I always knew I wanted to come to Colombia. It was in my plan the whole time…and Bogota, Cartagena, Medellin and Cali were on my bucket list. Today, I arrived in Medellin (I can finally check off three of the four cities). As a nature lover, I’m surprised I haven’t actually explored the beautiful nature Colombia has to offer (and I’ve written blogs on why this hasn’t happened)…but I’m sure it will come soon.
Now, it always takes time to realise how you feel about a place…
I’ve been in Colombia for about 2 weeks now…doing a whole bunch of nothing. It was so hard for me to leave Cartagena because I met such wonderful people there which became my family…but I finally built the motivation to leave and move forward with my adventure…and one of the biggest reasons was because I really was becoming extremely unmotivated and felt I needed to leave before I ended up doing a whole bunch of more of nothing.
Now (*updated*) – I’m currently sitting in a Couchsurfing familie’s house, sharing a room with a Norwegian girl. They offered their place to me without me asking and they can barely speak English. You can’t get any more of a local experience than this 🙂 It’s definitely giving me a great opportunity to practice my Spanish.
- Flight tickets are almost the same or are the same price as bus tickets in Colombia
- If you want to increase your chances of having more space, book your journey between Monday to Wednesday
- The journey from Cartagena to Medellin is very mountainous so be prepared to go around many turns
- Street vendors don’t always come on the bus
- Bus tickets aren’t always cheaper online or in the station. It seems to depend on who knows what.
How do I feel? (How I felt yesterday)
Both sad but glad – I’m sad because I hate saying goodbye when you find a lovely bunch of people, especially when they start feeling like your family…but I’m so glad because I am finally moving forward with my journey. I was being extremely unproductive. I mean, I gave up the idea of going to all the major natural tourist attractions up north. I was supposed to go to Taryona Park, Minka and some other places up north but ended up spending the whole 9 days up north just chilling in Cartagena. I couldn’t even be bothered going to the local beach and stayed in the city centre.
So…yes, it’s really nice to finally be moving forward. Plus I have a couple of couch surfing hosts, my Spanish language course and my next Workaway lined up so a lot will be happening shortly (after doing basically nothing for 2 weeks). I’m definitely keen on starting to work out and eat healthy again too because for some reason, while I’ve been in recovery and migration mode, it’s been quite hard.
It’s been hard to buy groceries without wasting them and it’s been hard to build motivation to exercise when I’ve been so tired.
I’ve had a lot of time to rest, recover and rejuvenate which is good…but to be honest…I don’t feel ready to do all this stuff I’ve committed to yet…I still feel like relaxing and doing nothing. I guess going crazy being a tourist exploring and partying for Carnaval in Salvador really killed me…
All I crave right now is just to chill…but I think right now, I’m perhaps falling into a trap where I could do a whole bunch of nothing for even 2 months.
I think it’s time I gave myself a little push in a different direction.
As I’ve written in my journal (it will be posted I promise)~ I’ve decided to make Colombia a productive trip.
As soon as I made that decision, I started booking all these things and forced myself to leave Cartagena (I extended for one night but became strict with myself because I kept on checking out and then extending my stay).
The journey from Cartagena to Medellin
Yep, you guessed it – another long bus ride!
I heard it was about 16 hours…fine…but I didn’t pay attention to which day of the week it was and decided to leave on a Friday anyway (rookie mistake – I’ll explain later I promise).
I met two English guys the day before at Folatin Hostel (my home in Cartagena) and they were headed in the same direction…so I decided to tag along with them. They wanted to leave at around the same time as me so it made sense to go.
We originally planned to leave at 9:30pm, giving me enough time to have a little day trip with my Cartagenan family on my last day.
We went to the beach, enjoyed each others’ company, sang some songs, drank some beers and came back to the hostel at around 5:00pm.
Me with my Cartagenan Family
When I saw the English guys at the hostel, I asked them again what time they were leaving.
English guy 1: “We actually booked our ticket for 7:30 because it was cheaper.”
Me: “That’s fine. What time do you plan on leaving?”
English guy 1: “Around 6:00. We want to make sure that there’s enough time to get there.”
Me: “Yeah that’s fine. I think I’m still going to come with you.”
English guy 1: “Yeah for sure.”
It was already 5:00pm.
I still had to get ready and me and my family planned to have a final dinner together before I left. I wasn’t really sure if we actually had enough time.
I walked over to Jessica (a volunteer and mother-figure at the hostel) and told her I was leaving at 6:00.
We were still determined to make dinner work.
