DAY 1: The Worldteacher meets the Worldschoolers!
When I have the time to travel (which means I don’t have any live classes to teach), I don’t waste it! Spring break ended at 2:45pm. I was on a plane to Colombia at 10:22pm. There wasn’t an earlier flight. 😊 This trip was a lot different than my recent trips. No cushy housesitting gig lined up where I would explore some new place solo. This time, I was going to meet friends. And not just any friends- friends I’ve never met in person! As you may know, I am a homeschool teacher and own an online school. That means I teach children from all over the world, and many of those children are Worldschoolers. What’s a Worldschooler?? Um, in my opinion the absolutely most AMAZING form of education you can give your child, and if I had it to do over again, it’s what I would have done with my own kids. Basically, families are traveling the world, teaching their children so much more than could ever be learned by sitting in some classroom day after day with a textbook and a test. And many of those families also incorporate more of a “standard” type education along with their worldschooling. And this is how I met Allison and her wonderful girls Haley and Zoe! Allison is an administrator on the Worldschoolers facebook page that I belong to, and her girls started taking classes with me when I opened my school in 2016. I am just SO impressed with how Allison and her husband Dan incorporate education into their travels (and I deal with a lot of homeschool families, so to be “SO impressed” is no easy feat!!). Her girls are so bright and come up with such fun and creative projects. It’s just been a pleasure getting to know all of them….online. We kind of seemed to be following each other around the globe for a while, both going to Malaysia, South Africa, Italy, etc… and giving each other tips. But it was time to quit “just missing” each other during our travels and make it official. So I booked a ticket to Medellin, Colombia (their current home base) for one of my two weeks of spring break! The other week would be spent in El Salvador with Brian.
I agreed to be Allison’s mule, and bring her some things from the states. Packages started arriving, and by the time I took inventory, I took it as a challenge to get all of her stuff and my stuff into one carry on. I HATE to check bags!! And somehow, I managed to do it! Got on my flight and settled in for the red eye to Bogota. I downed 2 Nyquils and inflated my trusty travel pillow (that I swear I will get around to reviewing at some point, but for now, just know that I give it 6 out of 5 stars!). I woke up a lot and changed position, but was able to go right back to sleep each time. Then all of a sudden I hear some loud noise and the plane is shaking!!! I jerk my head up and look out the window and WE’RE ON THE GROUND!! There I was, seat back reclined and this huge pillow in my lap, and not a single flight attendant said a word! Welcome to Colombia….FAA? FNoSe! Oh, who cares…HELLO, CONTINENT NUMBER 5!!!
I had an hour and a half layover before my flight to Medellin. Went through immigration and customs, no problem. Found my gate, boarded my flight. We were supposed to leave at 9am, but it was 9:15 and we hadn’t left the gate yet. The pilot announces something in Spanish, and then says in English that there is a technical problem with the plane and we would have a 20 minute delay. That would be the last English I heard on this flight…. We finally started taxiing out to the runway- in super slow motion. I was messaging Allison and updating her as to what was happening (and feeling awful because she was already at the airport!). We go a ways, and then stop. And sit. And sit. Then something was said in Spanish that caused a groan on the plane and we started moving again. Apparently the technical problem wasn’t fixed and we had to go back to the gate. Got off the plane, and I just followed the herd. Sat in the waiting area with no information for about half an hour. I was starving, but didn’t want to leave the gate for fear I’d miss some important information (of course, unless they said it in English, I’d miss it even if I was sitting right there!) Then, the sign flashed and said we were supposed to depart at 11am! Woo-hoo! At 10:50, they started letting us back on. I don’t know if we had a different plane or what- we boarded one gate over from where we departed. Soon, we were in the air, and I had a new flight experience under my belt- turning around from the runway!
Landed and saw Allison through the glass doors as I came down the escalators in Medellin. We waved to each other and were soon hugging and saying “Nice to meet you!” Allison has a FABULOUS driver named John Freddy who lived in the US for 14 years and speaks perfect English. And he’s super nice to boot! We stopped for food along the way (I hadn’t eaten in about 18 hours!!), and had an awesome traditional Colombian meal. I don’t know what all of this stuff was exactly, but it was goooood. And the plantain was AMAZING!! God, I’ve missed those!
