked car. Parked on a steep incline, in a shady comuna, with locals getting combative. It’s not exactly the most reassuring of situations. Somehow we were all able to leave unscathed when the next bus showed up and of course we crammed into it like sardines! And I finally made it to Parque Arvi.
Started my adventure by catching the metro in Poblado
It was a nice park with a few trails and some nice bird watching. One of the highlights was having Sancocho (a Colombian soup and delicacy) by the side of the road. Life’s simple pleasures.
After 5 days in Medellin I flew to Santa Marta. I was meeting Bastien from France. We were cabin-mates on the MS Expedition bound for Antarctica in January 2019, just 6 months before. Bastien and I became good friends on that ten day trip to Antarctica. We were both going to be in the Santa Marta region around the same time by random coincidence. I had no plans to climb to La Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) through treacherous terrain and weather again, having hiked there 2 years ago. Nor did Bastien have this on his radar of things to do. I brought this up with him one day. It was just in passing. I said it was a nice trek (read torturous). Before we knew it we were making plans to do the trek together. It was one of those exchanges with few words. You both know this is going to happen.
My trekking to the Lost City a second time was utter madness to many! I must have a forgotten how painful climbing up the slippery red clay was after a downpour, or how we crossed rivers that were waist deep due to torrential rain or how the the dampness of the jungle was so strong that my phone got destroyed.
Bastien taking the plunge; Slippery red clay after the rains
After spending the evening, reunited in Santa Marta, having some awesome Thai food and getting a good night’s sleep the night before, Bastien and I walked over to the Expotour office the following morning. We dropped off our luggage there and were ready for our 4 very long days in the wilderness of Colombia. We were going extremely light with a day pack so as to make this killer of a trek as comfortable as possible. So very few clothes and almost no outer layers. Except for my rain jacket – a futile attempt at staying dry, but it just seemed wrong not to have it. And of course socks. Multiple socks. Your feet and boots were going to get soaked. Be it rain, river crossings or just humidity. Do not skimp on the socks. 3 pairs at least 😉. I did have my Tevas for the river crossings and that was a life saver. I saw every one else cringe as they stepped on sharp rocks with their bare feet.
We had a nice group of people from the US, UK, France and the Netherlands. Bastien and I had plenty of time to catch up on the last 6 months. He was towards the end of his year-long world tour and I was just beginning my year off. So it was a beautiful time to cross paths again.
The 3rd day of our trek is when we had our final push to La Ciudad Perdida. We got up at 5:00 am, and after a hearty breakfast we started meandering by the Buritaca River, crossed it and then started climbing up 1200 steps until the Lost City appeared.
Ruins in the form of circular terraces of the ancient Tayrona civilization that are even older than Machu Pichu, kept appearing as we kept ascending.
And just like two years ago, I felt a spiritual tug and I could feel my mother’s energy all around. She was a big part of my taking this year off. She has passed away just two years ago. I was dealing with loss, with closure and self-healing. I feel her presence when I am around environments that are pure and beautiful. The Lost City in the midst of the Colombian jungle, untouched by modern civilization definitely was a force field.
And to top things off I taught a yoga class at the request of the group and once again, it was one of the most ethereal experiences. I feel privileged to have been able to do that.
After Santa Marta, Bastien and I headed to Cartagena. What better place to chill out than by the coast?
Cartagena’s colorful buildings; My street in Getsemani
We spent one night celebrating with some of Bastien’s friends from France and then he was off to San Andres Island.
I remained in Cartagena doing nothing in particular. One day I went to Playa Blanca by boat – a white sandy beach where I enjoyed some swimming, lounging around and some delicious grilled fish for lunch.
Where I was staying in Cartagena was Getsemani – a less touristy area, outside the “Walled City”. So every night there were people dancing in the streets, so never a dull moment.
I even made some new friends.
The great Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez
From Cartagena I caught a flight to Cali on July 1st. Cali is where I wanted to spend most of my time. I had visited Cali the year before but just for a day! It was an insane 24 hour trip from Bogota and it was just to visit my friends Natalia and Felipe, who I had met separately.
