Find your Passion, and then Live it

Medellín, Colombia

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Leaving Medellín - The 1 yr mark

Today is the day. Today I leave Medellín after a year of being here. And what a year's it been. It seems strange to think that a year has already passed. At times it feels like I just arrived yesterday, and others it feels like ive been here forever, because of all the friends Ive made, the experiences Ive had and the places Ive been to.

When I think about all the things that have happened over the past year it amazes me. I came here on an AIESEC internship to work for a consulting firm on a one year contract and gained the most amazing (and relevant) experience, had the pleasure to work with some great people, and improved my Spanish to the point of fluency. I also met some incredible people through AIESEC and within the city of Medellín and Colombia. Some of whom have become great friends, that type of life long friendship. :) Finally I also had the opportunity to travel the country and see the beautiful cities, towns, and landscapes that Colombia has to offer. Here's a summary of all the places I went to:




Coveñas / Tolú

Eje Cafetero / Manizales

El Salado



San Andrés

I didnt get the opportunity to travel to all the major places in Colombia, but I did pretty well in getting to know the majority of the country. For the next time I come back to Colombia here are a few places I'd like to visit still:
- Santa Marta
- Parque Tayrona
- Barranquilla
- Cali
- Amazonas
- Explore more of Eje Cafetero

Over the past year I also got to experience some unique things I got to experience here in Medellín:

1. La Feria de Las Flores

The festival of flowers is one of the best and biggest festivals in all of Colombia. It is the pride of Medellín, and for good reason. It was incredible to see and be apart of. Probably one of my all time favourite experiences in Colombia. It is basically 2 weeks of constant partying, concerts, parades, food, fairs, and of course flowers.

2. Alumbrados Navideños

Another well known event that happens every year in Medellín are its Christmas lights. This past year there was over 16 million lights in the city. These lights come in all different sizes, shapes and colours. The majority of the lights are strung up in huge displays along the river, as well as different displays throughout the city and smaller barrios (neighbourhoods).

3. TeleMedellín Interview

In the second half of my year in Medellín I was asked to be interviewed by a Colombian TV channel that has a new program which is all in English. They wanted to interview me, and ask me to speak about my experience, what its like for an international person to live in Colombia etc. It was a lot of fun to do. I was equipped with a microphone, and we did several shots of me talking, answering questions and then some artsy shots for editing purposes. :) Definitely a cool experience

4. Colombian Wedding

In October, Leo and I crashed a Colombian wedding. One of Sara's cousins was getting married, and she invited us along. We knew no one there, and didnt even know the bride or groom, but we had the most amazing time. It was also just a really fun experience to have, and to see the wedding traditions, and how Colombians celebrate etc. Needless to say, we all had major hangovers the next day.... Colombians really know how to celebrate a wedding.

5. Multiple Chivas

Chivas used to be traditional forms of transportation in towns and cities of Colombia, but now they're used as party buses. You get a group of 25-40 people on a bus, standing and dancing, and drinking as much as they want while the bus drives around the city. Probably one of the best partying experiences I had while in Colombia. Everyone should try one

6. Copa Mundial Sub-20

Lucky for me this year the World Cup Under 20 was held in various cities in Colombia, so I was lucky enough to see a game with Sara and Leo in Medellín. I was able to see England and Argentina play. The game ended 0-0, but it was still a game thing to see. Leo was also able to travel to Armenia (in the coffee region of Colombia) to see Guatemala play against an African team.

7. Clásico Match (Nacional vs Medellín)

The two most famous teams in Medellín are Nacional (green and white colours) and Deporte Medellín (blue and red colours). When these two rival teams play each other, it's called a Clásico. I attended one with a few people of AIESEC, Kevin and Leo. It was an incredibly exciting game, and the energy from the crowd was amazing. Unfortunately this game ended with a riot in the middle of the stadium crowds, which we were apart of, and had to flee the stadium to get away from the dangerous crowds. :S

8. December in Medellín

Colombia in general puts every country to shame when it comes to Christmas time and decorations. The city is literally adorned with every decoration, light, and colour for the month of December in order to celebrate Christmas and the new year. It's very impressive to see. There are large displays in various malls, around different neighbourhoods and in office buildings and universities. These displays include everything from Christmas trees, animal characters, nativity scenes, lights, and there was even a skating rink in a mall near my apartment.

