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When we were living in Thailand we met someone who told us that her family’s motto was “Always say ‘Yes’.” Any time someone invited them to dinner; Yes. Any time they were offered an unfamiliar food; Yes. When someone invited them on a trip; Yes.
As Americans we’d been raised to wary of unwarranted invitations. Don’t eat candy from strangers unless it’s fully wrapped. Don’t invite someone you don’t well into your home. Don’t lend money or personal belongings.
There are so many fears that govern the way we live and how we interact with the world. It’s so easy to think the worst of people and miss new experiences simply because we’re trying to look out for ourselves and our families.
It’s really too bad.
As we travel I’m confronting my long-held notions of safety and comfort more and more, and realizing that the world, people, food, and opportunities are mostly good. As long as take a chance and are willing to see the good.
Like saying ‘Yes’ to strange requests.
Friday: Lost & Found
Whit had two Fridays Mondays off of school in a row. In true Colombian fashion we didn’t know about them until them until a week before the first. On the one hand we were thrilled- Colombia is a huge country and there’s a lot we could accomplish with a 3-day weekend. On the other hand we didn’t have much time to plan and organize two semi-big trips.
We decided on the two trips we’d be able to accomplish within just 3 days: a road trip through some of the vacation pueblos in the Antioquia mountain region, and a weekend trip to Bogota. Flights to Bogota were $10 whole dollars cheaper if we bought them for the second holiday weekend, so the decision was made. We were heading on a road trip.
The Friday of Whit’s first holiday weekend I picked him up from school and took him straight to a dentist appointment. We had some trouble finding the exact office in a huge medical complex, but the appointment was amazing. Honestly, I can’t imagine having a better dentist! The office was full of kids toys, murals, games, puppets and stuffed animals, they brought in a medical translator to help us understand everything, the dentist and her assistant were incredibly kind, patient, and attentive to Whit and I, and they didn’t even make me pay after I found out they only accept cash (don’t worry, I’ll pay when we go back for a follow-up in 2 weeks!)
Whit and I headed to the complex’s strip of small restaurants for a celebratory snack while we waited to be picked up by Ben, who’d been out renting a car for the weekend. Whit was so well behaved and so fun to be around that afternoon that when he spotted a churro vendor I couldn’t deny him an unexpected reward. He ordered a bag of churros in Spanish and she was so taken with his blue eyes she added a few extra for him. Surprise #1. We then walked past some college students selling bags of popcorn and when I offered to buy one was told they were actually free in support of a local organization. Surprise #2.
We were in great moods when Ben finally pulled up, but it was soon apparent that his afternoon hadn’t gone as well. Renting the car had been pretty frustrating, as the whole deal was done in Spanish and involved policies we’re unfamiliar with. We then had the trouble of following Google Maps to get out of Medellin, and then one-way side roads she recommended took us forever to navigate.
Ben was not in a great mood.
Finally out of Medellin, we started to calm down and get excited for our overnight trip to Jardin, a popular mountain destination 3 hours outside of town. At one point we saw a line of cars make a left as we, alone, forked right, and we counted ourselves lucky that Jardin would, apparently, belong to us for the weekend.
At least 2 or 3 hours later it’s starting to get dark, it’s begun to rain, and we’ve been driving on windy mountain roads for long enough to wonder if we would ever arrive and who in their right mind told us Jardin was a mere three hours away when Ben meets the straw that would break his back: the road was cerrado. A very kind policeman tried as hard as he could to help us understand that the road was closed from that point on and that we’d need to go all the way back to the fork in the road to take the (much longer) alternate route to Jardin.
We finally understood that we had another 4 hours, or so, of driving in front of us, which would make our arrival near midnight.
Whit asked if we could stop for dinner, which we did when at the first open restaurant we saw on the side of the road in the Middle of Nowhere, Colombia. Ben and I approached the counter to figure out what we should order when Whit asked if we would buy him a bag of chips. Well, that was the wrong question at the wrong time. Ben tried hard to (unsuccessfully) contain his frustration as he told Whit he wouldn’t buy him chips as we were trying to order dinner, which, of course, made Whit cry. Realizing that being stuck in the car for another few hours would only make things worse, Ben joking asked, “Are there any hotels around here?” when the concerned waitress asked if there was anything we needed.
