January 19, 2022
We both woke just as the sky was getting light. The wind had picked up, gently blowing the mosquito netting around the bed and the jungle was full of bird sounds. We couldn’t see most of them through the thick canopy but some were likely parrots and maybe even a toucan.
We were leaving for the big city of Medellin (pronounced “Meh deh jeen” by the locals) soon, so after a leisurely breakfast we packed up and headed down to meet our friend Lenny, the taxi driver who’d brought us to Sol de Minca Ecolodge few days earlier. We confirmed with him by WhatsApp text and negotiated the price for the trip to the airport, where we’d take an inexpensive hour and a half flight.
Fifteen minutes early, Lenny met us grinning and fist-bumped us. Sometimes you just connect with people and Lenny was a guy I’d hang out with. He then drove us back down the winding narrow road from the jungle toward the sea.
After passing back through Santa Marta, the drive to the airport was partly along the Caribbean coast and was surprisingly beautiful. The airport, with only five gates, was small especially for an international airport serving a city of half a million people.
We’d been instructed to arrive two hours early and, as we suspected, it was unnecessary. Before boarding, a gate change and sign snafu had us scrambling but everything eventually went off without a hitch. We noticed the Colombians were not as anxious as Americans tend to be about boarding—no one lined up early or jostled for position in line. When we took off it was obvious from all the exclamations that many passengers had never flown before.
In less than two hours, Medellin came into view. It was spectacularly gorgeous. The city of four million filled a huge hanging valley 5,000 feet high, with neighborhoods crawling up the sides of the hills from the valley and a large downtown sprouting from the bottom. The hills were green and as we circled through the clouds to land it looked to both of us like one of the prettiest settings for a city we’d ever seen.
The Uber ride to our hotel only confirmed what we’d seen from the air. Rolling hills and beautiful buildings were everywhere and the landscapes were lush without being jungle-like. We were suddenly thrust from a week of rural forests and fishing villages to a large metropolitan city. But the pace of the city was not like most big U.S. cities we’d been to, like New York, Seattle, or Washington D.C. Medellin immediately appeared far more laid back.
After our first hot shower in a week (we almost felt guilty using the hot water), we struck out to explore for a few hours and find a place to drop off nine days’ worth of dirty clothes. In perfect high-70’s temperatures we wandered up and down hills and along flower- and tree-lined streets. Though it’s close to the tropics, because of Medellin’s high elevation, its climate must be among the best in the world—70s and 80s during the day and 60s at night year-round. It’s been aptly been described as the “City of Eternal Spring.” We began to see why so many Americans retired or spent months here every year. The streets were mostly clean and the orderliness of the city contrasted with the Caribbean part of the country. Everything worked.
After dropping off our clothes we wandered the streets of the El Poblado district. As we walked, we picked up a couple of empanadas from a vendor for $1 each that were much better than any we’d had so far. Susan still wasn’t eating much but she managed a few bites of the deliciousness. Soon, it was getting dark so we took an Uber back to the hotel for US$1.70 and marveled that the cost for a beautiful high-rise hotel like we were in was far cheaper than a Motel 6 in the states.
Just before we went to bed, Lenny, our taxi driver/friend who was now a thousand miles away, texted asking how we were. What a pleasant surprise. We had a short conversation in Spanish (he spoke zero English) that ended with us both acknowledging that we were glad to have met each other.
Staying in an upscale hotel in a big city felt very odd after the tiny mountain and fishing villages where we’d been, but we knew we’d change gears quickly and enjoy this next stretch of our journey exploring this beautiful city.