DAY 4Dec 30 2017
The deviation I organized for New Years was the bane of my existence but it went off without a hitch.
70 Remotes congregated in Cartagena. 35 from Kaizen, and the rest from other programs - Balboa, Libertatum, Magellan (all the names are pretty legit). We rang in 2018, and I silently celebrated my 50th country, on a rooftop in old town, under the fireworks and into the night.
Cartagena itself it one of the prettiest and funnest places I have ever visited. It’s like New Orleans in spirit, charm, and architecture, if you were to replace the street jazz with street salsa. The buildings and tile work look distinctly Portuguese. Fruit vendors line the streets. The nightlife and food life is incredible, and linen shops attract wealthier tourists off the street.
It’s all set to the backdrop of vivid Caribbean blue. After a day of poolside recovery we hired a boat and went island hopping into the sunset.
Happy 2018 ❤️
DAY 11Jan 06 2018
On to Medellin
It was apparent from the flight over, and reinforced by the drive into town, that Medellin is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Starkly different from Cartagena whose beauty is manmade by the architecture and the spirit of the people, Medellin is lush and mountainous and green. The smell in the suburbs of the city are thick of pine, and the valley itself feels like a tropical oasis. Waterfalls and streams weave through the town, parallel to the streets. There are so many trees. So many trees. There is constantly the sound of water flowing and sunshine alternates with dramatic, mountain thunderstorms. The weather is perfect — eternally spring, as it’s known — tee shirt days and sweater nights.
I’m sharing a three bedroom apartment with Daniel, Jace, and JenCho (my month one roomie). Our apartment is cute and has a great view. It’s the first apartment I’ve had that has actually felt like a home due to the decor and furnishings. It’s a bit of a walk to the town center, but it’s in a lusher part of town which I love. It’s a gated apartment complex with a pool and gym and playground, and I’ve almost forgotten that I’m going to have to pack up and leave in a few weeks.
The city of Medellin is extremely hilly. The only option to turn on any street is either straight uphill or straight downhill. I’ve yet to find a flat road.
The workspace, Selina, is by far the best one we’ve had. It’s a huge complex that includes a hostel, a bar, a restaurant, a movie theater, a cinema, a bike shop, a tattoo parlor, and a Salon. It has so much character.
The actual dedicated space for us is also awesome. We have actual desks with actual desk chairs and drawers. The windows are all open and there’s a stream running alongside the back (naturally).
Our area of El Poblado is backpacker heavy, which is actually not a bad thing. There are a huge variety of international cuisines (poke bowl? Check. Khao soi? Check. Vegan burgers? Check!). We’ve found salsa classes and parks for soccer pickups, and have started a brunch club. Needless to say, I’m settling in quite nicely ;)
DAY 17Jan 12 2018
Got to experience life as a coffee farmer for a day!
We dressed in farm gear, picked berries from coffee trees, harvested the beans, and saw how they were roasted and prepared. We sampled quite a few as well!
Interestingly, even though Colombia produces some of the best coffee in the world, the variety served to and consumed by locals is pretty bad. The good crop is all exported for foreign consumption and not enjoyed by the locals. Colombian hotel chains in the past decade have been petitioning to keep some premium coffee crop because the country is trying to shift from a drug based economy to a tourist based one. Pretty cool way to spend and afternoon and the views were spectacular too.
DAY 18Jan 13 2018
Tonight I went out for a fancy dinner and didn’t bring a jacket, not realizing it was an open air restaurant. I excused myself and ran down the streets of Medellin until I found a bar I recognized. Sure enough some Kaizens were inside, and I borrowed a hoodie and returned to dinner. What a weird and wonderful life this is.
DAY 20Jan 15 2018
Almost paragliding: A tale of tempted fate
Because Colombia is so mountainous it’s a paragliders dream, not to be missed. Armed with four friends and a stomach in knots, I drove 45 minutes into the mountains overlooking Medellin, warily eyeing storm clouds in the distance, fully prepared to run off the cliff.
We arrived and found dozens of sails in the sky. Our instructor told us he would take us in a group of three and a group of two. I went first in the group of three with Matt and Rob and got strapped into my harness.