A few minutes later (and with Whit happily playing a game on Ben’s phone with him and us all laughing and joking like normal) the waitress returns with pictures on her phone of a finca (vacation home outside of town, usually an old farm property) her boyfriend was in the process of renovating into a hotel and luxury camping site. She told us that the hotel wouldn’t officially open until December, but that the rooms were ready and they’d love to have us stay as guests for the night. Oh, and it happen to be right down the road.
Ben and I exchanged nervous glances (remember we’ve been raised to be cautious when strangers invite us into their home) but ultimately agreed to their offer. I don’t know that I would have chosen to stay there under different circumstances, but I’m so glad we did!
Their finca had been converted into an upscale hostel with 4 private rooms and 2 bathrooms, the old barn was now a giant common space complete with pool tables, a bar, lounge and karaoke center, individual work spaces, and hammocks, and the extended grounds were filled with luxury canvas teepees awaiting their double beds and high-class amenities.
The owner was grateful to have a small family to test his hotel on, and proud to show us every. square. inch of the property. Whit loved the hammocks and karaoke, Ben found the working spaces to be pretty cool, and I thought the teepees overlooking the mountains and valley were gorgeous. A winner on all fronts!
That night we tucked Whit into the single room on the second floor before we went to bed in a larger room on the bottom floor. He told me he was nervous about someone opening his door and waking him up with the harsh hallway light, and I assured him that only Daddy and I would open his door if there was an emergency. I realized afterward that the owner and his girlfriend were living in the room next to Whit’s, and maybe there is some sense in being a little cautious around new people!
We watched a show on Ben’s computer because the room’s smart TV wouldn’t work in the rain, went to sleep with no lock available on the door and with a few bugs around, but ultimately grateful for the hospitality and unique experience we were having.
We joined our hosts for a delicious, traditional Colombian breakfast the next morning before taking lots of pictures of the hotel grounds and watching Katy Perry’s “Roar” music video a few more times before eventually making our way to Jardin. For the second time.
It took us 3-4 hours to reach Jardin, but, thanks to well-written directions from our host, it was an uneventful trip. Ben called our Jardin hotel the night before and asked to switch our reservation to the following day, so we headed there as soon as we got into town to drop off our bags before heading in to town for lunch.
We immediately fell in love with Jardin. Nestled in the Colombian mountains, the town is chock-full of color. I loved photographing the buildings and central cathedral and Whit and Ben loved all of the outdoors things to do around town. They went on a cable car ride across the valley, we took a dangerous drive up wet mountain roads, and even took a kiddie train through town in between photo ops and delicious meals.
We then relaxed in a comfortable, 3-bed hotel room with enough hot water for us to all warm up from the constant rain of the past 24 hours in long showers.
Sunday: Paragliding in the Andes
Every big activity around Jardin requires 3-5 hours and 24 hours to plan. Since we could only fit in one big thing on this trip, we decided to take Whit on one of his favorite activities: paragliding. We’d only been once, in Nepal, but Whit loved it and has spoken of it often. He also loves roller coasters and zip lining, so it’s understandable that he’d love paragliding, too. This kid was made to fly!
Sunday morning we checked out of our hotel, packed our car, and drove into the town’s adventure center to sign final wavers for paragliding that morning. Two instructors piled us and their paragliding wings into an old Suzuki 4×4 and we set off on our tour.
We bumped and swerved past the same beautiful mountain landscape we saw on the way in to Jardin, realizing that we’d be completely backtracking at least one hour to get out of town later that day. Oh well, we enjoy looking out of the window! Soon we pulled over for another passenger to get in, and then a fourth. Not totally sure what was going on as the three of us sat on each other’s laps in the backseat, all we could do was expect that we’d soon be safely flying off the side of a mountain, as planned.
Once we rounded the trial up the mountain one-by-one 3 of our 4 Colombian passengers hopped out of the Suzuki. While preparing what I would do if Ben and I were instructed to jump leaving Whit in the truck with a driver, we realized it was simply a matter of the Suzuki not being powerful enough to climb the mountain with all of our weight. It’s just an old, faulty truck. Phew.
We made it to the jumping site unscathed and sat down while the wings got set up. They only had two jump instructors for us three passengers, so we decided that Whit and I would head out first while Ben waited on the mountain top for an instructor to come back for him. Whit’s wing was ready to fly before mine was, so Ben and I stood at either side of him recording his jump with my camera and our phones. He and the instructor began running, then the second (more seasoned) instructor suddenly grabbed Whit to pull them back down to Earth.
