Guatape

We decided to “Opt Outside” for Black Friday during our trip to Medellin for a daytrip to El Peñon near Guatape. La roca (as it’s also called) is disputed between two towns, El Peñol and Guatape. Two hours by bus, you can get dropped off along the road maybe a half mile or so from the actual entry point to the park. Most hike it, but there are a couple guys who will (for a small price) tuk-tuk you most the way. We opted to tuk it. Why not?

There is a switchback cement staircase with 650 steps leading to the top of the rock, followed by another 90 to ascend a tower located at the summit , thus 740 steps will get you to the top of the tower on the top of the rock. Phew.

Also “phew” as while 740 steps isn’t too terrible, I suppose, your starting point isn’t exactly sea level. The top is at just over 7,000ft (2,130+ meters) … so there was some huffing and puffing going on. And not only from me.

   

The view at the summit is incredible and is a full 360 degrees.

   

After taking in some ice cream and a pineapple juice from vendors at the top (passed on a cerveza… needed my legs for the walk down), we took in the view for a good while before descending. Descending was actually more harrowing than the climb. Slow people and steps that extended maybe 70% of my size 11’s  had me duck walking down and rendered my legs jello by the time we got to the bottom. Fortunately our tuk-tuk guy was waiting at the base of the rock and for 15,000 pesos ($5) would drive us all the way to Guatape, which is still a couple KM from the rock.

Along the way in “The Limozeen of Tuk-tuks” (his term, though I altered spelling of Limo in homage to Strongbad) he slowed for a couple houses on the way to “Guatapulco” (his term, again, he’s gots the wordplay, mixing tourist magnet Guatape with Acapulco) to show the paneled artwork along the bases of the houses, showcasing pictures of Llamas, the Rock, flowers.  He explained this wasn’t a thing to attract tourists, but a practice that dates back a couple hundred years and even houses that were a ways away from the restaurants, etc, were still done up.

Tuk Life

After he dropped us off in town, we decided to skip on walking around to take in the picturesque place to gobble down some well-earned lunch, not to mention a well-earned cerveza. Fortuitous. Partway through our meal it started dumping down rain. Just as we finished a feast for a king, consisting of grilled trout with (a LOT) of cheese, ajiaco soup for her and bandeja paisa for me, it cleared up giving us perfect weather for a stroll through town.

  

After walking up and down the streets, enjoying the vibe, colors and feel, it started to rain again. Fortunately we were able to trade in our bus tickets for an earlier ride and returned back to Medellin.

 

 

Notes for travelers who are going to Medellin, want to visit Guatape and somehow stumbled across this blog:

– Getting there from Medellin isn’t terribly difficult. Or expensive. Take a cab to the north bus terminal, from there ask someone at the info kiosk. “Guatape?” and they will point you to the correct kiosk (there are something like 30 to 40 of ’em) to get your bus tickets. The tickets themselves are pretty cheap. Like almost shockingly so. Maybe $7 each, one way?

– The rock sits between two towns, and is a couple KM outside (BEFORE) Guatape. The bus will stop there, our driver simple announced “La Roca!” and all us gringo tourists got off. You don’t need to go all the way to Guatape only to have to double back to the rock.

– You can also buy your tix to return to Medellin at this drop off spot. Hooray, convenience. I think the last returning bus is something like 6pm. Maybe 6:30pm. Though, as noted, we had no trouble exchanging ours in town for an earlier return.

– Our entire foray took maybe four hours or so, from the time the bus dropped us off at the tuk tuk guys until we boarded a bus back to Medellin. Was ample time to climb the rock, take it in, take pictures, take more pictures, enjoy our ice cream, take it in once again, along with a few more pics, head into town, enjoy a leisurely one hour lunch or so, and stroll through the majority of the town. If the day is clearer, you can spend more time if you’d like to get on board one of the boats that offer lake tours.

Frankly, my Spanish is terribad and hers terriworse. We stumbled through this without any more detail than the above, and believe we spent maybe 100,000 pesos or so (about $35), in all for transportation. That includes the cabs to get us from the Poblado area of Medellin to the North bus terminal, busing back and forth, both tuk-tuk trips and the return taxi from the bus terminal to our apartment. And even then, probably a full 10,000 pesos of that was “rent” for our cab, you know, the meterbleed when the cab sits inert in traffic.  So swerve the $80+ tours you find online, the additional money is better spent on ice cream on top of the rock and a nice bandeja paisa and cold cerveza for lunch.

 

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Medellin

For Thanksgiving weekend we took a short trip to “The City Of Eternal Spring”, Medellin.  Plan was two days in town sandwiching a daytrip to Guatape. Enough time to get a feel of the city.

