Let me pick up the story from where I left it – Medellin. I was just getting ready to join the awesome parties and the festival of flowers “Feria de las Flores”. Which I did, for a night. Then I woke up and realized it’s probably not my type of fun. I had good company, nothing to complain, but maybe I’m past that age when I go out and party, get high, dance, and look for girls. Well, maybe not the last part 😀

Some of the highlights of my time in Medellin:
– the hostel where I was going to volunteer for a while, decided all of a sudden that they don’t need me anymore
– I spent a lovely time in a very chill hostel – Sophias House Hostel, and I was welcome back as volunteer for about two weeks
– met these two crazy Dutch of Persian origin in the hostel, who got drunk or high every night, and ended up getting stupid twin-tattoos. They rule! we played good football – much needed exercise after that much rum.
– met the first French travelers who left me with a good impression, confirming there are exceptions from the usual pattern
– got some bad news regarding my family, which kept me still, so I didn’t explore much of the city, as I normally would
– got an indigestion probably from the tap water, keeping me from drinking a beer with Radu, the first Romanian to cross the Americas on a bicycle
– I’ve been to Arvi park to see the city from above. By cable car, of course (and a really long one)
– spent more than half of a day in Explora Park. An interactive museum you must not miss. Its main attraction is the largest aquarium in South America, but I found other rooms and experiences a lot more interesting
– had an unforgettable love-hate relationship with this girl who asked me if I’m gay. I bet she was too busy to realize I like her. Not sure if she will talk to me ever again – Colombian style.
– shed a few tears during the free walking tour. The history of this city is amazing, rising from its decadence and life of drugs and murder, by grabbing one last chance with both hands and building the Metro line. That changed the life of millions, and this effort is still respected – you can’t see any single scratch, sticker, graffiti done on the metro line or the train wagons. And the Colombian way of life is a really good example, which many should follow, including myself – Stop bitching around for all the little things; forget the bad incidents but remember the lesson; smile, be happy and tolerant – any day could be your last
– and to end on a positive note, none of the Tinder matches said any word back to me – lame! Maybe the girls in Medellin are too cool for this (but from walking around the city, I doubt it)

I didn’t want to leave Medellin, but I felt the calling of Ecuador, and I had a few more stops to make on the way. I stopped for a night in Salento, a small village in the mountains, in the area called “zona cafetera” because they cultivate coffee. The first night there I spent it in the main square, listening for a couple of hours to a mixed group of talented Argentinians and Brazilians playing guitars and singing along. But the best day was to be the next one, hiking up the valley called Valle de Cocora. The hike up is not so impressive, as you walk through the forest, but the way down from the last overlook (mirador) is really impressive. There are palm trees and land in so many shades of green, that I felt in Paradise (I guess that’s my version of paradise – green). And to enhace the experience, I had very good company on the hike – Jessica (ES) and Tatiana (NL). I left the day after, as I had a long way ahead to Ecuador.

My friend I met in Pennsylvania, Emanuel, got back from his work-and-travel year around the world (India and Iceland) and had some stories to share, and he was happy to host me for a couple of nights! He even made some time to walk around the city with me, on a Sunday when everyone was outside flying kites. Judging by the number of crashes in trees, buildings and power lines, this is a very popular family activity for the weekend. To be honest, I was really impressed by how many families can be happy and fly kites one next to the other, often crashing them into people. The next day was mine to explore! I did what nobody does on a weekday: went to the statue of Jesus that’s on a hill above the city, but quite far away for a casual walk. There should’ve been some local transport running – Jeeps or ARO (yes, lots of AROs here, still working fine – communist Romanian cars build to last a lifetime), but in an hour of walking and waiting, none passed. So I decided to walk up the hill, a pilgrimage for the Flying Spaghetti Monster and a big white statue. Nobody told me beforehand that’s a dangerous area to walk, but nothing happened to me other than walking in the sun without water for about 3h. Oh, yes… everything on the way or up there was closed – something really unexpected for a country where ten stores can survive happily one next to another selling exactly the same stuff for the same price. The statue was nice, but the locals know better not to go there. The tour guides of the free walking tour, as well as Emanuel, haven’t been there. The view has a lot of potential if the air was not damp or hazy. Cali, capital of salsa, nightlife?! Meh, skip that! Not for me.

Leaving Cali and heading to the border with Ecuador, I was on a very long bus ride (13h) but I wished so badly I had my own wheels. I would’ve stopped 100 times to breath in the scenery, the canyons, the smooth winding road that cuts through the sides of the Cordiliera mountains, and with powerful views of snowy volcanic peaks piercing the sky every now and then. This was the moment when I had to promise myself I’ll get back and ride these roads properly (2 wheels and min 800cc – properly). No pictures were taken here! But stay tuned for the next adventure. The bus dropped me in Ipiales at 10pm, along with a couple of British travelers – both named Alex!!! So, here’s three of us walking into a hotel and asking for rooms! No, there is no joke following, but the beginning was promising, right? Well, the cheap hotel was surely used on an hourly basis, so that’s probably the reason there were only two blankets that barely kept me warm and asleep. The sacrifice was worth it, as the next day I saw one very beautiful church/sanctuary – Las Lajas (its mysterious history is maybe worth reading). A very short visit in the early morning was all I got. There were a lot of paths around to explore, hills to climb, and the canyon had a couple of nice waterfalls. The church is definitely unique for this country from the architectural point of view, and furthermore the chosen location is a small oasis of tranquility on its own. But the day is short and the buses go slow in this area. Quito is “only” 5h away. Colectivo – grab backpack/checkout – taxi – border. It’s 11:15am and I’m almost out of Colombia!

I will enter again Colombia as my flight leaves from Bogota, but I don’t expect more than bus ride, rest, and maybe some souvenir shopping in Bogota before the flight. I feel so connected to this country and I can’t exactly tell why. It’s probably the people and their way of living the life, telling the stories. Now, when I think of Colombia as a whole, and their history, I feel tears coming to my eyes. Probably happy tears. It’s a feeling I can’t describe. It is one of the strongest impressions left by any of the countries I’ve crossed so far. And I didn’t even visit much of it. All I can say for now is that I’ll be back! That’s a promise!

—A small selection of pictures from Colombia—

Whole journey map