Continued on the Medellin, up and over some mountains. When we got to the city I couldn’t believe how “stacked” the houses were on top of each other and from the base of the mountains practically all the way up. We arrived at Allison’s and relaxed for a bit before we headed off again- this time to pick the girls up from school! It was so wonderful to see them!! I know them through their homework projects, so it was so cool to finally meet them and give them a big hug. 😊 Zoe greeted me with a candy bar and a little welcome note. Seriously, how thoughful is that?! And they were so excited to show me their school. Haley’s friend, Manuela, joined us on the tour. We saw their biology lab, that had a lot of cool preserved specimens- including human fetuses which I thought was kind of shocking! They showed me the cafeteria, where Manuela bought me a delicious little Colombian style empanada (how sweet is she!). I stunned and amazed everyone with my ability to read the daily menu in Spanish (Well, l managed to muddle through it pretty well and was quite pleased with myself at least. ). I saw their classrooms and the gymnasium. It really was fun! I swear that if the kids there spoke English (Haley and Zoe are bilingual) and they weren’t all going on spring break, that I would volunteer to teach a science class for a day!
After that we walked back to Allison’s, then we came to check into my AirBnb that isn’t too far from them. It would be easy walking distance if it wasn’t uphill the whole way to their apartment! We then went and met Dan for dinner at a burger place that was really, really good. I was pretty exhausted by this time, so came back to the room and crashed. That is until 1:30am when the other guests in this apartment (it has a large common area and 3 or 4 private rooms that are rented out) came home, turned on loud music, and proceeded to talk loudly and bang dishes for about an hour and a half. Ugh. Oh well, it’s like $20 a night, so I can’t complain too much! Plus, I’m in Colombia, so I can’t complain at all!
DAY 2: Guatape
Lucky for me, Allison is a planner. Because this semester has kicked my butt with work and I haven’t been able to think about anything but school. So I literally was in charge of getting myself a plane ticket and a room. Everything else was on her! And after today, I can see that I’m in more than capable hands! Our awesome driver, John Freddy, picked me up at 7:30ish, and then we headed over to pick up Allison. Today was going to be an all day adventure to a place called Guatape- about 2 hours from Medellin. As we drove into the mountainous countryside, the clouds were thick. We kept hoping for it to clear up- need good light for good pics!! And the only thing Allison said I was in charge of today was pics, so I couldn’t disappoint!
We stopped in a little town called Marinilla for breakfast. I had already eaten (went grocery shopping yesterday which I forgot to say in the Day 1 blog- bought bread, ham, cheese, crackers, and COCONUT COOKIES!!). But John insisted that I have a hot chocolate, Colombian style. Now, I will say, hot chocolate tends to not be hot chocolate in other countries. I almost died trying to gag down hot chocolate at Versailles Palace (yeah, I know, poor me, boo-hoo). And Central American hot chocolate tends to just be too “dark chocolate” tasting too me- bitterish. So when they brought me this cup of really dark liquid, I was leery. But it was actually really good- and smooooooooth! Allison and I are kindred spirits when it comes to “see a bano, use a bano”, so we headed in that direction before we got back into the car. There was a really neat little map of Marinilla on the wall- showing all of the theatres and public open spaces. You can tell that this little town is really trying to do it right! We stopped on the side of the road at a fruit stand. Colombia is known for a huge variety of fruits, and this one little stand had several things I’d never seen or heard of! Allison got some things for the girls. I’ll admit, I was a little shy and afraid of what was what and what it would taste like, and trying to deal with my cash, so I left empty handed like an idiot. 🙁
Back in the car and through gorgeous, lush green hills. Everywhere you look is so steep. Even the farms plant their crops in terraces up the hillsides! It’s really quite beautiful. Eagle Eye Allison spotted a bridge over the river, and John kindly pulled over so we could get a pic. I couldn’t really get into a good position to see it from the road, so John asked the guy that was working in a nearby shed if we could come on the other side of the fence to see the bridge. We could, and not just that, but we could hike through their houses to go down to it! Woo-hoo, off the beaten path adventure! Of course, the bridge turned out to be shaky, rickety, and high (my 3 LEAST favorite characteristics of bridges). I managed to go about half way before my fear kicked in and beckoned me to turn around! I love knowing that very few gringos have access to this sweet little spot!
