Saturday, January 23, 2016

Our Adventure Continues From Medellin To Panama......

Yesterday was our last day in Medellin as we headed to the lobby for breakfast around 8am and our taxi driver was already waiting for us.  We only know that he was the driver because when Clyde went over to remind the desk clerk that we needed a ride to the airport ay 9 a man sitting nearby spoke up saying that he was that driver.



Good Bye Medellin!


We arrived early at the airport with two hours or more from our departure time of 12:50.  But we checked in and grabbed some well needed coffee from a Juan Valdez café, since not much else was around.  It was nice to discover from our Colombian taxi driver a few days prior that Juan Valdez coffee is NOT what the locals choose to drink.  It's much higher priced and not as tasty as the cheaper brands he told us.

Our Old Friend, Juan Valdez


After relaxing at the airport for a while we met up with Mary Lou and Bill, our friends from Panama who took the same flight.  They were nice enough to buy us hotdogs for lunch since they had Colombian pesos to use up before departing the country.  Actually Clyde and I shared one hotdog, chips and a soda and they did the same. Copa Airlines always gives passengers a snack onboard even with a flight of this short duration so we didn't want to eat too much. 

Medellin Airport Terminal



One we settled onto the plane since we were seated in the exit row seats, a flight attendant came over asking us if we spoke Spanish.  We said yes and he rapidly explained a bunch of stuff to us in Spanish, perhaps trying to challenge us to see IF we really understood the language which we DID.  You see on Spanish speaking airlines like Copa passengers must be able to speak Spanish if they choose to sit in the exit rows.  This is just in case they need to assist passengers off of the plane in the event of an emergency.

Yes, We Flew Copa


Our short 50 minute flight from Colombia to Panama went by quickly as they served us a snack to occupy our time.   Our snack was round slices of processed, fake looking chicken stuff with ham in the middle, along with a few grapes and a roll.  While Copa's snacks in the past have always been good, this one was not.  I ate the dry roll and grapes along with a drink.  Clyde passed on all of the food but did enjoy a free rum and coke since on Copa alcohol is free.

Clyde's Favorite!
Ron Abuelo y Coca Cola



Upon landing the temperature in Panama was a coolish 24 Celsius, according to the pilot which in Fahrenheit is around 75. Quickly we made our way through customs and immigration since we're residents here and out of the airport.  The airport taxi drivers were like a swarm of bees all over us offering their services for tons of money.  We know the trick anywhere in the world is to walk away from the airport taxi's who pay to sit in that prime location, so we walked. After that it was the regular yellow taxi drivers that were after us offering to take us to the bus station at Albrook Mall for $25.  We declined them as well and headed for the bus stop which was our other option, to take a bus from the airport to the bus station.  Then I noticed a Panamanian couple who also seemed interested in getting a taxi ride but kept turning them down as well.  So I had an idea!  How about IF we ask that local couple where they're going so we did and they too were going to the bus station.  So we asked them IF they'd like to share a taxi......each paying $10 instead of $20......another benefit of speaking Spanish!  The other man was sitting in front with the driver and they were chatting in Spanish.  I heard the driver say something about Panamanians instead of tourists and I assumed he was referring to us.......thinking we were tourists.  It was after that when we piped up and began chatting in Spanish that we'd been living here for over four years and have learned the language.

While in route we chatted with the couple and found out that they were also in Medellin for a week on vacation. Each of us shared stories about the places we'd gone while there and the other women even showed us photos on her phone. So we had a brief encounter with locals and yet another chance to improve our Spanish.

After making our way to Albrook bus terminal we headed into the mall to find something to eat before boarding a bus from home.  We shared a cheap pizza from Leonardo's a local chain for around $5 which included a drink.  As we purchased tickets for the bus, another whopping $5 for both, we later learned that they were the last TWO tickets for that particular bus.  At the bus station the seats are carefully counted and planned out, making sure that everyone on the bus has a seat.

This Is Where You Buy Your Tickets
NOT For The Faint Hearted!


