Coincidentally, and mainly thanks to Rebs’ sister Beany living in Cartagena, two of our last weeks in South America were spent with our families, sharing some of the places we have loved in Colombia. Beanebsolomon(?!) met Pillian (Rebs’ parents…too far with name blending?) in Bogotá, where they tried a lot of new food they enjoyed (with plenty of ‘hmmm I’m suspicious of this not-very-appetising-looking food you’ve put in front of me’ looks), and a lot of new drinks they didn’t. A highlight was probably sharing a fishbowl of fermented sweetcorn drink, which Pillian tried hard not to spit out. Unfortunately, not even fermented corn could provide us with the Dutch courage to join the couple salsa-ing round the bar we were in.
Our next stop was Manizales, revisiting Cecilia’s farm where we had previously volunteered for a month. The overcrowded jeep ride to the farm gave Rebs’ dad the excuse he had obviously been looking for to stand up hanging on to the back, and Beany the opportunity for innumerable ‘selfies’, apparently quite the in thing. While there, we took a day trip on a fantastic coffee-farm tour at Hacienda Guayabal. It didn’t get off to the best of starts as our taxi driver ran over and killed their dog, but it was all smiles from then on. Thanks to enthusiastic repetition, our takeaway lesson was big bean good (flavour), small bean bad (smell). Starbucks small bean, Colombia best coffee in the world.
Salamina was memorable for our food experiences. The bus driver had talked up their (1) ‘huevos al vapor’ and (2) ‘macaná’, but having been told of and sampled many local ‘specialities’ which turned out to be scrambled eggs with tomato or a lunchtime English Breakfast, we were skeptical. Undeservedly so.
For (1), take eggs, a nob of butter, salt and ham; for (2), salted crackers, milk, copious amount of sugar and butter – ‘cook’ both with a coffee machine milk frother, and surprisingly, you get results that are both different and delicious. Thankfully, because dinner was less successful…
We should have known better, but we were seduced by and opted for an extensive ‘a la carte’ menu, instead off the trusty set dinner. This rare preference confused the waitress hopelessly, but after ten minutes of shuttle runs to and from the kitchen inquiring as to whether they had ANY of the food we had chosen, she offered to cobble together some ingredients from the set meal in a reworked, repackaged format. The next hurdle was drinks. Our request for wine, although at first met with bafflement, was rewarded fifteen minutes later, as we were triumphantly presented with a dusty carton of 2% sweet wine, and six lipstick smeared champagne flutes.
We arrived in Medellín desperate for some food that wasn’t rice, meat and beans. It had taken RebSolomon a year and a half to reach that point, Beany two months, and Pillian four days. Medellín was a city of firsts: our first Western food, RebSolomon’s first night apart, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, our first family wine and crisps night on the roof terrace of our hostel overlooking Medellín. Revisiting the pretty town of Guatapé and the 740 steps of the Piedra del Peñol with the family and Sol’s cousin Andrew, we found it just as gorgeous as we remembered, and it was a treat to share some of our cycling route with our families. On our final day in Medellín, we visited Parque Arví on a cable car from the city centre. The journey was spectacular as we left the city behind, climbed nearly 1000m over a mountain range and reached a more alpine vegetation on the other side. In the tranquility, it was hard to believe we were just twenty minutes away from a city of three million people, and it made us wonder how the first settlers to the area must have felt, confronted with such a landscape.
Our final stop was Cartagena, where we met Flephen (Sol’s parents) at the airport. We all shared a beautiful apartment in a lively part of the Old Town. We relaxed over big bean coffee and lazy breakfasts in the morning, and headed to local beaches in the afternoon. The highlight was definitely Playa Blanca, scene of Sol’s earlier crab attack, where we spent two absurdly beautiful and relaxing days, eating fish and being suckered by the odd artesania seller. Rebs’ mum celebrated her birthday while we were in Cartagena, giving us all a great excuse to drink cheap fizzy plonk all night.
We split up after a week in Cartagena, and RebSolomon headed on to Caracas, where we finally had an experience without which Venezuela might have felt lacking: an attempted violent mugging. It started off as a rather British-like affair with a back and forth debate over ownership rights to our kindles. Middle ground just couldn’t be found. Luckily, despite the situation escalating somewhat, our muggers were young and inexperienced, and Sol was ferocious, so we escaped unscathed.
Today we fly to Spain, where we’re hoping (perhaps naively) to find a similar life to that on our farming community in Venezuela. Fingers crossed!