Fun Times in Buenos Aires

So what did we do in this wonderful city to keep ourselves busy?  Well, I’ll tell you…

I discovered that my very first ice cream shop, Tufic, was also my favorite ice cream shop.  The Almond Cream was the best flavor.  I ate a lot of it.  A lot.

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Nic discovered a hot chocolate shop, Tatan, while roaming around one day.  I discovered what happiness tasted like in liquid form.  The “mixed spices” hot chocolate was the best ever.

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We got to see the infamous “dog walkers” in action.  These people walk up to 20 dogs at one time!  It’s craziness.  When they’re dropping off/picking up more dogs, they just tie them to a post and the dogs calmly wait to get the show on the road again.  I once walked behind a dog walker with about 18 dogs.  One of the poodles had to take a dump, so he just dropped to the back of the pack and pooped while scurrying to keep up with everyone…

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We spent many days just wandering around and exploring new streets and neighborhoods…

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Nic ate things like this for breakfast…

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One day we randomly found ourselves in the midst of a military welcome for a Brazilian politician, complete with a band…

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Nic learned that Teatro Colon (very famous, very beautiful, very old opera house) offered free performances at certain times of the month.  After a little research we woke up early to wait in line for tickets…

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Two days after scoring some tickets, we waited in line again for the free show.  While waiting in line, we sat next to some ridiculously friendly lady and her husband.  She seemed really invested in us having a good experience and came to find once everyone was seated inside and waiting for the show to begin.  She then proceeded to walk us around the entire opera house and give us a free tour (which all the ushers allowed her to do).  It was super nice of her and allowed us to see some rooms we otherwise wouldn’t have seen.  The theater was beautiful and well-restored.

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We took the scenic train to Tigre and made a few stops along the way to explore new towns…

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We went back to the Recoleta Cemetary for more photos and an official tour.  The tour was free and actually really interesting.

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We went to see an enormous library that was once an opera theater (Ateneo – Grand Splendid)…

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We made a guest appearance at the local casino because that’s just how we roll. I lost my pesos but Nic managed to eek out some winnings…

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Every day was a new adventure and most days were full of good weather.  I had an awesome time in Buenos Aires and hope to make it back there some day!

 

 

 

Closed Kitchens – A Buenos Aires Fail

I was so excited.  The idea of a “puerta cerrada” seemed intriguing and sounded like fun.  A home-cooked meal created for you by a professional chef (or someone with similar credentials)… what’s not to like about that?  Best of all, with the exchange rate these 3-4 course meals would only cost about $25 USD.  Before I ever touched down in Buenos Aires, I already had myself booked for 3!  I even managed to persuade my fiscally-minded boyfriend to splurge with me for one of them.  Score!  How could this possibly go wrong?  I’ll tell you…  Please be warned that this tale debunks the myth that the 3rd time for anything will be a charm.

Fail #1 – Cocina Sunae

– I managed to set this one up for my first real evening in Buenos Aires.  By some random chance, I even managed to make 2 new friends on my walking tour earlier that day and they decided to join me for dinner.  One of the best parts about a puerta cerrada is that you set the meal up in advance and the chefs are very open to adjusting the menu for dietary restrictions (like my gluten intolerance).  Having confirmed twice, that I was gluten-free and that it wouldn’t be a problem, we arrived to this mystery dinner excited and ready for some serious eating.  As the menus were passed around, I mentioned to the waiter that I was gluten-free but that I had already sent an email confirming this restriction.  He left to get the chef.  Uh-oh.  She came out and walked me through the menu… not 1 item listed for the main course was gluten-free… she mentioned that one dish only had a little bit of flour to thicken the sauce and asked if that would be ok.  Umm… no.  No it wouldn’t.  An allergy means I can’t eat it.  Luckily she wasn’t a mean lady and she offered to adjust my dish to leave out the flour.  But still.  It was a bummer.  Overall, the food was good but not great.  Dessert however was amazing.  I’m still counting this as a fail though.

