overlooking Rio Dulce, Guatemala

The Long Road Home to Guatemala

Thursday September 26, 2013

Bay in front of Tortugal, Rio Dulce Guatemala

I don’t know why, but I hadn’t really put any thought into what it would take to get us back home from South America to where Serendipity is sitting in Guatemala.  We had our plane tickets booked, we had already made it in once piece on the way out of Guatemala in the first place, how hard could it be?  Surprisingly, a little bit more than I had anticipated.  Or maybe that’s because I’m the kind of ‘Go with the flow, whatever happens, happens’ kind of girl, but the problem lies in that I’m married to an OCD ‘every minute detail must be planned all of the time’ kind of guy.

While wasting away in our hostel the day before we were supposed to leave he asked how we were getting to the airport.  “I dunno”, I responded, “Cab it, I suppose”.  That led to a search on how to get to the airport in Medellin where we found out that any regular taxi cab will charge you $50 to get there since it is about a 45 minute drive out of town. Ooops, should have looked into that one before.  Through a quick bit of online research I found a guy had written a blog post specifically on cheap ways to get to the airport, and read that by taking a yellow cab to a certain gas station in town we could then jump into a shared cab and split the cost with the other passengers.  Then there was the next question from Matt of how we were going to get from the airport in San Pedro Sula Honduras back to Rio Dulce Guatemala.  I knew what bus line we had been on before, but their website doesn’t work for crap, and I had had Ana Bianca walk to the office in Rio Dulce with me to translate when we bought our initial tickets out.

I’m not kidding when I say the rest of our afternoon was spent online researching websites and forums and sending very simple emails that Google Translate should have no problem with, just to try and find out when a bus was leaving from San Pedro to Rio Dulce.  This was all on Matt’s request though.  My solution would have been to show up to the bus depot and if we found out that we had missed the bus for the day, we just wait until the next day.  We’re not on any kind of schedule.  He was having none of that though.  We found out roughly from cruisers that wrote in a forum for Rio Dulce that they had made this trip before on a bus that departs at 5:30 am.  Our plane was scheduled to land at 1:00 am, there should be no problem getting there in time.

So here’s how our travels actually went.  We had packed up 90% of our things the night before and even though our flight wasn’t until 2:00 in the afternoon, got up early and left the hostel by 9 o’clock.  I had carefully written down directions where we needed to go, in Spanish, so that when a yellow cab picked us up all I had to do was point to the piece of paper, to which he gave me a wink and said “Ahhh, aeropuerto!”.  He dropped us off at the gas station just in time for us to jump into a shared taxi with two other men, and 30 minutes later we were at the airport for half the cost of a regular taxi and now with 3 hours on our hands to kill.  We spent our remaining 30,000 pesos on lunch at a little cafe, and then almost missed our flight when they changed gates on us and we didn’t know.  Good thing I had gotten up to use the bathroom and noticed a line of gringos (the flight was bound for Ft. Lauderdale) standing in line three gates over from where we had been sitting.

Landing in Ft. Lauderdale around 6:30 that evening we got through customs and immigration, with a little extra questioning since Matt apparently made it sound like we were in the drug dealing business.

“Where are you coming from?”


“Were you there for business or pleasure?”


“What is your occupation?”

“I’m retired.”

“And how old are you sir?”

“I’m 31.  My wife and I, we’re traveling around the world on a sailboat.”

(Pause for a confused and suspicious look from the immigration agent)  “So, you’re 31, you don’t work, and you were doing what in Colombia?”

After a few more question, lots of curiosity and someone disbelief on behalf of the agent (really guy, you live in Ft. Lauderdale and you’ve never heard of cruisers?) we were finally able to go and I was finally able to turn on my cell phone.  Important, because I needed to contact another cruiser, another Jessica in fact, that we had landed.  See, when we knew we were headed back to the states due to our flights, we bought a s#*t ton of stuff for the boat that we needed but didn’t want to pay the exhorbitant shipping fees for, close to $900 for the package we wanted to send.  The smart thing to do would have been making Michigan our last stop so that we could collect our belongings and get straight back to the boat with them.  We did not do this.  So with a desperate cry on Facebook and a little help from my friend Brittany, she hooked me up with another cruiser living in the Ft. Lauderdale area that was nice enough to let us ship our belongings to her house, and even nicer, agree to bring them to us at the airport so we could check another bag for our flight and get all our new goodies back to the boat for a mere $25.

As soon as we connected to the wifi I put out a message which exclaimed “We’re here!!”, and waited for a response.  Then I waited some more, waited a little bit more, and then started to get worried.  It had been an hour and a half and I had not heard anything.  I started to think of other options because we needed to get this package before our flight left that night (luckily, not until 11 pm). I started messaging anyone I knew that I though might know Jessica, and either have them give me her #, or put a call into her themselves.  I tried Brittany, although I knew it was a long shot because I also knew that she was cruising between islands at that point, and then I tried a girl named Melody, whom I’d never met or even spoken to before, but was another cruiser that I was aware knew Jessica.

Another 30 minutes and no responses from anyone later, I knew I’d have to get myself to Jessica’s house if I wanted to be sure I’d have the package that night.  Leaving Matt at guest pick up with my phone, in case a message did come through, I hopped in the back of a Lincoln Towncar from a very nice gentleman who had watched us sitting outside for two hours, and agreed to give me a very good price on a round trip ride to and from the airport.  I had Jessica’s address in a little notebook I’d been carrying around with me everywhere which was probably my saving grace of that night.  As I pulled up in front of her house I knocked on the door and introduced myself “Hi, I’m Jessica, I had a package sent to you from Michigan”, but all she could do was look at me with shock and repeat “You’re here!  Oh my god, you’re here!!”.