The bus took off and quickly was stuck in bumper to bumper traffic in the city.  Along the way other people got on the bus which was now at standing room only but kept getting worse.  Families of ten or more would board the bus as they kept squeezing in more and more passengers. Kind of ironic since at the station everyone is assured a seat but along the way things are different.  To take buses in Latin American countries one must get used to strange butts, crotches, armpits and boobs rubbing against them.  Our friends Rich and Pat from Austin, TX retired to Nicaragua and are always posting similar bus rides that they take there.

Buses Lined Up At The Terminal


The Size Of Bus We Were On


Since our bus left the station at 4pm.....rush hour in the big city and since this was Friday where city dwellers head to their beach homes we expected to hit traffic. We made our way to Chame around 5:30pm, making our bus ride 90-minutes which wasn't bad considering all of the stop and go traffic.  The trip usually takes about an hour and fifteen minutes so it wasn't too bad at all.

Typical Weekend Traffic In Panama



Clyde just did some calculations and came up with a total of $1013.00 for the whole week spent in Medellin.  Our flights cost us $224.00 round trip for both of us, hotel costs were $293.00, and eating out two times a day and all public transportation ran around $440.00.  So, in Colombian Pesos, that only comes to 3,353,305 Colombian Pesos!  Let me read that to you....  Three million, three hundred and fifty three thousand, three hundred and five pesos.  And you wonder why Clyde had such problems keeping up with the money, especially when the numbers were in Spanish!

A breakfast buffet was included with our $40 per night hotel room, as was round the clock coffee, hot and cold tea.  There was also a candy jar at the front desk that Clyde kept emptying out in passing. While some of the women desk clerks gave him dirty looks one of  the men told him, "not to take more than 1000 at a time."  But surprisingly he forgot about some of the candies that were still in his pants pocket last night after doing laundry.  Yes, living with a man is like living with a little boy and I'm never quite sure what I'll find in the washer or dryer! Life with Clyde has always been an adventure!

It occurred to me recently that there are maybe
THREE different travel styles:

There are the people that like 5 star hotels with English speaking employees, restaurants and shops on site, air conditioning and elevators with little need to venture out among the locals.  This type of tourist hires English speaking tour guides for all of their sightseeing needs since they don't speak the local language. These folks might have mobility issues or minor health problems so a guide service is more beneficial just as a security also. 

The Hilton In Panama
One Night Stay Probably $120

The second group will stay at cheaper hotels with less on sight frills. These travelers take public transportation or walk everywhere, utilizing taxi's, local buses and subways forcing them to get up close and personal with the locals.  These travelers do plenty of research before leaving home and along the way since they are self-propelled to get around on their own, and do get lost along the way.  They probably have a grasp of the local language and are not afraid of the local population.

Our Cheap Hotel In Medellin
About $40 A Night
Hotel For Seven Nights, $293




The third group is usually younger, although we've seen older folks that fit into this category too.  These people are true travelers, money savers who usually carry all of their belongings on their backs in packs.  They might stay at hostels while sharing a room and bathroom with strangers along the way. They are usually fluent in the local language and have no fears of going anywhere, or so it seems.  They mingle with locals and other travelers alike and make plenty of new friends along the way.

Open Dorm Sleeping....A Hostel
Six In A Dorm
$6.65 A Night


We like to think we are in the second group.  Remember, there is not a right way or wrong way, just different types of travelers!

For Clyde and I part of the experience of travel is to mingle with  the locals whether we speak their language or not.  We enjoying seeing "real life" as it happens whether that be in the streets, the grocery stores, parks or public transportation.  When we find that we do want a tour guide to show us around we let a taxi driver be our friend.  In several countries now Clyde has hailed a taxi driver and asked them, "what's your favorite thing to see here?"......and then......"how much to take us there?" For a mere $20 or so we've had taxi drivers proudly show us around their home towns and all of the touristy and non touristy spots.

