Mission: Complete?

I am so blessed to have had this opportunity in my life and would whole-heartedly encourage anyone vaguely considering taking real time out to travel this continent to get out there without hesitation. The memories I have made will surely stay with me a lifetime (thanks in part to what I have been writing… as my unassisted memory is awful…). I am really grateful to everyone who has been part of the trip and graced me with the pleasure of their company, conversation and friendship.

The blog has been a labour of love to write on my mobile (for the most part) as it’s slow work… and loading up SLR camera photos with South American wifi is generally pretty painful! But it has entirely worth it and I’m glad I have finally found the time and motivation to finish it off… eventually!

Lastly, I want to thank you as a reader for sharing in this with me, whether you have stuck with this from the beginning (really well done if that’s the case!), dipped into the occasional chapter or simply have somehow found your way here without even knowing me (Welcome…!). I would be lying if I said your interaction (and direct encouragement from some) hadn’t in a way helped me keep at it.

I hope you have enjoyed reading it… even a fraction as much as I enjoyed living it, and you are spurred on to continue (or start?!) your own adventures. Maybe you can even let me know if you are writing something yourself like some already have!

I am back in London these days, a bit less lost (maybe), a bit more accountant (definitely).

Hasta la proxima!  Until next time!, and there will be a proxima… some day.

Yours truly,

TLA

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Bogotá

I got to Bogota with fairly low expectations having been told by pretty much all travellers I’d met that it wasn’t really worth the trip. Nonetheless, I was pleased with what I saw and learned about in the taxi, with the driver sharing some useful nuggets of touristy info. I checked in and fairly swiftly got chatting with a French guy, Tim, and Chilean girl who were in the reception. We decided to go out for dinner and despite having to fight a bit to not go to Maccy D’s (seriously!) I found myself in a traditional place and got a few cool local dishes and shared a bottle of wine or two between us and another guy who joined us. Then it was back to the hostel for a couple more drinks and I met a load of other people who were about and learned about there various travels, it was chilled vibe and no one really seemed mad keen for a big night out. That suited me just fine at this point.

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I am a firm supporter of kicking off with walking tours, and one of the girls, Lallas, from the night before hadn’t done the Bogota one yet so we agreed to check it out together. She also had a Bolivian other half just like me incidentally! We then went to the gold museum, which was pretty cool and some of the pieces had some interesting stories behind them. Afterwards, we took a respite from all the ‘culture’ and got a hot chocolate in a coffee shop. She was out here checking a load of stuff out semi working and semi travelling – nice way to do it I reckon.

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This is a really bad quality picture but it’s like the main attraction from the gold museum so it’s here… You’ll have to visit yourself!IMG_4558.JPG

Then it was another fairly chilled night, with hostel food dinner (they had a proper restaurant and it was really good as I recall) plus bottle of wine with Danny and Tim.

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The next morning Preena, Amy and I attempted the walk up Monserrat – a hill with a church and mini settlement on top. It was a pretty hard walk as I recall (probably because of the altitude… if memory serves it’s at 2640m ish … not as bad as La Paz, but it’s up there…pun not intended), but worth it with some really nice views of the city up there and some cool buildings to check out. Most importantly, I managed to get myself a well-deserved ice cream.

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My memory is a bit hazy but I think then we met up with a few other people including Tim to have lunch with his walking tour group as he’d just done it then. I then went off with Tim to do the ‘food’ tour and the girls did the afternoon version of the mainstream walking tour we’d already done. The food tour was awesome, I really enjoyed it getting to try some stuff I almost certainly would not have ordered otherwise and see a different part of town. Then we chilled in Tim’s hostel for the afternoon before meeting up with some others again for a Choripan (hotdog sort of).

A good few people of the crew left the next morning/the day before, I had breakfast with a couple remaining and then didn’t have much more time before I planned to leave and look at the Salt Cathedral which I’d heard was worth visit. Lallas had been out of the picture a bit recently because she had been unwell, and I learned she’d got quite a nasty cut that looked like it might be infected.. and I started wondering if that was what had been causing it. She had been to the doctor but wasn’t that confident she had understood the instructions and what she needed to take etc. I suggested going back and getting it clear with him and offered to help out with my slightly more advanced Spanish. I think we figured it out and got the necessary supplies / learned what was needed re changing dressing!