Fail #2 – Casa Felix

– Having received the highest praise of the 3 I had chosen, I was most excited about visiting this one.  I made my reservation over a month in advance but they were full for the first 3 weeks of my trip.  Luckily they had a spot open 2 weeks before I left town.  About 2 weeks before my reservation I received a notice that they were raising the price of the dinners.  I quickly wrote back to confirm that they would honor the price I was quoted when I made my initial reservation.  No, no they would not.  In the end the difference was maybe only $6 but I was so annoyed I just canceled my reservation and decided to spend my money at a fancy restaurant instead.

Fail #3 – Jueves a la Mesa

– At this point, all hopes and dreams were riding on this vegetarian dinner.  Especially considering it was the one dinner splurge I was able to convince Nic to join in on.  With 5 stars on Tripadvisor, I thought nothing could go wrong.  The evening started out well enough with the chef finishing up as we arrived…

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After weeks of nothing but meat, meat and more meat I was so excited to get some vegetables in my system.  I think even Nic felt the same way.  As the rest of the guests started arriving we noticed there was one really large party attending dinner that night.  They were a group of Californians in town to join their 2 friends who were driving their camper van across the world with their 2 year old kid.  After 18 months of camping, surfing and driving they had made their way to Buenos Aires and many of their friends had flown down to join them in celebration.

Unfortunately with the large group our dinner was overbooked.  Something as simple as finding 2 seats together became an awkward task.  When we finally managed to get 2 seats together, we were crammed onto the end of the table in the space normally given to one person.  As the first course was being passed around, everyone was able to enjoy their soup in a nice soup bowl (including the 2 year old) while we dined on this fine china…

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The rest of the meal came and went.  I especially loved the intimate dining moments that involved a 2 year running underneath the table and playing hide and seek with our legs.  The meal was ok but nothing spectacular.  We’ve had better (shout out to Dooley and her tacos!)

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For $20/person it was a bit disappointing.  In Buenos Aires, a $20 meal is quite the splurge.  For $3 you can get yourself a meal like this…

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In the end, I felt a bit like a jerk for convincing Nic to splurge on such a disappointing dinner.  But sometimes that’s just how it goes… That said, there were many good meals to be had in Buenos Aires.  I’ll be blogging about those next….

When a Dream Lives Up to Expectations (Hello, Buenos Aires!)

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Wow.  I’ve longed to visit Buenos Aires for many years.  I’m not even sure where/how the dream started.  I just know that in the last year of my MBA program I was given the opportunity to study abroad and agonized over whether to apply for a program in Barcelona or Buenos Aires.  I had fantastic visions of my life in both cities, but in the end Barcelona won out.  I’ve never regretted that decision as Barcelona was everything I hoped for and more but I did wonder about the one left behind… Some day I vowed I would see Buenos Aires, if not as a student then at least as a tourist.

As I began planning the “3 months around the world” segment of my year off (which btw has slowly morphed into 7), I knew without a doubt that B.A. would be a stop on my tour.  In fact, I decided that it deserved more than just a few days so I got on Airbnb and found a small apartment in the Palermo/Recoleta neighborhood (a very nice area in the middle of the city) and made plans to stay for a month.  I must admit, however, that after my first night here I was worrying I’d made a mistake and set my expectations too high.

My day began catching a late morning flight after my stressful night of sickness and puking.  I went to bed with a crazy fever, unsure of whether or not I’d be unable to fly the next morning.  When morning came, I gave myself a long pep talk and a hot shower to get it together.  I made it to the airport and waited to board my 6.5 hr flight.  Sadly after boarding, I realized all the screens on the flight were not functioning and there would be no movies to distract me over the next few hours (Aerolinas Argentinas, not impressed!).  Another great moment is when they passed out the dinners… crackers, pasta, bread and cake.  I think the menu planner must be an actual shaft of wheat.  Seriously?!  I mean, who needs crackers on top of all that other stuff… why not a salad?  But I digress… so I arrived into a crowded airport in B.A. with a 1.5 hr wait to get through customs.  Once I got to the taxi queue I learned it was a 1 hr wait to catch a taxi due to the heavy rain.  Sigh.  So around 10pm at night, still feeling like poo, I finally arrived at my new apartment.  The rain didn’t add any charm and everything looked so dark, dirty and rundown.  My one silver lining was that my new landlord was super helpful and seemed like a really nice guy.  I went to bed hoping the next day would be better.