Typical Medellin Taxi

Our Tuk Tuk in Sante Fe, Medellin
They Called It A "Moto Car"

Some of our favorite memories along the way include real life moments such as:  why can't we pay for cheese at this register at a grocery store in Paris........a pitcher of beer being accidentally spilled on my head in Spain.......broken windows due to theft and a police barricade across from our apartment in Barcelona.......me running after placemats before they fell into the canal from a restaurant in Venice, Italy and so much more.  Probably one of the best is before we went to Paris people told us how unfriendly ALL of the French people would be to us especially since we speak NO French.  Our first hours there we boarded a subway and the door closed on my arm with my suitcase still outside the car. In a split second about six Parisians grabbed the subway door and pulled it open. Just as quickly a small framed French women put her hand over mine and yanked my arm and suitcase into the subway car before the door closed again.  So much for the unfriendly French people!

Terry Covered in Beer Barcelona


Our travels so far have been full of memories, tiring times, laughs, giggles and plenty of wow moments.  We look forward to selling our house in Panama soon so we can travel more and make more memories around the world.......along the gringo trail.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Fukin Good End To Our Trip To Medellin......

Since we'd seen just about everything there is to be seen for tourists in Medellin, today we headed out of town once again.  From the metro we took a bus to the pueblo of Santa Fe de Antioquia to see what we could find.  The one hour bus ride was even more of an adventure as we boarded a tiny white bus that held only eight passengers. Our driver seemed to know everyone as he passed by waving, stopping to chat or even to buy a snack.

Indigenous Woman And Family On Sidewalk
There Was Another Child That Was
Maybe 4 Years Old Feeding Another Baby On The Side
 
 
When I paid for the baño at the bus station
This is what I got! 
Toilet Paper in a box!
 

Taking The Little Bus To Santa Fe de Antioquia


Our day trip took us through the Tunel de Occidente, the longest in all of South America.  The 2 kilometer tunnel connects Medellin to Santa Fe, reducing the distance by 30 minutes to get from the big city to the tiny pueblo. Along the way we passed through the pueblo of San Jeronimo with it's village square featuring a tiny church, restaurants and shops, a few hotels and roadside food vendors.

Heading Into The Tunnel

Coming Out Of The Long Tunnel
 
Village Of San Jeronimo


Street Vendor
 


Once our little bus stopped in Santa Fe de Antioquia at the bus station we headed down the street to find the central park and plaza of the town. The hustle and bustling little village was full of tuk tuk's, motorcycles, cars, buses and plenty of pedestrians too.  As usual we couldn't pass up an opportunity to taste the delights of the village and since it was time for lunch, we stopped to eat.  A local joint called, "Pielroja," or "red skin" was decorated with Indian heads and other memorabilia. We both ordered the "menu del dia," which included patacon or plantain soup, rice, fries, salad, a whole fried tilapia fish and lemon aid for around $3.50. 

Name of the Restaurant
Translation:  Red Skin
 
Our Menu Of The Day.....Those Tiny Balls Of Corn In The Back Are Arepas
 
Restaurant Decor

 


Santa Fe is lower in elevation that Medellin and is therefore hot year round.  With the heat and bright sunlight after walking around a while we decided to ask someone for a tour.  As usual we let the taxi driver be our friend but in this case the taxi was a tuk tuk. Gasoline prices in Colombia are pricey and therefore many of the locals either use motorcycles, tuk-tuk's (where appropriate) or don't drive at all and use public transport.  Someone told us that gas prices here run around $5 per gallon yet looking at the signs in transit I calculated it to be much less, but my conversion from pesos to dollars isn't too good.

Our Tuk-Tuk Driver
 


The town square is full of tuk-tuk's with eager drivers waiting to offer tours to tourists.  For around $12 he drove us around for an hour or more showing us the major sites of this village. A camera buff at heart he was rather eager to take photos of Clyde and I together at every stop, until we told him it was not necessary. Our young guide was impressed with our understanding of Spanish and complimented us for how well we spoke his language too.