Turns out she had gotten her days mixed up and thought I would be in the next day, and also hadn’t received my message (or the ones that Melody ended up sending as well) since she had just started a new job and forgot to turn on her phone after work.  Something that I would totally do myself (and usually did), so I couldn’t even be the least bit upset about.  She invited me to stay for a drink, which I wish I could have if I had more time on my hands, but I was only able to stay long enough to get a big hug from her and grab the package which had been sitting in the trunk of her car, ready to go for the next day.  I think both of us had been excited to meet and do some story swapping, so it is now my goal to try and get Serendipity to Ft. Lauderdale at some point to make that happen.

Back at the airport in a furry of box unwrapping, we transferred all the items over to our empty suitcase, including a new (to us) headsail which will be great for the heavy winds we’ve been experiencing in the Caribbean.  No more partially furled headsails for us in the future!  Matt was of course freaking out that because we still had to check in for our flight and get through security that we would undoubtedly miss our flight.  I had to remind him that 1.  We still had 2 hours, and 2.  It was after 9 pm.  Probably not rush hour inside the airport.  There ended up being 1 person ahead of us to check in, and 1 person ahead of us at security.  I’m so glad that we were rushed and I missed the opportunity to have a drink with and get to know another young cruiser (you can’t see it now, but I’m giving Matt the stink eye).  There was still plenty of time for us to sit around in the terminal and stuff our faces with $18 of airport priced hot dogs and sodas.  Although, luckily I used the bathroom again, I noticed that this flight was boarding 40 minutes early.  How nice of them to make the announcement.

Our time at the San Pedro Sula airport was mainly uneventful.  We had secured a taxi to take us to the bus depot at 4 am, and took turns trying to nap at the table we were sitting at in the food court.  We were dropped off at the bus depot a few hours later, which looked sketchy enough during the day, but at 4 in the morning, it looked downright perilous.  We walked inside with our belongings and found the ticket counter for our bus line, with a sign taped to the front saying the counter would be open for ticket purchasing between 4:30-5:30 am.  A confirmation by a few young bi-lingual men also waiting to buy tickets and any remaining fears about getting home were put to ease.  This was the last step, all we had to do was get on that bus and we could at least get ourselves back to Morales, the neighboring town to Rio Dulce.

We assumed they didn’t take credit cards and Matt was quickly off to find and ATM and came back with 500 limpera, or approximately $30.  We hoped this would be enough to pay for our tickets since that’s what it had cost us to make the ride before.  The window finally opened at 5:10 and we waited patiently to buy our tickets, somehow having ended up at the back of the line even though we were among the first people there.  Then as the guy in front of us was getting his ticket he turned back and said, “The bus is leaving, if you want to get on it, you must go now!”  I asked about getting a ticket, and he just replied that I could buy it while on the bus.  Throwing our bags on our shoulders, we chased after him as he darted around a corner and outside to where the bus was.

We still had no idea how much tickets costs or if we had enough in our pockets to pay the charge.  Plus now we’d be leaving any access to Honduran money behind.  Stepping onto the bus, it was already so crowded that we couldn’t find seats next to each other and had to sit a few rows apart.  As the sun broke the sky and we pulled out of the station, we still had not been asked about tickets and I wondered when this would come along.  What would they do if we were already miles away and we didn’t have enough to cover the ride?  Would they drop us off on the side of the road?  Now I was started to get a little worried.  Matt, was having a full on panic attack.  Even a few rows up I could hear him muttering and cursing about the lack of organization in these countries.

The answer to our question finally came about two and a half hours later as we were getting ready to cross the border into Guatemala.  As a guy came walking back to check the already purchased tickets of others, I told him I needed to buy two ‘Para mi y mi esposo’, as I pointed to Matt two rows up.  I handed him the 500 limpera as he wrote something down on a piece of paper and kept walking.  Matt whispered back to me “How much was it?”.  “I don’t know”, I responded, “He took the 500”.  I didn’t get any change back but I was also not asked for more money, so I left it at that.  Although after not getting any kind of receipt or ticket, we’re both pretty sure the guy pocketed the money for himself.  Whatever, at least we knew we were going to get to Guatemala.

Once we reached the neighboring town to Rio Dulce, we switched buses, paid for new tickets (In Guatemalan money which we had a little bit left of, thankfully) and were dropped off at our familiar main street at 11:30 am.  26 hours of traveling and about two hours of sleep, but we had made it back.  Getting to the marina we found Serendipity right where we left her and excitedly opened the companionway to see what we’d find after six weeks away.  Matt kept having fretful feelings that the bilge would have stopped working and we’d come home to a flooded boat, but everything was dry inside.  The only casualties of our absence was abundant mold on any teak that has not yet been varnished, as well as two pillows that were well past saving and had to be trashed.

As ready as I was to crawl into bed, sans pillow now, Matt put me to work cleaning up all the mold that had popped up.  Vinegar in hand, I worked for the next hour until I couldn’t spot any more mold in the galley, salon, or v-berth.  The aft cabin was quickly touched up, but I had nowhere near the energy to disassemble all of it to check for mold at that moment.  Luckily, that was the only work Matt insisted that get done right after our return, and the rest of the afternoon was open for leisure.  We picked up Georgie from being babysat, found out she had taken a trip to a vet in Guatemala City about the scabs on her neck that had apparently gotten worse (some kind of fungus I guess) and found out that she actually did miss us in our absence.  Quick side note, if you’re ever pet sitting for someone, when they come to retrieve their pet again, don’t make your first words to them “By the way, about your cat….”.

