Exiting the hotel to the sight of an Amish family strolling down the footpath. Other long-stay backpackers lobbying me to leave for health reasons. Walking around a corner to be surprised by a patrolling squad of military troops hugging the shadows and frisking anyone crossing their path. The knowledge that I'd already seen all the best beaches, sights, pubs and clubs... and was less than interested in revisiting any of them. Daily interactions with the local crackheads of my street who continually insisted "you know me", followed by the tiresome "I got the best stuff, better than everyone else" - even after weeks of continually asking them politely to bugger off.
These same clowns wandering the streets late at night with a kitchen knife wrapped in newspaper, collecting cigarette ashes to use in their practice of crack smoking. Still not sure what role it plays, but for some reason I turned down offers to learn more. Maybe the random streetfight which started without reason and proceeded to spill into the pizza place I was eating at - knocking my table over in the process and very nearly spilling my beer (I grabbed my beer just as my pizza was sent crashing to the floor).
Yes, a lot of signs I'll admit, but perhaps the most damning was the crazy Swedish bloke who had clearly been there too long, who was often sighted screaming "where's my drugs!?" down the streets, and who offered me a great piece of life advice: "Do you have a foreskin? Well, it just happens to be the perfect place to stash your cocaine!" Brilliant.
After a week in Medellin I feel no closer to normality. A brilliant hostel called Casa Kiwi is where I've been calling home after numerous good reports from other travellers. A veritable backpackers' haven, it boasts plenty of fast internet access, DVD library, cable TV, huge plasma screen TV, public kitchen area, free pool table, an alcohol honour system... and location, location, location. Only a couple of streets from the Zona Rosa and Parque Lleros, it is what is commonly known as a death trap. Fuelled by a combination of keen-as travellers and the knowledge that the restaurant/bar area is not short of great night life, many nights were suffered through before I realised I should probably absorb some daylight activities as well.
An agreeable climate dubbed "La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavea" (The City of the Eternal Spring) by Colombians, Medellin offers not only beautiful natural surroundings, but also a form of fake beauty I had been only too well informed of. Apparently it is not too uncommon for girls here to receive braces and a boob job for their 18th birthday, and it shows. Naturally the Zona Rosa district is a more affluent area, and therefore not a fair representation of the whole of Medellin, but it doesn't make it any less painful to walk the streets (day or night) taking in the sights.
"The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception" on December 8th signalled the start of Christmas celebrations here - something the predominantly Catholic Colombians take pretty seriously.
Apparently there is a common misconception that "immaculate conception" refers to the conception of Jesus by Mary, whereas in actuality it "asserts that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was preserved by God from the stain of original sin at the time of her own conception. Specifically, the dogma says she was not afflicted by the lack of sanctifying grace that afflicts mankind, but was instead filled with grace by God, and furthermore lived a life completely free from sin" - hope that clears things up.
Anyway, in Medellin it equates to a pretty impressive display of flashing lights stretching several kilometres down Rio Medellin (the main river), as well as equally impressive displays in shop and house windows. Homes often have their own scaled-down nativity scene on a table or in the corner of a room, and nightly home-made fireworks crackle throughout the night for several weeks.
I'm sure it's hard to imagine, but for a tourist in Colombia the sound of explosions overhead and at street level is just a little unnerving - at first I was under the impression it was gun fire. Mostly depicting nativity scenes, the lights over the river are particularly amazing and attract droves of people every day until well after New Year! I was told that the river is symbolic as it is supposed to literally "light the way" for the huge depiction of Mary found on an adjacent hill.
Interestingly, I was also told that once all the celebrations are finished and the millions of lights have been packed away, they are all sold and shipped off to some Scandinavian country to be reused for other festivities.
Very soon after arriving in Medellin I realised my predicament. I badly wanted to stay longer, but my latest financial assessment indicated I could probably last about 7-8 hours before running out of money. Being a resourceful fellow, I set myself the task of getting work of some description...
Tune in to Episode 2 to see how I fare in my quest for employment.
What a relief! I finally escaped the deadly grip of Cartagena and have made it to Medellin via a mostly uncomfortable and in no way memorable 12hr bus trip. I barely noticed the aircon dripping on my head just to go along with the subarctic temperatures in there. Languishing in the twilight months of my world trip, it is easy to find a cheap and mostly accommodating city to slow things down a little. I was stranded there for a while - I'll admit it. Fortunately, I eventually noted the telltale signs of an stayed outstayed welcome, and all in one day...