Instructor dude tells us to wait until the wind was more favorable. So we waited. Thirty minutes went by and suddenly there’s some activity on the radio and they yell, “Wind is good, let’s go!” Matt gets hooked to his sail and goes. Rob gets hooked to his sail and goes. I get hooked to my sail, get ready to run, and,
I’m being quickly unhooked and told to wait.
Instructor: Wind changed. We’re not going.
Thirty seconds later another paragliders from another company takes off.
Me: They just went. Is it good now?
Instructor: No. Better you reschedule for another day.
I’m obviously pretty bummed and get a call from Matt who ended up at the bottom of the valley, 40 minutes apart from Rob who landed on the other side of Medellin. I’m communicating my disappointment and we’re coordinating our meetup plans when he starts shouting.
Matt: Holy shit! I thought you said they’re done for the day. Did someone else go?
Me: Yeah someone from another tour went when I was supposed to go.
Matt: Fire trucks and ambulances just got here. Looks like they crashed.
A few seconds go by.
Matt (quietly): They’re taking him away on a stretcher.
Kissing my instructor and probably *not* rescheduling for another day. Fate doesn’t have to tempt me twice.
DAY 27Jan 22 2018
A Colombian perspective on cocaine and Narcos.
When I was moving to Medellin two opposing opinions reigned among the people I talked to. One, that the streets would be like the streets of Narcos and cocaine would be falling from the sky. Two, that that is a fictional dramatization and that drugs and violence would be nonexistent in the areas we’d be living.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.
Similarities to Narcos:
While cocaine does not fall from the sky, it is readily available and decriminalized. You can have up to a gram without any issues. The result is rowdy, disrespectful tourists, and a network of dealers catering to wealthy foreigners.
Pablo Escobar’s influence on the city is real as well. Tours of his mansions and estates are readily available. At the beginning of the month some of our krew went paintballing at one of his farms.
At the end of the month, we rented his 10,000 square foot marble penthouse and had a party, complete with a chef, maid, and chauffeur, hosted by a man who offered to get us “literally anything we want,” and asked that we make sure any “women we find on the street” are over the age of 18.
Apart from the parties and the penthouses, many of the neighborhoods whose soccer teams and schools were patroned by Escobar still harbor positive feelings towards him, and many relatives of the narcos are still living. I was surprised to find the following in an Uber.
Differences from Narcos:
While there are a few in some neighborhoods (and Uber’s) who still support the man and legend, the majority of Colombians and paisas (people from Medellin) are trying to move far, far away from that era. There is still strong anger about the numerous Escobar tours available throughout the city, to the point where locals will approach and yell at tour groups passing through their neighborhoods. A Remote from another program was wearing a punny Escobar shirt and was stopped on the street by a man whose family was killed by him. Our city team was NOT PLEASED that we rented Pablo’s penthouse, even though it’s available legally through AirBnB, and is one of 650 properties he had.
Comuna 13, which was the murder capitol of Colombia at the height of the narcos, is now a community healing with art and graffiti depicting their pain and suffering.
We visited Escobar’s family home where he lived with Tata and his children before his arrest. You used to be able to go inside until two years ago when they closed it because tour groups were digging through the walls and finding money.
Positive or negative, one thing is clear: even in death the man rules this city.
I read an interesting quote which said that Escobar’s death and the breakdown of the narcos was not a warning against cocaine; it was a warning not to mess with American DEA. The cartels are still here, just focused on shipping their product as far as Central America.
Overall, it’s only been a decade or two since the height of the power of the narcos. Emotions are still raw and the history is still in recent memory. I imagine in another decade Colombia will be different yet.
DAY 29Jan 24 2018
A phenomenal weekend road trip to the colorful town of Guatape with Matt and Liz!
We navigated the crazy Colombian driving, explored the town, did some shopping, ate too many cinnamon rolls, climbed 750 steps to the top of the Piedra de Peñol, and fell asleep to the sound of rain on our cabin roof.
DAY 32Jan 27 2018
An atypical travel day! The group moves to Bogota today for the month of February, but I’ve decided to go to Argentina instead. Came to Bogota anyway to check it out for a few days before heading south.