When the tree of us arrived back to the marina, we found out that Georgie had actually missed us so much that she was now acting like a dog that wouldn’t stray more than two feet from where we walked.  She even let us pick her up and put her in the hammock in the ranchito, where the three of us napped well into the afternoon.  Man it feels good to be home again.

lounge at Tortugal Marina, Guatemala

Georgie in a hammock

overlooking Rio Dulce, Guatemala

peace sign in Grand River, Grand Rapids Michigan

Weekly Photo Challenge: Unexpected

Unexpected. Surprising or unforeseen.

peace sign in Grand River, Grand Rapids Michigan

 For this week’s photo challenge from the Daily Post, we are supposed to share something that’s unexpected.  After having been gone from Grand Rapids for 12 months while we sailed our boat from Muskegon to Guatemala, it was nice to be able to come back home for a visit.  I know this city is growing rapidly and has a penchant for the arts, having a brand new art museum and hosting the annual Art Prize competition, but as I crossed the bridge over the Grand River on the way home my fist afternoon there, I came across an unexpected sight.  Somebody had found a shallow spot in the river and piled hundreds of rocks together to form a peace sign and a heart.  It brought a smile to my face and is just one more reason for me to miss this amazing city.

Botero Sculpture Park Medellin Colombia

Random Images from Botero Sculpture Park

Tuesday September 24, 2013

Botero Sculpture Park Medellin Colombia

It turns out that some bad food did get the better of us our last few days here in Medellin.  Not bad enough to leave us doubled over with stomach cramps or never leaving a bathroom out of sight, but enough that we’ve been content to sit around the hostel for most of the day.  It’s really been more of an energy zapper than anything.  Isn’t it fun being sick on vacation?

We did force ourselves to get out one more time though, however short the trip was, to visit the Botero Sculpture Park.  This is the same artist that I mentioned that we’d seen a lot of his works back in Bogota.  This sculpture park has 23 works of art displayed by renowned Medellin artist Fernando Botero, and here are a few random images from our time wandering through them.

Botero Sculpture Park Medellin Colombia

Botero Sculpture Park Medellin Colombia

Botero Sculpture Park Medellin Colombia

Botero Sculpture Park Medellin Colombia

9.24.13 (6)

Botero Sculpture Park Medellin Colombia


Parque Envigado, Medellin, Colombia

Don’t Envy the Envigado

Monday September 23, 2013

Parque Envigado, Medellin, Colombia

I feel like our Medellin sightseeing fails keep coming one after another. I’m sure there’s a ton of amazing things to see around here, we just keeping missing out on them. Even if we think we’re looking in the right place.

Take yesterday for example. After having spent Saturday at the mall, I was determined to make it out to a desireable sightseeing place. I landed on the botanical gardens of Medellin. How could you go wrong there? Well, in all honesty, we had been shooting for the amusement park across the road, only to realize once we had gotten there that Matt’s stomach is still only at about 60% and probably couldn’t handle most of the rides. We happened upon the gardens as we decided to walk the surrounding area. Admission was free and it was a lovely Sunday afternoon, and I couldn’t help thinking to myself, ‘Yes, you got it right this time’.

Only we found out, that about 50% of the place had been taken over by a book fair. And it was packed. You couldn’t stand in one spot without getting stampeded, and we kept losing each other in the crowd as we searched through the maze of stands to find a way out. Luckily we eventually did find an exit, which led us out to the food booths. This was much more our style. We spent a good 30 minutes wandering from stand to stand to see what each one offered, and landed on chicken kabobs drizzled in BBQ sauce with sides of salad and little fried potato balls. It was delicious, but I did start to worry when I noticed that the center pieces of my chicken were still uncooked and raw. Not just pink, but bordering on purple.

From there we wandered the grounds of the botanical garden a little more, but didn’t see anything that was too botanical. What it felt like, was ‘Central Park Medellin’, a nice grassy spot enveloped in trees, right in the middle of the city. A perfect place to come with a picnic, place a blanket on the ground, and read a good book or talk to friends and family. Which is what almost every other person there besides us was doing. After doing a loop of the place we decided that it might be a good spot to come back to later with a blanket and a book, but we were done with it for the day.

Not quite ready to go back to the hostel just yet we walked the main streets by where the metro had let us out and found there was a large planetarium and little pools outside with hundreds of kids playing. We took seats on the ground back by most of the parents, and watched as little kids ran around in their underwear, shooting squirt guns at each other, blowing bubbles, or even engaging in a game of soccer. It was almost as fun just to watch the kids having their fun, and we stayed planted in our spot for a good hour until the sun was getting low enough that we realized we didn’t want a walk back from the metro in the dark.

into the mist

Planetarium Medellin Colombia

Planetarium Medellin Colombia

Now that I think about it, yesterday wasn’t too bad. We didn’t get the kind of sightseeing we had expected from the gardens, but we still had a good time nonetheless. I guess the bigger disappointment in sightseeing would have been today. Since Matt is usually the one to plan all our destinations while sailing, this whole South American trip was left up to me. What cities we would see, what we would do while we’re there, and even what places we would stay in. Matt wanted no part in the planning, a break from his usual routing.

