First Trip to South America Begins

South America had eluded me for years, I felt drawn to it, but never quite made the plunge. Three times before I'd come close, or at least had a strong intention to go, but the trip never came to fruition.

First was with a girl out west, the idea was to get a van and meander on down the great highway, but after a few weeks of dawdling it became clear it wasn't going to happen. Next was with a girl from Arizona, we actually hitched our way all the way to the Yucatan in Mexico before a ride we scored went sideways and changed the momentum of the whole thing. The last was with yet another girl who was game for it, but our dream of hitching a boat out of Florida wasn't too well thought out, so that turned into a different adventure altogether.

Now, with Marilyn next to me, we rose up from the runway in Fort Lauderdale near sunset, in just a few hours we'd be touching down in Medellin, Colombia. South America was finally happening.

We landed at dark, our passports were checked and money was converted, we briefly befriended another backpacker and hopped the airport bus rolling along dark mountainsides to the city. This began with a bit of confusion, as we began to orient ourselves and seek out the metro to our host's home. The other backpacker found a taxi right away, after a bit more walking Marilyn and I fell back to that same method once we learned the metro was shut for the night.

Soon enough, though, and after a bit more confusion regarding the payment, we were up in the apartment with our Couchsurfing host chatting just for a bit before laying to sleep in the warm Colombian air for the first time.

Our host, Jesus, made a simple and tasty breakfast of arepas, butter and cheese to munch on as we got to know him a bit in the morning. Afterwords we took a long walk with him to the market, getting some oranges and coffee on the way. We wandered around with him as he stocked up on things, getting little bites of this fruit and that fruit along the way.

Eventually he headed back home, Marilyn and I hopped he metro instead to explore a bit more of the city. First was a cable car we stumbled upon, it took us up the mountain and across an expanse before returning. It gave us a good view of the city in the valley. The higher we got the more shambled the homes looked, roofs were torn up and patched back together in one fashion or another. I wondered if the people cared, they had the best view in the city.

Back down below in the city we wandered, sipping juice, and munching down empanadas as we saw them. It was a city, after all, not incredibly dissimilar to any big city in the US or Europe or anywhere, but the terrain made it interesting. Just saying "Colombia" made it interesting, "South America", at last.

That and of course the language change. I learned a little Spanish pre-high school, beyond that was either incidental or in trips to Mexico. Like those trips to Mexico I was making an effort to listen to some lessons and otherwise fool around; my grasp was barely conversational, but at least transactional. Marilyn was starting at zero, at one point she even asked me to say thank you to someone for her, so I felt the need to listen to even more lessons and otherwise continue to absorb as much as possible, and that's all part of the fun.

After some more wandering about we made our way back home, relaxing with Jesus and his girlfriend for the night before starting over again the next day.

We wandered out on our own again, pausing for coffee at a little spot t start off. Marilyn was naturally a coffee lover, so this was obviously a big part of Colombia to experience for her, and I was very much on pace with this notion.

Sitting next to us was an older guy who began to chat us up in relatively decent English, telling us about his daughter in New York and immediately taking a liking to us. He not only paid for our coffee, but then walked us around the square and even showed us a restaurant where we could get the famed "Bandeja Paisa", the region's signature mega-platter of all sorts of meats, eggs, beans, rice, plantains and more. He pre-placed the order for us with the waiter as if we were both deaf and mute, then walked us around some more pointing out this and that, finally guiding us back to the restaurant and parting ways.

We voraciously chowed down the big meal, it fueled us for the day and became and instant favorite, we'd get even better versions down the road.

We did some more general wandering and exploring, we even managed to find a halfway decent beer bar and even an actual brewery, as it is my duty to sniff such things out in any corner of the globe. The makeshift brewery was a bit of a disappointment, though. The first beer I ordered was fine, but I quickly realized it was a beer from a different brewery.

When I asked the bartender if they had anything that they actually brewed, he pointed to the stout. He then went to a backroom and returned with an unmarked bottle and popped it open. As a casual brewer this did not put me off, instead I was pretty excited about it. This didn't last, though.

One sip and the stout tasted more like acetone than beer. My thought was that it fermented at way too high of a temperature. The bartender had earlier explained that he had just started there and was learning brewing, so in my child-like Spanish I tried to both explain the fermentation faux pas whilst also being conversational rather than complaining, but my attempts were lost in both translation and the bartenders lack of actual brewing interest. He retreated back to his computer, we ordered some different beers and eventually meandered on out.

The next day we were ready to move on, southbound, forever south was our only direction now. Our next destination was Salento, a little mountain town known for it's coffee some five hours south by road. While hitchhiking was our default method of travel, we opted for a bus that would take us the first huge chunk of the way there to Pereira. It was about as cheap as getting a metro to the edge of the city to a good hitchhiking spot anyway, so made sense.

It turned out to be more of a van than a bus, which didn't matter to us, so off we cruised. Colombia became real on this ride, as we got out of the city the landscape exposed itself. We ripped around mountain curves, passing other vehicles on blind corners, climbing, climbing and reaching ridges and peaks that offered far reaching views of the spinal, lush mountains that stretched on and on, the road somehow carving precariously through, blips of villages teetering in the balance along the way. A Spanish lesson tapped along in my ear buds, but my focus was purely in the encompassing awe of this new land I'd finally arrived in.

The whole of the continent awaited, south, south, south, and down we went like greased up pinballs, ready for the clanging adventure to the bottom.

February 2, 2015 to February 5, 2015


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