Medellin Quick Guide

Featured image I took from the top of El Peñón de Guatapé.

  • DENTIST: My dentist, Juan Carlos, was great and I will go back. +57 300 3832 926
  • SAFETY: City seemed safe and I rarely felt concerned though I didn't spend any time outside past midnight and was very conscious of not doing anything stupid or ever leaving my drink unattended. One of Michael's hotel neighbor's was drugged and robbed by two ladies he brought to his apartment. The next morning Michael helped him remember how to tie his shoes, turn on a computer and eventually he secured more money for another attempt at his dream.
  • CELL PHONES: I read a number of articles on cell phone safety which warned that thieves will snatch your new iPhone from you in public, through the window of your cab or simply just mug you. One solution they mentioned was to bring an older phone to hand over in a mugging. This didn't seem very practical to me and I heard stories of how muggers caught on to this trick and would get angry if you handed them an old phone. My iPhone is a 6s and though I brought a 5s for this scenario I never bothered carrying it. Better if someone would just steal my 6s. I limited my use in bad areas, always checked around me before I did and didn't use it in a crowd.
  • MONEY: I should have brought a little more cash. On previous trips to other countries I brought too much cash and ended up just using ATM's the whole time. However, in Colombia few ATM's hand out much cash and many have high fees. After trying a few banks I settled on Bank of Bogota as my go to ATM which would give out COP 1,500,000 (around $490) for reasonable fees. There could be a better ATM but I did not need or want to withdraw more cash than that at one time.
  • HOW MUCH MONEY?: Prices are written many different ways. And "mil" is not million it is thousand. Examples I saw...
    49mil = $49mil = $49.000 = COP 49.000 = COP 49,000 =~ $14USD
  • HOTELS: Do your research and read reviews. Go with a real Hotel, unlike my selection of Soul Lifestyle Hotel, or go full AirBnB. This time I spent over $100 per night the whole time. Next time it will be half that. $100 should get you a great hotel. $50 should get you a great AirBnB.
  • LOCATION: Next time I will stay at areas outside of the center of Parque Lleras, possibly Laureles Park, to reduce street vendor interactions.
  • STREET VENDORS: By the end of the trip I was exhausted by their constant and never ending sales pitches. One tour guide told me to start with 'Gracias' and if they ask again say 'No Gracias' and just keep walking. That is what I did. Now sitting at home and reflecting on the trip one strategy might be to just walk around with a bunch of COP 1,000 coins and hand them out. I might try that next time.
  • RESTAURANTS: You can order a world class entree for around $15 (COP 50,000). I didn't see the need to pay more than this. You can order an average meal, like a medium pizza from Dominos, for around $9 (COP 30,000) and there are cheaper lunch places for $3 (COP 10,000) which will be outside of the tourist areas. Do research on both the restaurant and the meal. I was happy with what I did by finding two really excellent restaurants for dinner, Carmens and Ocio, and eating there every night.
  • SPANISH: The more Spanish you know the more fun your trip will be. No doubt about it. I muddled through and learned a lot but it could have been better.

Medellin Last Day & Coffee

I woke up late and did nothing for a while. I was still grumpy with management at my new pad, Soul Lifestyle Hotel. Management's latest email apologized for their staff, whom they promised would be dealt with, and a generous offer to clean my hotel room once - for free. All I had to do was ask for it. All that goodwill combined with yesterday's peace offering of an extra roll of toilet paper had worn me out.

Basically Soul Lifestyle Hotel isn't a hotel. I was misled by both their name and their stated marketing proclaiming that they have all the amenities of a hotel plus more... However, the day before I found myself begging for more toilet paper and I could see that the staff wanted to give it to me but weren't sure if they were allowed to or not. I won't go into the unpleasant issues that started the conflict but I was eventually given everything I wanted and they refunded me one night. Soul is a long term apartment rental that has a concierge desk.

I went up to the roof to check out the pool and ran into one of my favorite hotel staff members. I let him know that Soul's management, the woman Ximena, was trying to blame the staff, basically him, for everything. I let him know that I had responded to management's pathetic email appropriately by condemning her for trying to blame her own staff for her faults. I could tell he felt better as the on-site staff was doing their best given the impossibility of both following management's strict rules while also making the guests stay comfortable and easy. So I asked him what should I do on my last day - he said El Tesoro Mall.

Not far away but basically straight uphill I did the 3/4 mile walk up to El Tesoro Mall. When I arrived it became clear no one walks to this mall. There is no front door, no sidewalks, just an entry for cars. Security waived me through a brief break in the queue of cars and I entered the parking lot, then up the stairs and escalators to the security lady for temperature check and a dollop of goo.