So once again I scoured the internet for things to do in Medellin and cross referenced it against the information I had gotten out of the information book at the first hostel we stayed in. Oh, did I mention we moved? Our last one was too crowded, too loud, and too expensive for what we were getting in return. Instead we moved about two blocks over to a nice little hostel at the end of a road with much more updated amenities and a small pool on the roof. We were even able to spring for a private room, which has been so worthwhile for unwinding at the end of each day. We swing past the mini mart right across the street on our way back in for the night, grab a Mt. Dew for Matt, a beer for me, and spend the evenings in peace on our computer or watching a movie. As far as making friends with the other backpackers, we’ve tried a few times and have actually chatted a few people up when we’re hanging out near the pool, but it’s impossible to see any of them after 8 pm unless you plan on spending the night out at various bars until 2 am. We have neither the cash or the energy for that.

Anyway, back to the subject. I was trying to research fun things for us to do in Medellin and I kept coming across this place called Envigado, the new ‘up and coming neighborhood’. Every time I searched images it showed a great looking town square and mentioned all the nice shops and restaurants surrounding it. Sounded enticing enough. When I found that the metro went there and it was only a couple blocks of walking up to the town square I figured it would be a great way to spend an afternoon.

I was very wrong.  Possibly only because I had high expectations in my head, but other than the one block that housed Parque Envigado, it did not look very appealing.  If this was supposed to be the next up and coming neighborhood after Poblado, where we are staying, then it does not look like it going to be coming for a long, long time.  In Poblado we’re surrounded by modern shops, restaurants, cafes, parks.  It’s the perfect spot for tourist like us to be in.  From what we say of Envigado though, it looks a little worn down, and with tienda style concrete stores that fill the streets of Fronteras back home.

We really did try to make the most of it while we were there.  After having made our way to the park where we sat and enjoyed the beauty of the trees and the church for awhile, we took to wandering the streets.  We even planned on having lunch at a nice place, if we ever came across one.  After going far and wide and poking our heads into places that made us think we were back in Guatemala, we decided to call defeat and head back to Poblado.  I think the effects of the raw chicken at the botanical garden were starting to take effect, and I didn’t want to add any more random street food to problems that were already started in my stomach.  No, I think it needs the cheesy goodness of Domino’s Pizza.  I think we’ll swing by there on the way back to the hostel.  I’ll just have to remember not to remind Matt that he saw them rolling dough on the metal pizza box holders on the back of their motorbikes when we were dining at the Mexican restaurant next to it the other night.

Matt in Parque Envigado

Parque Envigon

Parque Envigado

outdoor eating area Santa Fe Mall Medellin Colombia

Santa Fe Mall

Saturday September 21, 2013

maze at Santa Fe Mall Medellin Colombia

Last night I had a little free time on my hands as Matt hijacked my computer away from me, getting into an in-depth conversation with our friend Ren about boats on the market, using my Facebook page to communicate since he refuses to get his own.  (The only person I ever want to talk to is you, stands his reasoning).  So I sat at the table in our hostel with Spanish music videos blaring in the background behind me, with not much else to do.  Stealing a glance behind me to the receptionist table, I spied a binder which held information about Medellin in general and things to do here.  Finally being able to match up activities written on the chalkboard with their detailed description in the book, I flipped through pages as I looked at things like the Pablo Escobar tour (complete with a tour inside of his old house, given by his brother), the Barefoot Park,  Botanical Gardens, Santa Fe Mall, Guatape Lakes and Pueblito Paisa.

I have no idea how or why I landed on this, but when Matt asked me what I wanted to do today, I replied “Go to the Santa Fe Mall”.  Don’t ask me what made me decided to spend one of our traveling days going to a mall, I probably still couldn’t answer you on that one.  Worst.Sightseers.Ever.  I think it had to do with the girl we rode the cable car back with yesterday that would not stop talking about it.  So we once again wrote down detailed directions on a little notebook, and walked about the mile and a half to get there.

I have to say, if I were interested in malls, this would be the place to be.  It’s about 4 stories high, and filled with hundreds of stores, ranging from Aeropostle to Chanel.  It actually kind of reminds me of the snooty one we stopped at in Palm Beach just before we went to the Bahamas.  This mall was made special though, made by the fact that it was an open air mall.  Kind of like the football stadiums that have domes which retract, this mall had a ceiling that retracts.  And if it’s built in the City of Eternal Spring, then why not?

Santa Fe Mall Medellin Colombia

 In the middle of the mall, they also have this giant maze, which actually would be kind of cool if you had kids to take through it.  Now that I look back on it, we should have gone through it even though we don’t have kids.  Damn it, why didn’t I realize this earlier?!

maze at Santa Fe Mall Medellin Colombia

 It took all of 30 minutes of walking around before I realized what a mistake it was to waste a day by going there.  We didn’t need anything.  We couldn’t buy it anyway.  When I asked Matt why he agreed to go after I suggested it he goes “Because you wanted to go.  And my baby always gets what she wants”*.  Awww.  But seriously honey, you should have known better.  Next time, just shake me out of it.

There was only one entertaining part at the mall, and that was where we were wandering through the food court up on the 4th floor.  Matt is, well, pretty deathly afraid of heights.  What he didn’t realize himself is that a narrow walkway we were using to get from one side of the mall to the other was made out of opaque glass.  Which, half way across, I felt the cruel need to mention it to him.  “Hey Matt”, I casually mentioned, “You should look down”.  And as soon as he could see the remaining three floors below him just past his feet, he stopped dead in his tracks.  He literally had to close his eyes while I guided him the rest of the way across.  I’m sure there was something I was getting back at him for, I can’t really be that mean, can I?

