The Lost City: Descent

Last night was a bit rough.  There were two snorers right next to me, meaning no sleep for several of us; there was loud music playing until 21:30 (which wouldn’t be bad if we didn’t all have to get up at 5am); and Anouk and one of the other Dutchies became ill.

I’m not not tired, that’s for sure.

Getting ready to leave, Anouk switched to 4 days rather than 5 for the trip, given how ill she was.  Upon reflection, that seemed like the better choice anyway: the only difference between the two is that with the five day trip, you have almost all of day 4 resting at one of the huts, before finishing the final couple of hours on day 5.  Given I was planning on getting a motorbike down the last stretch, because as if you freaking wouldn’t, it seemed silly to stay an extra night just for an hour’s journey.  Plus, I’m pretty tired, my back is sore from bad mattresses, and I could really use a proper wash.  Living the glamorous life, that’s for sure!  On the way down today, we commented on how clean and healthy the people on day two looked; meanwhile, a German guy behind me pointed out that everybody on the descent looked like they were dead exhausted and completely over it.  Which wasn’t entirely inaccurate.

I spent most of the trip walking at my own pace, which was super: our group was extremely spread out (to the point that the staff at huts started recognising as as Miguel’s group, and feeding us even prior to his arrival), and I ended up in the middle, where I often got the chance to walk completely by myself, just listening to the jungle.  Though yesterday I did end up being adopted by a Bavarian/American group and their guide, which was lovely.  He wasn’t even my guide and he was helping me across rivers?  Total winner.

A lot of the group is out-of-sorts by now.  It consisted of the older Colombian couple, three Italians, two Austrians, two Dutchies, a Korean, and myself and Anouk–plus of course our guide Miguel and translator Hugo, who demanded a shout-out.  Anouk and one of the other Dutchies is ill; the second (third?!) Dutchie has an apparently severe allergy to mosquito bites, and her knees are done.  So are those of the three Italians.  The Austrians have been virtually running the trail, like completely insane people, while myself and the Korean are all out of energy.  The translator’s boots have fallen apart, for the second week in a row; and the only one completely unscathed appears to be our guide to hell, Miguel.  On the last walking stretch, we demanded that he tell us stories of tourists that have died on this trek, and he knows of at least two–one person, 49 or 59 years old, who had a heart attack on the first day; another who was swept away by the river I mentioned two days ago, and split their head open on a rock.  So we’ve survived a deadly tour.  (And the bodies are taken down on mules–creepy, right?  I can only imagine the faces of people still on the ascent when they saw literal non-survivors being carted down.)

Our walk today was straight-forward, if difficult because of exhaustion.  There was also a lot more uphill than I remember descending on the way there.  I completely understand a northerner girl I saw a few days ago, who stopped in the middle of the hill, declaring “no! I’m over it! I’m just not doing this anymore!”.  Though I don’t think that’s likely to have worked out for her.  It was pretty arduous.  Meanwhile, Anouk was too ill–after she turned up around 20 minutes late to a rest stop, we called a mule for her, which took her the whole way to the motorbikes.

SPEAKING of the motorbikes, omg, if you ever do this trip, TAKE THE MOTORBIKE DOWN.  It cost 25000COP, so around 7 EUR, and was pretty much my favourite part.  We were screaming down these riven muddy roads, fording rivers, admiring the view, and all SO FAST.  What on earth could beat being on the back of a bike in the Sierra Nevada jungle?  I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire ride!  (Which admittedly my driver noticed, and he took the opportunity to start hitting on me in Spanish.). For real, 110% amazing.

We’re now at El Mamey, where our trek started, waiting to have lunch before taking the 4WD back to Santa Marta.  I can’t wait for shampoo, and a bed, and to be wearing dry clothes.

Other than recommending you take the bike down, there’s not much I can suggest.  I took quite a heavy pack, at around 10kg, while most people had 5-6.  That 10kg included the pack itself (which is ergonomically okay for my back), a small toiletries and first aid kid (which I think 5-6 of us ended up using: a stand-out winner was the nappy rash cream I bought, which was incredible for mosquito bites, as well as Vaseline), my Kindle and foldable bluetooth keyboard as luxuries (hence being able to type up blog posts while in the middle of the jungle), a solar-powered phone charger, a now-broken camera, a microfibre towel, my sarong (which goes everywhere with me while travelling), 3 tops, a pair of shorts, hiking pants, flip-flops, token pyjamas, a poncho, and plenty of socks and underwear.  Plus my passport and wallet, of course, and a garbage bag (provided) which I put my valuables into.  One thing I wish I’d brought from the start was toilet paper–I didn’t have any until the morning of day 3 when I could buy some, which was a little devastating.

