After my tranquilidad in the coffee region it was time to head to the big cities. Or you could say, it was time to get rained on in another location.
I fell in love with Medellin within the first half hour---nice people, veggie restaurants galore, free internet at the hostel, cool parks surrounded by coffee shops, and a metro system that includes a TRAM up a mountain, how can it get better than this? A friend I met in the hostel convinced me to go to a yoga class at the Hare Krishna center where I ended up repeating chants from the Bhagavad Vita in some Hindi language while contorting into positions that my muscles regretted for an entire week later. But it was worth the veggie lasagna afterward.
This is a METRO line!
I haven't seen such rain since my last typhoon in Japan. Holy RAIN! The hurricane over the Caribbean made the normally clear blue water splash brown onto the sidewalks of the city, with huge sections flooded and the streets resembling rivers at times. I had a "posh" $10/night hotel room with cable TV and caught up on my CSIs in the meantime. The colonial part of the city is just gorgeous, enclosed by a 500 year-old fortress. You can just imagine pirates waiting to storm the city. And I found the most delicious pizza served in the park...yum!
Cartagena fruit vendors
Cartagena old townAn hour outside of town is the coolest volcano with a crater 200 meters/yards full of nothing but mud. I took a mud bath and it was so weird, you cannot touch the bottom obviously, but you cannot sink, either. The mud keeps you afloat to your chest. Sometimes you can feel little rocks and air bubble up from the volcano. I wished I had one of these in my backyard.
I found Santa Marta to be the sweltering armpit of the Caribbean full of creepy catcalling ignorantes and rude women (I really hated it, nearly had a nervous breakdown at the money changer)---but the nearby fishing village of Taganga where I stayed was great. I went diving for three days in perfectly calm water with perfect weather, ahhhhhhh. Even the fish were chilled out here.
Crossing into Venezuela, Merida and Los Llanos
20 hours by bus brought me across the border, through oil-rich Maracaibo and into the mountain town of Merida. I wanted to go to Los Llanos, the "Serengeti of South America" according to the Lonely Planet.
Los Llanos is a huge grassland full of cattle and wildlife. In my three days there I saw hundreds of species of birds, caymans, an anaconda, capibara (the world's largest rodent), an anteater, and hoards of mosquitoes. Just loved it.
The funny thing is, with all the cattle around, it is impossible to buy milk in Venezuela. Chavez is fighting with dairy farmers and you can't even find powdered milk anywhere. I was ready to grab a cow and start milking for my morning cafe con leche (I love my coffee with milk). I kind of admire Chavez for standing up to the likes of my government, but here in Venezuela he's creeping me out. There is propaganda everywhere. He's wearing red and looking very revolutionary. They are going to vote Dec. 2nd whether to give Chavez more freedom to create a socialist state and extent his right to power (by constitution he can only serve two terms), and most people here agree that the results will be rigged. I only hope I am not seeing a Venezuela now that will never be again. Sorry, political rant. Next paragraph...
My tour was in a big bulky Toyota Landrover, but you wouldn't believe the price of gas here! A 15 gallon fill (58.76 liters) cost a total of about US$1.25---I shit you not. If you ever wondered whatever happened to all the huge gas-guzzling Chevy Impalas et al from the 80's, well, they're all here in Venezuela. Even taxis are huge and old. Who cares about miles per gallon when you can fill your whole tank for the price of a can of 3.2 beer?
Puerto Ordaz and Uri's house
From Merida I called my old friend Uri whom I lived with in Buenos Aires years ago. She's originally from Venezuela and though she works on fancy cruise ships she was going to be in town (well, in the country) to meet up. I found out she had a schedule change and only three more days in Venezuela!!! So I caught the next bus across the nation (20 hours, empty and cushy bus, $18---don't you just love cheap gas!) and am now at her house in Puerto Ordaz. It's so nice to catch up, it's been seven years but it feels like I just saw her yesterday!
I don't know what the next plan will be. Maybe Angel Falls? Isla Margarita? Los Roques if I can afford it. Definitely Aruba. I only have two more weeks before my flight to the States so will try to squeeze as much in as possible.
In the meantime I am getting very excited for my traditional American candy bar binge at the first airport I arrive to, then to seeing everyone! Soon!