By the way, the food court did happen to have an outdoor seating area which afforded some pretty great views of the city.

outdoor eating area Santa Fe Mall Medellin Colombia

 When we got back to our hostel that evening, we found them gearing up to throw a large party.  It was Saturday night, so a party at a hostel didn’t seem unusual, but all the heart shaped balloons and red and white decorations did.  That’s when we found out that Colombia has a holiday called ‘Love and Friendship Day’.  It’s kind of like our Valentine’s Day (which is also celebrated there), but instead of just showing appreciation for lovers, you show it for your friends on this day as well.

This is how one article describes it.  “Colombians celebrate Love and Friendship Day by sending both their friends and boyfriends/girlfriends cards, similar to the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated in other countries. [But] As opposed to Valentine’s Day, Love and Friendship Day always ends with a group of friends out partying, dancing and drinking all night.”

We thought it was sweet of our hostel to be celebrating a holiday like this.  We should have known better.  It’s a hostel.  No one there is part of a couple (unless you’re us).  Our hostel was celebrating an ‘Anti Love and Friendship Day’.  It’s then that I realized all the balloons were painted with the words ‘Love Sucks’.  Kind of makes one all gooey inside seeing how much effort they put into their anti-holiday party.  Being the only resident couple there, we stayed away for the most part, although I did have a few glasses of complimentary sangria pushed my way when I went downstairs to the bar to grab a beer for their 2×1 happy hour special.  I guess Anti-Love and Friendship Day isn’t that bad.

Love Sucks party at Tiger Paw Hostel

Love Sucks Party at Tiger's Paw Hostel

Love Sucks party at Tigers Paw Hostel



Matt on metro cable Medellin

The Metro-Cable of Medellin

Friday September 20, 2013

metro-cable Medellin

As much as we would have liked to stay in Bogota a little longer, explore the city more, and most of all, go out with Nicholas and Diana again, we decided that five days there was enough and if we didn’t start moving toward Medellin, we might never get there. We had spent one more full day on a bus, from around 9:00 am to 8:00 at night, but this time I planned ahead. I went with the deluxe class that had personal tv screens for each person, and wireless internet access whenever the bus was passing through an area that celluar access was available. I consider the $10 extra for the both of us well worth the upgrade.

After stepping of the bus in Medellin we were pleasantly surprised in two ways. One was that the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ was true to it’s name. Even at night the air was warm with the promise that I might have the chance to slip into shorts and a t-shirt once more on this journey. The other pleasant surprise, is that at a concession stand they were selling Mt. Dew. MT. DEW!!! We had been searching for this ever since we’d left the States, and not one country we had been to stocked it in any shelves, restaurants, or soda dispensers. It’s a good thing we have our priorities straight as we travel the world.

With five full days to spend here in Medellin before our plane departs on the 25th, there is only one sight to see here that’s kind of an absolute must. It’s not the tour of Pablo Escobar’s home, although that’s a pretty popular one too. No, we were on a mission to find and ride the cable cars. These are a gondola lift system with the purpose of reaching some of the underdeveloped suburban areas of the city. They extend far into the hills of Medellin and allow cheap sources of travel to the more impoverished citizens of the city. There are multiple lines of the cable cars, and we obviously chose the tourist one.

Again, we were only going on basic knowledge that we found online that gave directions of taking the metro to a certain line, and riding it to the top to a place called Arvi for some a nice spot to wander around. Not wanting to bother with cab drivers again, we made a list of very detailed instructions on a piece of paper getting ourselves from the hostel to the metro, and to the stop where we could board the cable cars. We surprisingly managed to do both just fine and before we knew it we were stepping into a cable car with a few others, on our way up the hill.

The views were amazing, and although I wanted to refrain from looking like the eager tourist between the other locals we were sandwiched in between, I couldn’t help myself. The camera was out and I was snapping away, trying not to plaster myself against all four windows while trying to get the best views.

Matt on metro cable Medellin

view from metro-cable Medellin

This happened to be a double line gondola and there was a stop about 2/3rds of the way up the hill/mountain where we had to disembark from one cable car, pay another fee, and ride the other one to Arvi.  We really had no idea about anywhere we were going, we just assumed it would be a quaint little town at the top of the hill with great lookouts plus little shops and restaurants.  In the heat of Medellin I had finally pulled a sundress back out of my bag and was looking forward to a nice afternoon of strolling around in the sun.  But as we got closer to the very top of the hill, there was no end for the cable car in sight.

Instead we got to the top, and then continued on back through a now flat surface.  With views still looking down upon the city there were many fields with lush green rows of produce sitting on top of a soil rich earth.  As the car continued back the landscape turned to forests of pine and deciduous trees.  Did we just get transported back to Michigan?  It almost looked like we had, with the exception of mountains looming in the background.

crops growing over Medellin

cable car heading to Arvi.

 Finally getting dropped off at our destination, we wandered outside into the fresh air only to find that the temperature had dropped about 15 degrees.  Plus, there were no cobblestone streets filled with shops and restaurants.  No, we had just been carried to a type of National Park.  Um, not quite what we had in mind for the day, but sure, let’s see what they’ve got.

entering Arvi Park, Medellin

 We were shortly greeted by a park guide, who only spoke Spanish, but with the help of a translator we found that they gave free tours of the park and there was a young English speaking girl just about to start.  It ended up only being the two of us and her, and with my sundress and flip flops on, I followed the two into the brush.

