Thursday, March 19, 2015

beach and Medellin

After our couple of days and nights in the old part of Cartagena, we went to a beach hotel ~20 minutes away. The beach was probably one of the ugliest and least appealing we've ever seen, so we just hung around the pool. The food at the restaurant hotel was amazing -- good thing, because there was nothing else in the vicinity.

the inside of our morning arepa -- somehow there is an egg inside that thin, crispy crust
this is how it looked before we cut into it -- like a very thin, crisp balloon
lots of bougainvillea everywhere, so pretty
we spent most of our time around the pool, which we shared with dozens of wasps.
I got very sunburned.
sunset over the Caribbean
We had a very short flight over the mountains into Medellin, where we rented a car and enormous tension ensued for me, the driver. Medellin is such a big and crowded city, there are days and times of day that we were not allowed to drive in the city. Luckily, none of those times/days intersected with our very brief time in the city. But the fact that they need to do that tells you something about the crowdedness of the city. It's not as insane as traffic in Vietnam, nor are there are as many motos, but there was enough of it all to make me stressed out. Motorcycles suddenly appear out of nowhere and weave in and out, and I never knew exactly where I needed to be. By the time we finally got to the hotel (during rush hour) I was a noodle. The premiere beer is apparently Club Colombia, which I didn't like very much, so I had an Aguila beer and settled down a bit.

Our hotel in Medellin was . . . strange. It's called the Art Hotel, and I gather it sees itself as some kind of center of the arts, with rooms. There was a three-person exhibit hanging on the walls of the lobby, and the lobby also included a movie theater. The place was stark, and except for the enclosed courtyard, around which the rooms circled, there was absolutely no light to be had. Our room was so dark we had no idea what time of day it was, ever.

here's the central courtyard -- the rooms were set so far away from it, and tucked underneath
overhanging walls, leaving them in near-complete darkness. Moody, I guess?
and here's the theater. They were showing Biutiful, among other movies. Kind of strange, yes?
We went to a nearby restaurant for dinner, and most of the dishes included fat back. This is a tough place to be a vegetarian. The choices were chicken with fat back, pork with fat back, beef with fat back. I can't remember if there was a fish option, but if there was it came with fat back. I got a piece of grilled chicken, one of the rare options that didn't include fat back.

Marc's dish -- super fine ground beef, a big curving piece of fat back, some kind of sausage, an egg,
a bowl of menudo possibly (it included tripe), and a big bowl of beans.
condiments, including an arepa, a bowl of chopped cilantro, something yummy in oil, a half an avocado and a banana
There is almost NO English spoken here; the people at the front desk spoke English well enough, but it's very strange, it's as if everyone else has no awareness that some people don't speak Spanish. When we fumble our way with our tiny bit of Spanish -- primarily including no habla espanol -- they simply keep speaking Spanish as quickly as before, and with no acknowledgement that we don't have a clue what they're saying. We found more English in Laos. We don't expect people to speak English; we are in their country, after all, the onus is on us, but it's just very strange the way they don't seem to understand that we can't understand them. Ordinarily people get that, and then slow down and start acting things out, speaking very simply. Not here. Maybe there has been no English-speaking tourism for so long because of the drug cartels and wars? No idea. We stopped for coffee before heading out for our day in Medellin, and I ordered a cup of drip coffee. The woman who served it spent 10 minutes, I think, telling me the history of coffee in Colombia, the three coffee-growing regions, the different climates in each and how they affect the beans, on and on. I THINK. I caught every 25th word, more or less. She just kept talking and talking, her whole spiel. It's kind of funny, but also frustrating that we can't work together in some way. I feel reduced to the position of a child. I can say please, thank you, no, yes, more, I don't understand you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

The main thing we planned to do, during our very brief one-night stay in Medellin, was to take a cable car ride up to a stop on one of the mountains surrounding Medellin. We took a cab through the city, and in one place came upon what might have been a big police action of some kind. There were armored trucks and police decked out in full armor; they looked like action figures with big guns. None of the people standing around seemed upset by any of it. This is one problem with not knowing the language at all -- we rarely have any idea what's going on. Sometimes that's scary, sometimes confusing, and sometimes kind of fun. It can lead to a "well, who knows, let's do it!" adventure.

We'd planned to ride the cable car up to the end of the line, walk around a bit, maybe have lunch, then return to the hotel. We bought our tickets and -- like everyone else there, including natives -- had to have the police help us figure out how to use our ticket to get through the turnstile. Seriously, almost no one knew how to do it. We climbed aboard, and in the cable car realized there was another trip we could take at the end of this line. Hmm. We'll see. So up we went:

very fancy cars and stations
and up we go, up the mountain and over what we think are poor communities
up we go, Medellin spreading out below -- I am afraid of heights but this wasn't scary
higher up, more rural
beautiful, in the clouds
So we got to the end of the line and decided to transfer and take the other trip. We had no idea where it went, how far it was, NOTHING. We knew it went up, and that's all we knew. Adventure!

Transfer -- much more expensive trip.
And up we went. Into the cloud forest. We never saw another soul on the trip up.
No one in the cars coming towards us. No one. Ever.
On and on, up and up, no idea where we'd end up. It seemed eternally to go up.
I started wondering if we'd slipped into the Twilight Zone. Maybe we'd crossed
into the land of the dead.
A gap in the clouds -- we could see below! What's that, near the base of the tower?
Dos caballeros!
We were really starting to wonder if we'd ever stop. Finally we stopped climbing and settled into a straightaway, then a slight descent, and then we saw the terminal station coming up. What could possibly be up there? We were on the other side of the mountain, but hadn't seen any living anything for such a long time. It seemed to be some kind of natural park, but we don't really know what it was.

what we found at the top
pretty flowers -- and a very few people, aside from the few who worked there
This sign was in the car heading back down to the ground. DANG. I really felt like doing some prancing.
We navigated our way through getting a cab back to the hotel, then we were off to Santa Fe de Antioquia, a 54km drive. Of course I kept taking the wrong turns so we went for a good 45 minutes with 54km still to go, but we finally made it. I'll put all that in the next post.

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