It’s worth noting that all that–barring my valuables–is damp.  Hanging things out overnight resulted in them getting wetter than when we started: even my microfibre towel and sports tops couldn’t dry out.  Putting on wet clothes all the time, especially before bed, was rank.

The tour company we went with is called Guias y Baqueanos, and it cost around 850,000COP, all bar extra water, mules and bikes included.  Overall, a tough but great trip, and I’m glad I came back to Colombia to do it.

Our la Ciudad Perdida trip in numbers:

  • 11 baqueanos
  • 6 nationalities
  • 2 guides
  • 4 days
  • 63.6km walked (plus ~5km on motorbike)
  • 2 mules
  • 2 motorbikes
  • 12 oreos
  • 86902 steps
  • 0 blisters for me (Vaseline is a life-saver!)
  • 61 mosquito bites on my right calf alone (Colombian mosquitoes do not give a flying about repellent)
  • too many hills
  • 3 camps
  • 1 lost city
  • unanimous smiling faces

Quiet leavings

We’re currently on a minibus from Santa Marta to Cartagena, which while having WiFi and air conditioning, has seen us nearly witness or be involved in a humungous number of head-on collisions.  Defensive driving isn’t really a thing in Colombia, and that doesn’t make for the most relaxing of rides.

Moments ago, we stopped at some kind of truck-stop, where vendors came up to the door bearing food as an official checked the passenger manifest.  One of the guys offered me what looked like savoury donuts, and I said no.  He then smiled adorably, and in halting English, said “thank you–thank you for coming”.  A far sight from my most disgusting interaction today, wherein a man riding a bicycle starts calling “gringa! Gringa!” at me.  For one, I’m not a gringa.  For two, when he caught my attention, he starts rolling his tongue around in what one can only imagine was a parody of oral sex.  It was utterly repulsive, which does somewhat raise the question of what the hell he was trying to achieve.

Santa Marta has been a bit of a strange place for me, and not just because of incoherent interactions.  It feels a bit like a microcosm of my life for the four years since I was there last–the people I’ve met there, and moreover the people I’ve met from there, have led to such a number of calamitous incidents in my life, as well as some positive elements as captured by Daniela and her lovely family.  Catching the bus back from town to Rododero earlier, I had ths sudden deep feeling that it’s a place I’ll never see again, and it’s a bittersweet impression at best. It feels like things are changing, and I suppose they are–but it’s still somehow weird to feel thatall the things that have happened because I went to the town in the first place are suddenly, abjectly, over.  Finito.  Terminado.  Completo.  And on to the next adventure…

We haven’t been up to much the last couple of days.  After getting back from la Ciudad Perdida on Saturday, we showered then headed out for pizza with Daniela’s family.  Sunday was spent resting, for the morning, and posting an obscene number of blog posts (that part may have come across…).  In the afternoon I headed out into the storm to go for a walk through Rodadero, along the beach, and to eventually find myself drinking an excellent coffee at Juan Valdez.  That coffee was so good, I started getting emotional.  Too much Colombia!

After a couple of hours enjoying my wet clothes (!), my book, and the raucous noises of birds overhead, I headed back to the house, where we were awaiting Daniela’s dad.  You see, the Dutchie was still feeling poorly, and needed to go the doctor.  In the end, they didn’t get back until something like 1:30 in the morning.  Meanwhile, Daniela’s mum and I watched some overly violent films, and she put up with my pidjin Spanish.

Today was all about Santa Marta, as we headed into town to look for some books.  I’ve wound up with another of Roald Dahl’s books in Spanish–I’m acquiring quite the collection.  Our adventures took us to a delightful vegetarian restaurant, and to the public market just south-east of the main centre of town.  Here it was a bit more flavoursome, with more dirt, more smells, more people.  Slabs of meat hung or sat on tables, a dog may or may not have been dead on the floor, the overwhelming stench of fish and sweat pervaded, and we wandered through sections from shoes to books.  It felt pretty real.  And, of course, people continued to help us all the time, offering directions, making sure we knew where we were, and asking if we wanted to buy water/bus tickets/a new soul (okay, so these last may have been sales pitches).

