Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Returning to Colombia

As the wheels of the plane hit the tarmac a man seated in front of me shouts out "Viva Colombia!" and the hushed voices and silence erupts into cheering, clapping and laughter. I laugh out loud, contributing a "whoop!" and gaze out at the green rolling hills surrounding the city of Medellin. I am so happy to be back in Colombia!

It's been a year and a half since I came here on my first solo adventure, and stayed for nearly the whole summer. I have so many fond memories of working in the hostel in Villa de Leyva, exploring the area on a rusty bicycle and making friends with the locals. Because of the agricultural strikes and road closures that happened near the end of my trip, I was unable to return to Villa de Leyva to say goodbye to the friends I had made, and my suitcase that I had left there did not return home with me to the US. More than the loss of what I had left in my suitcase (mainly clothes, a few gifts and some biking equipment), I felt sad to leave without one last goodbye.

A ride in the hills with the local bike club, 2013

Friends I made on my first trip to Colombia: Willy, Carolina and Roland
I did keep in touch with the Gilede family that owns the hostel and as soon as I bought my plane ticket I let them know that I would be returning. One of the brothers, Roland, owns and runs another hostel on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia in a small beach town called Palomino. I never made it there on my last trip so I decided I would go this time. I wrote Roland to tell him that I would be coming and he said he would have the town ready to welcome me.

I found a cheap flight from Denver to Medellin ($400 round trip through Spirit Airlines).  I stayed one night in Medellin before flying domestically to Santa Marta, which is just an hour and a half bus ride away from Palomino. My night in Medellin was a weird and lonely one. The few people at the hostel I stayed at seemed to have no interest in making friends or joining me for dinner so I hit the town alone, walking up and down the busy strip of restaurants and bars before settling on what seemed to be the most authentic. The food was just OK, which was a disappointment after reading that food in this city was spectacular. I doubted my intuition at finding a good place and felt awkward as I sat alone in this strange new place.
Busy street of Medellin

The next morning I bought a sim card for my phone, sent Roland a text and caught a taxi back to the airport to catch my flight to Santa Marta. As the taxi wove through traffic, my phone rang and Roland was on the other end. I was excited but then nervous as he rattled off a long list of instructions in Spanish and much of it became lost in translation. Was it going to be that complicated to get to his place in Palomino? I admitted that my Spanish had become a little rusty and he laughed and said that after a few days with him it would come back. I wished that he would just meet me at the airport and take care of this helpless little gringa girl!

Instead, I held my head up high after landing and bargained down the taxi drivers to get me to the bus station for a reasonable fare. I had to wait for an hour and a half at the dirty bus terminal but eventually got on the bus that goes nearly all the way to Venezuela. I informed the bus driver that I would be getting off along the way in Palomino and to please let me know when we are there (apparently it's easy to miss). I found two empty seats in the back of the full bus and thought I had the row to myself until a very large (and drunk) man sat down next to me. My guard was up but he ended up being completely harmless and I was happy to practice my Spanish by explaining the storyline of The Green Mile, which was playing on the TV screen to entertain (or rather to distract) passengers as the bus raced to our destination.
Bus Terminal, Santa Marta

By the time the bus arrived in Palomino, it was dark out. I forgot that the sun goes down around 6pm in this equatorial country. The bus driver stopped at the one gas station in town and shouted "Palomino!" I jumped up, grabbed my backpack and hopped off the air-conditioned bus into the warm night air. A boy on a motorcycle spotted me and inquired, "Taxi?". "Sí!" I responded. I hopped on the back and told him my destination, "Jaguar Azul". As we drove up the pot-holed dirt road, I could hardly contain my excitement. I'm here! I'm really here!

No comments:

Post a Comment