And better is was!  It’s amazing what some sunshine and good sleep can do for you.  Deciding I needed to get out and see the city to improve my impression of it, I opted to join a free walking tour later that morning.  Sprinting and sweating, I arrived at the meeting point just in time and began the 4 hr tour.

Street art is big here.  Below is a mural of Carlos Gardel (considered the Elvis of Tango).

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I met a few interesting people while on the tour, but seemed to click most with an American couple that I learned was living just 2 blocks away from me.  We decided to go for coffee after our tour and proceeded to have an interesting, laugh-filled 4 hour conversation.  Somewhere along the way, we decided they would join me for my first puerta cerrada dinner later that night.  (Puertas cerradas are closed kitchen dinners that require a reservation, are often set in someone’s home and feature a set menu created by a local chef.)  So my reservation for 1 became a reservation for 3 and whole lot more fun.  It’s moments like those where travel opens you up to new experiences and becomes something even greater than what you imagined.  It was such a nice surprise to find great company for a fancy dinner I’d planned to have alone.

After that, it was 5 more days to explore on my own before Nic arrived.  I made the most of my time, wandering around the city and trying new foods.  I must say that I’ve fallen in love with Buenos Aires.  There’s so much to see and do here.  Sometimes the best way to spend the day is just wondering around, exploring new neighborhoods, marveling at the architecture, partaking in as much ice cream/gelato as humanly possible and stopping for a coffee somewhere along the way.  The weather is a wonderful 75 and sunny here most days.  And thanks to a “blue market” for the US dollar, things are super affordable.  Everyday I feel so lucky to be here as I learn something new about this place.  I am especially aware of how lucky I am to be able to share this with one of my favorite people and without the stress/demands of working.  Everyday we wake up whenever we want to and decide what adventures we will have.  It’s kind of magical and a time I’m sure I’ll remember fondly when I return to the US.

So far I’ve managed to…

  • Survive a week of Spanish classes
  • Attend an Argentinian BBQ (i.e. meatfest) at a local’s home
  • Attend another meatfest at La Cabrera Restaurant where an order of ravioli, bread, chorizo, multiple side dishes, a melted cheese dish, a chicken dish, wine, water and 4 large steaks cost $17 per person after tip
  • Wander through the Recoleta Cemetery (Evita’s final resting place)
  • Take a day trip to Tigre to see the delta

Some photo proof of how awesome this city is…

A random church we found and a quick snapshot from the Recoleta Cemetery.

 

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A view from Recoleta that includes the huge metal flower, Floralis Generica and a snapshot of a random street in Palermo

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And sometimes you just spontaneously wander into a shop that looks like this…

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As with Colombia, I’ve witnessed first-hand some incredible kindness here in Argentina.  My landlord is one of the nicest people I’ve met.  He’s always eager to help and super responsive but more than that he seems genuinely interested and engaged.  We invited him and his girlfriend out for a drink (as a rain check for missing his birthday party which he was kind enough to invite us to) and they gladly accepted.  What I thought we be an hour-long hangout turned into 3 hrs as the conversation really got going.  And in the end he insisted on paying.  What?!  It also turns out that he and his girlfriend will be in Thailand around the same time I’m planning to be there so we might have a Southeast Asian hangout later this summer.  And then there’s the local who invited us to his BBQ.  As with many other people on this trip, I had never met him before arriving at his house for a dinner with 10-12 of his closest friends.  But he treated us like old friends and even ended up giving us a ride home at 3am even though his party was still going!  I’d actually been connected with him through an old mentor of mine that is now a coworker of his.  Just this simple connection and he reached out to me with an invitation soon after I arrived to BA.   Everyone at the dinner was kind and very forgiving of my mediocre Spanish (it turned out that several of his friends spoke no English, so my rusty and awkward pauses-filled Spanish it was).  The evening was an interesting glimpse into the life of a Porteno (those from BA) and a chance to get to know the culture a bit better.

