Making the 'right' turn back to Colombia

Trip Start Dec 10, 2011
Trip End Sep 29, 2012

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Flag of Colombia  ,
Monday, June 18, 2012

First weekend back in Colombia, and my Latin American home, Medellin and I feel a little at peace again.

I am doing another new thing in my travels and having my first couch surfing experience, I have to say that I think I got very lucky as the view from the apartment is wonderful of the whole city and did I mention that they have a swimming pool? 

If this is what 'couchsurfing' is like then I am convinced. I had met two lovely Danish girls back in Sucre, Bolivia whilst chatting over cooking food together in the shared kitchen. We talked about where we had been travelling and talked about Colombia, and then finally Medellin. 

I love talking to people about the city as I hear how much they love it too and where they had been. They said they couchsurfed there I said oh I would not want to do that, it’s probably dangerous for me on my own.  Then we discussed about the couple they stayed with how he drove them around in his car and they had a great stay there and then I asked whereabouts it was in Medellin. Somewhere beginning with ‘E’ and I replied and said wow , that’s it I am contacting them as this was the same district I had stayed in before and fell in love with!

So here I am couchsurfing, I have been made to feel very welcome, lots of offers of going out and if I need anything.  It is exactly what I needed after the crazy journey to get here and the situation I find myself in when I arrive.

So first the journey to get here. Some of you will remember that I am not meant to be back in Colombia again but in South Africa. I stayed one month more which meant I was longer in South America than I thought I would be, previously loving Colombia I stayed longer, skipping Ecuador and flying direct to Peru.  I am also not a fast traveller, I like to take things slow, take the place in and maybe volunteer in that location too, learn Spanish or take a cooking class. So with this I wanted to make sure I had enough time to visit Bolivia properly. So I changed my Round the World air ticket and extended out my flight from Sao Paolo to South Africa. The only problem with this is there was not another flight out of there for at least one more month, I didn’t really want to be there for one month or more, in fact the only reason this country was in my plan was due to the best way to fly around the world. So with this and a lot of thoughts of returning home I was wondering what to do. In fact since I left Colombia in April, almost two months, I had thought and wrote down these thoughts often about returning and a desire to go back as well as missing home back in England.  Hanging out in Sucre, Bolivia volunteering again and learning more Spanish I had time to think and time to skype with a good friend. In the end I realised ignoring my feelings and desires was just being in denial. So I cancelled my flight to South Africa, I then booked a new one to Medellin Colombia and here I am.  However when I was planning all this I had not known there was going to be a children’s party for 400 children on the Saturday before I arrived, that got me thinking maybe I could get there in time and surprise everyone. So the day before, well even it was 5 hours before I was supposed to be going to Santa Cruz in Bolivia, I found myself with my lovely Spanish teacher Tatiana’s help, at the bus station buying a new ticket to La Paz where I would fly from, getting a refund for my ticket to Santa Cruz and rushing back to cancel my fully refundable ticket from Santa Cruz and buy my new ticket from La Paz which was the same price and would get me there comfortably by 7pm the night before.  Well, this is what I thought!

My journey began in Sucre, Bolivia on a nightbus that left at 5.30pm to La Paz. The one I booked was cancelled and at the last minute I was shifted onto another bus but that was not stopping at the airport.  It would be ok I thought if this is the only hiccup.  The bus was packed and resembled something more of a refugee bus with the guy next to me, snoring and elbowing me most of the way. One of the more memorable parts of my bus trip was everyone getting off and I mean everyone except three of us, squatting right there in the road to wee. I went and found a normal toilet, that I saw only two other people use and that was it.  Habits die hard I guess!

Now the next part of the journey I see people getting off our bus in the pitch dark of the morning, I figure we are here. So I get my stuff and get off, I realise we are not here and the bus has broken down. I look at the time, it is 5:45am and my flight leaves at 8:30am, oh shit! I could miss my flight. Everyone is hailing anything that drives past, some people get lucky and jump on a passing bus. Then some ‘micro’ buses turn up and I run for my life so fast to get on it and don’t budge, despite the confusion about where it was going exactly. Through the journey I thought to myself I was not going to get there, it was now light and we hit crazy La Paz morning traffic.  This is where the micro stopped and I jumped off running between the traffic on the main road to the other side where I could see a taxi. The driver is fast asleep and I knock loudly on his window. I ask him to take me to the airport and he seems confused and not wanting to take me and I ask again, I get in and we are off him beeping at the traffic so we can pass through the junction. It turns out if I had walked maybe two more blocks I would have been looking at the airport I was so close. I paid too much but I did not care, I was glad to be there.