Jessica: “Well we can cook dinner while you’re having a shower.”
Me: “Ok sure.”
I rummaged through my bag to look for ingredients to contribute to the dinner. All I could give was cilantro, garlic and pineapple. I really wanted to use the main shower because there was soap I could use (because I didn’t have any) but it was already occupied.
I sat there…waiting impatiently. As soon as the bathroom became available, I ran in and showered as quickly as I could, washing all the sand from my body and trying to dry my soaking wet hair with my shitty tiny micro-fiber towel which doesn’t seem to dry anything.
When I was finally done, Jess was plating up the food.
Wow, she actually managed to pull dinner off so quickly!
We all sat in the common area and ate together, talking about dinner being the last supper and speculating whether we could make a picture like the last supper before realising it was too difficult.
It was 5.55pm. I knew that 5 minutes wasn’t long enough to finish the food and say my goodbyes.
I ran over to the English guys and pleaded:
“Do you mind if we leave about 5 minutes later?”
English guy 2: “Yeah sure don’t worry we will wait for you.”
I scoffed down my food as quickly as possible, got my bags and gave everyone a hug goodbye.
Because we were rushing so, I didn’t have too much time to process what was going on…but it was definitely sad for me to say goodbye.
Before we hailed a taxi, I was determined to get the ride for 20,000 pesos.
We rushed out onto the street, hailed down a taxi and asked for the price.
The first taxi refused to take us to the bus station for less than 30,000.
No way! Next!
We stood there for a while, trying to hail down a few taxis but they all ignored us…they were all occupied.
Just as I was about to lose hope…another guy pulled over.
It was time to try working my charm on him.
Me: “Para el estacion de buses. Cuanto es?” (how much is the taxi to the bus station?)
The driver paused, looked up and was trying to figure out how much to ask for.
Me: “Puedes venti?” (can you do it for 20?)
He nodded his head happily and we quickly put our bags in the back and sat in the taxi.
English guy 1: “How much did he say we had to pay?”
Me: “I think 20 but I’m not 100 percent sure if there was a miscommunication.”
English guy 1: “Well we’ll find out soon enough.”
By this time I forgot how far the bus station was. The traffic was horrendous. It took so much longer than expected…
What was supposed to be a 30 minute drive turned into almost an hour ride. Luckily the driver was really nice and made the ride pleasant for us. He really enjoyed to talk. We chat about life and travel. He showed me some local music. It was so nice because I really got to practice my Spanish with him but every time he spoke, it was so fast that it was hard to understand what he was saying.
I really thought we weren’t going to make it to the station on time…but somehow we arrived with 15 minutes to spare. I also wasn’t sure if the bus company would sell me a ticket with such short notice (because for the ride from Bogota to Cartagena, they refused to sell it to me, even though I had about 30 minutes to spare).
I went to the counter and asked: “Para Medellin.” (to Medellin)
Customer service girl: “Solo uno?” (just one?)
Me: “Si” (yes)
She typed some things onto the computer and asked me to pay.
Customer service girl: “130,000” (equivalent to AUD $65)
I was actually shocked at how much the ticket was.
Tip #1 flight tickets are almost the same or are the same price as bus tickets in Colombia
This would have to be the most expensive bus ticket I’ve bought on my travels…
After I was on the bus for a while, I realised that plane tickets in Colombia actually cost about the same as bus tickets ~ it really makes me wonder what’s the point in catching a bus.
But what was done, was done. I was already at the station. I’d already asked for the ticket. It was my stupid mistake for not even thinking about catching a flight before hand. It really would have saved me feeling an almost-hangover/jet-lag tiredness now.
We all got our tickets, went to the bus terminal together, handed over our luggage and went to our assigned seats…meeting a young, blonde German guy along the way.
I was so hopeful that I would get two seats to myself but as soon as I stepped onto that bus, I saw that someone was seated next to me….
Tip #2 if you want to increase your chances of having more space, book your journey between Monday to Wednesday
He was a typical Colombian guy…he was very tanned, had a hat on and couldn’t speak a word of English.
Once all the passengers hopped on, I noticed that half of the bus was filled with foreigners ~ a first experience for me in South America (I’m used to having mainly locals actually). Everyone seemed so happy and excited because they were all talking to each other so loudly. I was hoping that we would have a TV screen and be given snacks like my first ride with Brasilia Express but there was no screens, snacks or drink.
Then I realised that I had no internet – fuck! My credit just ran out!