The nickname is merited, with Medellin being a tad warmer than Bogota, 70’s every day (still feels significantly warmer under direct sunlight than the raw number indicates) with the evenings being less chilly as well.

We stayed in a hotel/airBNB maybe a 15 minute walk to the trendy, bar and restaurant saturated Poblado neighborhood. We arrived late enough on Wednesday that after touching down at the airport and the long, windy road to Medellin that only a handful of restaurants were even open and able to deliver on Rappi.

Thanksgiving day we started off taking a cab to Plaza Botero, famous for the dozen or so bulbous sculptures that Medellin-born artist Fernando Botero donated to the city. We took in the busy plaza, enjoying the sculptures and the architecture of some of the nearby buildings. We remained a bit wary as our cab driver was nice enough to point out where NOT to wander off to from the plaza.

 

The plaza and nearby neighborhood were busy, some turistas like us taking pictures, lots of local vendors selling their wares… lots. And lots of every day people doing their shopping. Was a bit frustrating not being able to take 7 steps without being asked to buy something or just give people money… I’m accustomed to it, it’s a daily occurrence in Bogota and wasn’t uncommon in Asuncion, Paraguay, but this was a bit excessive.

We strolled down a walkway with more outside markets selling sunglasses, t-shirts, Pablo Escobar merchandise and eventually found a former palatial building which used to host government offices but some time ago was sold to private investors who turned it into a shopping mall. The entire, massive footprint (pun intended) of the first floor and some of the second are ENDLESS stores selling sneakers, trabs, running shoes, kicks, whatever you call them. Was a weird juxtaposition of seeing this fancy, well designed building merged with, say, Mercado 4 from Asuncion.

Feeling a bit hungry as well as tired of being asked solicited every 47 seconds, we hopped a cab* and headed to Parque Lleras in Poblada, a small park in a much more tranquilo neighborhood. We wandered a bit before heading to a Peruvian place for lunch. We both enjoyed our lunches (I, paradoxically, ordered an Argentine cut of steak at a Peruvian sushi-centric place) and were pleasantly surprised by the bill. We were anticipating it to be a bit pricy, but apparently it was happy hour (Thursday, 1pm?) and our entire meal was half off! Steak, chicken, shrimp cocktail, beer, coffee and water all for $20.

After hiking back to our room to for a short rest we returned to Poblado to take in some craft beer, take in Parque Poblado and grab some pizza from friend-recommended Zorba. Yep, Greek name, Italian food. Good pizza, great hummus, though all vegetarian.


Black Friday we decided to “Opt Outside” and head to Guatape, which has  it’s own entry with lots of pics.

For our last day in Medellin we again opted to leave the city. Sort of. This time we took a cab to the metro to the metrocable to fly over a barrio that is perhaps a tad infamous and now thanks to metrocable, better connected to Medellin and improving, then continued over a few resilient farmers living and working way the heck up on the mountainside to continue on another 10-15min to Parque Avri, all so we could take a short hike.

 

Lots of beautiful views, both of the city in one direction and a whole lotta green in the other. Kinda like Monserrate here in Bogota.

Finished off with a return to Poblado for a few more craft beers and some dinner at well regarded Oci.Mde for some great ribs, better caipirinha and The Ramones “Pet Semetary”  (and other tunes) playing at such volume (we were seated right below the speaker at the bar) as to render conversation nearly impossible.

Weekend closed out with a morning taxi ride way up one of the hills to the airport. Arrival was in the dark, departure was in a misty morning. Enjoyed the city and hope to return to see a bit more.

Items of note – No beer suggestion, best we had were just beers they brought in from Bogota. Also modes of travel for this trip included: taxi, plane, tuk-tuk, metro and metrocable.

 

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Villa de Leyva

About 100 miles outside Bogota is Villa de Leyva. a quaint Colonial town some 445 years old. Went there to take sting off turning *cough*somethingsomething*cough, enjoy the sites of the Colombian countryside as well as the village itself.

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Monserrate

Monserrate sits on the hills on the east side of Bogota allowing for some spectacular views. Like those below. To the west the sprawling city that seems to go on forever, whereas to the east, just forest green as far as the eye can see.

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Bogota Street Art Tour

This gallery contains 34 photos.

Shortly after our arrival in Bogota, we did a street art tour through Candeleria neighborhood, learned a bit about the artists as well as the city’s attempts to take art down (which just leads to graffiti) and the rules for … Continue reading

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Bogota

The First Week

So I still owe some closing thoughts on my time in Paraguay… working on those, they’ll go up at some point. And you’ll see a lot of Paraguay below as, well, it’s my only proper South American frame of reference for living, not visiting, abroad.

