Today is February 2, 2020. I am returning to Canada on February 19th, meaning that my eight-month sabbatical is nearing its end!
I am currently in Medellin, Colombia.
Places Visited Since Last Update:
- Montevideo, Uruguay
- Buenos Aires, Argentina (again)
- Santa Marta, Colombia
- Cartagena, Colombia
- Medellin, Colombia
The Good, The Bad and the Bizarre
I’m bringing you all of the updates on the best, the worst and the weirdest experiences on the road since I last checked in.
The Best Destination I’ve Visited
Although it bordered on intolerably hot, I really liked Cartagena. Architecturally, it reminded me a lot of Granada, Nicaragua, but it was bigger, on a beautiful coastline and with a more diverse cultural makeup. I really enjoyed seeing and learning about the Afro-Caribbean culture that is so important to Colombia’s north coast.
The Best Thing I’ve Eaten
The fresh fruits and vegetables in both Argentina and Colombia have been amazing. However, I think I’ll give the prize to the smoothie bowl I ate at Betty’s Bowls here in Medellin, simply because it had been way too long since I’d stuffed myself full of fruit (on that note, I’m actually scheduled to go on a fruit tour three hours from now).
The Most Amazing Experience I’ve Had
January was not a particularly eventful month. Instead of doing the typical tourist thing, I settled down in an AirBnb apartment in Buenos Aires for almost three full weeks and got into the groove of the local lifestyle. I haven’t lived abroad since 2008 (!) so it was nice to have those “normal” experiences again: going to the supermarket, greeting my neighbors, doing my own laundry… with only eighteen days left until I return to Canada, having a trial run of adulting again couldn’t have hurt.
Something Else That Made Me Smile
So technically this happened on February 1st, but I want to squeeze it in because it is incredible. Back in Canada I work in, loosely, international education, but I’ve been off work since the end of June and haven’t had any contact with my employer or my coworkers (except the ones I’m friends with).
My department has about sixteen women (no men, oddly?): four who work centrally, and twelve who are distributed, one each, at different locations. We meet centrally three times a year, and occasionally the central office staff come out to our locations to help with particularly delicate issues. There is one girl from “downtown” that I work with most often – probably once a month.
Last night I went to a football game in Medellin, Colombia, with my face painted in the local team’s colors. The football stadium has capacity for more than 45,000 people, and I would estimate that it was more than 75% sold out last night, so there must have been about 33,000 people there. When the first half of the game is over I get up and go to the bathroom that is closest to my seat. As I’m waiting in the queue, someone walks out of the bathroom and I think, “Holy shit, that looks just like Eve from work!” My brain processes it for a second and I realize it’s impossible for anyone to look that much like someone else unless they’re an identical twin… so it has to be her! I chase after her and shout, “Eve!” She turns around, looks at me for a solid ten seconds (I’m assuming it was the face paint, but it also could have been that I swear this trip has set my age back ten years) and goes, “Carly!”
Neither of us had any idea the other would be in Colombia, much less in Medellin, or at that football game, or in that bathroom at that moment. How crazy is that?!?!
The Worst Place I’ve Visited
Don’t go to Montevideo, Uruguay over New Years. Just don’t. The entire city pretty much shuts down and everybody goes out to the beaches near Punta del Este. My visit had the added “bonus” of occurring during an unusually cold, damp and gray week, meaning I spent my New Years wandering empty streets like the one shown above.
The Most Questionable Thing I’ve Eaten
I took a cooking class in Cartagena and one of the other “students” used the same knife on the raw fish and the vegetables for the salad. I was feeling that for five days. Cross-contamination, people!
The Most Frustrating Experience I’ve Had
My phone was stolen in Buenos Aires. As I talked about in that post, it was inconvenient and upsetting, and I felt pretty bad for more than a few days. Oddly, the thing that really got the unpleasantness out of my system was learning that another tourist was actually stabbed in the heart in an attempted robbery near where I had been staying in Buenos Aires. Suddenly I went from feeling sorry for myself for losing my phone to feeling amazingly fortunate that I’d just been pickpocketed and not violently robbed.
Something Else That Was Really Unpleasant
TMI Alert! I almost forgot about this! I got a urinary tract infection in Uruguay. I couldn’t find any cranberry juice to self-medicate, so I went to a local pharmacy in Colonia del Sacramento and asked for advice. The pharmacist spread four boxes of antibiotics on the counter and told me to choose one. That didn’t seem medically sound, so I called my travel insurance company and they recommended I go to the British Hospital in Montevideo. It was quite a bizarre experience to go to such an upscale, private hospital, and my Uruguayan doctor had an odd obsession with a little-known band from my Canadian hometown, but one hour and $300 later I had a one-dose antibiotic especially for UTIs, and two days later I was back to normal. I will be submitting my receipts to my travel insurance company when I return to Canada and I’ll let you know what they cover (both for the hospital visit and the stolen phone!).
The Most Random Place I’ve Visited
I never planned to go to Santa Marta, Colombia. It’s a famous jumping-off point for other destinations like Minca and Tayrona National Park, neither of which I planned to visit. However, when I was searching for flights from Buenos Aires to Colombia, flying through Bogota and onward to Santa Marta was $300 cheaper than just getting off the plane in Bogota! Illogical fares like this are the entire reason why sites like Skiplagged exist, but sadly I couldn’t make like a savvy traveler and hop off in Bogota as I had bags that were checked through all the way to Santa Marta. Instead, I turned it into an overnight visit and explored the historical city center for a few hours before continuing on to Cartagena.
The Strangest Thing I’ve Eaten (Or Seen on a Menu, Or Been Served…)
This one also happened on February 1st. Have you ever heard of the West Indian Locust, also known as the Stinking Toe? Me neither! The West Indian Locust is a tree that grows around Central and South America. It grows these crazy fruit pods that look like giant tamarinds, but the shells are so hard that you have to slam them with a hammer to open them. I took a fruit tour in Medellin, and this was one of the fruits we sampled. Our guide cracked open the pod and we sampled the dry, crumbly pulp inside. The texture was bizarre – I would compare it to a dehydrated shredded marshmallow – and the taste was kind of like an ultra-bland, vanilla-tinged banana.
The Most Confusing Experience So Far
Deciphering South American Spanish! I don’t remember having a hard time understanding people in Peru or Ecuador when I visited in 2014, but I have to pause for a full second every time someone from Argentina pronounces the double-L sounds like “sh”… and why on earth is Medellin pronounced “Mede-zhin”?! Mexican Spanish, te amo.
Something Else That’s Totally Unexpected
I’m not entirely sad to be going back to work soon. Sure, I could easily spend the rest of my life sitting in cafes, taking free walking tours and asking myself how the twenty-one-year-olds can drink so much and still be so perky the next morning, but I would like to feel a bit more productive than I did in January, which was a particularly lazy month. Fortunately when I return to work it’s only three weeks until spring break (!) and then three months until summer break (!) so I’ll really be easing back into adulthood.
Read about the rest of my eight-month sabbatical: