We loved Medellin so much that we stayed for nine days, our longest stay that didn’t involve volunteering. Our hostel, the Palm Tree, was a magical, calm oasis in the middle of the bustling city–a perfect place to go back to after a busy day sightseeing. The staff was so kind and welcoming, and since most of them spoke very little English, we got to practice our Spanish with them all the time. On TripAdvisor, their reviews were mixed because some guests complained about their lack of English-speaking skills, because they apparently didn’t come to South America expecting to have to speak any Spanish at all. I have no words.
It was also amazing fun to hang out with our old Colca Canyon friend Ahmed and hear his expanding theories about “freeing yourself from the tyranny of the mind!“, words that have become his catchphrase lately. It’s quite possible that Ahmed is becoming a hippie. He had also acquired a temporary girlfriend, Elizabeth, a very nice girl from Olympia, WA, who was studying Spanish and salsa dancing in Medellin. She had already been in the city for one and a half years, and I asked her once if she grew tired of the stares, as she was a tall, blonde, white girl. She answered that she had gotten used to it. I don’t know if I could, though. Perhaps I’m being oversensitive, but the stares just make me so uncomfortable.
One night, after a match in which Atlético Nacional, Medellin’s most popular football team, lost to a Paraguayan team, Ahmed, Elizabeth, Craig, and I wandered into a 24-hour bakery. It was a popular stop among the walking mariachi band members that play on a nearby street in the evenings. We ordered a flan to share and sat in the outdoor patio, finishing the beers that we had brought and taking in all the colorful costumes. There were also a lot of Nacional fans, and one particularly drunk one came stumbling up to our table, holding out his hand.
“Money,” he said in his heavily accented English. “For… go to… my house!” he finished, quite pleased with himself. We politely said no, and although he fist-bumped all of us, his last words were, “Estoy con Pablo Escobar,” which we weren’t sure how to take. Was it some kind of harmless threat? Just a reference to his personal affiliation with drugs? At any rate, this kind of in-your-face interaction fortunately wasn’t common, but the stares were, and they all contrived to make me feel out-of-place. The life of a traveler, I guess. You’d think I’d be used to it by now.
But for all the stares and aggressive panhandlers, there were many more friendly faces and paisas who went out of their way to ask us if we needed directions or help, were quick to say hi and shake our hands, and just made us feel welcome in general. I would gladly endure a few stares if that meant that all of our stays would be as fun and comfortable as it was in Medellin.
Today, we took a short bus to Guatape, a quaint town about an hour and a half from Medellin. The central plaza reminds us a lot of Salento, with its colorfully painted buildings, but it’s also situated on the shore of a beautiful man-made lake (the dam provides power to 60% of Colombia, according to some fellow travelers). We expected a weekend that would be at least as calm and peaceful as our stay in Medellin, filled with scenic hikes and kayaking. So it was with some surprise and not a little displeasure that we arrived to our hostel to find it overrun with shirtless Australian volunteers blasting rap music in the living area, which all the rooms bordered.
Our room is spacious and our private bathroom (!!) is super clean and modern, but the noise just doesn’t stop. They’re currently watching a movie with an extraordinarily high gunshot rate, at maximum volume. Perhaps they’ve all gone deaf and can’t hear anything below a gazillion decibels anymore? It’s funny that in huge, busy Medellin, we were able to relax and find peace in our hostel, but here in tiny Guatape, our tranquil weekend eludes us. Ah well, if travel has taught us anything, it’s never to be surprised by anything, least of all a noisy hostel!