A Travellerspoint blog

Flower Power in Medellin

What a vibe this place has!

sunny 20 °C

Two weeks in Medellin and we are still really enjoying it without any itchy problems or hurdles.
Because it's so comfortable here I am scheming on how to return after our time with Chris in Peru and Bolivia.

School is going well although I still can't understand everything that people say to me. Our teacher, Yadi, is a beautiful, friendly lady and we are lucky to have her. The kids are still taking classes and Ariel is doing particularly well.

The Festival of Flowers has started and it's basically a two week party for the whole city. We attended the horse parade - sounds mild right, a few nice horses and riders posing, think? No, it was a huge party where they close the highway to allow 10,000 horses and riders to parade through the city. Onlookers line the street with coolers full of booze at the ready, music is thumping, and typical Colombian chests are heaving everywhere. I feel under dressed without a solid push up bra and seriously low cut skinny tank top! As we walked down the boulevard looking for a spot to sit, we are pulled into a family crowd that share their space with us. They are next to a Colombiano American family who immediately introduce themselves and handout coctails with grand toasts. By 6pm we are ready to head home although the party is still just winding up, what fun.

The next day is Sunday and we are ready for the Cyclovia since buying our bikes. Cyclovia is when Medellin closes traffic in one direction on Sundays on several major boulevards so cyclists, rollerbladers, joggers and walkers enjoy the city. We spend 4.5 hours riding the various routes and their terminus is crowded with prepared fresh fruit stands with accompaniments of juice, yogurt, ice cream. This is a wonderful lunch after a long ride.
We quick change at home and run for the metro as there is a national soccer game at 3:30 and we must figure out the ropes for attending this match and buying tickets. With the efficient transit and kind fans we are able to buy good tickets and we run into the gang from the Horse parade who usher us to their area in the stands. Soccer games are full of enthusiasm but strictly no booze. Which is a good idea since Medellin is playing Bogata
today. I have a funny feeling the Colombian team might not be in South Africa next summer.

Medellin seems really safe and it's hard to imagine this cities bloody recent past as the home town of drug lord Pablo Escobar. The kids and I take walks at night, have visited lower income barios, ride the metro frequently and never worry. There is a lot of security everywhere including the young army men who work the streets and metro and are dressed in non threatening uniforms as opposed army personel in other countries.
I am reminded of the violence that exist in this culture because recreation signs tell you "no pets, no barefeet, and no revolvers" are common. Wand mirrors are used under cars in parkades to look for bombs. And although you can bring your knapsack into any store without security worrying about stealing, they open it looking for guns. At soccer games everyone is frisked diligently for weapons. Every motorcylist must wear a vest with their license plate number in bold letters, your number should also be worn on your helmet as well. Most murders for hire are still committed by motorcycle drive bys and this help police identify suspicious people on the road. Although just like in Canada with our gun registry, I ask myself, would the bad guys follow this rule and probably not the day of a job?

Our friend Mike the Motorcyclist is here so we talk about his charity and his next project in Bolivia. We shall see what he comes up with and if we can help somehow. Another goal I had for South America was to do some volunteering but with Spanish and home school plus enjoying the sites I have not had time to give it a thought.

On a day off from school I treat the kids to a day of Science Centre, amusement park and the kids alley of the Festival of Flowers. Although we have enjoyed a few festival events it's really hard to understand where and when they take place as there is no English information at all. I guess part of the fun is waiting for things to happen or looking for them.

We attend two more parades as part of this festival but they are not as enjoyable as the horse parade. The grand festival of Flowers parade is beyond fun as there are several hundred thousand people here and we can't see a thing without grand stand tickets. How you get those, I never figured out unfortunately. There is also a lack of bathrooms which seems crazy for this many people. In order to get a good seat we showed up 4 hours early for the car parade and by the time it arrived I was ready to leave!

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Posted by sostrander 10:33 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Medellin, Colombia: Eternal Spring

Living in Colombia

sunny 23 °C

Medellin, Medellin what a relief to arrive in a city with wonderful temperatures, never below 14 C and never hotter than 24 C. Just what the doctor ordered and my allergies settle down immediately. It's an easy city to maneuver due to the efficient transit system which includes metro, gondolas, and buses.