My 3 most interesting observations from that night…

  1. These people eat a lot of meat.  A. Lot.  There were at least 5 rounds of meat parts being passed around and we ate for over 2 hrs.
  2. Portenos stay up LATE.  We arrived around 9pm and by 12am, I was ready for bed.  I noticed a friend of his starting to yawn and felt certain that we could leave soon, riding out on her goodbye coattails.  At 3am, they finally ended the dinner portion of the night and everyone began to break out the pesos for some poker.  Nooo!!!  I desperately looked to the yawner to see what she would do… She was getting our her pesos too!  I resigned myself to lameness and we soon went home.
  3. Portenos are passionate.  Nic’s Spanish is much much better than mine.  And to his credit he carried a lot of the conversation for us (which I was very grateful for).  As some point, I made the mistake of asking their thoughts on Argentina’s economic situation… What came next was one friend’s passionate response with his thoughts on US/S. America relations, the government of Argentina, US governmental policies and the issues of his country.  We’re talking some big words, people.  And in rapid fire Spanish.  I probably understood 40% of what he was saying but at some point gave up and just smiled saying “si” when it felt appropriate.  Several times there would be a pause in the conversation and I would re-direct my gaze feeling confident that breaking eye contact would end the conversation but alas that he was too smart for my tricks.

I’m looking forward to my next few weeks here.  Hopefully soon, there will be a day trip to Uruguay involved.  Nic and I also just finished planning a trip to Mendoza for the end of our time here in Argentina.  I was able to use some recently accrued frequent flyer miles to reserve 2 nights at the Park Hyatt and we managed to score a promo on 1st class bus tickets so we are considering this the splurge of our trip.  I’ve already started researching vineyards I want to visit and Nic has started compiling his list of outdoorsy/nature type things he wants to see.  Should be a fun trip if (I can survive the wilderness portion!).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel Ain’t Always Easy (aka My Trip to Bogota)

Long-term travel is kind of awesome.  You get to cram a whole lot of amazing destinations altogether into one big adventure.  And sometimes if you’re lucky, you get to do this without worrying about maintaining a job.  On paper it sounds kind of perfect.  Even I can admit that.  But in reality…  Well, in reality long-term travel is also kind of hard and often quite uncomfortable.  Such was the case, as I found myself puking into a plastic bag in the back of someone’s car while navigating Bogota traffic.  But let’s go back to the beginning…

After several warm & sunny days meandering the streets of Cartagena, it was time to start preparing for my next stop, Bogota.  I managed to track down a local dish I’d been meaning to have (fried fish with coconut rice & plantains) for lunch.  All this plus juice & soup for just $4.90!  I love you, Colombia!

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After lunch, I circled the old city while taking photos to remember the view.  Cartagena is quite a colorful town.

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I was lucky enough to have 2 friendly Argentinian roommates move in for my last two nights in Cartagena so we spent my final evening wandering the streets and enjoying the warm evening air.  As we arrived back at the hostel that evening, a strange sensation began rippling through my stomach.  I would soon discover it was a round of Travelers Diarrhea stopping by to say hello. I couldn’t believe it hit me this early on…  would I still be able to fly out the next day?

I got up the next morning, nervous about my upcoming flight but feeling ok enough to travel.  I got lucky and landed an awesome taxi driver.  He was in his 50s or 60s and originally from Cartagena.  He gave me a very hard time about not finding a Colombian boyfriend while my American boyfriend was back in the US.  At the end of our short trip, he tried to wave off my payment… WTF?!  What taxi driver says “you don’t have to pay me”?!  Anyway, I wanted to hug him at that moment but instead forced him to take the $5 fare and waved goodbye.  It was after check-in that I learned my flight had been delayed by over an hour.  Just great.  That’s exactly what a person having an anxiety attack about losing their sh*t on a plane needs (sadly, I mean that literally).  Good news though… I made it.  All the way to Bogota.  And overall, I had to say I was feeling much better.