9. Fincas

Fincas are the Colombian version of a cottage. Where it is normally located somewhere outside of major cities in the country, and usually have a pool. It's where Colombians go on weekends and during vacation to relax. I was able to go to 3 fincas during my time in Colombia. They are very old yet beautiful houses with stellar views. A great way to spend a weekend.

10. Help Portrait

I was asked to take part in a volunteer photography project called Help Portrait within the city back in November. Myself along with 15 other volunteers visited a poor barrio in the city, Santo Domingo, and spent the day taking free professional photographs for people who wanted one. Then later on in the day we got the prints developed and handed back to the people of the community. To see their expressions and reactions to the photos was priceless.

11. Thanksgiving

Over Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, I made Thanksgiving dinner with Sara and Leo in Medellín. We cheated a little bit, by buying a precooked Chicken, but we made oven roasted potatoes, garlic bread, and veggies. We even did the tradition where everyone goes around the table and says what they're thankful for (but in Spanish). Then for dessert Leo made a delicious chocolate cake. It was a fun way to share the Canadian Thanksgiving tradition.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Last weeks in Medellín

I have been taking advantage of my time here in Medellín as it winds down, and the closer I get to returning to Canada. Over the past couple of weeks, I have finished my contract working, partying a lot in Lleras, seeing as many friends as possible, and starting to say my goodbyes :(

On Tues Jan 31st, I had my last day of work. I absolutely loved working at CICE. It was an amazing experience, and the people I worked with were awesome. I learned so much with regards to the Colombian business environment, improved my Spanish and business vocabulary, and has the ability to interact with clients in a different country while speaking a different language! Needless to say, I was incredibly lucky to have such an amazing internship through AIESEC. It was so much more than I was expecting, and I gained some incredible relevant experience that I hope will help me get the job I want when i get back to Canada!

This past Saturday I had my despedida (Spanish for farewell party). We started the night at Mesa 23, a bar owned by a friend of mine, where we all met up and had a few beers. Then we headed to Buenavista for some salsa dancing, and danced the night away until the bar closed around 230am.

It was at my despedida that I said the majority of my goodbyes to friends, coworkers, etc. It wasnt until I said goodbye to my friends at the end of the night, that it started to sink in that Im actually leaving. I cant believe it's been a year already, time has flown!

Last night my friend Alejandro and I went to hang out in Ciudad del Rio which is a park near where I use to live in Poblado. It's this kind of cool skateboard area mixed in with an industrial style park. Here, Alejandro put on a bit of a show, and did his fire poi for me. It was super impressive to see. Basically poi is a artistic skill where a person has 2 balls that are attached to a chain, and normally lit on fire, and they are swung in all kinds of different ways and rhythms and the result are some incredible tricks and sights. Check out some photos:

Here is a video:

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Fav Quote #4

"Si nada nos salva de la muerte, al menos que el amor nos salve de la vida."

- Pablo Neruda

Monday, January 16, 2012

Coveñas y Tolú

About 3 days after I got back from San Andrés, I headed out once again for another trip within Colombia. This time it would be my last major trip before I go back home to Canada in February. Over the 1st weekend in January I travelled to the caribbean coast with Leo, where we stayed in Coveñas and Tolú. This is a big tourist spot for Colombians to vacation because it´s cheap and has a really hot climate.

I was definitely really nervous about our trip to the coast, because we were going by bus.... and if you remember my trip to Bogotá ... you can understand my nervousness. Thankfully, the bus ride was quite pleasant and took the 10 hours it was suppose to. :)

We were staying in a hotel for the weekend that was located right on the beach. Our first day there (Saturday morning), we had to sit and wait around for a bit before our rooms were ready, but then we ate some breakfast and spent the day at the beach. It obviously wasnt anything spectacular like San Andrés, but it was still a beach, with warm water, and beautiful sunshine. Good enough! (Ps. after San Andrés, I think ive become a beach/water snob).