What was going on?
He explained to us that just as they started running off the mountain the wind suddenly died, and they wouldn’t have had enough to lift them very well. It’s wasn’t a life-or-death situation, but I was still incredibly glad that a second pair of eyes had been alert to the situation and able to intervene when necessary.
That’s three times in one morning something really unexpectedly terrible could have happened, but didn’t. Don’t believe all the stories you hear about foreigners disappearing in Colombia!
Next it was my turn, and the experience was amazing. I loved being surrounded by mountains and farmland. We were one with natural and animals, which was such a peaceful feeling. I fumbled to take as many GoPro videos as I could before my instructor explained it was actually on photo mode, but did commit the wind in my hair and views of each shade of green to memory.
As our ride ended and we crashed into a cow farm I was even grateful to realize I’d held onto my sandals!
Whit and his instructor were hanging out in the field when I arrived, and Whit and I found each other while our instructors folded up their wings. He was already chowing down on a bag of chips and water bottle we’d stashed in his paragliding pack, happy as a clam. He and I found a soft patch of land to lay down on, and didn’t get up from our sunbathing until 4 curious cows decided to stalk us around the field.
Whit couldn’t stop saying, “Oh, hello there.” for the rest of the day, mimicking the slight panic I’d expressed when I looked up to a hungry cow chomping just beside my head.
Whit and I were taken to a corner store for the next 90 minutes to wait for the instructors to get back to Ben, set up the wing, fly him around, and land. For some reason he’d held on to my phone for me, so Whit and I were, blissfully, left to entertain ourselves the old-fashioned way while we waited. We people watched, bought and ate some snacks, made awkward chit chat with the elderly gentleman sitting next to us, and enjoyed the scenery until Ben’s wing floated into our view.
It was a great day.
Monday: Santa Fe
We were now a day behind in our explore-the-Colombian-mountains schedule, and needed to make some quick decisions.
With only a few hours of daylight available before we needed to return the rental car, we headed 90 minutes away to the town of Santa Fe.
Ben heard that Santa Fe was one of the best day trips from Medellin, but we embarked on the trip with little expectations. Sometimes that’s for the best; like when a town doesn’t end up being all that interesting.
Santa Fe is a small town with the characteristic low, strip mall-style housing and commercial areas, cobblestone streets, and central plaza with a fountain and cathedral. We’re getting pretty used to this cookie-cutter set up of South American towns. Unlike the others, though, Santa Fe is not colorful. We walked around 80-degree heat looking for some beauty, but found a simple, beige town, instead.
The main point of interest in Santa Fe is a suspension bridge. Their narrow suspension bridge is the oldest in South America, having first carried passengers across a river over 100 years ago. Today the bridge is too narrow (and old? Fragile?) to carry cars, so half is relegated to motorcycles and 3-wheeled tuk-tuks and the other half is for pedestrians. The bridge is very pretty and was fun to walk across, but the most notable thing about our visit there was that it was the first time in Colombia that someone tried to take advantage of us.
We drove our car around a bend near the bridge and a man wearing a uniform top flagged us down. He tried to tell us that we needed to park on this corner and either walk a ways in the heat or hire him to drive us to the bridge in his tuk-tuk. It seemed plausible that cars weren’t allowed on or near the bridge, but the way he was acting was so obnoxious and insistant that we decided to try driving closer, anyway. As I rolled my window back up I could hear him and other waiting drivers mock our accent and my questions as we tried to understand the situation, which made me a little bit furious. We’ve had such amazing help from locals here, and had never felt judged or taken advantage of for being foreigners. And now we were being mocked? No way!
We drove down to the bridge where an incredibly helpful gate keeper helped Ben parallel park on the narrow street then welcomed us to the bridge. He even tried giving Whit a Gatorade for free from the refreshment box, misunderstanding that we could pay for it, we just didn’t want him to have a sugary drink.
We returned the car that afternoon feeling great about all we were able to see and experience and the incredible people we met along the way. People from this region of Colombia call themselves “Paisa”, and I’m so proud to say we’ve been accepted as honorary Paisas. I love the Paisa lifestyle and will be so sad when it’s time to move on to a new country! Colombia definitely has my heart, and every new town and experience reinforces how much we love this place.
Next week is another long weekend with even more in store… I’m sure we’ll end up Colombia even more!