 

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The calmest of waters which looks like a mirror until you poke it and start a ripple!

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Then I said my goodbyes and moved out on my own… reminded again that it is pretty draining to make friends, live in close proximity, and then just have to leave them knowing you may never see them. Happily, as I’m writing this about a year too late I can gladly say that I managed to meet up with Tim in London since. I hope my path crosses with the others at some point too! Anyways, back to 2018, the cathedral did a fantastic job of occupying my mind from such musings with stunning scenes and an eerie/magical atmosphere to it. It was very cool, I spent quite a while there wandering around. Originally this is where salt was mined and they’ve since converted the vast caverns and hollows into a big place of worship…/ tourist attraction. I also knew shortly I would be flying back to Bolivia to help Cinthya celebrate her birthday and took this opportunity to buy her one of Colombia’s specialties around there… an Emerald!

And there it was – goodbye to Colombia, after an awesome couple of months. I’ve got so many good memories from my time in this beautiful country. If anyone wants to go to South America with only a couple of weeks and a more chilled intention, I would recommend Colombia. If you want to go harder on the adventure and culture it would probably be Peru, but the whole trip was incredible.

 

 

Cali

After salento it was onto Cali, it was a really nice hostel (mango tree) with a nice pool and communal area, friendly staff but sadly without hot water, which seems to be worryingly common in hot parts of Colombia!

I got talking pretty much straight away with a Chilean guy, Ignacio, in the same dorm and I decided to tag along with him as we wandered around the city a bit and also went to Caliwood – a very impressive cinema museum.

We showered and changed and headed out to a salsa place called “rumba y salsa” as some other people from the hostel, including the manager, were going out. We got there early and shared a couple of beers at a nearby bar before meeting up with the others. Also by a small twist of fate I ran into… Bryan, who was a salsa teacher and also the boyfriend of a friend of mine back in london who was coming to Cali shortly also. I wanted to get some lessons in and apparently the first one is free so he and I agreed to meet up at 11 the next morning. Anyway, we headed off with the rest of the hostel group to a playa called levels to dance. It was a good place, with a nice rooftop bar and a blessedly well air conditioned dancefloor!

I breakfasted and had my salsa trial the next morning, which confirmed for me that the salsa I did in Bolivia was of a different type and not going to help me much as well as enthusing me to book a 4 hour intensive course. I then met up with Ignacio back at the hostel and we headed out to explore again but in a different part of town. I tried lulada here which was recommended to me. It’s a sort of fruity sorbet… but nicer than sorbet normally is! We had understood there were salsa classes in the bar area of the hostel and so headed to that later on. Turns out it wasn’t really lessons more just loads of (fairly accomplished) students dancing with a few teachers from rumba y salsa there. One of the teachers recognised me and my lack of dancing and so paired me up with a Colombian woman who was very patient with me… and I danced for a little bit just to do all the steps I’d learned earlier that day before scuttling off back to the safety of my table with Ignacio and cocktail. We swiftly headed off after to a salsa place called la Topa Tolondra which had a band in, who were excellent. I repeated some more steps and had a drink or two before calling it a night.

The next morning was my salsa class and because Katy (my English friend and also Bryan’s girlfriend!) had arrived, was cut short to two hours. This actually worked well for me as my brain was pretty full after this but happy with the progress. Next was to meet up with Vanessa who had also been helping me learn Spanish online for over a year and fortunately we’d managed to find a time to meet up. She’d recently bought herself a house in Palmira (about 40 mins outside of Cali) and so invited me over, picking me up from the terminal on her way home from work. I had a nice chat with her family before heading out for a huge meal that was about double what we could eat.

We were up early the next day to head to Lago Calima Which took ages but was totally worth it. Lovey countryside and most importantly we got the kite surfing in which I’d wanted to do for ages and had been told this was the place to do it. It was so cool, we spent an hour on dry land learning about the equipment before heading into the water and having a go at steering the kite and dragging us around.

I managed to get the hang of it pretty quickly and eventually, after much demanding, they allowed me to have a board (which apparently doesn’t usually happen until hour 5) and I even stood up a bit. Its more pleasant than wake boarding, which I tried once, as the strain is put mainly on the harness rather than your arms!