After arriving to the airport, I found myself in a taxi with a 63 year old driver who had just started taxi-ing in the last 8 months.  Why would someone do that, you ask?  Well, I asked the same thing… because his brother and sister-in-law forged his signature on some documents and stole/bankrupted his construction business.  What?!  I must admit though, he worked really hard to keep an upbeat attitude about it.  He told me he was a very strong person and used his positive thoughts to move on in life.  I’ll say…

So after an hour on the road (and an introduction to the pure madness that is Bogota traffic), I arrived at the home of a friend’s relatives (whom I’d never met before).  I was a bit nervous… I didn’t speak fluent Spanish and his cousin didn’t speak much English.  Lucky for us, her husband spoke both fluently but he wouldn’t be home when I arrived.  But like many potentially awkward moments on the road, you just go with it and see what happens.  And then you meet someone like this…

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This is Tomas.  He’s 5 and quite a talker.  After 2 weeks in South America and lots of practice using my Spanish (neither of my taxi drivers spoke any English), I was feeling pretty good about myself.  That is, until I met Tomas and was out-espanoled by a 5 year old.  Our conversations were mainly him speaking to me in rapid fire sentences with perfect diction and me screaming “que? que?” back at him.  His Spanish was so good, in fact, that he was correcting mine.  Seriously.

Tomas: Mira!  Es la torre eifel!  (after building a lego rendition of the eiffel tower)

Katrina: Ah!  Si el torre eifel!

Tomas:  No.  Es LA torre.  LA torre.

Katrina:  Right.  La torre.

But how can you not love a face like this?!  This kid was so cute.  And so sweet.  And so smart.  We had fun together, playing games like Quien Es (Guess Who minus the fun slapping sound made when smacking the faces down) and spending time with his puppy.  His mom, Andrea, was ridiculously sweet and made me lunch as soon as I arrived (complete with worrying that I wouldn’t like it).  Even though we couldn’t communicate in the same language fluently, I found myself feeling really comfortable in their home.  It wasn’t as hard as I had feared it would be.  Once her husband, Andres, arrived home, we made plans to leave for dinner and they took me out for an authentic bowl of ajiaco (a soup dish native to Bogota).  We finished off the night with board games after Tomas went to bed.  It was a really fun day and they were some of the sweetest people I had ever met.  Little did I know what tomorrow would bring and this was just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the depth of their kindness.

The next day we all got up early and headed out to see the city.  A few things to mention…  It was a weekday but both Andrea & Andres took a day from work to show me around (who does that?!).  The drive into the city was about 2 hrs each way in Bogota traffic.  Again… who does that?!  And because we would be visiting a lot of museums, Tomas got to come along for some education.  We started off at the Military Museum and then wandered over to La Casa de Florero (another important historical site in Colombia’s history).  As we meandered through the old historic neighborhood of La Candelaria, we decided to stop for a break and have some lunch.  Pit stop complete, we carried on and made a visit to the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) which houses a crazy amount of  historic gold items.  I had been so excited to see this museum, but I sadly spent half of my time here sitting in the hallway trying to wish away my stomach pains.

I wasn’t sure what was happening but it was getting harder and harder to ignore.  My stomach was killing me and I started feeling like crap.  Andrea & Andres saw my distress and offered a stop for some tea.  After the tea, I was feeling a bit better so we decided to keep going and went to see the National Museum.  But here I could no longer take it and had to sit half of it out.  I felt so bad for these really nice people who had driven 2 hours (each way) and were missing time at work to take me and Tomas to the museums.  I didn’t want to spoil anyone’s fun but it was getting really hard to downplay.  So we called it quits and headed home.  On the way, we made a quick stop to check out an amazing view of the city of Bogota but sadly my camera broke hours before and no photo was taken.  It was at this point that I was pretty sure I had a fever coming on.  Things just kept getting better.  An hour in the car and we’re still not quite there yet.  While I had been valiantly fighting against the nausea, I could feel the tides turning and knew my time would soon be up.  Fact:  I have never in my 34 years of life EVER thrown up in something that was not a waste receptacle or a toilet.  No yards, no floors, no furniture, no roads etc.  So you can imagine how stressed out I was to realize that I was totally going to puke in these nice people’s car!  Luckily I managed to find a plastic bag and held on tight for what I knew was coming.  We were stopped at a red light, Tomas was entertaining himself in his car seat and I lost all control.  There I was puking into a small plastic bag in the backseat, while praying it didn’t have any microscopic holes.  Poor Andres had to jump out in the pouring rain and deliver my plastic bag of goodness to the nearest trashcan.  But I’m happy to report, there were no holes!