Throughout the tour, our guide did her best to explain the different plants and trees surrounding us, even though she wasn’t absolutely fluent in English yet.  She did rather well though, and at times it became a game to try and figure out the English word she was trying to translate to us.  Kind of like ‘Taboo: Nature Version’.

orchid in Arvi Park

road through Arvi Park

 I swear I’m back in Michigan..

horses through Arvi Park Medellin

 Oh look, she has on a sundress and sandals too.

Trails through Arvi Park Medellin

 Overall the tour was nice, but I think I would have enjoyed it more had I been wearing the appropriate attire.  Near the end all I wanted to do was get back into the sun because I was shivering and covered in goosebumps.  We thanked our guide, and went to find food at a little restaurant about a half mile down the hill from the cable cars.  Time to add a new beer to my World Beer Tour.  I think I’ll try the Aguila today.

lunch outside Arvi Park Medellin


A Slice of Culture

Wednesday September 18, 2013


It was kind of nice having a forced hiatus from backpacking for just a few days. A little time away from the past few weeks of sightseeing, activities, and even the drinking. But after 48 hours of watching reruns of Friends and The Big Bang Theory (those were the only shows offered in English), we realized we needed to get out. The unsavory tablets were working well enough on Matt’s stomach that we thought we might be able to get him out of the hostel for just a few hours. The destination for the day? The historic center of Bogota.

Armed with our over-sized map once more, we stepped onto a collectivo that we were sure would take us at least close to the area we wanted to go this time, with plans to abort if necessary. ‘Ok, we need to stay on Calle 7 until we get to Carrera 13. If the bus diverts past Calle 10, we get off.’ The good thing about the streets here is they are all ascending numbers of Calles and Carreras, so you’re always relatively sure of how far away you are from something. When we did incidentally have to get off at Calle 10, we knew it was only three blocks down back to where we wanted to be on 7. No Martin Luther King Blvds to get lost on here.

My main goal for the day was soley to see the church in the large city square, but as we got off the bus the sky became overcast and a light drizzle fell on us and I didn’t know how long we’d want to be outside for. We have not had one sunny day in Bogota yet and even though we are surrounded by all the modern buildings that both of us had been slightly yearning for since we left the states, I was momentarily left yearning for the sunny beaches and good friends we left in Mancora. But ever since the salad there made Matt sick, the place gets a big black X in his book. He should have listened to me when I told him to get the ceviche…

Upon entering the square we were greeted with about a hundred rickshaws that seemed to be having some kind of protest or rally. Again, because of the language barrier, they could have been there to celebrate Larry’s 50th birthday and I would have had no way of knowing. We tried wandering around the square for a bit while appreciating the architecture, but the rickshaw drivers also had horns they would not stop blowing. Apparently they were very excited about Larry’s 50th. After close to 15 minutes of this we left for quieter side streets.

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Even though we had the luxury of sitting around for the past two days with constant internet access, I had not done much research on the area and so we just walked up and down each street unsure of what we would find. The rain was continuing on and off, and during one rainy session we ducked into an art museum. The art here was focusing mostly on a Colombian artist, Botero, who I had not been familiar with but whom Matt told me was very famous. I guess he had a thing for drawing and painting very voluptuous people. Room after room there were paintings and sketches in this style, and a large focus was on nude women at the beach or in bed, or sometimes, even in the kitchen. I think Sir Mix-a-Lot would have been very impressed.

There were prints from other famous artists as well, and some of our time was also spent enjoying the works of Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, and Chagall. Which are always nice to admire because, as Julia Robert’s character says in Notting Hill, “Happiness isn’t happiness without a violin playing goat”.

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 We tried our hands at one more museum as well, one on the history of Colombia and Bogota, but everything was in Spanish. Most of it was more than my basic knowledge could piece together and soon it just became annoying trying to figure out what each item meant. I think a grand total of 15 minutes was spent in that museum. The staff may have thought that we’d gotten ourselves lost since we wandered back by the entrance so quickly, trying to point us back to where the exhibits, and us trying to motion that, no, we wanted to leave. At least I got a few cool postcards with the entrance fee. You can expect to get it in about three months Huong!

Having completed a giant circle of the area, we ended up back in the main square where most of the rickshaw drivers had finally departed. And I was hoping to get back there in time for cake….

Taking one more turn down a side street that would point us in the direction of our hostel, even though there was no way we would be walking the 60 blocks back, we knew it was our last day in Bogota and wanted to see as much as we could. The rain had other plans for us though. At this point we were wet, we were cold, and we were hungry. That is exactly when we saw the golden arches of McDonald’s shine down on us like a beacon. And I was finally able to get my Mc Whopper. I mean, Big Mac.

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 They have llamas!!

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fulano outdoor eating

A Tour of Fulano

Tuesday September 17, 2013

fulano exterior

The next few days of our story actually take us back in time to Mancora Peru.  Back to those amazing meals we found with a drink, starter, and entree, only for 10 soles (just over $3).  The same meals that Matt would turn his nose up at me, because every time I order the while fish ceviche for my starter.  “That’s going to make you sick, they probably don’t even cook that fish”.  “Of course they don’t cook the fish!”, I replied, “It’s ceviche!”.  He’d still send disgusted looks my way as he ate his fresh salad instead.  The same salads that, coincidentally, made him sick.  Who’s laughing now?  Unfortunately, not either of us.  Because this sickness of his has rendered him helpless and unable to leave the hostel for two days now.

