Colombia: Two Months Deep

Colombia: Two Months Deep

I’ve been lazy about updates on here the last month – though truth be told – I haven’t had a great deal to talk about since I’ve mostly gone into total study/work/stay clean mode for the finale of my Medellin tenure. This Friday I will be starting an epic trip that begins in Colombia’s capital, hops around the Caribbean and then heads down to Brazil for the last week and a half of the World Cup. That will be followed by a clockwise circumnavigate of South and Central America – and then on to god knows where next.  Yes, it’s a hard life.

I expect this to take several months and absolutely expect to get no work done. (Though it will provide plenty of updates to this blog!) Hence, the need to get as much work done as possible.

On top of that, is the reason I came to Medellin in the first place – to get a basic handle on Spanish. Although that’s been reasonably successful, I think my lessons have become counter productive in the last week. The mind can only digest so many new things at once, and with four hours of new information every day for two months, it’s starting to overflow into mental purgatory. Right now we’re dealing with the correct usage of two of the five past tense verb conjugations. Or maybe it’s unicorns. I tuned out a couple of days ago. The important thing is I know enough to order a beer and tell Latinas I’m a dolphin trainer/astronaut.

Encouraging my serious approach to getting things done has been the appalling weather. Technically it’s winter here, which means rain, which means Tropical Storm Jorge the CXIIII blowing over every other week and keeping the city paralyzed in torrential multi-day monsoons.

It hasn’t all been study buddy time though; the month preceding it was off the hook, which in itself was preceded by Las Vegas (I know some people want a story of this, but I only have so many fresh ways to spin excessive partying). But in Colombia itself was, Semana Santa (Easter week), where I did get one week off from class to spend on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

First up, Colombia’s National Airline – Avianca – take a bow. How the floating junkyard, better known as United, acts as the national airline for the most powerful nation on earth, while an impoverished southerly neighbor best known for violence and cocaine serves up a carrier as good as you’d expect from Singapore. My flight from Medellin to Cartagena convinced me that I’d be flying with Avianca every chance I got from then on.

Touching down in Cartagena after been in Medellin’s altitude induced year round spring is a slight shock. Cartagena is hot, and the sea breeze that sweeps over it only serves as a mirage for a blow dryer.

It is pretty though, with many esteeming it as the prettiest old town in all of South America.  Founded in 1533 as one of the first Spanish cities in the New World, the city was rapidly developed into grandeur just as Francis Drake arrived from England to partially level and loot it in 1586. This prompted the building of the city walls that encircle the city today, though these took 200 years to complete and the city was plundered again, this time by the French, midway through their construction. Despite that run of bad luck, much of the original 16th century city stands beautifully intact today. Conveniently, my hostel, El Viajero, was located right amongst it.

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Unfortunately, pretty, is not the word you’d use to describe the beaches in the cities immediate vicinity. They’re awfully crowded, and god knows why, since the sand is more sludge, and the water – equally enticing. So the next day, me and a few others from my hostel took a 40-minute speedboat ride out to the infinitely superior Playa Blanca, located on Baru Island just off the city coast. Minus all the hawkers, it’s a nice way to spend a day, and I also got a valuable lesson out of it: The Caribbean sun is Hitler. Having never been sunburned in either Asia or Europe, I assumed I thought nothing of omitting sunblock. I was incinerated, and would probably have to rate it as the worst sunburn of my life. I wasn’t the only one as well. The girls from the hostel had lathered up and looked just as bad as me. But then I looked at their sunscreen tube and saw it was ‘SPF 5’. If there is a more useless product in circulation, I’ve yet to see it.

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Deep fried and feeling awful, me and one of the girls did what anybody on a YOLO budget would do – and checked into the nicest hotel in town – The Sofitel Santa Clara Legend Hotel – which really is legendary. The building dates from 1621 when it was the luxurious super mansion of the Spanish Viceroy, and has been beautifully maintained since.  Even just walking into the lobby will inundate the senses with old world charm on a colossal scale.  Asides from feeling as though I were Hernán Cortés, I was just happy to be somewhere comfortable where I could turn my room into an igloo via the air-con while slathered up in Aloe Vera.

The next afternoon we took a bus to Santa Marta, which officially stands as the oldest colonial city on the Continent. But it seemed sleepy when I was there, and with time of the essence, almost immediately hitched a cab 15 minutes further round the headland to the infamous town of Taganga.

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With a population of about 5,000, Taganga is small – but bursts at the seems with revelers every night. The Hostel I checked into ‘Casa de Felipe’ had me loving the place immediately. While no residency of Spainish Viceroy, it was laid out like a small resort, had a juice bar and nice restaurant attached, and was full of cool people. There are a couple of beaches to chill on, and you can dive in the area for very cheap – but it’s all low quality. Most people are here to get loose at night, and if you’re not, there really isn’t much else to do. Fortunately, I was in the mood.  In fact, I was basically a caricature of a backpacker in Colombia, while having some crazy girls from Montreal and Israel in it for the ride with me. It’s worth mentioning that for some reason, half the freaking town was Israeli. My sunburn had begun to subside by this stage also, so I had a proper good time.

Anyway, that was 6 nights up on the Caribbean coast away from responsibilities. You can see why I was interested in having a quiet month off when I now have 6 months of that in front of me, starting tomorrow…

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