“People often attempt to live their lives backwards. They try to acquire more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.”
After conquering Colombia’s capital city, I trekked to some of the smaller cities nearby. I hopped a forty-minute flight to Medellin, a city of 3.5 million people, roughly half the size of Bogotá. While I liked the city itself a lot, my experience there didn’t turn out so well.
It was the first time in a long time that I gambled on a hostel and lost. I purposely picked housing that was close to a CrossFit gym so it would be a short jaunt to get in work outs. The hostel actually looked totally awesome, had a pool, and I even got a private room for the price of a dorm room.
The problem was that it was a relatively small hostel, and there was a group of what looked like middle schoolers staying in the two main dorms. It was a complete social bust, which was a huge disappointment.
The other thing that happened was that I got food poisoning toward the end of my stay. I think it was either from a fruit salad that I got from a very reputable grocery store, or a cheeseburger that I ate at a nice restaurant. Either way, I didn’t eat any solid food for 36 hours afterward, and my appetite didn’t fully recover for about four days. Being sick isn’t fun to begin with, it’s worse when you’re traveling, and it’s even more terrible when there is no one else to talk to. For the first time since I started traveling in May, I briefly felt like I wanted to go home.
Luckily I was still able to take a bus tour of the city, get in a bunch of good work outs before the food poisoning, and make it out to the bar scene one night. Medellin is an absolutely beautiful city nestled in the mountains of Colombia, and I’d highly recommend seeing it.
I talked to a bunch of locals, and they all seemed to agree that the people in Medellin are nicer than those from Bogotá. Though in general, I think the Colombians are incredibly friendly and accommodating. There is also less income disparity in Medellin, and I sense there were less shady areas of the city. I also can’t tell you how many people mentioned to me that Medellin has the most beautiful women in all of Colombia, and I’d have to agree.
The bus tour took us through all the major parts of the city, including the center square. Medellin’s cultural building was really impressive, but we didn’t enter it.
We also checked out a couple of the city’s parks, including one that is specifically designed to exfoliate your feet. There are several stages that you go through in the process. First, you walk around in an area that has straw and bamboo to prepare your feet.
Then you exfoliate your feet in a bed of small rocks, and finally you sit in small pools with massaging jets to relax. I didn’t actually do it because I was wearing socks and sneakers, but it was a pretty cool concept.
After succumbing to food poisoning in Medellin, I made it to Cartagena, a coastal city in the north of Colombia. Many Americans and Colombians had suggested I see this town, and I was game for a little beach action.
My second night in Cartagena proved to be pretty fun. I went out with a super entertaining group of people from the hostel (social salvation!), and I ended up chatting with this Colombian guy outside a dance club. He was Danger, an aspiring rapper in both English and Spanish. I bought him a beer after he let me record a couple of rap videos while my friends did crazy dance moves in the background. I’m going to have to put at least one of them on Facebook soon.
The next day, a small troop from the hostel decided to go to Playa Blanca, or the White Beach. Even though it was really touristy, it was still worth the trip. When we got there, we were all starving since we hadn’t eaten anything, and it was already noon. No problem, we should be able to easily grab something on the beach. Well, it turns out that literally almost every restaurant served the same dish – fried whole fish with rice, salad, and fried plantains. The entire plate was actually very tasty, and the rice had an agreeably sweet tinge to it.
The shoreline was picturesque, and the water was extremely clean and almost too warm. We took turns dipping into the ocean while someone else from the group watched our belongings.
In the evening, about a dozen of us took taxis to the highest point in the city to catch the sun set. I wish they had hired a few more bush pruners, but the view was still awesome.
Since most of the group I was hanging out with was going to leave the next day, we all decided to walk to the wall overlooking the ocean to have a couple of drinks. It supposedly wasn’t really safe to do that, but we figured with a group this big, safety wouldn’t be an issue. I jumped down from the wall to snap this picture, which turned out to be one of my favorites from the trip so far.
For the last full day in Cartagena, I walked around with three others from the hostel to take some daytime pics and see the corners of the city we hadn’t visited. We admired the Spanish Colonial style of the architecture, and the town definitely has a lot of character.
Those pictures were shot in the old part of the town, but we also hopped over to the new part of the city, which was more my style. Skyscrapers dotted the coastline next to Western fast food stores and modern looking shops.
I’ll finish with just a couple more general thoughts about Colombia. The economy here isn’t very good, though it is one of the stronger ones in South America. A nurse who graduates from college might only make $700 per month, and it takes about double that to live comfortably. Yikes.
One thing that Colombians can do to ease economic hardship is to spread out anything that can be put on a credit card over a period of up to two years. What happens is that every time you pay for anything with a credit card, the store’s employee will ask you how many payments you want, and you can select up to 24 monthly installments. So I could legitimately pay for my Burger King combo meal over a two-year period. Of course, you are incurring interest that entire time, but it can make things more affordable in the short-term.
There are lots of homeless people and beggars in all the cities I visited, especially Bogotá. This isn’t all that uncommon in countries that aren’t first-world. The sad thing is that I have never seen so many people asking for actual food. Of course, some of them are asking for money, but the majority of them are asking for something to eat. It’s a real downer to see every day.
I’m used to people looking and staring at me when I travel because I’m a foreigner. But here in Colombia, they take it to the nth degree. I’d say that 75% of the people who see me take an extra long glance or look at me strangely. I’m also traveling with a five-foot broomstick to train for the CrossFit games, so you can only imagine how that compounds the problem. It’s actually not a bad experience because it will definitely make me think twice about staring at others in the future.
Now I’m headed to Taganga, another beach city in Colombia. Time to get some more sun, and I’ll update you guys again soon.
“If you cannot put your heart in it, take yourself out of it.”