The original plan was for a night out with Katy and Bryan as well as their friends but realised that owing to the election everywhere where alcohol was involved was shut! I still find it pretty funny that they ban alcohol during elections to keep everyone honest! So I did not do much and instead joined them at a cool place in the mountains with a pool the next day called El Arca de Noé (Noah’s Arc).

I had my other half of salsa lesson the next morning and left buzzing from the results, headed back for a quick shower past the check out time…! Oops and then headed to the airport to fly to my last stop of Colombia

Cartagena and Playa Blanca

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I got in fairly late in the day and just about managed to make it in time for dinner with a couple of Bolivian guys through Cinthya in the main square, near the famous clock tower before commencing with the touristy activities the next day.

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First up was Breakfast and a good chat with the owner who turned out to be a Brit from Brighton who had married a Colombian girl and moved his life over here. He gave me a good few recommendations plus the breakfast was incredible. Two courses, starting with a pancake and followed by a Colombian take on a fry up. I then hopped on the bus tour and made my way round the city and learned a bit of the history, this place obviously attacked a lot by the brits back in the day. It also included a walking tour of the centro histórico which was great and the place is beautiful with loads of nice restaurants and bars.

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Next I visited the San Felipe castle which was also really good. I did a self guided audio tour where you can follow a map which gives you a set track for each spot. It’s pretty clever in the way the fort is engineered and was never defeated, despite best efforts of European pirates/ invaders… including a fair amount of Brits again. That night I did the recommended chivas rumbearas (basically a party bus) and was the only non South American pretty much so got lots of spanish in and met some nice Chileans and Bolivians, as well as some Argentinians who basically had the same job as me, in a club!

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The next day I headed to Playa Blanca which was very touristy but for good reason. I opted for the bus but taking a boat is also an option. As soon as we got off 3 guys were on me to be “helpful”grabbed my suitcase and loaded it onto a boat. Absolutely no mention of how much it would cost to ferry me down to my hostel. I made an effort to agree a price and told them I didn’t need the help of all 3 of them but they weren’t interested, so I simply enjoyed the trip making a mental note that there was likely to be a battle on that fairly shortly. I was right and they initially requested something absolutely so ridiculous that I can’t imagine even the greenest of gringos would have accepted… They also tried the technique of saying that each of them deserved to get paid. I responded fairly abruptly along the lines of “Well you two did absolutely nothing except enjoy the ride, at least he carried the suitcase” and was having none of it. I ultimately gave them roughly a tenth of their original ask, and what I later found out was double what the actual fare was. In terms of how much they try and swindle you, I thought that was pretty good going.

I got settled in, and Jonathan who worked there showed me to my room. I then grabbed some lunch and went to see Steffi who I met back in Chile and her new boyfriend Tomas as we managed to link up again by some happy geographical coincidence. To be honest such things happen quite a lot so I’ve stopped being too surprised when they come about, but it’s really nice all the same. bexe4167.jpg

The hostel was powered by a generator which eventually turned itself off so people could sleep at night and it was surprisingly quiet and dark at night, not too crazy in terms of partying but there were a couple of places up the beach with drink and dance until fairly late. I decided to treat myself to a shower and after a couple of minutes searching around the shower room with nothing but a bucket in the corner, I gave up and asked how to find the shower.. a local guy who worked their with an accent I recognised as being coastal simply leant in and pointed to the bucket saying “Ducha!” i.e. that IS the shower. I cottoned on then did not have the most comfortable shower of my life.

I had a pretty Lazy day the next day and got talking to Menno and Agathe (a Dutch guy and French girl) who had recently been travelling and made their way here together. Menno and I managed to talk each other into Jet skiing which was absolutely hilarious and you could get some real speed zooming around the water, chasing each other but all with a general common sense ‘stay away from the boats and swimmers’. Very different to when I’d previously done it under more controlled conditions in Europe.

There are people walking up and down the beach shouting about their various offerings “Cervezas!” (beers) and “Masaje!” (massages). A Venezuelan lady went to start massaging my feet and I politely said no, but she wouldn’t take that for an answer and continued nonetheless saying that it was free. I couldn’t really argue with that, so waved the next guy over for a nice cold Aguila beer and let her work her magic whilst having a nice chat to exercise my Spanish. Later on we had a nice team dinner in the hostel with staff and guests alike and chatted to various people. There was a very chilled Colombian guy visiting from Medillin and an enthusiastic Israeli girl who’s Spanish wasn’t great but made up for it with charm and animation such that she was still very much part of the conversation. There were also some tiny puppies stumbling around in the sand which only added to the good vibe.

