Recent events and other fun Colombian happenings

Another month has been and gone and I’m feeling a lot more settled in Bogotá, so here’s a summary of what I’ve been up to lately:

About half way through September I went on a trip to the colonial town Villa de Leyva for the weekend with one of the other assistants, Joe. The town is a couple of hours north east of Bogotá by bus. It’s one of the biggest tourist destinations in the Boyacá department, as well as an important national heritage site. The main plaza is considered to be the biggest in the country, and in terms of its architecture and style, it felt like little had changed in the last 400 years.

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It was super rainy when we arrived, making the cobbled streets even more fun to navigate, and leaving us rather worried that the entire weekend might be a complete washout… Despite the weather we had a lovely typical Colombian meal (pizza and wine) on the main plaza. Thankfully the next day we awoke to blue skies and sunshine and set off to explore the town and surrounding area. After having wandered for a while through the narrow cobbled streets we decided to rent bikes and cycled (in what turned out to be the hottest day ever) to the Pozos Azules, just outside the town. Unfortunately for us you couldn’t swim in them, but they were incredibly beautiful nonetheless!

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Afterwards we hoped back on our bikes and continued on to a museum called “El Fósil,” most probably because its main attraction was an enormous fossilised kronosaurus discovered in 1977, amongst other things. We also got acquainted with this absolute joker who, for a 10 desperate minutes, tried to persuade us to part with our icecreams…

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After a fairly knackering cycle back we went out for dinner (apparently only Italian cuisine can be found in the centre of Villa de Leyva) and hung around in the main plaza to watch a caranga concert. The following day we wandered the town some more before catching the bus back to Bogotá in the afternoon.

In other news, I have moved house (!) and am now living in a shared apartment about 5 minutes from work (ahhhh).

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The Colombian equivalent of Valentine’s Day (“Amor y Amistad” – Love and Friendship) took place on the 19th of September. Like most celebrations in Colombia, it was quite a big deal. Unlike Valentine’s Day, it isn’t just reserved for couples, and is celebrated just as much among family and friends. One of the most popular Amor y Amistad activities seems to be a kind of non-Christmas themed Secret Santa (my guess as to the popularity of this is based on the fact that I was involved in no fewer than three, of varying complexity). The family of a girl I tutor (aka. the cutest family ever) even invited me over for an Amor y Amistad party, complete with all kinds of decorations, marshmallows, and one of the yummiest desserts I’ve tried so far in Colombia. The gran is SO cute – despite the fact that I understand precious little of what she says, every week without fail she brings me a chocolate milkshake and a cake while I’m helping Laura with her homework.

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Last weekend was a bank holiday here in Colombia, so myself and a couple of the other assistants decided to make the most of it and take a trip to Medellin, a city a ten hour bus ride north west of Bogotá, and the capital of Antioquia. With 2.5 million inhabitants Medellin is considerably smaller than Bogotá, but in spite of this it is widely considered to be one of the most modern and innovative cities in Colombia. The city has come an incredibly long way considering that in the 90s, as the hometown of Pablo Escobar, it had one of the highest murder rates in the world…

Our trip didn’t get off to the best start. We decided to get the night bus and set off from Bogotá at 11pm. Everything was going smoothly until, an hour into the journey, we came to a grinding halt by the side of the road. None of the other passengers seemed particularly concerned, so we waited patiently, assuming that as the engine was still running we’d soon be off. (“Is this the worst bus journey you’ve ever been on?” asks Jerome). Five hours later I awoke to find us still in the same spot, with a much less cheerful Jerome asking “and what about now?” (Yes). It turns out there had been an accident and the main roads were closed.

After that fun-filled journey we arrived in Medellin early on Saturday afternoon, excited to explore the “City of eternal spring” – the mild and sunny climate didn’t disappoint! We found our hostel, which was in the rather swanky Parque Lleras part of the city, and after a tactical sleep and an inevitable hotdog, we were ready to hit the town! We sampled some of the many bars in Parque Lleras, and joined the crowds of people sitting drinking beers in the parks. It did feel like the expensive party area of town, but was lively and enjoyable nonetheless!

The following day Jerome and I tried out Medellin’s metro system (everyone raves about it, so we could hardly miss it). To be fair, it was incredibly efficient, clean and chaos free, much unlike the transmilenio… We also went for a ride on the cable car, which climbs up the side of the valley, flying over the roofs of the houses that cling to it. It felt somewhat intrusive, as you could almost see right into people’s houses and watch them going about their business, but at the same time it was a fascinating insight into the city. The cable car took us right over the top of the valley and we passed over 15 minutes of uninterrupted forest, before arriving at the final stop “El Parque Arvi,” where there was a small artisan market and lots of food stalls.

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Upon returning to the city centre we went for a wander around the “Jardin Botánico” park. One of the things I most liked about Medellin was the abundance of green spaces – parks and trees everywhere – and consequently, breathing in CLEAN AIR. At this point it’s fair to say that Jerome and I were somewhat jealous of the Medellin assistants… We also stopped for an icecream and a spot of people watching in the “Parque de los deseos.” We went for a nice meal out in the evening and a few more park beers with the other three assistants who came with us.

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For our last day Jerome and I got up early to take a trip to a nearby town called Guatapé, where a massive stone called La Piedra del Peñol can be found. Two hours later we arrived at the stone and had a spot of lunch to fuel us for the climb. The most typical dish in the Antioquia region is called Bandeja Paisa (and it’s HUGE) so what I had for lunch was essentially a baby version of this:

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After climbing all 740 steps we made it, albeit rather out of breath, to the top of the stone and were greeted by the most incredible views. Needless to say, it was definitely worth the journey!

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A series of regrettable transport decisions saw us arriving in Guatapé town (which is BEAUTIFUL) only to be told the next bus didn’t leave for another 2 hours – cue panic and a desperate harassing of the tourist info woman. Thankfully five minutes later we were in a bus, although we didn’t have time to explore the town and its fantastically coloured buildings. We has a not-so-comfy return to Medellin squashed on the floor behind the driver, and for a considerable part of the journey next to a chatterbox of an old señor who kindly forced guayaba fruit on everyone in the vicinity. Having never eaten one I spent a while sneakily watching people to figure out what they were doing with all the bloody seeds (swallowing them apparently).

Catching the bus back to Bogotá proved to be the biggest rush ever. Of course, it didn’t actually leave for another 20 minutes… After very little sleep we arrived in Bogotá bright and early at 6am. Despite the multiple downsides of this huge, messy and chaotic place (and having been rather bitter at not being placed in Medellin at various point during the weekend) I was happy to be back in my adopted city and wouldn’t change it for anywhere else.

As a little parting gift I’m leaving you with what is possibly the greatest translation I’ve ever encountered (found inside the cable car). Enjoy!

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