At this point, Andrea & Andres are just trying to make me feel better and even stop to get me some medicine.  As we arrive home, all I can think about is getting into bed, but there’s one more moment of awesomeness still to come.  As Andrea & I are walking to the apartment, I take a fall and scrape up my knee.  But even better than that… I also manage to rip a HUGE hole in my favorite brand name jeans.  The kind I can’t afford to replace now that I don’t have a job.  Sweet.  I shrug it off and head to bed for a rest before dinner.  Andres in all his awesomeness makes me a chicken (no noodle cause I’m gluten-free) soup from scratch and I swallow it down before tumbling back to bed and trying not to cry.  The next day I was scheduled to fly to Buenos Aires in the late morning.  That ticket would cost about $900 to replace but I wasn’t sure I could make the 7 hour flight without killing myself or having a nervous breakdown.  What if I still had a fever?!  What if I’m still puking?!  Andrea had the same concerns and went to bed worried about me.  When I woke the next morning, my fever was mostly gone.  I got up and started packing, hoping for a best case scenario.  Andrea came to talk to me and let me know that she was worried about me.  That she felt bad no one would be waiting for me in Buenos Aires to take care of me or take me to the hospital if I needed it.  She wanted me to know that I was welcome to stay as long as I wanted and that she and Andres would take me to the hospital if I needed it.  She was presenting a really tempting offer and it was hard to leave.  Secretly I still felt kind of crappy, but I was feeling better and at that point I wanted to just get to Argentina so I could stop worrying about making flights when I felt crappy.  In the end, I decided to catch my flight.  I really wanted to crawl back in bed with Andrea & Andres there to take care of me but instead I put on my big girl pants and made my way to Argentina.

I write this REALLY long post to say 2 things…

1) Travel is oftentimes uncomfortable.  Sometimes it’s in the good way that makes you grow as a person or change your perspective on things.  And sometimes it’s in the bad way where all you want to do it to quit and go home.  It can often be both of these things at the same time.  It’s not always glamorous but it’s usually rewarding.

2) Colombia is a great country full of amazing people.  I have seen some of the most powerful kindness extended to me by friends & family members of a work friend that I only got to know shortly before leaving my company.  I will be forever grateful to him for allowing me this opportunity.  If you’ve ever thought of visiting Colombia, I highly urge you to do so!

That’s it for me.  Tomorrow is my first day of Spanish class here in Buenos Aires.  Maybe after 2 weeks here I will finally be able to keep up with Tomas…

Eating My Way Through Cartagena

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So I made to Cartagena without a hitch.  I even got to pester the British girl who shared a cab to the airport with me about her massive hickey (yet another hostel stereotype come to life!).  She laughed and said that only Americans were “brave” (or maybe she meant “rude”) enough to ask her about it directly.  Side note:  Avianca is seriously the best airline I’ve ever flown.  They are so friendly!  From the customer call center to the ticket agents and even the flight attendants, it’s actually a joy to fly with them.  They even let me carry on my massive backpack when it exceeded the weight limit by 5 lbs (it weighed in at a gentle 26 lbs). Speaking of which, my back might actually be breaking in slow motion.  I think I’m going to need a chiropractor once this trip is over.  