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In the morning we headed to visit the lagoon at the other end of the beach, Menno and treated ourselves to a coconut which was ridiculously cheap given the availability. Apparently one of the houses on the other side of the lagoon was Shakira’s (I don’t know if that was true, but it seemed credible!) we enjoyed our time there eventually gave up trying to guess which one was hers. Then we said our goodbyes to those at the hostel as Agathe, Menno and I all headed off together to get a nice and sweaty bus back to civilisation.

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I chilled at the hostel and the next day went up to do the tour of Volcán totumo where you climb up an extinct volcano (I think…) the crater of which is no longer teeming with steaming magma… but warm mud! (‘Lodo’) It was pretty bizarre but awesome. I enjoyed floating around and being slide around into place like a tea tray in a cantine (seriously that’s an apt analogy…I promise). It’s a pretty slick operation as they wheel you in, give you a bit of a massage then let you make you’re own way out. When you start climbing the ladder the workers swoop on to you and help you wipe off the worst of the mud as you exit.

As part of the tour we also had lunch and a visit to the beach included, I got to know some Canadian’s and Israelis learning plenty about how odd Canadian French swearing is. We tried and failed to throw a frisby around in the wind for a bit before heading back to rest and move on to the next leg of our various trips.

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Esmeraldas! (Emeralds) in the Museum

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Santa Marta, Minca and Palomino

We arrived in Santa Marta after the carnival and spent couple of days recovering with most of the medillin gang by the pool of the hostel cacao as well as eating as much as possible from the nice establishments in town, la muzzeria was our favourite. It was a fairly pretty (and insanely windy!) place but was so hot I didn’t really leave the pool side a whole amount. We had a few drinks and played some darts every now and then but I mostly was catching up with people I hadn’t spoken to in a while as well as watching some Netflix and finally finished the book I’d started before my trip but neglected shamelessly!

Next up I headed to taganga which is really not far away at all, a twenty minute taxi would do it, and got to a lovely little beach town. I’d heard mixed reviews about this place but I really like it. Spurred on by the completion of my first real spanish book, I decided it was at last time to finish my advanced open water scuba course that I’d started in 2016 but never got round to finishing. They gave me a bit of studying to do beforehand so I took it to the beach and passed the late afternoon and evening there, stopping for some dinner at a place called casita del mar which was nice enough, before heading black to the hostel to finishing my quiz. Then it was a bit of Brooklyn 99 and s chat with some Swiss girls who were also here to scuba dive, before an early night.

Up early for scuba the next day, buddying up with an Irish guy, Mark, and instructor Jorge as we headed out on the boat for a couple of nice, but not too intensive dives. I’d actually already been 30m before in the Galapagos (the required depth for the deep dive sign off) but good to do it formally. It was quite cool to see how your colour perception is affected that deep and we failed miserably at identifying a tomato at that depth, mark went for lemon and I reckoned a peach. Jorge also cracked an egg open for us and it the yolk stayed fully intact due to the pressure, you could even grab it and throw it to some extent and watch it float away, which made me think it was probably the closest I would get to experiencing the quirks of space travel!

Officially signed as advanced divers now, off we went for well deserved some lunch and were joined by a spanish girl, Maria, who was staying in the hostal moving from room to room painting them in exchange for bed and some pay. Seemed like a pretty good deal! Later on I chilled on the beach with some dinner and micheladas whilst enjoying the live music.

Picked up Mark in taxi the next morning and went on to Minca with a small drama trying to find a hostel and the taxi struggling with the tight roads but ended up in a place called buena vista, which as the name suggested had an awesome view of santa Marta in the distance and the surrounding countryside. After subtly plugging the hostels own food capabilities the manager (and also chef as it turned out…) recommended a place down the road called bururake and we had an amazing lunch of passion fruit chicken and bbq pork. The service was a bit slow but had nice scenery and the food was well worth the wait. We enwquired into a tour the next day with ‘Jungle Joe’ and I went for an hours walk or so around a nice scenic place called pozo azul and we had a fairly chilled night with some others in the hostal.