Off we went again, toward our first planned adventure of the day. Guatape Rock. AKA El Penon de Guatape. AKA La Piedra. AKA El Penol. First, we drove through the city of El Penol. The rock is between there and the town of Guatape. From what Allison has researched, they both claim the rock. Guatape started staking their claim by painting their name on it. They managed to get the G finished and the first line of the U before El Penol said, “Um, we don’t think so!” and stopped that business fast. So who cares about who owns some dumb old rock? Both of these towns! Because this, my friends, is no ordinary rock! I present you with photographic evidence of this fact!
Ok, here’s all I knew about this rock. It was HIGH. 650 steps high. Which is almost 3 times Batu Caves high (One thing I love about Allison is that I can say, “This is 3 Batu Caves high!” and she knows EXACTLY what I’m talking about!! #travelers ). Let’s see….what do I hate more than shaky, high, rickety bridges? Climbing ANYTHING high. Especially things involving lots of stairs high. I honestly did not know if I was going to be able to do it. Both because of fear and a creaky knee that sometimes puts me in my place (a place that is NOT on stairs). And when I saw this thing for the first time, I about died. John declared that his knees are too bad to climb, so he’d wait for us. We paid our entry fee, and headed up. Had Allison not been there, I’m not sure I would have done this on my own. In fact, I declared her “lead horse”. Hey, if I can be her mule, she can be my lead horse! I felt more comfortable following her steps. Every 25 steps have how many steps you’ve gone painted on them. Our first goal was that platform you can see halfway up. I was determined to make it to that at least, then decide if I should turn around or not.
100, 200, 300…We stopped on the end of most of the zig zags to catch our breath and take in the views, and my but they were SPECTACULAR!! In 1970, this entire area was flooded to create a hydroelectric dam- even covering a town called Penol. Just the tops of the hills are visible now- islands in a massive lake. We made it to the platform and I was actually doing way better than I thought I would! I hadn’t cried or sat down and refused to budge in either direction once! Views from the platform were stunning. And there was Mary, praying for my knees and acrophobia. Or my heathen atheist soul. Or maybe all 3. I don’t know, but we took some pics and continued up, up, up, never ending up….
It’s amazing to think that all of these stairs were constructed inside of a huge crack in the rock. I can not even imagine being the person doing construction on this! A bit of a backstory- the rock itself is igneous, having been created by an intrusion of magma (when magma pushes up from inside of the earth, but never reaches the surface) about 70 million years ago- during the same time period that the surrounding mountain range was being created. It was uplifted during that process, and there the monolith still stands today- having been worshipped by the indigenous people, and now ascended by thousands of tourists from all over the world. And here I was, on step 500. About 150 to go…
And before I knew it, we were at the top! There were little souvenir stands and places to get food. And CHAIRS! Allison and I immediately claimed two and stared over the edge at the seemingly never-ending views. Like Allison said, the camera is not nearly as complicated as your eye. Here are the pictures, but I guarantee you the in person view is far more magnificent.
Takes your breath away, doesn’t it? We wandered around the top for a bit and saw another very interesting view….directly into the men’s bano!! What the heck?!
It was time to descend, and as we were heading for the stairs, there was a man hauling a 40+ lb bag of onions up on his back!! OMG, I can not even imagine. I was just kind of standing there in awe, because it dawned on me that everything that was up here (huge coolers for drinks, all of those drinks, ice cream carts, tables, umbrellas, etc….) had to be hauled up 650 stairs by hand!! While I was deep in contemplation about the logistics of such a feat, Allison is saying “Get a picture! If you’re going to take a picture of the men’s bathroom, you have to get a picture of this!”. Thank goodness one of us is sensible and lacks the mentality of a 4th grade boy…
What comes up, must go down. And the “down” in this case was rather interesting! Instead of descending the same steps you came up on, there is a separate set of stairs on the inside of the crack that begin just a short way down from the top. Frankly, a brilliant idea, because Allison said that the last time she was here it was PACKED with people. I can’t imagine trying to navigate up or down with a steady flow of people approaching from the opposite direction. #anxietyattack
I will say, going down was a lot more scary for me than going up. The passage was narrower, the stairs seemed smaller. Just eek! But with lead horse leading the way confidently, I fell into line and managed pretty well. Talking non-stop helped keep my mind off of the number of ways I could possibly die (which is approximately equal to the number of steps here!). Every once in a while there would be a window to the outside, showing another glimpse of the gorgeous views…
I survived El Penon de Guatape! John was waiting for us at the bottom, and we jumped in his car and headed for the town of Guatape for the second part of the day’s adventure! First stop in town was LUNCH! I had some kind of beef that was really good, and Allison and I got “Michelada de Allison”- Michelada salt and limed rim but with fizzy water instead of beer. Quite refreshing! We ate at a restaurant overlooking the reservoir. And we noticed something quite odd….
