Tuesday 09th August 2016 –
I’ve broken off onto a new entry, as the last one was getting rather long. That, and it’d gotten a bit bit long since I started writing it. Oops. This one does though, start off from where I left off. In fact, almost exactly. So poor was my choice of endpoint, that I still have more to write about the same day. So assuming (optimistically) that you actually read the last one, I’ll continue mid flow. Then I got on the teleferico.
Smooth segway, right? I thought so. Well, I headed down a few stops on the pristine (and weirdly above ground) tube first, then made my way to the teleferico, to be precise. All the way. Then even further. It was a long way up the mountain slope to Parque Arvi, and I was just getting started. Like pretty much every city in South America it seems, Medellin is built at the bottom of a mountain valley. People must have liked the views.
Eventually, after changing teleferico, my two fellow walking tour companions and I reached the top. And then carried on. It was already further than I’d figured, but here we were gliding over the rim of the valley and swooping over lush green forests. Turned out I’d misunderstood the talk about a park. Where I’d expected a patch of green grass and a view, here there were markets, lakes and walking trails. Too much for a couple of hours visit for sure.
A long day of walking wasn’t yet finished though. I had to find dinner first. Colleen (pronounced with traditional ‘zzh’ instead of ‘ll’) and I were recommended a veggie pizza place, but to be fair we’re not rabbits. So after inviting Jai along, a Brit with a passionate hatred of the type of tourist who constantly talks about authentic traditional experiences, while taking series and doing all things touristy (basically the gap yah sort), we went to find something reasonable. Cue several hours of trying to find something suitable that Jai was happy with – price or appearance kept getting in the way. At long last we finally found a place both more expensive than he wanted and not remotely Colombian in any way. By this point though, Jai had unravelled and the brutal truth was clear for all to see. That type of person that he hated so much? It was him. To a tee. His realisation was worth sticking around for.
Despite having been up late the night before, I was up bright and early in the morning to go to Guatapé. Jai, after he had decided he wanted to come too, was not. The hostel owner an I gave him a shake, causing a shift in his head and nothing more. Ten minutes later, just as I was about to go, he woke, and the tour bus driver was gracious enough to wait for him. He mustn’t have been in any rush.
Hang on though. Don’t go getting ideas. I don’t get tour buses to small towns for the hell of it – they’re often extra uncomfortable and always extra expensive – I had a reason. And after swapping onto jeeps and bumping up and down the road while hanging on for dear life on the top, we got to that reason. Who doesn’t like the sound of paintballing in one of Pablo Escobar’s old mansions? As paintball experiences go, I don’t think it was a bad one to start with, even if our team did lose in the end.
After a bit of a kerfuffle regarding some non payment of extra balls (Jai trying to escape obviously) we set off on the boat to Guatapé. I want to emphasise set off, because it took an astonishing amount of time to get there. The pump to get the fuel to the engine was a bit fucked, so someone had to do it by hand. It wasn’t the captain. He sat by the wheel grinning to himself. Still, it allowed us a bit of time to admire the man made lake that had become a favourite of the rich and famous of Colombia, if none of Guatapé itself. Oh, and to help convince one Dutch girl that she was cursed. Five boat breakdowns/shipwrecks and counting!
Even though we pretty much missed Guatapé, we had managed to arrive in time (just) for one last destination. La piedra. That’s ‘The Rock’ to everyone else. No, we weren’t going to visit big Dwayne on his holidays but an actual rock, though an impressive one at that. So much so that it has 740 steps carved in it to reach the top. I’m assuming they weren’t an original feature at least. From the pinnacle of this slab of granite, views extend over the whole lake surrounding and further still, over green hills and valleys.
From Medellin, I set off for Cartagena, on Colombia’s north coast, and actually the most northern point so far on the journey – Guyana’s Georgetown, my entry point to South America, having been the bearer of that title for practically a year. I broke one of my rules though. An unnamed, unspecified one to be fair, but a rule born out of necessity nonetheless. I flew. I hopped on a plane and skipped the night bus. My first flight on the trip that has actually advanced my position. The first that hasn’t returned to the same place, like my Galapagos flights, or the prop plane to Kaieteur falls way back in the beginning. I blame Vivacolombia. Cheap internal flights that are the same price as a bus? Why would I put myself through all the extra effort?
Only, it did turn out to be effort. Unused to flying, I screwed up the timings to get a collectivo (shared taxi) to the airport. Blame the relaxed morning, or just an overall brain fart, but I was late before I started. I took a taxi to the collectivo area across town, instead of the bus, which subsequently got stuck in traffic. Awesome. I was pretty worried – there was only about 50 minutes to get to the airport, and the journey was supposed to take 40-45 anyway. I hopped out and found my way to the collectivo place, jogging with my bags between asking almost everyone I met for more detailed directions, and then waited. One girl was there already, and quickly a couple came along – great – four people was what we needed. Only it turned out the bloke was just seeing the girl off. So I waited some more, nervously, but noone arrived. Apparently through all of this I was hopping around a bit, because the driver soon asked if we wanted to set off just as three, for a nominal extra fee each. Finally we were underway.
Around the bends and up the mountainside, our driver overtook and undertook vehicles at almost every opportunity. I was impressed – he showed admirable dedication to his craft, but still we struggled to make any dent in the time deficit. By the time we arrived, it was bang on the dot – I was supposed to have checked in already – and quickly rushed to find the ticket desk. To my enormous relief, and surprise, it was still open, and actually for good reason. It seemed I may have slightly mistaken boarding time for flight time. Oops. Spot the inexperienced plane catcher.
This wasn’t my only exciting airport event though. Lined up to board, some of the Atletico Nacional Copa Libertadores winning team strolled past. Some kids’ dreams were made true that day.