Then my anxiety started kicking in:
“How am I going to find accommodation and book an uber there? Shit!”
I desperately tried to connect to the buses wifi and somehow managed to pull through to quickly make a reservation at the very beginning of the trip before the wifi really decided not to work.
I remember thinking to myself…”this is going to be a long ride”…and questioning if I was going to be able to get to sleep.
It was so strange and uncomfortable because throughout the journey, my neighbour kept looking at me, especially when I looked over through the window (because he had the window seat)…every time I looked in his general direction, I could feel his eyes peering over at me.
I don’t really remember too much of the first part of the journey. I just remember trying to sleep in uncomfortable positions most of the time and feeling the bus move my body around many times.
It wasn’t until the next day when the sun rose that I realised we’d been traveling through a mountainous area and everything clicked.
Tip #3 the journey from Cartagena to Medellin is very mountainous so be prepared to go around many turns. You might even get motion sickness.
I just remember waking up at one point and seeing nothing but mountains around. By this point, the bus had stopped for a while. It wasn’t moving at all. When I looked ahead, I could see all these other cars, buses and trucks stuck in a standstill. It might have been a traffic jam or police check…but until now, I have absolutely no idea why we were stuck there for so long.
I decided to get up and out of the bus for a little bit. When we were told to get back onto the bus, I decided to talk to the English guys and German guys – they said the bus had a stand still many times. I didn’t realise because I must have been fast asleep the entire time even though I honestly thought I didn’t sleep at all throughout the trip ~ the whole night felt like I had dazed in and dazed out of sleep.
After waiting for about 1 hour or longer, the bus finally started moving again…
We were scheduled to arrive at 11am…it was already 11am and we still had about 100km to go (about 2-4 hours before reaching Medellin).
Then…I started getting really hungry. I was so stupid for not bringing any snacks (yay for my unpreparedness) but I honestly thought that there would be vendors coming on the bus like my first ride from Bogota to Cartagena.
It was so strange that there was not a single street vendor on the bus.
Tip #4 street vendors don’t always come on the bus
Strangely, the bus wasn’t making any pit stops either…
I waited for as long as I could but my stomach really started to rumble.
I had no food…except for a mango.
I decided to try my luck with Mr German but when I went over to chat to him… he told me he basically ate all his snacks and needed more food.
Tip #5 bus tickets aren’t always cheaper online or in the station. It seems to depend on who knows what.
Somewhere along the line, he also told me that other girls which booked their ticket online got their ticket for about 20k less than us (ugh). This was another strange thing for me because my original ticket from Bogota to Cartagena was cheaper when I bought it at the bus station.
I tried to hold on for a little longer but couldn’t deal with it anymore.
Maybe the English guys had something
Me: “Can I ask a favour. I’m so starving right now, do you have any food to share at all?”
He went to his bag, grabbed a bag of nuts and handed it to me.
Me: “Thank you SO much!”
I wanted to eat them all but felt guilty so I only ate 2 handfuls.
After some more times passed, I succumbed to my re-emerging hunger and decided to attempt eating my mango. I really wondered how I was going to make this work but I had make up wipes and a re-usable cup. It seemed like enough. I peeled the mango and ate it with my hands, using the cup as a bowl. I was quite proud of myself. The mango was also deliciously sweet as well. It definitely filled me up for another 2 hours or so…but then hunger kicked in again.
I really wasn’t sure if the bus was going to stop at all but after waiting for what felt like an hour…the bus stopped somewhere!
I raced off the bus, went to buy a big traditional chicken meal and some yogurt…eating it as quickly as possible.
It was so strange because we only had 1 hour left of our journey – it really didn’t make sense that the bus would stop somewhere for us to eat at the very end of our journey but oh well.
Not long after the bus started moving, I completely passed again.
When I woke up, we already were in Medellin.
When we finally arrived to Medellin
When I looked around, I saw many mountains around and the bus station in front of me. The sun was shining and the place had a nice feel to it. The station looked much more civilized and developed than the rest of the bus stations I’d seen in Colombia so far…it had many shops and connecting metro.
Ok so I finally endured and completed the task of making it through the bus ride.
Next task? Get to my accommodation.
I wasn’t decided on how I would get to the hostel yet. To be honest, I felt a little lost. All I could think about doing was getting a coffee, finding wifi and figuring out my transport method that way. I said goodbye to my fellow passenger friends and made my way to the food court.
I got a coffee, kept trying to connect to the internet, finally finding one that works (thanks Davivienda bank!)