In the meantime we’ve been in Bogota for almost a week now, so some random thoughts.

Altitude – holy cow! Going from 1,000ft to 8,600ft does exact a toll. I’m sleeping more than normal, a couple days I’ve felt hungover despite not having anything but coffee and water the day before, and while I can walk on the flat surface of Septima (7th, a major traffic artery very close to our current apartment), the mere act of climbing the two flights of stairs to our apartment leaves me winded like I’d just jogged a 5k.

For any of my friends who want to visit me, whether Americano or Parguayo, brace yourself.

And brace yourself for some great views.

Weather – between living in Arizona and Paraguay for the last 30 years (which includes a 2 year stint on Tropical Guam), wasn’t completely ready for here. While the daily high, year around, is somewhere around 62F and is absolutely positively wonderful, the lows in the mid-40s while in apartments with no heating can make things a bit chilly. Consider this a big warning, my Paraguayan or Arizonan friends. Particularly Paraguayans, who treat anything sub 70F by bundling up like the little brother from the Christmas Story movie.

Of course, for those looking to come to visit – or just random people who stumble upon this because the #Bogota hashtag, airBNBs in my neighborhood see nice apartments going for about $36/night. No joke.

Huge city – population of about 9m or so, about 40% more than all of California-sized Paraguay, let alone Asuncion or Tucson, which hover around the 1m mark. Our current apartment is on the cusp of the “rich” area, which is awesome for:

 

FOOD – holy hell. I think I melted FourSquare looking for nearby places to eat.  We had north of 90 within a half mile. Lots of interesting places, it seems. Hooray.

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(Chicken breast Florentine, with “rice Coco” and fried plantains. Cost, with bottled water and tip… $8)

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Within 96 hours of landing I have found one supermarket that sells Cholula and another place that sells Sriracha, so I’ve got that going for me. Makes up for…

BEER – big drop off from Paraguay thus far. Bogota Brewing Company is ok… not quite on par with Paraguay’s Sajonia, let alone the mighty Herken. Not bad, but not great. I’ve tried several other local Colombian beers and don’t think I’ve scored any non-BBC beer above 3 out of 5. Not impressed. Seems there is to be some tour of some of the craft breweries this weekend, hoping to get my name on the list, though as “Not A Teacher”, I, once again, am orbiting the school social scene like the moon and the Earth. Or maybe more accurately, Halley’s Comet … as you see the moon nightly.  While the beer is woeful, and mis amigos from the AcervaPY leave most of what I’ve tried in the dust, Bogota does win equally going the other way with…

COFFEE – Colombia is the 3rd largest producer of coffee in the world. (Bet you can’t guess the second offhand!) … and it’s all over. Great stuff at the supermarkets as well as a coffee places all over. Side note, this lead to a great quote from a younger teacher new to the area that just makes me feel old. She was talking with my wife and said something to the effect of “They’ve got this coffee here and it’s even better than Starbucks. It’s Juan Valdez!”  Upon hearing that all I could think of was my younger years when Juan Valdez was as good as it got in the US before the raise of Hydra…er Starbucks.

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Currency – Paraguay was ballpark 5,000 Guarani to the dollar. Values slowly went up or down, with larger trends which saw the dollar slowly go from 4,200 when I arrived to about 5,500 when I left. Here it’s 3,000 Pesos to the dollar. Or so. Apparently it can fluctuate like 15% in a single day or so. And while it’s fairly easy to mentally convert prices, just divide by 3k, after about two years of using 5k I have to think all my conversions over twice.

 

Peoples – Done some minor touring of the city while doing requisite paperwork with some of Katie’s school’s HR staff and met some of the both Gringo and local teaching staff. Everyone we’ve met has been super nice and friendly. Which is swell. My worst fear here is not getting mugged, kidnapped by some rebels out in the jungle and held for ransom, but rather just being lost and anonymous in a city of this size, particularly after my time in Asuncion where I had some great local friends and couldn’t even do the 5 minute walk to the mall to pay my bills without waving at 5-6 familiar faces and talking futbol with 1 or 2 on the way.

 

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Florianopolis

Florianopolis, more commonly referred to as Floripa, is on an island just off the coast of Brazil just close enough to be connected by a bridge. It has a nice, bustling modern city. We opted to stay a bit away from it. Given advice from some Paraguayan amigos well familiar with the area, we stayed two fistfuls of kilometers out of the city, over some hills and by the water at Lagoa da Conceição.