In the night we headed to Tolú, a small town about 15 km from Coveñas to walk around, eat some dinner, and do a traditional bici-taxi tour (a bicycle taxi, which is the main method of transportation in Tolú).

However the best part of the trip was on Sunday when we headed to the mud volcano!! Leo and I almost went to the mud volcano while we were in Cartagena, but it ended up being farther from the city than we initially thought so we never went. But luckily we had the opportunity to visit one in Coveñas!!! It was probably the grossest yet most fun thing Ive ever done. Basically it´s a giant pit of mud, and you bath in it. It has supposed health benefits for your skin etc, but we did it just for fun. Walking into the mud initially was so gross, the feeling between your toes, and as the mud climbs up your body was... interesting to say the least. Check out this pic, to summarize how it felt:

Once we were fully in the mud it was great. I now know how a pig feels on a hot summer day and why they lay in mud, it keeps your body really cool! Though youre in a semi-liquid, it was incredibly hard to move around in the pit. You couldnt exactly swim, you had to pull yourself through the pit by a rope.

After spending about 45 min - an hour in the pit, we were COVERED from head to toe in mud. And how, might you ask, do you get all the mud off your body? You head to the showering station where Costeñan women bath you under a shower apparatus, they do a good job too. After showering for about 10 min you are clean again, and boy does it feel good to be clean.

Here´s a before and after picture of me and leo:

After the mud volcano, we spent the rest of the day at the beach soaking up as much sun as we could before we headed back to Medellín. It was a short visit to the coast, but good none-the-less. I was able to still maintain my tan I had from San Andrés, relax in the caribbean sea, and bath in a mud volcano. Definitely a successsful weekend.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Paradise: La Isla de San Andrés

Back in October when I visited Cartagena, I had the opportunity to go to Las Islas de Rosario, which are about 1 hour from the city. There I saw water like I had never seen before, different shades of blue, and in places, so clear I could see the bottom. I was amazed by this, but people kept telling me, just wait until you go to San Andrés it is 100x more beautiful ... they were right.

San Andrés is known for being a paradise particularly for having "los siete colores del mar" or in English: "the seven colours of the sea". As soon as I set my eyes on the water I became obsessed. Anyone who looks at my facebook album from San Andrés can see quite easily how amazed I was by the colours of the water. Here are some of my favourite pictures:

My 2 weeks in paradise began on December 19th, which more importantly I spent with my mom :) This was the first time in almost a year that I saw her (10 months to be exact). This was the longest time we´ve ever gone without seeing each other. So naturally we both burst into tears at the sight of each other in the airport.

During our 2 week vacation we stayed at the Decameron MarAzul. The great thing about the Decameron resorts, is that there are 5 of them on the island, and you are able to "resort hop", and use the other Decameron facilities, open bar, and restaurants, all with your magical bracelet. So we definitely took advantage of that over the course of the 2 weeks, to try different restaurants, and be able to relax in different resorts throughout the island.

During our first few days we adjusted to the resort life quite quickly, and just relaxed. My mom and I would joke around that the biggest thing of our day was making "simple decisions", for example.... "Should I wear my black bathing suit or my purple one?" .... "Should we eat at the buffet or a la cart restaurant tonight?" ... and my personal favourite "Should I have a daiquiri or a margarita?". This became our joke throughout our vacation.

Speaking of drinks and food, both were really good. Breakfasts and Lunches were always buffet, but you could choose to go to a buffet or a la cart for dinner. You always ate breakfast at your home resort, however you could choose to eat lunch or dinner at a different Decameron resort if you wanted. At MarAzul, they had an international buffet, a stake house, and sort of an italian style restaurant.

We also tried the Thai restaurant at Decameron Aquarium, the seafood restaurant at the Decameron Rocky Cay Beach Club, as well as the international buffet, japanese and seafood restaurant at Decameron San Luis. Our favourite ended up being the seafood restaurant at San Luis, very VERY yummy food, with excellent presentation, and cute waiters. Whenever we went to go make a reservation for lunch or dinner, and we gave them our room number, they instantly recognized it and said... "Oh youre the room with the christmas decorations on the windows!" .... my Mom had brought window stickers from the dollarstore and other small xmas decor for our room. So we quickly got recognized as being "that" room lol. We also befriended one of the bartenders at MarAzul, her name was Marly, and she made THE best drinks. She had worked on cruise ships, and other resorts for over 25 years, so she definitely knew a thing or two about making delicious beverages.