Now let’s see if I can get on the flight. It was now 7am.  There’s a large line for Avianca and I ask the man in front of me if it was for Lima, he said yes. No hurry in this airport. I was so happy to be there that I chatted to this man and told him my story. The man behind me spotted my newly sewed badges on my backpack, one of the Colombia flag and he asked me I had been to Colombia. "Si me gusta en Colombia" I replied. He soon worked out I was not an expert Spanish speaker and spoke excellent English with me. I spent the next, almost six hours with this good looking, interesting man from Guatemala talking about common hobbies of writing,  both worked in IT and that he was working for a non-profit helping people. The latter being something I am quite interested in. We had a lot to talk about and it was great company to pass the time.

On arrival at Lima, my next flight was delayed but not very much so I did not worry. Then as the time came, it was delayed longer and I realised I would miss my connection in the next city, Bogota. Avianca reassured me it would be fine. I did miss the connection, and am booked on the next flight at 8:10pm from Bogota to Medellin.  I attempt to change SIM cards in my phone to my Colombian one so I can contact my couch surfing hosts, dam my phone broke again (it did this last time I changed SIM cards), so I am phoneless and cannot even put my UK sim back in to surf the wifi spot. 

I have no Colombian money on me and I cannot leave the airport to the foyer part to make a call or use the minutos service as I am in transit. So I open up my laptop log onto the wifi spot and attempt to use skype to call my couch surfing host, it was a terrible line and connection and I eventually give up with a promise of an email instead. A kind man opposite saw my difficulty and asked would I like to use his phone and do I need him to translate.  I thought yes! I am back in Colombia and this is why I love this country. I used his mobile and updated my couch surfing host to my ETA. Boarded the flight and by this point just needed a cup of tea to wake me up, it had been almost 25 hours travel time with little sleep on the night bus.  But no I am back in Colombia, and tea is not a readily available commodity, coffee is. I settled for some nice tasty ‘agua’! I had a splitting headache and the man next to me leg kept shaking and when we hit some turbulence he jumped and grabbed my leg with his hand as a reaction. I had sat next to a lady on the last flight who crossed herself, in the religious sense, more than 5 times and told me she was petrified of flying and told me if I need anything in Colombia to call her, giving me her contact information. I seem to be a bit jinxed with who I was sitting next to except for my first flight of course, but then he had asked could he sit next to me so god knows who I would have sat next to!

We had been on the flight for 1.5 hours, which I had not really noticed until an announcement was read in Spanish and I caught a lot of it, but was not entirely sure.

The key words that popped out were ‘meteorological’ ‘Cali’ and ‘Volcan’. The three together did not make a lot of sense at all. The girl across from me asked in Spanish if I understood and do I prefer Spanish or English. I quickly replied if she speaks English I prefer it. Luckily for me she did and explained that the announcement said the flight was being diverted to Cali because of a weather disturbance from a volcano and it was not safe to pass over to reach Medellin. We landed in Cali and the plane stayed on the tarmac for some time, we as passengers also stayed on the plane as it grew hotter and hotter and people were stripping off and I was flapping the air safety card to cool down, I also took some nurofen to sort my splitting headache out which was for sure about lack of sleep.

The girl across from me also lent me her mobile so I can contact again my couch surfing hosts, as I imagined they almost did not believe what I was telling them as the air steward came over and angrily told me to turn off the phone immediately. There were plenty of other people using theirs, but no I was talking in English and I was the tourist so I had to turn it off. The Colombian girl was super angry I was treated like this and said it was not good and she wanted to make a complaint to the airline about it. She also refused to believe the ‘volcano’ story and noticed how the cabin crew changed over in Cali, but yet our plane was in the wrong place… mmm who knows.  We got to Medellin finally at about midnight. The girl said to stick with her and we would go in a taxi together and of course I agreed wholeheartedly as the airport is about one hour from the city and it was late at night and not good to go on my own.  She then by chance met work colleagues at the baggage carousel and he offered to drive all of us into the city to a downtown taxi rank. They were lovely people and I got a taxi to the apartment and met my host and got him out of bed, as it was 2am when I arrived finally. I went to sleep but in the knowledge that I only was going to get 5 hours of it, before I was going to get up for the big surprise and the children’s party. I did not care, I was back in my Latin American home and I knew I made the right decision to return.  It was good to be back and that journey across; a time zone, three countries, four cities, two days, three flights, a bus that broke down, three taxis, a diverted plane due to a volcanic eruption and a lot of very helpful people, was totally worth it, to be here and be in time for the volunteer project party was wonderful. 
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greekcypriot on

Wow Charlotte you finally made it. I can imagine your headache after all that. But at least you are there where it was meant to be. I am drinking my morning coffee and it was such pleasure reading your whole story....from behind my desk.

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