I landed here on this sunny island without a plan.  For the past few days I’ve been walking around and taking in the sights of the old city and neighboring barrio, Getsemani.  While all this free time has been relaxing and I enjoy waking up every day without a plan, I started to feel a bit bored and wanted to learn something about the town I was spending so much time in.  So I got online and did some quick research on “things to do” and “walking tours”.  And then I saw it… a street food walking tour with an Australian expat named Kristy.  Sold!  So I sent a quick email to see if she could fit me in.  Lucky for me, she had some time this afternoon so we set up a meeting for 3pm.

For most of you, daylight savings is a real thing.  I thought it was for me too, but apparently Colombia gives the middle finger to daylight savings.  So I waited for about an hour and thought Kristy had abandoned me.  Then I awkwardly admitted to being an idiot when she was confused about why I thought she was an hour late.  Lucky for me, Kristy was super cool and didn’t hold it against me.  And with that… the tour began.  It was awesome.  I’ve come to realize how important food is for me during this international experience.  As we walked around, sampling strange and exotic new foods I felt as if I were in heaven.  It’s kind of how I imagine my boyfriend to feel on an 8 hr hike, up a steep mountain with nature all around him (all I feel in these situations is panic and an acute awareness of my out of shapeness).

So we spent 2 hours together talking and walking.  I peppered her with questions about how she ended up in Cartagena (a breakup and strong desire to travel) and about the food we were trying.  It was all so amazing… arepas con queso, arepas con huevos, green mango with salt, pepper and lime juice, lulo fruit smoothies, guava paste with cheese, deep fried coconut, guava brisos (popsicles) and coconut water straight from the coconut served in a plastic bag much like a water balloon to name a few.  At the end of our tour, I sat down completely satisfied.  Being on a tight budget, I can’t do everything I want.  I could have spent the money on a day at the beach, or touring a mud volcano but in those moments after our tour ended, I knew without a doubt that it was the best experience I could have given myself.  It’s been a little lonely here in Cartagena.  The hostel I’m staying at has an odd set up and a weird vibe so meeting people hasn’t been as easy.  Spending time with someone and learning about something I’m interested in was a nice way to connect, even if just for a few hours.  I definitely feel inspired to keep my eye out for other food tours in the cities and towns I’m going to visit.

The picture above was taken from the rooftop of a nice hotel here in Cartagena.  Kristy loves to show people the view from up here and now you can see why!  Below is a quick shot I took of the candy jars on the Plaza de Reloj.  So many to choose from!

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Hello, Medellin. It’s Nice to Meet You.

So I’m here!  Made it safe and sound to a city that was once known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world (Mom, keep reading!). Sadly, some of the stigma from those years still remains and I received more than one or two “are you crazy” comments when I told people of my plans to visit this city/country.  But I must say, Medellin is making big strides to rebrand itself and I’m glad I gave it a chance.  It’s really a lovely city.  Still not convinced?  Take a look at some of my photos!  Do it!  And then say you’re sorry!

Ok, so maybe you want to know what it’s like to pack up your life into a 40L backpack and set off on an international adventure.  Well, I’ll tell you… Scary, dubious, exciting, inspiring… basically a whole lot of mixed emotions all rolled into one.  I think I mostly felt numb from the overload of things you must do/take care of before you drop your life to travel for several months.  But when my butt landed in the airplane seat headed for another country, I started wondering why I had to live life trapped inside a crazy person’s body.  I thought to myself “I hope you know what you’re getting into because this kind of seems like a dumb idea.”  I was nervous to say the least.  Luckily my pre-arranged ride was already waiting for me at the airport (I arrived late at night) so I took this as a good sign and soon headed to bed to silence the nervous chatter in my head.