Although I believed few Colombians could speak English we meet two on our first metro ride. We arrive at the Black Sheep hostel tired from the bus ride but are welcomed by the finest private hostel room to date. This is the city we will park our butts in for a while in order to take more Spanish classes, catch up on Canadian school work, exercise our bicycle legs and see this side of Colombia.

Medellianos are the most helpful people we have encountered. If you are walking with a map or simply looking for a non existent street sign someone will inevitably help you. They won't just tell you either, they will take you there. So if you'r not in need of help or a new friend don't look remotely quizzical because they will come for sure.

Within days we move into a studio apartment and it is tiny. I am not sure if we will survive a month with our sanity. After looking for two days at crappy places that were overpriced I settled on expensive, small, safe and amazing location way up on the mountain side of Medellin. We are in the El Poblado bario and it's upscale so my budget is still a little stressed.

None of the above are Ariel and Jordan's goals. Their goal is to have fun and luckily they meet a few kids from other apartment buildings. I buy them a decent soccer ball and it's game on at 4pm everyday with their new gang. I don't think it will be possible to find Ariel a soccer team during our short stay but if we return I will try harder with this goal.

The next challenge is to find used bikes as Colombia closes major boulevards on Sundays for cyclists. This country loves cycling but as a competitive sport not as a family leisure activity, at least not that I have seen. With a lot of running around we find a used store and as is typical here the owner is really nice and will bend over backwards to set us up with three bikes. They are great but we won't be using them everyday because of the steep hills and motorists without mercy.

School is going well with our teacher Yadi but Guatemala is still a better country for hardcore Spanish lessons as they include afternoon conversation activities around town. We must create our own conversations and this is a challenge but not from the lack of Colombianos that want to interact.

Although there is lots to do in Medellin I have to insist we put time aside for school, easier said than done!

In Medellin there are two cable cars routes that are intended for residents of barios up on the hillsides. It allows them to use the transit system while living high up were the streets are small and complicated and hard for buses. These are the same gondolas that we have at Canadian ski hills and it's interesting to see them over some impoverished old areas where people still use pack horses. There are also big new libraries at these destinations for the people who really need them but inside people are quiet, respectful and well behaved as opposed to Edmonton. Although here alot of shananigans may get you shot. There is a small Biblio Library in the Metro station where one gondola line meets the metro and buses.

We also take time out to visit the Botera Plaza, an outdoor sculpture garden featuring Colombia most famous painter and scupture Ferdinand Botera.

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Posted by sostrander 06:27 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Cartagena: Gorgeous City but it's a furnace!

If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen or Cartagena.

sunny 37 °C

Arriving in Cartagena was a blessing but we had the arduous chore of finding a hostel or hotel in a fiery hot city.
The temperature hit 35 C by 9am and it was bloody humid as well. Two hotels were full and I decided to splurge on a hotel with pool because we needed it. Unfortunately I said yes to a nice little place in Getsami, called Casa Relax and recommended by Lonely Planet, because it was owned by a french gentlemen. When I returned with all our luggage she upped the price saying the kids counted as extra!! When I spoke to the owner later in the day he would not budge, and was typically rude in the french snobbish way. One night only and it was the most expensive hotel we stayed at during the whole trip and not the nicest. Luckily we tripped upon a locally owned hotel down the street called Casa Villa Colonial, owned and operated by a wonderful, helpful local family. Thank god the locals in Central and South America are so awesome because the damn foreigners that own and operated some of the tourist business that we have frequented have been real jerks. I am embarrassed as a foreigner. This does not apply to hostel owners who are always a breed apart. We have a fantastic time at this hotel and this includes a night of entertainment as a band played Colombeano folk music one night in the lobby. This turned into a party as their local folk music is lively, hand clapping, boisterous, and fun.

Incidently I forgot to mention a very interesting gentleman we met in Puerto Lindo, Panama while awaiting our boat.
His name is Mike Lewis from Seattle Washington and he is motorcycling up and down each continent whilst promoting his NGO http://www.writearoundtheworld.org/index.html
His organization is simple and he's not trying to save the world. Just provide some school supplies to underprivileged kids in order to enhance their first school experience. There is a little more to it than that so check it out.
This organization may be of interest to my many teacher and librarian friends such as Beth M, Joanne F, Kenny, Kate D, Rhonda and Jenn,Maria, Kathy, Donna, Tim Y, Christalene, Alline and Jake, Ingrid, Bridgitte L, Claudine L.We hope to see Mike again while in Colombia which often happens on the backpack trail. I also think that his travel blog will be of interest to my motorcycling friends as well.