The next day we did our jungle joe tour which I would highly recommend. It was a nice but not challenging hike with some waterfalls and a ‘natural slide’. We went to his house afterwards and learned about bamboo use in architecture, which was impressively demonstrated in his house itself, as well as the chocolate making process in the areas surrounding it.

Next it was on to a coffee plantation to learn about that and get involved in identifying which beans could be picked and the resultant types of coffee that they created. Dinner was great, at an Argentinian steak place accompanied by some lovely beers and I even got a bit of an Irish lesson!

Up for breakfast the next day and Fernando who owned the hostel happened to be heading to palomino, our next stop, so took us along with some French guys we were sharing the room with. We got to our hostel ok but the French guys had a bit of a palava in that theirs was along the beach and required some motorbike assistance for the last leg… but we assume they got there fine eventually! Mark also lost the Rock Paper Scissors tournament meaning he was in the boot until the first drop off! We stopped of for a snack on the way eating some local things called Bonos… which were divine. We checked out the beach and went for a dip in the pool before dinner and met a couple of people in the hostel, tiki hut. Nice place but terrible cocktails. Then we went to the neighboring hostel, the dreamer for a drink. I bumped into a couple of people I met back in santa Marta, not too surprisingly with this trail being fairly well trodden. We also met a welsh uber driver about our age who apparently worked for 8-9 months of the year then travelled the rest. Sounded like a pretty sweet way of life for a while.

Up and went for a walk on beach and Tomas who I met all the way back in Uruguay ages ago spotted me! This was pretty crazy in itself but also compounded by the fact he ran into Joao fortuitously a bit beforehand as well in Brazil thus reuniting the trio we had in the hostel room in Montevideo. Mark and I went tubing down the river later on which is a definite must… but for goodness sake protect yourself from the sun… we did our best but still got fairly burned. The waters were also a bit shallow this time of year which involved some walking annoyingly… except for where some local kids decided it would be fun to pull me along, which was ideal. Then it was a late lunch at the dreamer followed by a pretty public massage in the hostel room… had assume the masseur had their own studio but no apparently not. We then ended this ‘ highly stressful’ day at media luna for dinner. The mains were ok but after having some amazing brownies at the dreamer earlier the one I had there was awful, wine very expensive for what it was but you shouldn’t really go to Colombia for the wine anyway. Lesson learned.

Berakfast the next day and I had, by another big coincidence, bumped into a girl I met in Brazil foz de Iguazú, Viola, who grabbed my number in case we overlapped as both heading the same direction before I parted ways with Mark and went onwards to the lovely Cartagena

Salento

I stopped by in Medellin again for a few days to break up the trip from Cartagena to Cali. It’s a great city and I was so glad to be back in the land of hot showers, reasonable temperatures and free from mosquitoes! I managed to squeeze in seeing Luisa, Alberto and Norida again. I had an amazing white chocolate fondue, saw a couple of prospective venues for Alberto’s new tattoo shop as well as finally… I went to Gautapé with Norida and a couple of friends. Definitely worth it, and despite having to wake up early I motored up the steps of the peñol stone which is huge… and we were rewarded with an awesome view. I also treated myself to a michelada with mango biche.

Norida kindly waved me off at the terminal and I had long day travelling then got to salento at last with a two hour bus delay and snuck into bed as quietly as possible in the hostel, estrellas sin fronteras which was run by a really nice French guy.

Oats and yoghurt for a basic breakfast then spoke briefly to a Dutch guy, Tony, who was heading with a French girl to do the main hike here in the valley of corocora. He invited me to tag along with them so we headed out together to the plaza and made our way to the starting point hanging out the back of a jeep. Some great scenery on the hike as well as a few dubious bridges and we saw the famous wax palm trees which I was told are the tallest in the world here and that’s believable given how they grow significantly higher than the rest of the surrounding canopy. Near the top of the mountain we took a break to visit the house of hummingbirds and observe these cute creatures for a while and get some lunch in before heading back. My knees were a bit sore so I headed back the way we came and forewent the rest of the loop… really should get these looked at as they haven’t been right since peru…! We got a solid amount of table tennis in and went out for a nice dinner altogether with a couple more people in the hostel. I had a quesadilla and a peanut butter brownie milkshake. It was amazing! I ate half and had the other half of both for lunch the next day!