That more-or-less brings us to now, and this bus, and my 3.5 hours’ sleep, and being hungry, and consistent elbowings from Anouk. But only two hours to go.

From the sea to the sky

I love Cartagena.  It’s like Lisbon would be, if Lisbon were better.  Because while it has the colours and tiles and flavours of Lisbon, it’s not as controlled: colours, like life, are raucous; there’s little colouring between-the-lines.  And while I appreciate living in places where things are organised to an almost concerning extent, for travel, I’d rather go to places a little more libre.

Happily, soon after writing the other night, our bus stopped for a ‘five minute break’ at a depot in Barranquilla, halfway between Santa Marta and Cartagena on the Carribbean coast.  I immediately went in quest of food, fending off some of an infinite number of overly-persistent taxi drivers, but came up empty: then I realised I could interpret it as a ‘Colombian five minutes’, i.e., as long as I liked.  In the end, I managed to fetch up with a cheesy croissant, and some kind of donut thing full of a sweet flavouring.  Is that creme de leche?  I’m going to go with yes.  (The Dutchie later told me that apparently the driver was a bit “where the hell did your friend go?!”, though expressed in the most affably Colombian of terms, of course.)

We made it to our hotel in Cartagena, to hit the streets reasonably early the following morning.  It was Anouk’s birthday, so after she’d gotten back to her messages (something I’ve still, for the most part, failed to do…), we went for a stroll through the gorgeous centre, then a drink at a rooftop bar by Martyrs’ Plaza.  The Dutchie was still ill, so it was set to be a fairly relaxed day.

Next it was off to find a spa, where the Dutchie would spend her afternoon.  Meanwhile, I’d fallen in love with the lurid colours of the local artwork, and uncharacteristically (for a girl who outright refuses to go to a gallery), decided to go make an acquisition or two.

As such, I spent the afternoon walking from place to place, checking out El Arcon Anticuario (full of Cartagena-style door knockers, including some antique versions ranging up to 2k euro!) before heading to the souvenirs market at La Bovedas.  These sit beneath Cartagena’s old defensive wall, in what were first storage locations, before becoming prisons, and now a souvenir mart which, come 4pm, is packed with busloads of tourists finishing their day.

I had some great conversations with vendors, both in and outside of the cells, working my way down from stores 26 to 1, and looking at each and every painting.  I had the idea of three small yet colourful images of Cartagena’s streetscapes–but it was not to be.  Because I reached store 2, looked up, and fell immediately in love with the most humungous and impractical of paintings.  ‘Oh no,’ I thought to myself.  ‘What have I done?!’

This painting was around two metres across, and around 120cm high.  Unlike most of the local paintings, which show bright daytime scenes with sharp lines and bursts of colour, this was entirely different: it’s a nightscape of Cartagena and the ocean, but everything is dreamlike.  A man is playing a saxophone in the foreground, but his clothes fade into the waves, which in turn fade into distant looming ships and the sky.

…you may have gathered that I left with this painting: and you would be right.  Because a two-metre painting is an entirely practical thing to travel with, of course.  (I’ve since posted it to my friend Tilly in the UK, to pick up when I next swing by London: the Belgian post is never to be trusted!)

Now that I had met my acquisitive needs, I headed back to the hotel for a well-deserved shower before heading back out to meet with Anouk.  She’d finished at the spa, and was drinking a mocktail at a nearby square.  Despite being ill, she decided to eat ceviche (think: raw octopus), which she’s definitely been feeling since.  Thence to KGB bar, a bar filled with USSR memorabilia and what seems like an entire Russian submarine, before bed.

The following day–yesterday–dawned at a very civilised hour, as far as we were concerned.  Next in my plan was attending a group salsa lesson, which is uncharacteristic (again) for many reasons.  For one, workplace aside, I’m pretty open about my fairly acute PTSD–I have to be.  So I don’t like having to be in a room with a guy, or anybody touching me, or really anything at involving my body.  Hence, dancing is pretty amazingly out.  But I trooped along to this group, only to find that I would be the only attendee: and it was just me and the instructor.

Granted, the instructor was an absolutely lovely guy called Mauricio, who sang and smiled the whole time.  But holy shit was that a difficult experience.  I don’t even know how I made it through.  I mean to be fair, I didn’t make it through in any kind of co-ordinated fashion, so I’m not altogether sure it counts.  At one point my knee decided to take a little adventure of its own, to which even Mauricio said, “well that was weird”.