Back to Cartagena. It's spectacular with a fortress wall enveloping most of the city. The old Spanish architecture is beautifully restored and maintained. Modern additions marry old structures tastefully. The streets are vibrant with thumping contemporary Latin music blasting from home speakers set on neighborhood doorsteps. It makes you want to dance anywhere!

Our time here will be short so museum, art galleries, and historic sights are targeted early before the furnace fires up.
Our most unusual tourist stop is the mud volcano, a 50 foot natural mound with a small crater of liquid mud which you can bath in and we did. It was amazing, you can't sink even though the hole reaches the ground and air bubbles rise to the surface to cause this weird tub of mud to burp. We sat, shoulder to shoulder, with many others and had a fun time rubbing mud across our bodies. The locals massage you, then clean you up in the lake. Unfortunately my profile and size pictures of the volcano seem to have disappeared and if they reappear I will upload them further into the blog or you can google this strange mass. We were a diverse group of travelers on this tour which made it all the more interesting including a french speaking Mexican lady, two older Taiwanese ladies, and a young Australian- I love conversations with diverse groups. It made me think of good times at Kathy O's.

While in Cartagena we meet up with our boat crew for a wonderful steak dinner in an open air restaurant atop the fortress wall. No wheelchair access is required here as the original ramparts are everywhere. The steak is cooked perfectly and after 3 months without a proper cut of meat, it is truly succulent.

Every night the kids and I frequent Trinidad Plaza, a gathering place for locals and food carts. It's a great place to people watch and we order exotic juices each night from our juice lady. Colombia is a breath of fresh air because there is so much beautiful produce available everywhere especially on the street. Each night we try something new and I hope we meet another lady just like her when we arrive in Medellin.

I love Cartagena, I recommend it but it is nothing short of a oven. Time to head out on a night bus to Medellin. As we board our carriage we smile, realizing this is the nicest bus we have been on to date with full reclining seat.

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Posted by sostrander 08:35 Archived in Colombia Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Last week in Panama

The comforts of a familiar place at Mamallenas

semi-overcast 35 °C

Sorry for the lack sequence this entry should have preceded the musings on Central America.
After El Valle we headed back to Panama City to get ready for the sailing adventure. The kids loved Mamallena hostel with the kitten and puppy and very friendly staff. Pan. City is quite majestic with it's grand skyscrapers each with unique architecture and we enjoy strolling amongst them. It was also nice to have a few days to relax and catch up on sleep.
We booked a catamaran the night before we headed back to the city thinking it would be more stable than a monohull (sailboat). I arranged this through emails with a hostel on the Caribbean Coast but upon arriving in Pan City, Stuart, hostel owner of Mamallena's, showed me a scathing review of the captain. Needless to say it was not the kind of environment I wanted the kids to experience the crossing. This bad review would later be the topic of heated conversation as the captain found out that I canceled his boat because of it. There is high gossipy drama in the backpacker, hostel owner, boat world and it gives the bystanders like us a good chuckle. We changed boats and now had to leave sooner so it was time to see as much as we could of Panama City before leaving. This also included spending some time with our new Panamanian friends Rocio and Boris. As you may recall Rocio met us on the bus and took us home for coffee then found our missing hostel. Although she is very busy at work she still manages to take us out for coffee, ice cream, and pizza with some of her family. Boris is a big fan of rodeos and has always dreamt of one day attending the final's in Edmonton. I hope we meet them again some day. They really reminded me of Donna and Kim Fong; always smiling and friendly, totally welcoming and often surrounded by friends. To Donna, Kim and family a special hello as I am thinking of you guys.

We have been matched to the Quatermoon, a 41ft oyster sailboat with Captain Sym and his lovely wife Amy. We then must make our way to the coast and the Wunderbar hostel before setting sail. The bus is crowded and the kids and I get separated they way in the back and myself at front. I am amazed that they take it stride, collect all their gear, and have no problem being squished among strangers. The hostel is rustic but fun as it is all incoming and outgoing backpacker boat people. Some people are boarding boats that I wouldn't dare step foot on. Others feel that our boat will not have enough action and prefer the crowded hammocked cargo hulls.