Uber prices were actually reasonable but for some reason, I was determined to catch the metro. I guess I wanted to be strong and economical, despite how tired I was. I walked towards the metro station (according to the signs) but when I reached a certain point, I realised that it wasn’t what I was looking for.
I stood there for a moment, looking around like a lost puppy. I had no idea what I was doing.
I saw a girl at a shop who was probably on her work break and asked her to help me.
Me: “Discuple, puedes ajudar me? Donde es el estacion de metro?” (where is the metro station?)
She showed me the way…I walked towards the metro station for a bit but then I started questioning my decision and thinking that Uber was a better choice…but then, I couldn’t be bothered dealing with the hassle of trying to find the Uber in the first place (it’s always really difficult to find Ubers from the airport or bus station). I walked back to the bus station, bought some credit for my phone and built the courage to catch the metro. Maps said that I had to catch a metro and then a bus to the hostel but figured I could walk to the hostel instead from the metro station.
Getting the ticket and catching the metro was super easy and cheap metro…but as soon as I got off, I felt like I made a mistake. There was a huge market happening downstairs and lots of different colourful characters at the markets. The place looked like it was filled with poverty and probably many criminals. I tried to look for Uber but it all seemed too hard in the busy area ~ there were buses and trains coming from all different directions and the Uber prices were even more expensive than the cost of an Uber from the bus station. I started walking with all my luggage. Everybody stared at me. I was hoping that nobody would do anything because I definitely stood out as a tourist. Luckily it was broad daylight otherwise I think I might have had more trouble.
After walking for about 10 minutes…my body started getting very hot, sore, sweaty and tired. I didn’t want to walk anymore but every time I checked Uber, the prices kept going up. I kind of didn’t have a choice but to walk. Catching a bus seemed too hard.
I walked and walked and walked…up many hills too…it was so tiring.
After walking for about 15-20 minutes and checking Maps, I learned that I was halfway there.
I was determined to keep going but needed a pit stop.
I found a small tiny shop which looked like a little bar/convenience store.
Me: “Tienes cafe?” (Do you have coffee?)
There were 3 locals in the shop – a guy from Colombia and two ladies from Venezula. They were so lovely and warm. I felt like I already knew them. They couldn’t speak any English but we had enough of a conversation in Spanish. They were telling me about what it was like to live in Colombia, asking me about my history and talking about learning Spanish and English. I told them where I was staying and they recommended I moved because the area I chose wasn’t safe ~ woops!
I got so comfortable at the cafe-bar that I couldn’t be bothered walking anymore and succumbed to ordering an Uber. Luckily the prices had gone down. Once I found my car, I was ready to go…but another peculiar thing happened – my Uber didn’t have a number plate on the App – it was just displayed as ‘XXXXXX’ on my phone.
When we arrived, I wasn’t sure if the destination my driver stopped at was actually the hostel ~ it just looked like a normal residential building with nobody inside. I had to look twice at the picture on the internet to confirm we were at the right place.
As soon as I checked in and shown around, I felt like I was instantly at home. The hostel was really cozy and nice…
I chat to one of the workers for a bit and ventured out to find food. I decided to explore a little to look for a good place…after walking around for a bit, I really got a general feel of the area. It felt grungy and crazy. There were lots of different characters everywhere. it definitely feels like a raw place – before I left Cartagena, my friend told me that Medellin is the real Colombia.
Now I understand what she meant.
I decided to try the restaurant right next to the hostel because it seemed the most homely and I was so glad I did. It literally felt like someone was cooking at home for me and for so, so cheap.
When I finally finished my food and retired back at hostel, I decided to quickly catch up on social media. To my surprise, I received all these Couchsurfing messages. I was so shocked at how many people offered to host me (in a good way – how lovely that so many people here want to open their home to me! Amazing).
I relaxed for a little more and then started talking to one of the volunteers at the hostel from Bolivia…he was really nice and made me feel even more at home then I already did. We talked for hours about traveling and life in Bolivia and Colombia.
I won’t go into any more details about the mundane rest of my evening but I had a really nice wind down at the hostel and slept like a baby! I couldn’t wait to explore more of Medellin because after getting a feel of the place and the people here in the short time I’ve been here, I must say that I really like Medellin so far. It seems far less touristic, more real and exciting. It also seems more like the proper Colombian culture here and not to mention the people seem friendlier here too.
It’s only been one day though so let’s see what the rest of my time here has to offer.
I am moving to my next Couchsurfing tomorrow ~ a seemingly lovely married couple who openly offered their place to my without me even asking.