Sights Around Santa Fe de Antioquia


A Tiny Church



Another Church


Bus Terminal In Santa Fe
 



One of the must see sights in this area is the Puente de Occidente which sits a few kilometers outside the village center.  Built at the end of the 19th century it was considered one of the most magnificent civil engineering works of its time.  When it was completed in 1895 it was the third longest bridge in the world and the longest in South America at 300 meters long.  In 1978 the bridge was declared a National Monument.

Bridge Of The Occident


We Walked Over The Long Foot Bridge







Santa Fe de Antioquia is well known for it's stunning colonial architecture some of the best preserved in all of Colombia.  The quaint little village is reminiscent of olden days with narrow cobblestone streets, a lovely plaza, white washed buildings and beautiful churches and parks.



We boarded a bus back to Medellin which was a much bigger bus with air conditioning. After relaxing and freshening up for dinner we headed out for dinner.  Last Friday when we arrived at our hotel we noticed a line coming out of a nearby restaurant.  Literally next door to our hotel is a tiny restaurant called, "MU Fukin Good Ribs."  The place is only open on Thursday, Friday and Saturday so it was now or never to see if the food lives up to it's name. We were escorted upstairs to a little table overlooking the street and presented with a menu.  The simple menu offered two choices of ribs and the waiter explained. This one if for two people and the other is for two very hungry people, so we chose the smaller of the two.  The price for the smaller version was 48,000 pesos and the larger was 58,000 pesos which converts to $14-$17 and some change.

The Sign Says It All......Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday 6-11pm
 
 


After ordering a waiter brought us each a plate with something plastic on it tied up in a bow.  I looked at it perplexed and called the young man over to ask, "que es esto?"He explained in Spanish that it was gloves in case we didn't want to get our hands dirty.  Oh.....now I get it, plastic gloves to eat the ribs with.....what a great idea!

What Is This? ......Plastic Gloves For Eating Ribs

Eating Ribs With Plastic Gloves On
 


Another waiter came over with chips and guacamole and a dish of four different sauces.  He explained that one was bbq sauce, another was hot sauce, another a mango chutney and the last was a spearment sauce.  Finally a huge order of ribs came out which were served with steak fries.  We put on our gloves and dug in to our really, fukin good ribs that truly lived up to their name. And the total for our fukin good meal with way too much food came to $19.89 after adding a beer for Clyde and a glass of wine for me. 

Four Sauces:  Mango, Hot Sauce, in Front BBQ And Spearment


One Big Pile Of 8 Meaty Ribs And Fries


I suppose this was the perfect ending to a lovely week exploring the city of Medellin with my wonderful husband.  Or should I say a fukin good ending to another fukin good adventure......along the gringo trail.

Street Performer.....Spinning Basketball On Top Of Umbrella While On A Unicycle







Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Cable Car To Parque Arvi And Parque De Luces At Night.......

Let's just say that I've come to hate climbing stairs!  Yes, I know they're probably good for me, a great workout and calorie burner with some cardio thrown in, but still I don't like them.  I first discovered this dislike for stairs last year while in Paris. We used the metro to travel throughout the city and while riding the subway was good, the stairs up and down into the metro stations were not. So here we are again taking this great, clean, safe, cheap metro around the city which means climbing hundreds of stairs at each station.  But I'd better get used to stairs since we plan to travel with world using public transportation and living without a car.

Today's adventures began with a 20 minute walk from our hotel to the metro station in Poblado, the section of town we're staying in. 

Indigenous Woman & Kids Selling Jewelry On The Streets Of Medellin
Haven't Seen Too Many Indigenous Around Here

Clyde Thought The Black Thing Was A Dress Missing Some Fabric
I Think Their Undergarments & Body Shapers 
 


Clyde went to buy the tickets and off we went through the turnstyles.  We exited the metro at the station to the cable car....and easy transition from one to the other without ever leaving the terminal.  We climbed into a free cable car which would take us up through the poorer "obarrios" or neighborhoods of Medellin.  The metro cable cars stop at three stations along the route before ending at Santa Domingo.  From there we had to buy other tickets for around a dollar that would take us up to Park Arvi, high in the mountains.  The whole trip on the cable cars alone took around 40 minutes.  The cable cars are quiet, easy going transportation that offer a cheap way for locals to get up into the barrios.