The captain from the canceled catamaran finds me to question me about who authored the bad review email, who is reading it, what is said and who he is going to sue. Although he probably isn't the monster that is portrayed in the gruesome boat trip review I still believe we made the right choice to switch boats.

The weather is not great but it does not dampen the spirits of Bart and Marianne from Holland and the three of us. We are ready to set sail with suntan lotion and seasickness tabs.

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Posted by sostrander 13:27 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Sailing for 5 days aboard the Quartermoon

Setting sail for a new continent

semi-overcast 35 °C

It was raining as we woke up to set sail but this did not dampen our spirits. It also ceased long enough for our walk to the marina. Bart, Marian, the kids and I happily boarded the Quartermoon sailboat for a trip I have been looking forward to for so long. The swells and the vomiting started immediately for all us. Everyone took their gravol, nodded off and we were as good as new a few hours later except poor Bart who would remain sea sick anytime we moved over swells. We were headed for two glorious days in the San Blas Islands. Where and What? It is an archipelago of over 300 pristine islands off the coast of Panama. They are very unique but you'll have to read the following website to find out why.

http://www.enjoypanama.com/san_blas.htm

As soon as we anchored everyone jumped over board with their goggles and snorkles. Perfect waters and perfect beaches. Ahhh. Amy and Sym cooked up a great meal and it was early to bed for all. The next morning we explored the island, the waters, and set sail for Povenir for our immigration visit heading out of Panama. And a quick visit into the most crowded of the islands in order to pick up some amazing lobster $2 lbs. I know... that's nuts! The next island was Dog Island with it's fascinating ship wreck reachable by snorklers because the ship sank in shallow waters in the 50's. It was truly amazing and I can't imagine the kids will have an opportunity to explore a wreck until they are official scuba divers. Coral, amazing fish and ship remains litter these waters. As long as we are anchored the kids are in the water, they even enjoyed helping Sym scrap the boat bottom of algae and barnacles.

We feast on lobster, red snapper, and a strange type of lobster without arms or claws with a head not distinct from the body. We aren't able to find this odd crustacean even in the underwater encyclopedias. White wine, vegetables, good company, and perfect surroundings make this a world class meal.
The next morning we dive the wreck again before setting off to a new island for another perfect day.
Days of lounging and swimming are over and it's time to sail towards Cartagena. I must admit I wish we were hugging the coastline and heading to Turbo which is closer to Medellin and less chances of seasickness.
Sure enough the massive swells are not forecasted. Although the rest of us are not vomiting it is becoming disorienting to move. The cabin is sweltering hot because the hatches must be battoned down tight. I am able to read but not much else.

Jordan is in his glory and Ariel sleeps through much it. I am of little comfort to her and we both lie beside each other wiping buckets of sweat from our bodies. Getting up for a few minutes means lying down quickly before the motions turn into seasickness. Eating is not on the menu for stomachs one bite away from potential hurl. Amy and Sym confidently maneuver their boat and try to attend to any passenger needs.
But humour is still in the air and when we wake up to a squall that tosses us harder we start counting down the hours until we arrive Cartagena. Due to the swells and squall our 8 hour days turns to an 15 hour day. This is the first time I find myself wondering if I should cut the trip down to 6 months as there is no way I will survive much more with my sanity. The volcanoes, swells, and the heat from hell have crippled my sense of adventure for the moment. I am sure I will regain my posture once I reach Medellin with it's perfect climate. 1pm in the morning and we see the lights of magnificent Cartagena and Sym steers the boat through it's underwater fortress walls to reach the marina. Once the boat hits calm water sanity is restored and illness and discomfort are forgotten quickly. We sleep better and wake up to the blistering heat of Carta. The five of us are anxious to get off the boat and find a comfortable room to unload and put our feet up. Our journey with Sym and Amy ends with our immigration stamps but we all look forward to having drinks and a steak dinner with them tomorrow night.DSC01923.jpgDSC01950.jpgStef_with_Kuna_woman.jpgKuna_people__2_.jpgDSC01910.jpgDSC01980.jpgDSC01951.jpgDSC01979.jpgDSC01898.jpgAmy_and_Jordan.jpgDSC01953.jpgDSC01953.jpg

Posted by sostrander 13:25 Archived in Panama Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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