I had met Natalia while she was bartending in Buenos Aires and Felipe I’d met on a bike tour of Bogota.
On this visit I would miss Felipe – he was doing a study abroad for his doctorate in Chicago. I was happy I was going to spend some time with Natalia and her family. I settled into my private room with a bathroom at the Hostel Pajara Pinta in San Antonio. It was the perfect location. I could walk up the hill to the church and to a beautiful look out with an amazing view of Cali, in just a few minutes.
And I could also walk to the river and the Boulevard – where there’s always life, street vendors and music.
The hostel had a lot of hidden corners where one could just read or write. This is where I started writing my blog.
Cali proved to be exactly what I had sought. A quiet place to call home. I did a variety of things while there in the next 2 weeks. I went mountain biking in the hills in an area called Pance.
It was quite amazing. Very few cars around and lots of hills – just the way I like it. I went with a local guide Oscar who was amazing!
Another day I went tubing in the rivers near San Cipriano. It was a really great experience just floating down the river!
And we found a spot where we could do some cliff jumping. I’m normally not into that sort of silliness. But when the mood is right, I say “why not?”.
And riding the Brujita’s (which literally means “Little Witches”) was a thrill. Old rail lines are being used by motorcycles pulling a cartful of people. You have to see it to believe it. Here, I’ll show you what it looks like below. Basically you are straddling a long seat like a witch’s broom.
Cali is a walking city. I regularly walked from my hostel in San Antonio to La Hermita, a beautiful white cathedral.
One day I accidentally ended up on the road to Cristo Rey where there is a big statue of Christ. I just kept walking uphill and in a couple of hours I was at the statue.
It was a bit brazen as nobody walks up that road and in general one should not go through a neighborhood without first knowing about it. But everything turned out A-OK! But I did not walk back. I took a taxi.
I made some new friends while down in Cali and it was great just walking around town and seeing new sites.
Most of all though I felt very much at home in this place. Cali is a bit like Dhaka, Bangladesh. There are distinct pockets of wealth and there are the poorer neighborhoods. The architectural style of the posh areas resembles that of Dhaka – clean cut square looking buildings, painted mostly in white with a smattering of red brick every now and then. And the streets of Cali were a mess, just like Dhaka. The sidewalk would end abruptly as you were walking along. The weather was very tropical, similar to Dhaka, adding to a sense of familiarity.
I enjoyed these lazy Cali days immensely and many a time I would just sit by the balcony of the Pajara Pinta with a cold Club Colombia or Poker, writing away. Inspired by this fabulous city, hands down my favorite in Colombia.
Mid-July after two weeks in Cali I heard the beach calling and I headed to the Carribean island of San Andres. Still Colombian territory. I would be there for a week. I was lucky. The day after I got there Bastien was coming to San Andres from Providencia (another island that’s part of the San Andres archipelago)!
We would have one more night of revelry together! It was a pivotal moment in his journey as he was leaving for Paris the next day. It was the end of a year of self discovery for him. I was but 6 weeks into mine! We spent the evening talking late into the night by the beach. A few Club Colombias in hand. It was good to check in with each other. From Antarctica to the Lost City of the Tayrona … and now by the Caribbean paradise of San Andres.
The next morning we got up early, just as we did on the MS Expedition in Antarctica, and we did yoga. What a privilege, to seal off Bastien’s year of travels with yoga.
After Bastien’s departure I spent several days lounging around the beaches of San Andres. One day I went out on a sailboat excursion. It was amazing. It turned out to be a series of sailboats pulled through the water by a motorized boat. But the seas were amazing – El Mar De Siete Colores (the Seas of Seven Colors).
And my friend Cindy from Cali flew out to join me for my last few days. So that was an added treat! We went on the Aquario tour – a tour of Johnny Cay, Rose Cay & Haynes Cay Islands which includes a natural aquarium – some of the best snorkeling ever.
It was the perfect R&R right before my flight to Argentina on July 22nd. I was just as excited to be going to Buenos Aires, my home away from home…but Cali was tugging at my heart.
Would I be back soon? Watch out for the next post to find out 😉