Viva Colombia!

I spent about 3 weeks traveling through Panama. It was a very rewarding experience. I learned how to surf on an island in Bocas del Toro, campfires with friends on the beach, brutal hike to the highest peak on a volcano to watch the sunrise over clouds, living in a castle in Boquete, and let's not forget staying at Trump Hotel for 3 nights for free! That was Panama in a nutshell. This is my first blog post from Colombia to start off my tour of South America! Hopefully you enjoy reading...

 Sunrise from Volcan Baru in Boquete, the highest peak in Panama.

Sunrise from Volcan Baru in Boquete, the highest peak in Panama.

I'm currently sitting in my dorm bed by the window at Selina Hostel in Medellin. Just got back from Guatape, a historic, colorful town about 2 hours east of the city. I took a bus in the morning with a Canadian friend from the hostel. He's been exploring Colombia for over 7 months and spoke decent Spanish which made it easier to get around. Upon our arrival, we walked around the town and I decided to check into a quaint little hotel. The private room was 30,000 pesos, only about $11. It was a small price to pay to stay overnight in this interesting town called Guatape. After searching for awhile, my friend found his hostel, checked in, and we ate authentic the Colombian food Bandeja Paisa, which consists of grilled steak, fried pork rind, chorizo sausages, on a bed of rice and red beans that is then topped with a fried egg and a side of sliced avocado and plantain. It was really quite delicious! Only 19,000 pesos or $7. Afterward, we walked along the promenade and passed various gift shops. There's a zip line and you can also rent jet skis. The streets are almost entirely cobblestone, the houses are painted in vibrant primary colors. This was originally done to attract more tourists and creative types. It seems to be working since the place is quite a popular destination amongst travelers. After a few hours, I made my way to the main square to fly my drone. It started raining so I decided to join a walking tour of the city instead. It wasn't long before I'd already seen the entire place. Certainly a fun place to visit for a day or two, but I definitely wouldn't want to live there. I had my sights set on hiking to the top of El Penol Stone the next day before returning to Medellin. My hotel room was right next to the street which made it difficult to sleep through the night even with earplugs, so I listened to relaxing meditation music on my headphones.

 Colorful Buildings in Guatape, Colombia

Colorful Buildings in Guatape, Colombia

I awoke early in the morning to the sound of roosters crowing in anticipation of sunrise. After wiping the sleep out of my eyes, I grabbed my DJI Spark drone and walked along the empty streets to the riverwalk. Right before sunrise, I launched it and captured photos and video of Guatape. Mission accomplished! I took a few more photos of the colorful streets with my Sony A6000 camera. Then I promptly checked out of my hotel, making sure I wasn't leaving anything behind, and caught the next bus to El Penol. It dropped me off a half-mile down the road from the entrance. I hiked up about 200 steps to reach the base of this gigantic rock weighing over 60 million tons! It was mostly restaurants, gift shops, and tourist attractions. Nothing I was interested in. I decided to make myself useful while waiting to pay the entrance fee. I took out the drone and flew it over the beautiful islands surrounded by mirror-like waters. This entire river system was man-made after serious flooding of the area many years ago and now it's used to generate hydroelectric power. After a half-hour, I paid my entrance fee of 18,000 pesos and began hiking up all 659 stairs to the top. It only took about 15 minutes with stops along the way to document my experience on the iPad.

 To be a rock and not to roll. And she's buying a stairway to heaven.

To be a rock and not to roll. And she's buying a stairway to heaven.

So much of success is simply putting one foot in front of the other, repeatedly, until you reach the top; both figuratively and literally. The views from the top were some of the most beautiful I've ever seen! I bought a mango beer and used my remaining battery to fly the drone one more time! Upon reaching the base level again, I sat and meditated for a few minutes, took a few photos of a sweet Colombian family, and continued my descent. I then took a rick-shaw to Guatape for 10,000 pesos to buy my bus ticket (14,000 pesos) back to Medellin. That's when I met my spiritual teacher...

 Beautiful view from atop El Penol Stone.

Beautiful view from atop El Penol Stone.

We spoke almost the entire bus ride back to Medellin. Mostly about places to visit in Colombia, family, history, and spirituality. She was a wise lady with a wealth of knowledge. I also showed her a few of my aerial photos and she was flabbergasted! Turns out her uncle owns a postcard business in Guatape and I can most likely license my artwork to him, which means I will have more money to continue my travels! I later discovered her name was Lucy; same as my drone (named after "Lucy In The Sky"). We departed the bus and took the metro rail through Medellin to the municipality of Sabaneta. She took me to a little nondescript restaurant for homemade food. It was literally someone's house with a living room, kitchen, and washroom. All natural lighting with Jesus picture frames on the walls. It's certainly true that the most interesting experiences happen at the edge of your comfort zone. The food was authentic and delicious. We then hopped on a bus back to El Pablado. She got off a few stops before me and we parted ways. She paid for my lunch and offered to let me stay at her house next time I'm in Medellin and Guatape. Truly one of the kindest and most genuine people I've met so far during my travels!

There's still a few more things I want to do in Medellin, so I extended my stay at Selina Hostel for another two nights. I've now altered my itinerary to skip Bogota (9 hours east) and go directly south to Cali towards Quito, Ecuador (my top destination) with a stop in Jardin ("Garden" in Spanish) and a few coffee farm tours just outside Cali, which has roughly the same population as Medellin. Wish me luck!

Donations are always appreciated!