But morning came and I faced my first day in this new city/country.  I kept my calm and tried to focus on all the reasons I was excited to be here.  First order of business was a quick walk down the street to the Bancolombia to withdraw some Colombian pesos (a very important step as most places here only take cash).  As I put my brand new Charles Schwab ATM card into the machine (the one that charges $0 fees for international travel and even reimburses you for whatever the other bank charges you!) I took a deep breath and prayed my card would work.  Apparently prayers were not being answered at that time because the stupid ATM refused my card.  Multiple times.  I tried not to freak out and walked back to my hostel.  I called Schwab via Skype and they insisted everything should be working.  So I went back to try it again, this time bringing my backup Bank of America card (which charges a crapload of fees when taking money out).  No luck with the Schwab card.  Visions of buying a ticket back to the US started creeping into my mind.  Up next, the BofA card.  No luck with it either.  I’ll keep it real, I was about 2 steps away from a full-blown panic attack.  How in the hell would I get around with no pesos?!  Alas after much denial and 3 attempts, I FINALLY got the BofA card to work.  But then the realization of how much money I would lose using that card over and over again started to bring me down.  Like really down.  Like moody, I hate traveling, maybe I should go home, down.  As my boyfriend will tell you, I sometimes indulge the worst case scenario a little earlier than most.  Anyway, I was seriously depressed and decided to come back and hang out in my hostel for awhile.  I made a reservation for a fancy restaurant that was out of my budget and decided it might just be the therapy I needed.

Later that night I did copious amounts of research and learned that it’s a common problem with Bancolombia and that if I tried another bank, my card just might work.  Whew, huge sigh of relief.  After my nice dinner and the potentially good news, I went to bed feeling a bit better.

In the end things worked out and the research proved true (stupid Bancolombia!).  I managed to enjoy my time here complete with a day trip, a 4 hr walking tour and a Colombian bbq.  I even managed to make friends with a few of my hostel roommates.  Some were not so awesome so I chose not to make friends with them.  I even learned I had a fellow gluten-intolerant roommate who’s been traveling the world for 3 years (wtf?!) and had some CRAZY stories to share.

Here are some photos from the walking tour…

Botero Statue  Another Botero Statue      

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And then there was the day trip to Guatape and La Piedra (seriously thought I was going to die walking up the 740 stairs to the top of that rock!)

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Hostel living is an interesting experiment and an adjustment for sure.  It’s actually not as bad as I feared it would be, but I’m also spending my first stint in a higher end hostel with a 6 bed female dorm and ensuite bathroom.  Some people are really friendly and others not so much.  There are a lot of people looking to hook up with each other (and with locals) so that stereotype seems true so far.  Another stereotype being fulfilled is the American guy who took it upon himself to play a 45 min set several nights in a row out in the courtyard where everyone could hear.  I mean everyone as in everyone, as in even the people hanging out in their rooms trying to take a nap with the doors shut.  And he was not that good.  Like sometimes painful to listen to.  And what’s really sad is that you know he thinks he’s great because he’s actually lugging a guitar around from country to country.  This, people, is what happens when you’re not honest with your friends.  It’s quite interesting just to sit downstairs and watch the interactions.  Yesterday I listened to a group of American guys flirt heavily with the receptionist.  It’s like re-visiting high school but slightly different.  At times it makes me feel old but there is a surprisingly large number of people here who are my age (and even older!).

For my last night, I headed out to a friend of a friend’s family bbq.  (Side note: it’s really nice to know people who know people… it makes your time in a new country so much more interesting and gets you one step closer to understanding what life in that city/country is really like.)  I had never met these people before my trip and they were so welcoming.  The friend and his girlfriend were some of the kindest people I’ve met and his mom even bought me a tube of her favorite sunscreen after a previous lunch where I complained about my sunburn from the walking tour!  Seriously SO NICE!  They made the bbq gluten-free so I could enjoy everything and his girlfriend spent the night catering to my every need.  Fair to say I was a bit spoiled 🙂  It was a fabulous way to end my time here in Medellin (minus the massive stomach cramp that came from overeating… I had no idea when I agreed to a second arepa con chorizo that it was just the appetizer!).  I hope to see them again some day…

Now, it’s time to pack up my stuff and head out to Cartagena.  While it’s a bit unsettling to be picking up and leaving again so soon, I’m really looking forward to some time on the beach with not much to do other than relax.

Hasta luego!