That said, people without my hangups should definitely check this place out: it’s called Crazy Salsa, and it’s two blocks south of Place de Moneda in Cartagena.

Post-lesson and after sorting out the sending of my painting and assuring myself that Anouk’s salt-cracker-and-water needs were met, I headed to Ábaca/Abacus bookstore to do some Spanish grammar.  To be honest, I didn’t last long: I was beyond tired, for whatever reason, so I did a few units, then opting for some book-grazing.  Given I’ve now acquired three Roald Dahl books in Spanish, one and a half of which I’ve yet to read, it was definitely not time to purchase.

Next I went back to the hotel (which, as you may have gathered, was very conveniently located), to drop off my Spanish grammar book, and grab my Kindle.  The idea of sunset, cocktails, and a good book didn’t sound too terrible.  As it was, I headed to Cafe del Mar, on the sea wall.  I found a table with another solo reader, ordered cake and a cocktail, and settled in for nearly four hours of heaven.  Between the luxuriant weather, the air that’s so thick it feels like a caress, the Cafe del Mar tunes ekeing their way up the back of your spine, the smell of salt, a good book and an open sky, it was impossible to imagine how I could ever leave.  It was one of those nights where it feels like the elements have conspired to take away everything of substance, until you feel like just a surface of skin surrounding air, rendered invisible and indivisible from your surrounds.  Absolute heaven.

Sometime well into the evening, and reluctant to embroil myself into another chapter (or I’d be there all night), I settled up and headed for another stroll along the bastion towards Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s old house.  I can see why Cartagena inspired him so: there truly is a magic to it.

As I approached, the sounds of music became apparent, and so I investigated: some older men were playing a range of unusual instruments on the rampart, including one which I’m sure is a ‘real thing’ but looked like nothing so much as an elaborate cheese grater, and as they cheered and sang, waves kicked up spray behind them.

At last it was time to get my invisible self to bed, because while it’s difficult to let a night such as that go, today we would be heading to another beloved place: Medellín.


Medellín is a place of multitudinous layers.   There are layers to its history–Pablo Escobar as outright criminal or modern Robin Hood? Colombia as the home of which peoples?–and layers to its social life, with huge economic disparities between the disenfranchised groups you can find in most areas of the city, and the privileged households and mansions surrounding El Tesoro shopping centre.  On the one hand, it feels welcoming, livable: on the other, plagued with a low-level but ever-present danger.  Local papers tell you where you shouldn’t drive, as they’re hot-spots for automotive robbery; meanwhile, tour groups and hostels fall over themselves to tell you how safe you are.  As long as you’re careful, of course–but isn’t that the same everywhere?

I actually love Medellín.  It’s impossible to say whether it or Cartagena is the more enchanting: while Cartagena has the sea, Medellín has this ever-present beat which is impossible to dismiss.  This visit showed me another side to the city: rather than being geared towards tourist activities and destinations, this time I would be on a mission to get ready for my friend’s wedding in late August.  As such, I would be exploring the shops and streets, rather than merely the sights.

My visit started off well on Thursday afternoon: we caught a not-uber from the airport (around an hour’s drive), and in no way had a cover story in case the police stopped us, and by no means listened to a pre-recorded track in English explaining that uber isn’t legal in Colombia and telling us to behave accordingly.  With that said, our driver was an incredibly friendly older guy called Don Bernardo, who would later arrange his friend to pick us up for the return journey a few days hence.

After dropping the Dutchie off at her hotel, I headed to my hostel: a clean place with lovely staff, called ‘Friends to Be’ (I am okay with the level of cheesiness in that name).  I got a crazy deal on it, and for three nights, paid just 60k pesos (around 16-17 euro).  I think part of that, though, is that I went through, where I’ve gained some kind of elite status?  For this trip, I ended up arranging all accommodation (bar that for the first night and that for Anouk’s birthday), plus tours, activities, buses, flights, taxis, not-ubers…as it turns out, this has resulted in some weird status upgrades.  So, yay me? 🙂

My next steps were to head to an Italian restaurant, because I needed all the carbs in the world.  And my goodness, did it deliver–Tramezzini, in Parque Lleras.  Deifnitely check it out if you’re in town and on the lookout for a food coma.