There were plently of activities every day to keep you busy and some what active. My mom and I did aerobics and wateraerobics a couple times, as well I played beach volleyball. There were also nightly shows, which consisted of professional dancers, karoke night, mr and mrs decameron type pagent which guests took part in and was absolutely hilarious and reggae bands. The professional dancing shows were excellent, and spanned all kinds of dancing... whether it was salsa, tango, irish, bellydancing, etc it was all very well done.

My mom and I also did a few excursions around the island. On our third day we did an island tour which was held on a chiva!! So my mom had her first Colombian chiva experience with booze and all. It made me proud.

The tour took us all over the island, and we were able to see all the major tourist attractions: the Baptist Church, the highest point on the island (which gave stellar views), Morgans Cave + pirate museum, and the blow hole. The tour was about 4 hours long, and our tourguide was really great, he spoke English and Spanish, but we were the only 2 people on the bus who needed the English... well make that 1 (my mom), I understood everytime he spoke in Spanish lol.

A few days later we did a snorkelling tour, which was probably my favourite excursion. The tour was 3 hours, and started not too far from our resort because the waters near our resort were perfect for snorkeling, as they had different depths which offered various spots for snorkeling through the coral, as well as near the islands and cays. Our guides were Mario and Gary who we became friends with quickly over our 2 weeks at MarAzul. Gary was the guide in the water, and he showed me all kinds of things during the tour. He scared me with a seacucumber, which actually doesnt do anything and he told me that, but just as I went to reach for it (which was in his hand) he shook it and said "arrrrrr!" which scared the sh*t out of me. He also showed myself and another guy on the tour lobsters within the coral, as well as an eel, which he fed a fish head and it completely devoured it in one bite. I saw hundreds, literally hundreds of different kinds of fish, Ive never seen anything so incredible. All different shapes and sizes... Note to self: next time I go on vacation and do snorkelling im bringing a waterproof camera. At the end of the tour we headed to Acuario which is a tiny island right across the water from our hotel. On the one side of the island happens to be a common place for stingrays to gather, so we got in the water with them, and were able to feed and HOLD them!!! At that time I didnt have my camera with me (but at the end of the 2 weeks I finally got a pic with one... see below), but that day, I held about 6 or 7 of them. At first I was a little freaked out, but they´re actually very gentle creatures, super soft on their belly side, and so majestic when you see them swim under water. I got so brave I even started feeding them! Even MORE impressive is that my mom held one! It was only for about 10 secs, and she made this little shreak through her snorkel gear, but she HELD ONE! I was very proud and impressed. :) Good job Mommy.

During our last weekend my mom and I did what was called the Island Safari Tour. It consisted of visiting the Botanical Gardens of San Andrés, a large coral wall, and an organic farm. The Botanical Garden tour was actually very good. The tour guide was very knowledgeable because the garden is owned by the National University of Colombia, and it is primarily used as a research facility, but open to tourists for tours to get funding money for their studies. I loved how the garden was set up, as it started with how the plants came to the island, and all sectioned off by different types or categories of plants. The garden also has a lookout tower which offers incredible views of the eastern part of the island.

It was just a really good tour, and if you go to the island I recommend you do it. Next we headed to this huge wall which is actually made up of coral and has taken millions of years to form because it was pushed up from below the sea. Our tour guide, Henry (a Cuban-Canadian, who was super cute) explained all about the wall, how the island was formed, and the importance of the coral and the wall. There were even large vines hanging from near by trees, so I obviously had to swing on one to have my "George of the Jungle" moment.

After the wall we headed to an organic farm which was owned and run by a former rastafarian. This farm had been in his family for generations and he takes great pride in its upkeeping and continual growth of organic only products. He picked a banana right off a tree for my mom and I to eat, as well we tried fresh coconut water, fresh jaimaica juice and ginger cookies. All of which were grown on the farm. He also keeps black crabs (which are apparently delicious and very expensive in restaurants), iguanas, and turtles.