It was clearly an upscale mall and except for about half the storefront names it was the same as any mall in the US. I came for the food so I followed the signs to the upper floor food court which contained four fancy sit down restaurants. One restaurant had an open table next to a glass railing that provided an unobstructed view the city below. I sat there for whatever food they were serving.

Michael texted me the moment I sat down to say he was coming over to wherever I was to drop off the print I had bought during our Communa 13 walk. I had made him carry it that day and every day since and he wanted his responsibility to be over with. 10 minutes later he was there with the print. I ordered ribs which were good, too sweet of course but after two weeks in Medellin I knew that going in. I also had my favorite drink of the entire trip Limonada de Coco. Coconut lemanade. It was amazing and I want to learn how to make it.

We talked and then walked the mall. He went back to his place and I still had my last errand of finding some coffee to buy for all my coffee aficionados back home. I went to Carulla on Michael's suggestion but they only had ground coffee. I wanted whole bean.

I gave up and went home.

For dinner I made the mistake of not going to either Carmen's or Ocio's for once and tried a new place, Panko. It was next door to Ocio's but for some bizarre reason I went there instead.

I ordered the octopus on mashed potatoes. They had whipped the potatoes with a blender into a gelatinous goo. I had done this myself once thinking I was a genius to reuse my hand blender for something other than a shake. I found it doesn't work. The texture and feel is all wrong. Three bites later I paid most of the bill and walked the 20 feet to where I should have gone in the first place. Ocio.

I ordered braised pork shank on mashed potatoes and it was delicious. My waiter, Julian, saw me enjoying the potatoes and mentioned the chef's recommendation of pouring the provided gravy on the potatoes but I couldn't bring myself to do it. They were so good without it. I tried to imagine a way of bringing some of it over to Panko's chef so they could taste what mashed potatoes should be like but it would never have the outcome I wanted.

I was getting ready to leave when I saw their beautiful display case of coffee beans. Wood casing with glass doors and lit perfectly. It was a sign and I wanted them.

Julian opened the case and brought me one bag. Perfect. Whole beans, clearly not something you can get anywhere else except here and smelled wonderful. I was bracing myself for the price as he said they were expensive because they were made by the families impacted by armed conflicts.

Julian told me the price. I felt relieved and said I would take 10. He was clearly surprised. So I said, well, how about 15. He and another got to work emptying their display case of coffee and also two jars of honey from the top shelf for me. I bought all of their blood coffee beans, 10 bags, and bought 5 bags of Huila coffee which I had read about earlier in the day as being very fine coffee.

From the back of the Paz coffee bag.

Este cafe ha sido cultivado y procesado artesanalmente en el municipo de Granada pro familias victimas del conflicto armado en tierras a las cuuales han retornado despues de haber sido desplazades. Es fruto del esfuerzo familiar de pequenos caficultores quienes encuentran en el cafe un sustento, una forma de volver a relacionarse con su territorio, de reconstruir sus vidas y su economia local. Urbania, en alianza con @tejpaz con el respaldo del PNUD, los apoya por medio de la comercializacion de su cafe y la asesoria en produccion de cafes especiales. Este producto simboliza La Paz, el Perdon, la Reconcillacion y la Esperanza.

This coffee has been cultivated and processed by hand in the municipality of Granada by families who are victims of the armed conflict in lands to which they have returned after being displaced. It is the result of the family effort of small coffee growers who find a livelihood in coffee, a way to reconnect with their territory, to rebuild their lives and their local economy. Urbania, in alliance with @tejpaz with the support of UNDP, supports them through the commercialization of their coffee and advice on the production of specialty coffees. This product symbolizes Peace, Forgiveness, Reconciliation and Hope.

Medellin Barrio Transformation Tour

Real City Tours doesn't do a Comuna13 tour. Hundreds of tour groups do that one but they are the only ones who do a Barrio Transformation Tour.

Tom had texted me wondering if I was going or not. Tom and I met on the Real City food tour which was just ok and I doubt I will write about it. I had my final appointment with Juan Carlos in the morning and was also checking out of the Charlee Hotel so I kind of gave up on the tour.

I finished with Juan and was mostly packed and ready to leave the hotel by 1:30pm and realized I couldn't even check in at the new place until 3pm. Barrio Tour starts at 2pm. Why not? I texted Real City to say I was coming who doubted I could make it on time. I finished packing, dropped off my bags with the concierge and was in a taxi 8 minutes later. I found Tom at the Caribe Metro station and together we walked a long way in the wrong direction and then back again finally finding our tour guide leader and our group at 2pm.

It would be impossible to fully explain this tour. This tour and their El Centro tour were more similar to a masters lecture on Colombian history than any walking tour I have been on. Without a recording of the entire tour to make it real for the reader all I can do is my best on a couple of the stories.