The next part of my evening was a complete disappointment: DanceFree in Medellín has dance lessons every night, and on Thursday, they’re free.  However, as it turns out, on Thursday and Saturday nights the lessons are for all levels, rather than being divided by grade as per the other nights.  This meant that I, as a completely incompetent salsa-cum-cha-cha-er, was caught up with a bunch of other extranjeros who had no idea what we were doing, or how to even figure out what the guide was doing with his feet.  What also became apparent in the break (i.e. break from hellish levels of humiliation and miscoordination) was that 90% of the people were local, and professional-level dancers.  They must have hated us.  Also, the only drinks available were beer or lolly-water.  Once the break drew to a close, I left: while we had to listen to a pre-recorded nasal ad for dance classes at least three times during the first half hour (which itself started 45 minutes late), this place was the worst ad for a dance school I’ve ever encountered.

The following day was shopping day.  My friend Laura, whose family I stayed with last time I was in Colombia, has an upcoming wedding: so it was time to find a dress.  For possibly obvious reasons, I hadn’t wanted to stash a formal dress in my backpack for a few weeks of travel, and I’d been told that Medellín, as ‘home of fashion’, was the place to find one for a reasonable price.

My day involved way more malls than you’d expect.  Shopping in Medellín, from what I’ve seen, centres around malls and street stalls clustered by theme: once you find one sandal stall, you’ll find eighteen of them.

After probably two hours of trying on every single dress in one designer store, getting feedback from the bride along the way, I headed to a second mall, then finally, to El Tesoro in the posh zone.  Also, ‘the treasure’ is a pretty great name for a mall.

With a lot of hushed whispers of ‘we don’t have anything, try store x’ from salespeople, I finally had a dress which was not only long enough (I’m a good half a foot taller than the average Colombian woman), but also bright yellow.

I’d had the intention of going to a language exchange that evening, but as it turned out, trying to leave the mall took significantly longer than you’d expect: there were no buses apparent, it was too far to walk, and the line for the taxis was around 45 minutes long.

Taxis in Colombia are plentiful, overly-assertive in places (looking at you, Cartagena), and cheap.  Also, they come with a bit of local flavour: I’ve spent every taxi and uber journey practicing my Spanish with the driver, as you do, which inevitably leads to the questions “are you single?” “have you had children?” “how old are you?”, followed by offers on WhatsApp to teach me Spanish, along with an assortment of love heart emojis.  The exception is one of my drivers in Medellín, who vehemently said that I should “never get married!”.  I think he was my favourite.

By the time I finally got back to the hostel, I was pretty beat.  I went out for some average Thai, then considered getting some sleep.  But then a couple of French Canadian girls in my room popped up, and demanded to know whether I was going out for the night or not.  So things escalated, obviously.

I spent Saturday wandering around the city: first to the Museo del Antioquia, which was too much art and not enough history (imho, obviously); then for a walk underneath the metro line; a meander through some outlet stores north of El Poblado; and the hugest coffee in the world at Crepes y Waffles.

I’m not actually a fan of crepes OR waffles, or any of that food group (donuts, pancakes, churros), but I’d heard that this particular chain only employs single mothers (potentially victims of domestic violence??), and it was right there in front of me, soooo.  And I recommend it: I ended up going twice in one day.  They have REALLY GOOD FOOD.

I’d planned on spending the evening out, given the preceding two nights hadn’t really delivered.  However, I’d started coming down with a cold, and was feeling pretty low energy.  Bed and a book sounded pretty good: though again, it didn’t really go as planned.  The club next door was playing music until around 4am, which is fair enough: other than that it was so loud that the walls, windows, and in fact my bed were all shaking and vibrating like crazy for that entire time.  So yes, I probably wouldn’t stay there again…!

While I guess things went wrong in Medellín in some ways, I still really enjoyed it.  I loved my morning coffee and Spanish sesh, my conversations with drivers, the range of food, and the lively vibe to the place.  It’s definitely a place I’ll be revisiting on my next trip to Colombia: because that’s obviously going to happen ASAP.

El Dorado

Bogotá is in some ways a peculiar place.  It’s a juxtaposition of a sprawling, identity-defying metropolis as any other in the world, with the particular rhythm and outbursts of utterly inane insanity that I expect of Colombia.  You’ll be on the Transmilenio, packed with an impossible number of people—heaving, impersonal, pressed against the glass—and outside you can see a man running between cars on the highway, selling fairy-floss.  Though while it does have a Colombian flavour to it, Bogota feels a few steps closer to the ‘real world’ than I wish it did.  It’s in a transition zone between dysfunctional fairytale and modern dystopia.

