January. A new year, and the beginning of the second leg of my Latin America backpacking trip: South America. Although this is my second visit to this continent, I barely scratched the surface when I visited a handful of places in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile four years ago.
The start of a new year always seems to make people think that some sort of big change is going to happen as soon as the clock strikes midnight. All of a sudden those new years resolutions to eat healthier and be more productive are going to take effect. I think the opposite actually happened to me: in January I was less productive with blogging as I made my way through Colombia. Why? I was just having so much fun, and I don’t think it’s such a bad thing. I spent most of January traveling with two Australian friends I met in Central America. It was hilarious, exciting, and such a great experience. When they headed south, I stuck around in Colombia for a bit longer before making my way to Ecuador. So here’s what January looked like through my eyes.
I rang in the New Year in Medellín.
Anyone I’d ever met who had been to Medellín always raved about it, and I can understand why. I almost thought I was in Europe as I walked the tree-lined streets of the El Poblado neighborhood, checking out the trendy cafés, bars, and shops. Even the lesser-developed neighborhoods visible on the ride up Medellín’s Metrocable were beautiful.
I was in Parque Lleras, the main park in the middle of El Poblado when the clock struck midnight on New Years. We rushed to the park from the hostel bar we were at and watched as the television screen setup in the park went blank a few minutes before midnight. We only realized it was midnight as we heard the locals in the park cheering and clapping. It was somewhat anticlimactic, but super fun nonetheless.
I played paintball in Pablo Escobar’s house in Guatapé.
Being in Colombia and having binge watched Narcos, I was really interested in learning more about Pablo Escobar. What better way than to go on a tour of one of his many houses while in Guatapé, and then play paintball in it! This was my first time playing paintball; it was such a blast. I’m not sure I actually hit anyone, but I’m glad I survived and that getting shot didn’t hurt too badly!
Guatapé itself is such a colorful little town and Piedra del Peñol, the giant monolithic rock that looks like it fell from outer space, showed of amazing views of the countryside. It surprised me that this little town was was one of my favorite places in Colombia!
I photographed the street art in Bogotá.
Graffiti is a huge part of Bogotá’s culture, telling stories of everything from Colombia’s history to current controversies. The graffiti walking tour in Bogotá was really amazing and made me like the city much more than I expected to at first. The street art is literally around every corner and was always worth stopping to take a look at.
I went salsa dancing in Cali.
Honestly, I didn’t really like Cali, but it might have been because most places were closed due to a holiday and I didn’t get to experience it while it was as lively as it might usually be. All we really did was visit a giant statue of Jesus on a mountain and go salsa dancing one night. It would have been nice to stay longer and hone my salsa skills in the city that’s the salsa capital of the world, but I’ll just have to save it for another trip.
I learned about the megalithic statues in San Agustín.
Although I came down with a fever that had me out of commission for a day in San Agustín, I did get to enjoy the beautiful scenery at the archaeological park known for the largest collection of megalithic rock sculptures in Latin America. It didn’t seem real that humans could have so intricately carved these massive rock sculptures and then buried them to be found many years later.
I did absolutely nothing in Santa Marta.
There have been a few times when this long-term trip has taken a toll on me. Santa Marta was the first place I went to in Colombia alone, and I just wasn’t in the correct frame of mind to plan it out. I didn’t particularly like Santa Marta itself, and although there are so many interesting things to do in the surrounding area, I couldn’t get myself to do any of it. This is my only regret in Colombia and the reason why I’m thinking about trying to return before my trip is over. I have a feeling I’ll be returning to Colombia at some point in the future because I loved it so much, but I think I really need to make that happen sooner than later. Like, in the next few months.
I fell in love with the architecture of Cartagena.
Cartagena is so incredibly beautiful. Instead of heading to the beach, I roamed the streets of the historical center photographing the beautiful balconies, doors and windows. I couldn’t get over how photogenic this place was! I felt like I’d been transported from South America to Europe for a moment. I don’t even know what else to say about Cartagena, but I loved it so much!
I didn’t fall in love with Quito, however.
Seeing Quito from above in the plane was stunning because it’s nestled in a valley, but I realized as I explored the streets that it just wasn’t my city. The architecture in the historic center was pretty, but I felt more lost as I wandered around Quito looking for points of interest than in any other city. I didn’t have enough time to visit the Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the world, Equator), but I heard it was kind of cheesy and touristy anyway. I’m glad I satisfied my curiosity with Quito, though. I gave it a try, then moved on to one of my favorite places – Baños.
I went on a few exciting adventures in Baños.
Baños was amazing. I didn’t spend as much time out in nature in Colombia as I’d originally planned, but I really got my fix in Baños. I cycled on roads hugging the mountains along the Ruta de las Cascadas, stopping to look at the waterfalls along the way. I don’t normally do these types of activities alone even when I’m traveling solo, but it was so nice to ride at my own pace, stop wherever I wanted, and spend some time in nature by myself.
A trip to Baños isn’t complete without an obligatory photo at the “Swing at the End of the World”. Spoiler alert: although it looked as if I was swinging from a cliff, there was actually only a little hill below me. Still, I was swinging pretty high! My hands were shaking a bit from nerves and adrenaline when I got off the swing; it was so much fun.
As if those adventures weren’t enough, I also tried rafting for the first time! The level of difficulty was mid-range at the river we were in but still scary (in a good way) at times. No one fell out of the raft accidentally, but the guide did push me into the water when I least expected it!
I hope I’m not the only person who goes through ruts when it comes to travel and blogging (Anyone? Anyone?), but I’ve certainly slowed down with my writing. It’s getting harder to sit down and concentrate on writing about my experiences when I’m so busy having them and feeling all the emotions of them. I want to be able to balance travel and blogging, but I’ve definitely been spending more of my time socializing with other backpackers and getting to know the places I’m in than actually writing about them.
If I’m being honest with myself, I only have a few months left in this South America trip and the reality of having to figure out my next steps have jolted me and thrown me into a rut with writing. It’s frustrating not to be able to accomplish as much in blogging as much as I would in an average month before, but at the same time I don’t regret those nights I went out with new friends I met at my hostel instead of sitting at my computer. When I think back on this trip, I want to remember those moments in which it felt like time stood still as we all fell in love with this part of the world at the same time.