Moving onto the 2 big celebrations while on the island: Christmas Eve and New Years Eve. Now I say Christmas Eve and not Christmas, because in Colombia, the big celebration of the holidays occurs on the 24th not the 25th like in Canada. So we had a special Christmas dinner on the 24th instead of the 25th. To me it was all the same, bc there was no snow, so it didnt feel like Christmas for me either way lol. The resort had a special Christmas buffet for us, and the food was incredible. There were 2 roasted pigs and 3 turkeys, along with other types of seafood, speciality appetizers, rice dishes, pasta dishes, breads, fruits oh and the dessert table! Check it out:

Then... then there was New Years Eve. I thought the Christmas Eve dinner couldnt be beat, boy was I wrong. The New Years Eve dinner was like 10x better than the dinner on the 24th. On the 31st we had LOBSTER! The first time ever in my life that I have eaten it, and it was yummy! Along with many other dishes to choose from, and omg the dessert table was incredible!!! I went up twice for desserts because 1) there were so many to choose from and 2) they were DELICIOUS.

Just like a normal New Years Eve, my mom and I got dressed up and partied the night away. Practically every room in the resort was given a free bottle of champagne and a bowl of grapes. The whole champagne grape thing is apparently a Colombian tradition for New Years, because they made a big deal about eating grapes that night lol. After the DELICIOUS dinner the resort had tables set out on the beach, a stage and 2 bars. So all the guests brought in the new year having one giant beach party. We danced infront of the stage in the sand, counted down til midnight and watched fireworks over the water. It was a really great night. :)

Finally some of my favourite things about my vacation were the following:

Acuario Island (Rose Cay)
Everyday you could take a free 10 min boat ride from our resort to 2 islands across the water. They were called Acuario (Rose Cay) and Haynes Cay. Acuario is given its name because that´s exactly what it´s like. A natural aquarium. It was here I did a lot of my snorkeling, where you could see some incredible fish, which seemed to always be hungry whenever we brought bread to feed them. They would even take the bread right out of your hands! You could also swim next to stingrays, and one day... wait for it... i even saw a SHARK! It was a reef shark, so it wasnt crazy big or anything but still... A SHARK.
My mom and I visited Acuario quite a bit, because 1) it was FREE and at our resort and 2) it was BEAUTIFUL. Here are some pictures:

San Luis Beach
We visited the Decameron San Luis resort a lot as well, mostly because they had a beautiful beach right across from the resort and great restaurants. I LOVED the San Luis beach, so it was definitely my 2nd favourite location next to Acuario being my #1.

One day on the beach, a man with an iguana came along, and after inquiring about his lizard, he ended up putting it on my head for some photos.

The Natural Swimming Pool
On the other side of the island (the west side) there is something called La Piscinita... or the Natural Swimming Pool. Basically it´s this small cove area which has a diving board and the water is so clear you can see the fish so clearly without being in the water.-It also offers a great location to watch the sunset. We went here twice. It was a lot of fun, expensive to get there by taxi but worth it. It only costs 2.500 COP to get in, and they give you bread to feed the fish. Snorkeling here was INCREDIBLE. The fish were amazing to see.

Surprisingly our vacation didnt fly past me like I thought it would. The first week went quickly, but SO SO nice to have that extra week, because that one seemed to pass by slower. However our vacation did finally come to an end, and my mom and I went our seperate ways. She back to Canada, and me back to Colombia for another month until I make my way back to the land of ice and snow. The day we left, my mom had to leave for the airport first, so I actually had 4 hours to myself before i had to make my way to the airport. So naturally I hung out with Gary and Greggory (the 2 guys who ran the boat to Acuario), where I visited the island twice, went swimming in the middle of the ocean, held a starfish and more importantly FINALLY GOT A PICTURE OF ME HOLDING A STINGRAY!!! Check out how I spent my final hours in San Andrés:

To sum up... San Andrés was BEAUTIFUL. I would go back in a heart-beat. The people were incredibly friendly, the resort was great, and the island/water, well the pictures dont do it justice. I can´t wait to go back to my little paradise. :)