The next day Tony and I headed to the ocaso coffee farm and did a cool tour there overlooking some beautiful landscapes and ending with the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. We made our way back to the plaza for lunch but this time using a Jeep as my knees were failing again. Such an old man. We played a load more table tennis and chilled for the rest of the afternoon before heading out for dinner.

I mentioned that I really wanted to play some Tejo at some point and later that night as if by magic an American guy came up to us and said he was going to play some with a Belgian girl also in the hostal if anyone wanted to join, so I went with them. He was a curious fellow who “didn’t believe in names”. I wasn’t sure if he was for real with this, but for the purpose of practicality opted to give him the name of Alejandro, which stuck for the night. Anyways, the game was good fun and Alejandro managed to find another group of girls outside bolstering our numbers to the recommended eight (two teams of four). The game is essentially lobbing rocks at a bed of clay with a horseshoe in the middle and you get points for blowing up little sachets of gunpowder or landing your rock in the middle of the horseshoe.

Medellin

Having jetted off to resume the adventure I found myself in Medellin without a bag, which had apparently been left in Bogotá. A form was filled out and I made my way to hostel la playa and rooftop, which is a great hostel. Each bed has its own fan and power sockets, plus there is a cool bar on the rooftop. I stayed around the reception, making the odd exploratory foray but without venturing too far lest my bag arrive without me being there. The “two hours” promised came and went without a cursory hint of luggage. I got there at 7 and the bags arrived around 6! A bit of a waste of a day dozing semi conscious on a sofa but oh well!

I met a lot of cool people at the hostel from europe, the states and other travellers from the South America itself. It seems pretty popular with Argentinians as they arrived in great numbers. I was thinking this might be as a result of it being a richer country and so coming here is pretty sweet for them costs wise as it is for me.

I wandered around a bit more, tried the cable car to get a cracking view of the city with a German guy, sorted my Colombian SIM card and tasted the local typical dish

Dinner bandeja paisa… Which is mental, I counted 4 different meat portions and 4 different carbohydrates. I didn’t have much of an appetite generally that night and that was a mistake. If you want to take this on… go hungry first!

The next day we did the main free walking tour, which is where most of the photos so far are from. I have had some really good ones in my trip, shout out to Santiago’s which is probably second but this one topped it. It was so damn interesting and also chilling at times learning about the grisly history. Our guide was telling us about seeing dead people on street as he walked to school as a child. The city has made a massive recovery since dispatch of its most famous criminal, and a lot of working is going into improving it further still. We also ate some nice food and drink by the guides suggestion whilst in town and got back to the safety just in time to witness a massive thunderstorm! Once this cleared I had some awesome chicken at a place called burdo nearby in the neighbourhood, Poblado.

My main goal for being here was to try and perfect my spanish and formally get some lessons to get rid of any bad habits/ cover off the last of things I was struggling with. So, I spent most of the day researching schools and doing as many assessment tests as I could before heading to a language exchange event and met a couple of cool locals I reckoned is try and practise with some other time. I then went back to the hostel and got roped into singing despacito. Ok in fairness I didn’t need much convincing. The shock of a gringo singing a spanish song apparently warranted an encore which I was not prepared for… so did an ed sheeran song, which is one of the ten or so non latin songs that are super popular here.

It was out to a place called la octava that ultimately became a favourite… I think I’ve been there four times now. It has a ball pit!! Then we headed to a couple of spots on the main drag near parque lleras to dance the rest of the night away with bottles of aguardiente, the local spirit, in tow.

The next day I had lunch with a mate of mine from university, Danny, and heard about his story of how he came to live here with his girlfriend Katy and what he was up to now. I also got some good tips, especially in respect of private spanish teachers. The schools had said they didn’t have classes at the right level available right now and the private lessons they offered were very expensive, as I found out from my interview at a school in envigado straight after the lunch. I wandered around this neighbourhood a bit before getting a bus back, chatting with an old guy and getting my own verse in a song sung by a troubadour busking on the bus.

