Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Colombia: Medellin City Tour

Even though it's Colombia's 2nd biggest city, I had never heard of Medellin until I started my international job hunt. Due to the climate, it was actually my #1 choice for a job (but they didn't pick me!). Medellin used to have a terrible reputation during the 90's due to lots and lots of drug violence and the infamous Pablo Escobar. Now, though, it's a beautiful city and the local paisas are very proud of their city-and they LOVE tourists! On my first day here I took a free city tour, where most of the photos were taken. Many locals said hello, welcome to Medellin! The tour guide explained that Colombians are just so happy that they are now a popular tourist destination, after so many years of violence. As a free plug, the city tour (Real City Tours) was about 5 hours long and it was amazing!! Highly recommended. There is a lot of history in the city, and the locals are none to eager to paint their city in a negative light, so the tour was a good way to learn about it. 

There are sculptures, statues, parks, and art EVERYWHERE in this city!
In the background is the Parque Cisneros and Plaza de Las Luces -Plaza of Lights. It used to be a dangerous slum with lots of drugs, with but the city turned it into a lovely park. It's beautiful at night!
One of my few selfies this trip!

Used to be the National Palace....now a shopping mall. 

Remember these guys from Bogota? Yep, more Botero sculptures!

A cathedral that was never finished...some problem with the architect or the money.

This Botero sculpture of a bird was destroyed by a bombing in 1995 that killed 20 people. The city hurried to remove it but Botero asked that it be kept as a reminder. He also fashioned a new one, below, which stands beside it. 

Parque San Antonio, where both of the above statues are, was completely deserted. In a country that loves to congregate outside in parks, it was very strange. I was told that paisas would rather not dwell on the history of violence in their city, so maybe that's why. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Colombia: Bogota

I will come right out and say it: I was prepared to dislike Bogota. I'd read that it is huge, dirty, dangerous, and rainy. The first was true-Bogota is enormous! And certainly the last is normally true, but I had great weather. However, it turned out that I really liked Bogota. This had a lot to do with the fact that I stayed with a good friend I worked with last year, and she and her husband showed me around the city. I think finding my way around otherwise would have been overwhelming! With 2-4 of us going to many sites, taking a taxi was quite affordable so I didn't have much experience with public transit. We saw many different highlights:

Plaza de Bolivar
What would any South American city be without its huge plaza, after all?

Paloquemao Market- a popular, huge market selling everything. Fruits, vegetables, housewares, meat (including whole dead animals!), flowers, and more. It was very colorful and fun to look at the foreign fruits they sell.

Parque Bolivar: a huge park in the city, with lakes, many playgrounds, paths to walk and bike on, soccer fields, etc. 

 Usaquen is a cute part of town with nice parks and restaurants. We came here specifically so I could try ajiaco soup, a Colombian specialty. It was DELICIOUS!! I love how it comes with all the toppings and you assemble it yourself.

Cerro de Monserrate
This is a nice place to visit in the Christmas season because of all the lights! However it was VERY crowded. We had to wait in line to take the funicular up for about 2 hours. Once we got up there, it was nice to walk around, see the lights, get a view of the city, and drink some amazing hot chocolate!

Museo Botero-Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist and his sculptures and paintings are easy to identify by their skewed proportions. (Both pictures below are from the museum's website)

As you can see, I managed to see quite a big of Bogota in my limited time there. We also managed to have an amazing Christmas dinner with my friend and the other expats she works with, complete with turkey and all the fixins! Apparently I was too busy eating to take any pictures, oops. Still to come: Bogota's graffiti tour!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Colombia: Playa Blanca

Although Colombia is famous for its beaches, the beaches right around Cartagena are nothing special. I had heard that Playa Blanca was a great day trip or getaway, though so Beau and I went to check it out. After waiting a million hours in the blazing sun we were off on a boat. Some people did a longer boat tour to many places, but we got off at Playa Blanca right away instead.

Getting a place to stay was no problem. You can just walk along the beach asking for prices and to see the accommodations. After checking out a few, we picked this little hut. Here's the view.

The main activities here are: sitting/lying/reading on the beach, walking along the beach, getting fancy drinks on the beach, and eating and sleeping. There were people going on Jet-ski rides and riding on inflatable things behind boats, and our little hut guy would have loaned us a kayak as well. That's pretty much it! We had a great time, but were pretty glad we only opted to stay one night instead of two.

This guy has a wheelbarrow of all you need for a fancy beachy drink, right out of a coconut!

The sunset was fantastic.

 The next day we had a (wild) boat ride back into Cartagena. Here's a view of the city skyline from the wate.r

Insider Tips:
  • No need to book lodging ahead. DO look at each place, as they can vary a bit. You can stay in a cabana, camp, or sleep in a hammock.
  • Might as well buy your boat ride out a day in advance. The hotel guys can usually arrange your boat back, but ours didn't show up and he basically sent us to join another boat. Luckily it all worked out in the end.
  • I'd be hard pressed to spend more than 24 hours here, but to each his own! Bring more than one book!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Colombia Stop #1: Cartagena

I started my long vacation in the beautiful city of Cartagena, Colombia. I stayed in the walled city, which is a great place to just walk around and take pictures of the colorful houses and flowers. As a bonus, there were also lots of Christmas lights up. Here are some shots taken around the city.

One of the fun outings you can do here is go see the Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas, a fortress built in the 17th and 18th centuries to protect the Spanish from invasions, and it's one fort that has never been overtaken. By this time in the trip friend and coworker Beau had joined me so we checked it out together. 

Another fun thing to do in Cartagena is have dinner or a drink on "the wall." It may not look like anything special...
 But if you plan your visit around sunset you'll see what the big deal is!

Travel in Colombia, especially Cartagena, is more expensive than most South American countries, so budget appropriately. Of course you can save some money if you have the luxury of coming in the off season.
In or near the walled city, if possible. I stayed part of the time at El Viajero Hostel, which I can recommend, especially for their private rooms. They have a great location. I also spent a few nights with a friend at Sonesta Hotel. The hotel was very nice, but it wasn't in walking distance to ANYTHING so anytime we wanted to go into town, get a meal, or have a drink it meant a cab ride somewhere. Not ideal unless you plan on renting a car.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Travel plans

I've been slacking lately. :( Somehow the months are just rushing by me! Now, I am hitting the road again! This time for a month in Colombia and a month back in Patagonia. I'm still alive, but not bringing my laptop and not planning on posting until I get back. I promise I will update when I return!