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“Whit, make sure you bring your fleece jacket home from school today.”
*8 hours later*
“Hey, Buddy! Did you remember your jacket?”
“I asked, but we couldn’t find it.”
“You’ve lost a third jacket at school?!?!?”
We planned on going to Ecuador from Colombia. The countries are neighbors, so a border crossing should be quick, easy, and cheap, right?
Not only were our plans to spend 4-6 weeks everywhere from Quito to the Galapagos foiled by the protests and travel warnings sweeping South America, it also turns out that flying from Medellin to Quito is pretttttttty expensive.
With one month to spare in Colombia we made the quick decision to skip Ecuador (for now. It’s still on my Bucket List to go to the Galapagos!) and head straight to Peru. As we enjoyed our final weeks of having a home in Medellin we also made many trips to Decathalon outdoor store to outfit ourselves for the cold weather of the Peruvian Andes and made plans for where we would stay and what we may want to do in Peru.
It was actually really nice to have a few weeks notice of where we’d be next. We usually wait until the absolute last minute, but thanks to the requirement that we have proof of onward travel to extend our 3-month visitor visas in Colombia one extra month we were able to plan and look forward to our next location.
As it turns out, I really needed that time to adjust. I knew leaving the home we’d made in Medellin would be hard, and having something concrete to plan and look forward to really helped us make the most of our last month in Colombia and leave without completely falling apart.
Our last week in Colombia was full of such festivities that we we were given the incredible gift of being able to leave without any regrets. We filled each available day with all of the last-minute things we’d wanted to do in Colombia, and left with the best possible impression of a country we’ve come to love.
To kick off our last few days we went to Whit’s school for their annual Christmas party. Boy, was it amazing! The teachers and students of the elementary school organized food, activities, and entertainment for hundreds of people. Whit’s teacher didn’t realize he wasn’t coming back after the Christmas break, unfortunately, and the tears she shed when she hugged him goodbye and announced to the rest of the class that he was leaving shocked me. I can only pray that he lands at another school with another teacher who cares about his welfare so deeply!
Another reason we loved The New School so much was that it connected us with Whit’s new best friend, Helena, and her family. They moved to Medellin from North Carolina before we did, an uncanny coincidence, but with one major difference: Helena’s mom is Colombian and was returning to her family living locally. They immediately “adopted” us and over the last 4 months gave us invaluable insight into life in Medellin and invited us to partake of their Colombian heritage and traditions.
They made sure we left Colombia with a bang, and invited us to their son’s festive (and exhausting!) birthday party at an indoor playground with extended family, to Helena’s grandma’s house for a velitas festival (a Christmas tradition on December 7th of lighting candles along your sidewalk and driveway while singing and dancing with neighbors long into the night), to their house for Sunday lunch, and on a chiva party bus ride through Medellin to see the Christmas lights around town.
We had seen chivas ride through town since we arrived in Medellin, and Helena’s mom insited early on that we book a ride around Christmas. When I saw one of the 50-passenger, wooden party busses was being reserved by other expat families for our last full day in town I knew it would be the absolute perfect way to say goodbye to such an incredible place.
After lunch with Helena’s famliy on Sunday, she, her brother, her dad, and cousin (all of whom had never ridden a chiva before!) joined us to meet the other families boarding the chiva. At first the night looked like it would be a bust. The company sent our organizer a chiva designed with benches around the perimeter instead of across the width, which greatly reduced the number of seats available. Most people riding chivas do so while drinking, and tend to stand in the center of the bus dancing as it slowly inches through traffic, but, of course, our group of responsible moms, dads, and children wasn’t interested in the party aspect of our ride.
Ben and Helena’s dad were interested in scrapping the experience and simply getting a taxi back home at our first stop, but I implored Ben to stay and, thankfully, things got much better.
During the night we made two stops to walk around different light displays and holiday markets, where we were treated to some truly unbelievably good Colombian food and the frenzy of Christmas lights thrown up over the city.
How could anyone not be happy here?
Whit and Helena bid a tearful goodbye at the end of the night, and we dragged ourselves home, feeling unexcited by and more than a little anxious about the morning of last-minute packing we would have before flying away from Medellin in the early afternoon.
The theme of our last weeknd was that we would be back to Medellin soon. We truly love this city. We have felt so at home with the beauty and modern conveniences of our walkable neighborhood, love the history and culture which still exists in this transformed valley, have met some of the nicest people in the world, made friends (both local and expat, which really helped vary our experience!), found an amazing school that not only taught our son but loved him deeply, and connected with a group of other Amazon sellers able to advise and gripe with Ben.
Why wouldn’t we come back as permanent expats when we “finish” exploring the rest of the world?
It’s a great dream, but what I’ve learned from this experience traveling abroad is not to make future plans. We really have no idea what the future holds, and every time we took goodbye selfies with friends and I assured them we’d be back in a year I knew I was lying a little bit.