I went paragliding with Angie, a girl from the states I’d met in the hostal, the next day and it was awesome!! I’d never done this before and got some great views of bello to the north as well as the rest of Medillin from the view point afforded by the airspace of san felix. We then went around the botanical garden, caved into the temptation of some ice cream ahead of another night out including a further visit to la octava. I had the most amazing post night snack which was a sort of salchipapa type dish (sausage, chips and cheese). Super healthy…

I had a nice brunch with a Swiss guy called Rafael who had been with us, followed by a Steet art tour in comuna 13 a different part of the city undergoing (and needing) some development. We had some nice local Ice cream watched some Body popping and even had a mini dance lesson at the end of it. Bridge, from Holland and future spanish lesson partner!, joined us a nice dinner at an Indian restaurant after to mark the end of Rafas stay.

The next day Bridge and I had our first Spanish lesson and it was really good, we then had another one the next day with a different teacher… and it was also really good. It was tough to pick our favourite so we tried to do both but ultimately decided it didn’t make sense to try and run in parallel and would be better off sticking to the one to benefit most. That night I went to another language exchange event and found a street fighter machine at a place called vintrash!!

I became a bit nocturnal for a couple of days and went to another Language exchange in the next and learned a lot of local slang, followed by karaoke again then out. We went to a salsa place which was awesome! Called son Havana. There was a live band which was brilliant and we were joined by a few more Dutch girls as well as a lovely Irish couple that formed a solid part of the crew going forward. Then back for some more dancing at parque lleras.

I woke up fairly late and spent a while trying to convince myself to leave the comfortable hammock and get some lunch. Fortunately the Uruguayan guy dude offered to cook some risotto so I made a token effort of helping by slicing up some veg and we had a really nice meal with the Argentinian guy also. I did some language exchange in poblado park with a girl who lived in a different part of town called Luisa, and got a michelada for the first time in a while. They seem a bit different in Colombia and don’t have the spice to which I had become accustomed but it was still a refreshing way to drink beer. I had another language exchange event that night in the envigado neighbourhood and by chance bumped into Bridge in town who was on her way to dinner with some local friends of hers in the same sort of area so we shared the bus, which was nice until I accidentally smacked her in the head with my phone on the way out… sorry Bridge!

The intercambio exchange at Colombia immersion school here in envigado was packed and had a good atmosphere. It was great to interact with some locals who were fairly beginner at English but super keen to learn and really nice. It did get a bit rowdy and difficult to hear but all good natured. I met a couple of people from my trial class earlier in the week and was tempted to go out with the group from there but already had plans with the hostel crew so headed back and had a few drinks. We also Ran into group of people that worked at the hostel who were all great, and went to a really intense place called Calle 9+1 between Calle 9 and Calle 10. Arguably Calle 9.5 would have been better name? Most people called it a day after that but I was still keen to keep going as well as a nice Venezuelan who was holding birthday balloons so felt compelled to carry on! We headed to a place miles away called top secret. It had great music and a friendly atmosphere. There was a blind girl strutting her stuff with her guide dog inside as well which was cool, not something I’d seen before! Out of nowhere Bridge appears with the friends she had dinner with and we rejoiced at the second random reunion of the day. It was light by the time we decided to leave and attempted to wait outside for an Uber. The bouncer strongly advised we stayed indoors until it arrived and used the cameras to see when it pulled up. Apparently in this part of town Its pretty dangerous waiting outside at this hour. Said the goodbyes and finally hit the hay, promising in vain that I’d take it a bit easier tomorrow.

I met another friend, Norida, in a Juan Valdez coffee shop (there are loads of these everywhere) and had a really good Language exchange tandem before heading to Dancefree for a formal event and had a really good chat about computer programming (Nerd Alert) with a dude who did it for a living, and I’d never really spoken in Spanish about it before. I wasted no opportunity talking about the only two things I’ve done in my life that vaguely resemble writing code. Then it was a free dance class… I was erroneously expecting salsa but it was some Brazilian dance I’d never heard of called kozumba… I think. Norida had to leave to catch the last metro and I didn’t stay much longer afterwards but finished the class not entirely sure what I’d just learned but it was certainly pretty energetic. On the way home for a relatively early night… I bumped into Koen from the Galapagos! With his friend Erwin (if I’m spelling that right…) We had a few beers and went to Vintrash again with some Brazilian guys. I spoke with an American who came here all the time on business and he gave me some caipirinha which was nice, spoke with a Colombian dude for yet more Spanish practice and a girl who apparently was an actress in Colombia but in stuff I would never have heard of. Then left that place to head to another area in taxi with a guy from Zimbabwe, Erwin and some Aussie girls.