It didn’t hit him until yesterday morning, at which point we both thought it was the after effects of our night out on Sunday.  Those stayed with me for awhile too.  I remember barely having the energy to get myself out of bed.  Literally.  My knees were weak and my hands were shaking as I made my way the one block over to the grocery store to get us some breakfast, the first food we’d eaten in about 24 hours.  By the time lunch rolled around Matt was still not feeling better, and I made my second solo trip back to the grocery store for some tummy friendly foods and of course, a big 2 liter of pop.  Around this time he was also realizing that it was more than just a hangover and had me scouring the OTC medicines for anything close to Pepto, but with everything being written in Spanish I was lost and came back empty handed on that search.

In the late afternoon we retired to the movie room at the hostel and did not leave it until it was time for bed.  Because of Matt’s stomach we had to cancel dinner with Nick and Diana, which we had both really been looking forward to.  I was ready to walk to one of the nearby restaurants to pick up some take-out, or even make a fourth trip that day to the grocery store, but my paranoid husband would not let me out alone after dark.  Not even to walk one block.  In the safest neighborhood in Bogota.  We ended up having one of the guys at the hostel make a call for us to have Domino’s delivered.  Which, while placing the call, kept giving me sideways glances and asking “Are you sure this is what you want for dinner?  I know a great Italian place around the corner”.  Knock them if you want, but their pizza has gotten much better over the past few years.

Today there has been no improvement in Matt’s health, so once again we haven’t left the hostel.  Unless you count me running back and forth to the grocery store.  I finally Googled the Spanish words for certain symptoms that go along with food poisoning, and presented it to the woman behind the pharmacy counter whom in return gave me some tablets for Matt to take every few hours.  Apparently they taste like s#*t, but with any luck they’ll have us back on the streets of Bogota tomorrow.

Until then though, I have to say that we have found the best hostel ever to be stuck in.  Fulano Backpackers is new, just opened a few months ago, modernly designed, and just a cool place to hang out.  Although we’ve been spending a majority of our time in the movie room, it has a nice bar and billiards area, a lounge area, and great facilities.  Plus the guys who run it are amazingly nice and helpful.  So this is my little promotion of Fulano Backpackers.  If you ever find yourself in Bogota, please stay here, you won’t regret it.  Just check out the reviews on Trip Advisor.  You would be doing yourself a great service to stay here.

fulano dorm room

 The dorm rooms that we’re staying in.

fulano women's bathroom

fulano kitchen

The kitchen, where I even made a meal of pasta tonight instead of ordering out.

fulano outdoor eating

The outdoor eating area where we liked to hang out with our computers.

fulano movie room

 And the movie room, which we got to know very very well.

(All photos courtesy of Fulano Backpakers Facebook Page)




Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers

Layers. A thickness of a material spread over a surface.



Not really much of a back story for this week’s photo challenge from the Daily Press.  This is a shot of when we were having a relaxing Saturday afternoon on the Bay of Honduras, soaking up some rays.  Over land, many clouds were forming of various shapes and sizes, and layering themselves upon one another. As long as they did not layer themselves over me, I was quite happy.

collectivo Bogota Colombia

We’re Off the Map

Sunday September 15, 2013


I’m pretty sure we slept like the dead last night.  Even though our hostel had temporarily been turned into a discoteca, it wasn’t hard to fall into a deep slumber with the beats of Rhianna pumping through the wall.  They may have actually even helped a little, reminiscent of the days when we used to enjoy a Saturday afternoon nap at our old home, techno beats pulsing from our television and lulling us to sleep.  In the morning we spent a little time enjoying our luxurious hotel like hostel, and chatting with the young owners about things to do and see.

We happened to be there just in time for an event held every Sunday in Bogota called Ciclovia.  Certain main streets are blocked off to cars, leaving wide open spaces for people to cycle, run, rollerblade, or just walk in the street.  We were tempted to rent bikes ourselves, but the dark clouds and threat of rain had us putting off this plan since if we had to retreat into a building due to a downpour, there was no way to lock up our rental bikes.  We decided to explore by foot instead.  The hostel owners gave us a very detailed map and marked points of interest for us to see.  That day, we were nudged into going to an area called Usaquén.  There was a great outdoor market that was held on weekends only.

The walk may have been a little longer than we had intended, about 3-4 miles through on and off rain, but the neighborhood was well worth getting to.  Two square blocks were dedicated to vendors with tables set up containing jewelry, bags, jams, paintings, and many other items.  The neighborhood was very modern, and a stark contrast to the either historic or worn buildings of Peru.  For a few hours we strolled the streets and looked at the good, much too aware this time that nothing could be purchased though since it won’t fit in our bags.  I had been on the hunt for good Colombian coffee.  I was turned down.

art vendor in Usaquen, Bogota, Colombia

living statue, Usaquen, Bogota, Colombia

Once it was time to head back to the hostel, we realized we did not want to do that walk twice.  The guys from the hostel told us that there were collectivos constantly running up and down the main street we had taken, and it would only cost us a dollar or two to ride it there or back.  Even though we had just gotten off a 54 hour bus ride, we had no problem hopping back on one.  We thought it would be as simple and crossing to the side of the road we wanted to head down, flag a collectivo, and wait to be dropped off a block from our hostel.  Which are exactly the steps we took, but it didn’t quite turn out as we hoped.