The water level was definitely low, but the way this boat was sitting just seemed odd. Why wouldn’t someone keep it in the water as the levels went down? Did it crash there? Well, I researched and found an interesting tale- all of which had to be translated from Spanish. The El Almirante was a pleasure boat that would take tourists on trips up and down the reservoir. On June 25, 2017, it sank in about 60 feet of water with 167 tourists on board. 7 died. 2 were missing. I could never find any information on if the other 2 were ever found. Apparently, a very loud noise was heard, and then the ship began to sink immediately. From what I can determine, the hull cracked. There were not enough life jackets on board for the amount of people, but fortunately it happened just a few minutes after it set sail, so there were a lot of boats in the area that could help rescue people. The Colombian Navy put air bags under the boat and floated it to its current location, but apparently since then the water level has gone down so much that it’s completely land locked. Reports indicate that the boat had had serious problems before that were “fixed”. Such a sad story, and with it sitting there in the open like that, a constant reminder to the people of Guatape.
After lunch, we walked through the very colorful and quaint town of Guatape! I was really feeling the vibe here! Guatape is famous for its zocalos- little facade images on the lower outside walls of homes and businesses that are colorfully painted, adding a very unique charm to this little town!
There was also a really beautiful church. The police were outside announcing something, but John said he couldn’t figure out what was going on. We went in. It was Jesusy. There was a cool fish stained glass window. 🙂
It was time to leave the colorful little town with the cool vibe behind and head back to the city! We made a couple of stops along the way (which is why I LOVE having a private driver!). One was a little roadside stand that had a ton of tilapia crammed into tanks. I took pics, but honestly, it was super sad so I’m going to leave them out. Conditions were rough… The next stop was another roadside stand that had some beautiful wood carvings out front. And the artist himself was there, carving out a wooden picture. John talked to him and he said it takes about a month to do one. Wow. Such talent. And such a nice man as well.
Headed down the road a bit more to another little town called San Antonio de Pereira. This was a town known for it’s desserts! I informed Allison and John that I am known for eating desserts, so it’s a good fit! We parked and started walking down the street. There was some weird thing in a big pot that a street vendor was selling. It looked kind of like weird, old, kinda dried out onion rings or something, except all in a big roll like a super tasty curly fry from Jack in the Box. (How’s that for a description?!) John informed us it was chicken intestines. Um, I’ll take a pass on that….which way to the dessert stand? He then took us to the world famous (or at least Antioquia famous- that’s the state of Colombia I’m in) Dulce Contigo. I have no idea what possessed me, but I didn’t get a single picture!!!!!!!!!! GRRRRRRRRRR! There were all of this glass cake pans (the 9×13 kind) lined up in cases with flavors like Brownie, Chocolate, Weird Unknown Fruit Things, Lemon, etc… I’m not sure how to describe them- kind of like those refrigerator cheesecakes you can make maybe? I got Brownie, it was tasty. Allison got Lemon and it was really good! We finished our desert and went for MORE desert out on the street that John insisted we must try. I can’t remember what it was called, but it had layers of strawberries, cream, and meringue that had the coolest “crunchy but melt in your mouth” texture. But by that time I was so stuffed, I could only take a few bites! Back in the car and off to Medellin to end a lovely day!!
Now those of you who know me know that I LOVE taking pictures of wildlife. This part of Colombia is not proving to be very prolific in that regard. So here, I present to you the day’s wildlife.