We danced a bit and spoke to more locals, then finished with a nice bit of drama as the Zimbabwean guy had left leaving one of the Aussies (apparently his girlfriend) behind in the club. Think it was some sort of misunderstanding but we dropped her back to their hotel in a taxi and finally home. Fingers crossed all well!

Slack rope in the park with Bridge who was a budding pro at this, I even managed to get a couple of carefully timed videos that look like I’m doing it. It’s really really hard! Good work out for the legs though. I then a call from my Brazilian friend Amanda (I met in Chile) who had the American boss coming so wanted to practise some English and so I asked questions about what she’d been in her job as a food safety engineer. Pretty interesting actually!

Bridge and I continued with the Spanish lessons, making some good progress on some pretty advanced stuff and had a cool lesson in the park one day. I did more language exchanges with Norida and went to a cool free concert in the park with Luisa and some of her friends/ family which marked the end of a recent festival. The band was called the suffers, from Texas I’d not heard of before but were really good! I finally bought myself a basketball to make the most of the nearby court and played with Norida and Koa who were both pretty damn competent I have to say. Also played a game with some locals / other random travellers which was absolutely exhausting! There was kid who was tiny but just kept sinking basket after basket from distances where you would have thought he didn’t need to be marked… suffice to say I am glad he was on my team!

The day too quickly arrived where we were all pretty much leaving the hostel, except Alberto who was part of the group but worked there! We had a last hurrah together including an emotionally charged rendition of piano man in karaoke. It was just Koa who was going to stay on but this changed impulsively after watching Star Wars around 3 am having come back and he got his ticket to leave in about three hours time. I have to say he’s an awesome cook and did Korean chicken thighs for us and a take on kfc another. General consensus being it was arguably the best we’d ever had.

The day after I met up again with Riza that I met from Brazil and we had a nice lunch followed by wandering around estadio for a bit. Really nice to see her again, it had a been a while! Apparently she’d spotted me in a class at dancefree but wasn’t sure it was me so we exchanged texts after!

I then left the hostel in order to live with a Colombian family and knuckle down on the Spanish. The benefit here is that the parents didn’t speak English, their son could but humoured me with Spanish anyway giving me an immersive experience. That coupled with a daily one on one lesson really paid dividends and as I write this I’m feeling pretty fluent now but obviously more vocab can always be learned. And slang, I will never learn all the slang.

They were all lovely and I managed to have some nice chats with them, the son Jose was learning guitar so I did a bit with him and gave some tips and encouragement etc. As well as learning some new music based vocab! The dad was an accountant too! So we nerded it up a bit, sharing information and mostly new words for me. Thrilling, I’m sure you will agree… I also checked out the UPB (university) and spent some time in the library. Easy to get in, you just need to register with a passport free.

In my almost two weeks there I managed to work my through a load of nice eateries of the Laureles neighbourhood. I highly recommend this place, it’s really nice and makes a welcome break from the touristy/ nightlife driven world of poblado. After three weeks in the hostel going out at least half the time it was a welcome change up for mind body and soul. I went to visit Norida for lunch with her mum and had a nice walk around Copacabana which is lovely. Have to note a special mention to the most massive avocado I have ever seen that graced our presence for lunch. Apparently it’s normal here.. but it was like a melon… I could barely eat the whole slice given to me along with the massive lunch. Wasting food is absolutely not an option here so I made a big effort to eat it all but it took some time. The three of us chatted a lot and it got a bit late to make it all the way back so in a dazzling display of Colombian hospitality I was invited to stay over, and got Noridas bed as she shared with her mum. I couldn’t believe it really… that would never happen back home!!

I managed to see Alberto and Denis one more time and eat some amazing ribs at a fairly inappropriately named restaurant back in poblado “fu*in good ribs”. In fairness the name is accurate albeit vulgar and they only open Fridays and Saturdays so make sure you take note if any danger of being there. I recommend it wholeheartedly. I also went to Santa Elena in the vicinity with Luisa who kindly picked me up in her car and we had some awesome pizza and drink, went to the lord of the rings themed magic mountain, and ate some delicious merengon. This is merengue with fruit and a bucketload of cream. It’s amazing but we got it form a street stall and I was very ill the next day… I don’t think it was a coincidence.

I got over it with a days rest and some local tips, then onwards to carnival!… which I’ve already uploaded…