Our place was decidedly less, uh, modern and perhaps “posh” as places we’ve rented. I’ve always wondered about the 2nd and 3rd floor apartments over small businesses here… the ones with the small, external and dodgy iron wrought spiral staircases. We found out as that is where we stayed. Our place was one big primary room with two small bedrooms. At least the bedrooms had drapes, the dining area/kitchen was a wide open fishbowl. We had a great deck/balcony with tables, lounge chairs, quincho… but it was fairly cold and got dark and actual cold early. Would have been a much better place for bros on a Spring Break than our usual lodging. We’ve liked airBNB for letting us “live local”, we got that flavor this stay.

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That said, the location was perfect for a lot of the fun stuff Floripa has to check out. We had a great view from the balcony, hills on one side and a plaza on the other. Morning markets on Thursday and Saturday, kids playing futebol the rest of the day, all day, until the Sun went down. Conveniently near the water taxi as well.

First night we decided to stay close and check out Books & Beer. Was one of the places I had bookmarked to visit in advance… and conveniently located about 600m from our apartment. Really cool establishment, had a downstairs lounge area with dimmed lights, comfy chairs and couches to relax with friends for a social few. Upstairs was the bar/restaurant, half inside, half on an outside patio overlooking the lagoa. 5 beers on tap, and a large bottle selection, an enjoyable special – fruit of the sea curry style, com cerveja. The menus are printed up like books, with beers, wines, appetizers each having their own chapter and presented almost in literary style. We were handed, much to my amusement, Moby Dick and O Velho E O Bar – the Old Man and the Sea (well, Bar).

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Wednesday we took the morning to hike around our new barrio, take in our new surroundings and get the lay of the land. And continue to enjoy more of Brazil’s absolutely fantastic coffee, courtesy of Café Cultura.

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We did also cab into town to check out the Mercado Municipal – Basically two buildings adjacent to one another, each with open big hallways. One selling meats, fresh fish, and stores with tea, spices (including a Sriracha-imitator). The second more stores, tourist stuff and wares. The middle was restaurants and bars- including Beer Boss, another place with high craft, uh, as the name might imply, beer.

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The entire neighborhood around the barrio also featured street vendors and stores with lots of wares -some maybe of questionable authenticity, along with a nearby plaza/park with a tree with branches so wide and massive they need metal struts to support.

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We capped the day off back in the lagoa, with cheating on both Sriracha (the Hoy Fung original) and Sa-Ing Thai Restaurant (my one a week Tucson lunch for a decade) with Take Thai, mobile food truck. First Thai food I’ve had since January 2015. Thoroughly enjoyed.

As I mentioned we were near the heart of a lot of the outdoorsy/nature things to do, so on Thursday we cabbed a couple KM up to the start of the lagoa hike. It’s a bit of a weird one. Some little patches of hiketude along an old path cuts along the edge of the lagoa. So it’s a nature path… and suddenly houses sprout up. Some along the trail, some along the shore, some set back up higher and more secluded in the hills. Some are clearly for people with money, some are just for the local fishermen.  Then back to trails. And eventually to a couple little villages/towns. There’s also a waterfall that is pretty to look at, but really underwhelming compared to Igauzu.

At some point during the hike we were joined by a black dog that looked vaguely like our old Aussie Shepherd, Jack. He tagged along, scouted ahead and accompanied us for probably a good 40 minutes. We dubbed him Jaco in honor of my old best canine buddy.

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We did enjoy some crab empanadas and beer at the end of our journey, before taking the water taxi on a 45-minute ride back to our the main dropoff right by the plaza/our place. Dinner was a trip to the Food Truck round up. The town converted an old parking lot into a permanent housing for 10 food trucks – 8 various dinner choices – and some desert and one from a local craft brewery, picnic tables, umbrella covering, even a pool that skaters were using to do tricks. Love food trucks, was awesome to see the community utilize them in such a way.

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Friday was cycling day, taking in a tour of the many beaches and dunes in the area, five in all are readily accessible. Enjoyable trip, even if the cobblestone roads of the lagoa were terribly uncomfortable in the saddle-area, particularly compared to Curitiba. We capped the day off with dinner at an artisanal pizza place. The restaurant vibe was great, an old two story house. They allowed us to split a pie half-and-half, which was great as neither of us managed to eat our half. They also had their own house beer, which went well with the pizza.

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We returned to the dunes on Saturday to spend an hour sledding down. Rather 4-5 minutes up for each 30 second ride down. Started with the bunny slopes, but after two runs quickly graduated to larger and largest slope. Was a heckuva lot of fun.

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And, sadly, just like that 8 nights in Brazil were over and we returned home.

 

(Beer enthusiasts – Top three Tupiniquim – Polimango Double IPA, Cervejaria Imigração – Ruleto Russa IPA, Cerveja Blumenau Capivara Little IPA, with special credit to Krug. The local supermercado had 5 different beers of theirs, all named after emotions… they were all great.)

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