Exploring Colombia with los hermanos Pawley

It is always so cool when someone from home comes to visit us. We get so used to traveling, that things completely out of the ordinary for people at home, have become ordinary to us here. Things like seeing a guy ride by on his motorcycle holding a giant golden retriever, or a cow standing at a pharmacy counter in a small town as if to pick up her prescription for udder cream (both of these we really saw in the first two days of Jordan’s visit.) So when we get a visitor, like KP’s younger brother Jordan, it’s always fun to see the world through new eyes again.

Colombia has been one of the most hospitable countries we’ve been in, we think largely due to the fact that it has only recently become a tourist destination again so people are so happy to have us in their country. We often get asked “do you feel safe here” by the locals, because for so long they themselves did not. This was one of the countries that people at home were most worried for us to visit, second only to Mexico. With shows like Narcos and the movie American Made bringing the violence of Pablo Escobar’s reign in Colombia to the forefront of people’s minds again, it’s no wonder people were worried.

Nothing emphasized this point more for us than an encounter we had in Medellin. It was Jordan’s first day in Colombia and we decided to have an adventure in public transportation to visit the city itself. We took a bus to the nearest metro cable station where we boarded a tiny gondola and began our descent from 8,500 feet to the city center at 4,500 feet. The drop gives you a breathtaking view as you descend into the enormous city. We then squeezed on to a train with what seemed like half the population of Medellin and barely were able to make it out at our stop through the crush of fellow travellers. After exploring a bit of the city and introducing Jordan to the comida tipica de Colombia, the Bandeja Paisa, it was time to make our return trip. Feeling a bit adventurous, we decided to take a different route back to our camp and realized quickly we were in over our heads. Buying a ticket for the lightrail proved tricky, and we didn’t actually know whether there would be a bus waiting for us to get us the rest of the way home. Luckily, this very sweet woman heard us asking questions about a bus to Santa Marta and said, “I know where it is, you guys can follow me and I’ll help you figure it out.” Of course she said this in rapid-fire Spanish so we only assume that’s what she was saying because she walked away and looked back expectantly like we should follow. We thought she must be going the same way as us, but turns out the bus stopped near her house so she merely waited with us about half an hour for the bus to come and explained how we needed to be extra careful where we were going and not go out at night and don’t take a taxi, and definitely don’t take a ride from a stranger. This was a common warning from locals, but we found it to be a little over-cautious in our experiences. When we finally saw the bus, she waved us onto it wished us luck and then headed to her house. Without her help, getting home would have been a lot more adventure than we bargained for.

The rest of the time with Jordan we filled with a trip to Guatape, a beautiful man-made lake where Pablo Escobar had his summer home. We hiked the 740 steps to the top of the Piedra del Peñol to get one of the best views in Colombia. We visited the Reserva Natural de Cañon Rio Claro and did a little spelunking in the caverns near the river and took a river rafting trip back to our camp, though it was more of a gentle float with heavy splashing from other boats to keep us all entertained. We finished out with a trip to Zipaquira and one of only three salt cathedrals in the world (the other two are in Poland). They built this underground cathedral so that the miners would have a place to pray, but the uniqueness, the beauty of the space, and its proximity to Bogota, have made it in to a serious tourist attraction complete with light show and 3-D movie.

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Throughout Jordan’s time here we managed to camp in almost every locale in our standard rotation: overlander-specific campground and hostel; wild camp next to a lake (and then move to higher ground when the rain starts really pouring); a large pasture in the jungle complete with chickens, sheep, and a lonely horse; a truck stop/restaurant parking lot next to the highway; and a swanky Airbnb! We also made sure he tried most of the local grub, with a healthy amount of our own cooking in their as well because you know we’re on a budget, but I think we would probably all agree one of our favorite meals was at a pizza place next to our Airbnb opened up by a former contest on Master Chef. A completely random find, but happy nonetheless! The pizza was extraordinarily good and though it felt a bit like cheating to have such an American meal before we sent Jordan home, none of us were complaining as we cleaned our plates!

It was so good to have Jordan here, and as we always say to our friends who might be interested in a visit, our guest bedroom (and by that we mean the bed that our table folds down into) is waiting. Just grab a map of South America, pick a place, and we’ll meet you there!