We were staying with my friend Felipe’s lovely family, in a suburb around 25 Transmilenio minutes north of the centre.  As always, they were the most hospitable and adorable people in the world.  The Dutchie was with us, too, at least for the first few days—she had an earlier flight back to Europe, whereas I was staying on for some Spanish school and my friend Laura’s wedding.  We did have one final day for adventures before I started school, however, and so it was time to go find our fates in Guatavita, home of the El Dorado legend.

In case you’ve never lived on this planet before, El Dorado was the mythical ‘golden city’ sought by the Conquistadors, the wealth of which inspired tragedy and travesty alike.  In reality, the lake around which the legend is centred—Lake Guatavita—was the centre of spiritual rituals for the local people.  It’s shaped like a volcanic caldera, with sharp sides covered in determined trees.  As part of the sacred ritual, the leader (‘zipa’) would be coated in gold, then raft out into the centre of the lake, at which point they would dive into the water and shed the gold.  Further ornaments and offerings would also be thrown in.  One beautiful golden raft, a depiction of the ritual, is kept in the Museo del Oro in Bogotá.

Getting to the lake was a bit of a challenge, to be honest.  We caught the Transmilenio north to Portal, then a local bus.  The driver said for us to change at a town later on, and once we got there, he hustled us onto another bus.

It was not the right bus.

So we found ourselves at the foot of the road to the park’s entrance, and not just any road, but an ‘8 kilometres of uphill’ kind of road.  On the up-side, there was a stall just there, where two ladies were selling sticks of strawberries coated in chocolate and 100’s and 1000’s.  I loved it.

We started walking, neither of us particularly happy, until one of Colombia’s ubiquitous taxis came trundling down the road from the other direction.  There was no real discussion: we were going to pay him whatever he asked for, and thus, with zero to no regrets later, we found ourselves at the entrance to the park.  Where we waited in line for a time made more interminable by the couple making out in front of us the entire time.

Eventually, we did make it inside, for some more waiting around and then a tour of the location in Spanish.  At some point, there was an eclipse, but there were so many clouds that we had no real idea.  The guide left us at the lake, where we joined the swarms of people taking selfies, and then it was time to head on.

As it was still reasonably early in the afternoon, we decided there was just enough time to make it to the salt mines in Zipa.  I went there last time I was in Colombia, and thought it was fantastic enough that Anouk really had to make use of the opportunity.  So, another series of buses and innocuous gravel roads later, we made it to the Catedral del Sal, shortly before they closed down entry for the day.  It was fantastic, but we ended up with an English-speaking guide, who we almost immediately mortally offended.  He had a way of phrasing English that lent a certain comedy to everything he said, and so when he suddenly goes, “do you know Jesus?”, it was so much like a piss-take of a prosetylising pitch that I couldn’t do anything but start laughing and respond sarcastically.  He hated me.  He hated us.  He wanted to throw us into the mine.  And his anger kept escalating as the tour went on, even though I’d managed to reel it in, and the angrier he got, the more hilarious I found everything he said.

(Anouk’s take: “To be fair we did kinda take the piss on jesus. To a clearly religious guy. While we were in a ‘church'”—lucky she walked the “sinner’s staircase” in the cathedral.)

…we should not be let out in public.

Leaving the mine, the Dutchie befriended a dog, then we dropped by a street fair before luckily catching the last directo back to Bogotá for the evening.

The next day, I started school at Nueva Lengua.  I’d signed up for four days’ Spanish lessons, to get me through the past tenses, and it was definitely worthwhile.  That said, in the afternoons each day were dance lessons, which had been part of the draw.  I’ve already mentioned that I took a tango lesson in Cartagena, and I wanted to continue—partly cos it’s super cool and I’m constantly amazed by how people dance, and partly because I knew I’d be called upon to dance at Laurita’s wedding.

Things did not go well.

The first day was fine and pretty enjoyable; the second day, I was a bit ill, so went home; and the third day is where things went wrong.  I’m pretty public, I think, about the issues I have with people grabbing me.  So we’re all circulating around between partners, and I danced with a German guy for a while who was okay with keeping his distance—but then the dance teacher grabbed me.  He pulled me in against his body, and I said that “no, I’d prefer like this”, reverting to second position, with some space between us.  “No, no, no,” he goes, and slammed me back against him.  It was about half a second between me being okay and me going into a pretty unfortunate flashback, which while on the one hand was kind of horrifying, on the other was hilarious: I can remember vividly seeing the instructor’s eyes going from flirtatious, to ‘what’s this girl doing’, to ‘holy fuck what have I done’.  So I ran away to the bathroom until I could breathe again, finished the lesson, and never went back.

