The allure of Colombia’s landscape is only surpassed by the kindness of its people. The beautiful views and beautiful people, warm climate and warm hearts, strong work ethic and strong desire to dance, all contribute to what can only be coined as an ideal society. All this hasn’t fallen upon deaf ears as the Colombian economy reflects the sensational society that has blended together like peanut butter and jelly over the past decade. A deluge of dinero has flooded the Colombian economy lately which has enticed entrepreneurs to build new enterprises. Here’s an insight to Colombia…
Medellín’s beauty hits you upon descent into the valley enveloped by the towering green mountains that peck at the sky. Supermarkets, banks and 10-story buildings line the streets similar to other urban cities but these bricks and mortar are juxtaposed with lush trees and plants. Green grows from every crack in pavement. It’s reminiscent of Europe but maintains an exotic Latin American flair. La España verde. La Costa Rica avanzado.
Fret not if you speak no Spanish because the younger generations are taught English in school and will field all your inquiries in plain English. But if you take only 1 thing away from this rant let it be this: learn some Spanish. You’ll have a much richer experience with a bit of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s native tongue under your belt, especially if you’re a single lad or lady. Unlike here in the U.S., people don’t have a ridiculous guard up at all times (as I’m writing this, 2 people are sitting near me at a café and 0 eye-contact has been made in the past 30 minutes). Paisas (people hailing from Medellín) and Spaniards are comparable because they’re willing to meet you halfway to make that human connection which is so often denied to those in “advanced” societies.
One anecdote bears testament to this… my partner in crime in Colombia, Johnny, and I were en route to a plaza when we passed a girl patiently waiting at a bus stop. We paused to ask her for directions partly because we needed geographical confirmation, however, I wont deny her cuteness as a contributing factor in our decision to stop. After some brief chitchat Camila gathered her things and decided it would be more advantageous if she personally guided us to our destination. I was astonished. Never before had someone taken 30 minutes of their time to selflessly help me and a friend, a couple complete strangers, at the drop of a dime (albeit devilishly handsome strangers).
The metrocable (cable metro) built in 2004 by the city council connects the city center to the humble homes on the hillside outskirts of Medellín. It’s truly a beautiful thing; the government manifested a means for people without money to stay connected with society rather than allowing a social rift to expand and persist. It also grants travelers access to the best view of the city and allows for interaction with the modest folks of Medellín.
My time spent in the hillside community jumps out in my memory as one of my most fond experiences; cascading through the brick shacks with a chilled beer in hand, juggling soccer balls on the street with kids who aspire to join the national team, and stumbling upon culturally-rich surprises that await around every bend.
Venturing out of Medellín to cruise through the endless green landscape littered with ponds and lakes, I began to see all that Pablo Escobar had been fighting for. Touring through quaint little towns that contained fruit vendors on every street, the color yellow began waging war; zipping past us in the form of neon bananas and ripe mangoes and ambushing us from every side as golden beams of sunlight.
One particular town, Guatapé, had the ultimate site for sore eyes… after a quick 740 steps to reach the top of la Pierda del Peñol, you’re treated with one of the most marvelous sights in the world…
And then there’s Cartagena, an entirely different world.
Preserved as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, the adoring old city of Cartagena is bursting at the seams with charm. A muralla (wall) of coral stone built by the Spanish founders in the 16th century wraps around the perimeter of the city which acts as South America’s gateway to the Caribbean Sea. Over the course of a few centuries a myriad of pirates, including Sir Francis Drake, attempted a hostile takeover of Cartagena but the city never ceded to invaders thanks to its strategic military defense. “Pirates of the Caribbean” stories actually derive from Cartagena. The moment you step foot inside the muralla you’ll be transported into that picturesque era.
Love fills the salty warm air as the essence of Cartagena inundates your senses — click-clack of horse hooves echoes off the streets as wooden-wheeled carriages stroll by, balconies float across an array of kaleidoscopic walls that begin to reveal their guts after being beaten down by relentless tropical winds, the sea breeze cools the blood boiled by the equatorial sun, and salsa tunes trickle out of every crack and crevice.
If you have time to kill in the U.S., you work. In Spain, you talk. In Colombia, you dance. The urge to dance will undoubtedly work its way into your bones after a few days of fierce salsa music hits your ears in the bars, department stores, supermarkets, elevators, and lobbies. You’re defenseless against the dance contagion; you’ve been warned. But fear not because it’s easy to learn and extremely fun. After one salsa lesson you’ll be grooving like Juanes and aching for more.
Cartagena is a meeting point for the peoples of the world to convene. Johnny and I had the pleasure of befriending beautiful Chilean gals (our Chile picantes) with warm hearts and welcoming smiles, mates from England who partied like rock stars, an engineer from Mexico with a heart of gold, Australians seeking thrills (as usual), and other Americans from the U.S. also filling their hearts with the love of Colombia. An ideal rendezvous point. A perfect New Year’s Eve venue. We’ll be back one day on a yacht where we’ll bathe in the sun’s golden rays on the beaches of Barú and dance the nights away under palm trees on the white sand as the moonlit ocean kisses our toes.
Photos by: John Spiezia