Fast, Efficient, Clean Subway System

View From Cable Car


Clyde Was Taking The Photos
A Young Couple In Love......All Over Each Other In Cable Car
The Boy Was With Someone Else


Houses Piled On Top Of Each Other Into The Mountains
 


Park Arvi is an ecological park and nature reserve in the mountain town of Santa Elena with no entrance fee. Clyde stopped to look at a map while a guide began explaining where the "senderos" or hiking trails were.  There seemed to be only two trails and each would take around three hours to hike......a bit too long for our tired bodies that have been walking every day lately. We did find a shorter trail that took us around 30 minutes.  It went through the woods and over a few bridges before ending at a main road where we turned and walked back in the other direction.  Since it was past lunchtime we stopped to buy a fruit cup from one of the many vendors in the park.  Colombians love to spread sweet cream on most everything and fruit is no exception.  Our little fruit cup included strawberries, raspberries and little orange balls called, "uchuvas," a sour tasting citrus fruit.


Cable Car Building At Park Arvi

 

 
How To Get Building Supplies Up Into The Hills?
Load Blocks Onto A Horse

 





After our snack we headed back down the mountain in the cable cars again and later to the metro.  We hopped off the subway at a few areas of the city to walk around.  One stop was the planetarium and the next show was in 45 minutes but the women told us it was mostly for young kids so we passed. After we'd had enough walking around the city we headed back to our hotel for our afternoon rest.

Views Around Medellin

A Little Ice Cream......With Fruit So It Must Be Healthy?
We Did Share This Sucker

Light Park


A Church At Night

Another View Of The Church 
 


Once we revived ourselves we headed out for dinner and then took a taxi to Parque de la Luz, or "light park." Everything that I read online said the park was in an unsafe part of the city and should not be visited at night.  Well the mere name of the park indicates that it must be visited at night to view the light display.  So when in doubt I believe to ask a local and we did.  We chatted with the taxi driver who assured us that the park was safe for us to walk around.  Although our research said the light display in the park is supposed to change colors after a while, we saw nothing happening so we gave up. Clyde wanted to take a few photos of a nearby church so we walked through the neighborhood and I admit it looked and felt a bit seedy and unsafe.  Once we'd had enough the safest and quickest way out of there was by taxi. 

Speaking of asking the locals for their opinion on something I did just that the night we arrived at our hotel. Many things I'd read online about Colombia said not to drink the water here while others said it was ok.  Some friends recently returned from Medellin and they did drink the water and said they were fine.  So I asked the front desk clerk as she showed us our room and she smiled and explained in Spanish that the water here was wonderful and safe to drink.

Something I'd forgot to mention in yesterday's blog is this.  Our taxi driver\tour guide Alfredo was a rather pudgy guy who admitted that he loved to eat.  He explained that he was on the CHI diet which included, chicharons, chorizo, churros, chuletas (pork chops) and chocolate to name just a few. We got to talking in Spanish of course about fruit and he asked us if we like grenadines?  While I'd heard the name I don't think I've ever eaten one, but he went onto say that we must try them.  So a while later he stops at a toll booth to pay the toll and lo and behold the toll taker has a grenadine sitting there for a snack.  Alfredo asks the young man if he could see the grenadine for a minute and the man hands it over to him.  He begins explaining to us that this is a grenadine. Next he asks the toll taker if he could have it and before he agrees Alfredo breaks open the fruit and passes it around for us to taste.  He then thanks the toll taker and drives off leaving him befuddled as to what just happened.

Another fun but tiring day of roaming the streets, taking the subways and taxis and experiencing real life in Medellin, Colombia......along the gringo trail.

http://discovercolombia.com/arvi-park-green-lung-of-medellin-colombia-2/