Happily, this gave me more time to visit my leather jacket.  I’d decided, after being told back in Antwerp that a leather jacket is a life essential, to go and pick one up while I was in Bogotá.  What I didn’t anticipate was falling wildly in love with the red of one particular jacket—think Bedazzled.  I wasn’t too convinced on the fit, though, and so started going back every day (totally impractical) to see if it had magically changed.  That same colour wasn’t available at any of the other 20-30 leather shops on that block, either.  Eventually I realised that, much like my ridiculously and inappropriately large painting from Cartagena, I was going to buy it.  And thus was born ‘la Roja más Fuerte’.

I went out with Felipe and his lovely girlfriend Paola twice over the week, first while Anouk was still around, and later once she’d already headed back to Belgium.  They took me to Andres DC in the centre of Bogotá, an originally Chían institution, which was multiple floors of decadent chaos.  They insisted I try this cocktail which arrived in a mug the size of my head.  While delicious, I was completely unable to finish it.

Paola and Felipe spent most of the night dancing—still feeling tender after my dance instructor experience, I didn’t participate—and they were so beautiful, like little happy butterflies.

The next day, my final full day in Colombia, I headed to Chía for Laura’s wedding.  Given I (a) wasn’t travelling with makeup beyond some eyeliner and mascara, and (b) I’m completely inept at fixing my face, I booked to have my hair and makeup done first.

More regrets.

The lady ummed and ahhed and then took charge of my face, lying me back into the chair in her administrations.  Perhaps an hour later, with lots of involuntary fake-eyelash-related tears, she sat me back up—and dios mío, who was this monstrous plastic demon looking back at me?  That’s one thing I hate about makeup: people seem to think I need to look like somebody else to be acceptable at all, and this woman had changed everything about me.  It was ghastly, and only the manicurist’s support in helping me convince the makeup lady to make it “más naturale” saved me from washing it off in the bathroom.  The makeup lady was not happy with me.  Well, don’t turn me into a monster, then.  Though to be fair, it’s normal to expect that Australian and Colombian beauty standards would be different, and I hate full makeup at any time.

By this point, I was going to be late to the wedding, so got changed in the salon’s bathroom (ruining my nailpolish in the process) and had them call me a taxi.  Of course, I was going to be late by Australian standards—staff were still setting up when I arrived—but better safe than sorry.

The wedding itself was gorgeous.  Laura was legit a queen, and it was interesting in either event to go to a Catholic wedding.  Luckily, there were a couple of people who spoke at least some English, and they let me know whenever there was a tradition I needed to take part of.

It was lovely to see the whole family again, and their dog, Toby :).  I was chatting with some people in Spanish when Potato—Laura’s dad—came in, and he saw me then explained to everyone that I’d stayed with them a few years ago, but that I didn’t speak a word of Spanish.  The people I’d just been talking to quickly contradicted him, and he was beyond surprised, but then this time we could actually talk!

I’ve gotta say, I’d never seen groomsmen performing stripping-esque routines and giving the bride a lap-dance before, so that was new.  Following the games there was lots of music, and dancing, and it was a very special thing to be part of.

I stayed that night at Laura’s house, because these people are just far too lovely and giving.  I realise I’m just warbling at this point, but it was again special to be able to speak with and see everyone the next day—Laurita at four in the morning as she came back to the house to grab her charger before flying out on her honeymoon, and Angelica and her boyfriend, Potato, and even Consuelita was there.  I don’t know, they’re just a heart-warming group of people, and it was a very special way to finish my time in Colombia.

That afternoon I farewelled Felipe’s family, then headed to the airport: it was time for Madrid and Portugal before returning to Brussels, though I don’t anticipate writing about that.

I do love Colombia.  It’s a diverse, bedazzling, challenging, and beautiful place, full of open-hearted people.  There are still so many things I haven’t seen, and places I haven’t been, and I’m sure I’ll be back: partly for the country, and partly for how I feel when I’m there.  For every country I go to, I feel like a different person, and I think the me I am in Colombia is my favourite version of myself.

It’s a good a reason as any.