We paid the fee of 1,500 Colombian pesos each, and took a seat as the bus jaunted forward.  Then Matt turned to me and whispered, “I hope this takes us where we need to go”.  We had never even considered the fact until after we had boarded one of the collectivos that they may venture down different streets than the one we were on.  And as soon as we realized that, the bus turned down a side road and further away from where we wanted to be.  I kept hoping, waiting for it to make a left turn, and starting taking us back in the direction we wanted to go.  It never did, and when we realized it probably wasn’t going to, we had gone far enough that we weren’t sure we wanted to walk back.

Then not only did distance become an issue, but the neighborhoods did as well.  Our thoughts went from ‘I don’t want to walk back that far’ to ‘This neighborhood looks a little dodgier than the last’ to ‘We are not getting off here, put the windows up and lock the doors’.  At this point we were no longer even on the incredibly huge map we were given, meaning that we were probably in a part of town not seen by many tourist.  We were positive that eventually it would turn around and end back up at the place we had started, and we didn’t even mind having to pay the fare again to hop on a new one heading the right direction.

Soon, every passenger had gotten off and it was only us and the driver remaining.  He turned the bus around and began heading down a street we had just come from, and Matt and I let out a collective sigh as we thought that meant we were now returning to Usaquen.  We were not.  Just outside one of the not so great neighborhoods he pulled to a stop in front of a bus depot and made it clear that this was the end of the line.  This collectivo would be going no further.  Luckily we were on a major road where there weren’t dark alleys and the though of something seedy happening to us was less likely, but those seedy neighborhoods are what we would need to walk through to get back to the other main road which would lead us to our hostel.

Just as we were about to break down and hail a cab for the $20 ride back, I saw a collectivo whiz by that had the name of our neighborhood printed on it’s front window.  It seemed safe enough to wait at least 10-15 minutes for another one to hopefully come by, so this is what we did.  Scanning the windows of each collectivo that passed, we finally saw another one after lots of squinting and two accidental flag downs of wrong ones.  It appeared as if our neighborhood was the last stop of this bus, and two hours after we originally boarded our first collectivo that day, we were dropped off two blocks from our hostel.  I think it is safe to say, we have seen this city.

collectivo Bogota Colombia

 Arriving back at the hostel, I had just enough time to whip out my computer and check emails before finding out that our friend Nicolas that we had met back in Peru, the one who went surfing with us, was looking forward to getting together that night.  Giving us the name of a bar/restaurant and the name of the street it was on, we were off once again, barely an hour after we had just gotten back.  There was going to be no chancing it with collectivos this time, we were taking a cab.  Which led to us getting lost.  Again.  I had written down the name of the bar, the street it was on, and handed him my map, yet it all must have been too confusing to him.  Not wanting to rack up a giant taxi fare, we got out in the general vicinity and started walking from that point.

To our delight, we finally found the bar after about fifteen minutes of searching….only to find out it was the wrong one.  The place we were meeting was called Bogota Beer Company, and apparently it’s as big of a chain there as TGI Fridays back in the states.  We ended up at the one two miles away from where we should have been, apparently back in Usaquen where we had been that morning.  Thankfully there was a young bilingual Colombian girl that took pity on us and called us a secure taxi which she put us in herself and then gave very direct instructions to the driver.  If it was not for her, I think we would have been wandering the streets of Bogota all night.

Finally finding Nicolas, we also found out that he was with his girlfriend and another friend and everyone was at another bar up the road.  Grateful to sit down and order a drink, our group squeezed around a low table as a hookah was placed in front of us, and the next hour flew by as we talked about life and travel.

Nicolas and Diana

Kathmandu, Bogota, Colombia

Matt with hookah, Kathmandu, Bogota, Colombia

 The party wasn’t as long as we’d hoped since, for a few of the people at the table, there was still work the next day.  We said goodbye to Diana and her friend, while we continued back to Bogota Beer Company with Nicolas so we could finally taste what all the raving was about.  Not only had this place been mentioned in our guide, but the guys back at the hostel also gave us an indication of the wide variety of beers they offered.  By this time though, Matt and I were ravenous.  Neither of us had eaten for hours and were getting delirious to the point that when we passed by a McDonald’s we couldn’t even remember the name of their signature burger.

“It’s a Mc Whopper!”

“No, that’s not it…..Mc Whopper?”

“It’s a Mc something…..   Whatever, I’m just going to go in and order a Mc Whopper.”

We promised ourselves we’d visit there after having one more beer with Nicolas at BBC.  One beer, which turned into a beer tower.

beer tower, Bogota Beer Company

 And over that one beer (tower) we all decided that it was way too early for Diana to be heading home for the night, and we needed to meet her back at her apartment so that we could drag her out for…more beer.  Which is exactly what we did.  I never did get my Mc Whopper, or any dinner really, which is probably why I have a photo album of the night which looks like this:

beer bottles at Bogota Beer Company

art on wall, Bogota Beer Companyglasses drying, Bogota Beer Companysign, Bogota Beer Company

Someone should have put me on a leash or placed me in a high chair, because I’m pretty sure the staff there thought I was mental for photographing everything.  I even have photos of the bathroom.  All beer & no food = silly Jessica.  That’s ok, a great night was had by all, and these are the things memories are made of, right?  I’m just not looking forward to the headache tomorrow is going to bring.

group shot at Bogota Beer Company