To give some background, Real City Tours doesn't just do tours, they are part of this Barrio and invest in it. From murals to buildings they take proceeds from the tour to help in the transformation and have been doing it for years. They have a more intimate relationship with this community than I would have believed. The tour was led by Pablo and he had with him a community outreach liaison. I can't remember her actual title but that is close.

Years ago her mother started an ad-hoc kindergarten for any and all the kids in the Barrio which allowed their parents to go to work. Her efforts were instrumental in helping rebuild the community. Real City tours commissioned a mural of her mother and when a real kindergarten was built it was named after her. Today her daughter is taking up the lead role as the spokeswoman for the Barrio and works with the local governments to direct funds to where it is needed most. When the city was going to invest in street lamps and roads she fought against it and insisted that what they really needed was a community center. Today the community center is used constantly (except during Covid times) for learning, training, studying, arts etc. and is the center of the community. This was clearly one her biggest accomplishments.

Years before this new community center was built Real City Tours provided money for the construction of a small community center and with the help of students from a German Architecture school it was built. These students come every year and do a project. One year they built the center, the next they built concrete steps up to a previously difficult path to the homes up the hill.

I will sum up 6 hours of lectures on Medellin history: Medellin grew and it was ok. Then armed conflicts arose throughout the countryside. Many fled these areas and settled on the outskirts of Medellin and they came in waves over the course of decades of conflict. Houses were built, shacks were built, no plans were submitted, no planning was done. It was a mess. Medellin government leaders attempted to help and made some things worse and other things better. Pablo discussed it all.

The rain came hard and heavy for a few minutes and we sheltered under a roof overhang on a man's porch. I stood next to the homes owner who sat in a folding chair. He was a large and serious man and though older I felt a strong desire to stay on his good side. Pablo spent the time talking about the delicate relationship between the government and this Barrio. The gruff large man then went into his house and brought out an enormous hand painted protest banner which was used in a protest earlier that day which said "Major of Medellin - Leave us Alone." As the rain cleared and we walked on, Pablo told us he was the man who built the sewer system for the entire Barrio and unnecessarily told us that you don't want to mess with him.

We ended the tour on the top of a hill. Many years ago the hill was actually a lagoon that had been filled in and then raised up by trash. This hill was the initial focus of the transformation with the plan to relocate all of the people who had built homes upon it though some remain to this day. The rain started again as we trekked to the top on concrete steps and arrived at a small shack. The patio was crowded with motorcycle police officers escaping the rain and intently playing games on their phones. Their green dual sport bikes stood parked exposed on the grass in front and across the level field was a large greenhouse filled with flowers, plants and succulents. I took a picture of the logo on one of their helmets but asked before I did. It was a good day.

Final note. Pablo told the story of COVID in the Barrio. As I, and many others predicted, COVID restrictions would impact the poor disproportionately and if actually implemented would kill many times more people than COVID ever could. While "good" liberals, who still bizarrely believe that their policies are compassionate, were at home collecting pay checks and telling everyone to stay at home, members of this Barrio were waving red flags from atop their trash hill to the cars below trying to tell the world that they were starving to death. Later the Barrio en masse revolted against the restrictions and saved themselves. Thank God.

Medellin Comuna 13

Michael and I headed up to Comuna13 to check it out. He had been multiple times so we didn't hire a tour guide. We took an Uber but he let us off far from the start. As we walked a young lady passed and Michael asked for directions. She brushed him off and kept walking. Michael asked again, she stopped, talked with Michael briefly and then walked with us the 2 or so kilometers to the start of Comuna13. Michael tipper her COP 20,000 for her 30 minutes of guiding.

I basically looked at amazing murals and walked up windy streets with vendors and ongoing tours all around me.

We stopped for a bit at an art studio. I loved the painting featured on this post. I looked into buying the original which after a phone call to the artist I was quoted COP 8,000,000. I was very tempted but left with just a print of it done on canvas for COP 15,000.

Medellin Fruit Tour

This is my second walking tour with Real City Tours and the one I was most excited about. I met Tim on my first walking tour and I talked him into doing the Fruit tour with me.

Not exactly what I hoped for. I imagined new delicious fruits I have never tasted before. Reality is that I already have access to most of the best tasting fruits on the planet, these are just the ones that not enough people like to justify mass production.

I took the metro to the closest stop to Plaza Minorista and walked the 1/2 mile through some pretty tough areas. Some areas had small clumps of drug addicts, but most were industrious people trying to make a living. The first area of work was three blocks of motorcycle repair shops who did all of the work right on the sidewalk. Then I passed a few blocks of ornamental iron workers fabricating, welding and painting metal door and window frames on the sidewalk. Everything was on the sidewalk.

Met our tour guide and Tim at Plaza Minorista and started the 1.5 hour tour. The highlight for me was the arepas which is not a fruit. By a large margin it was the best arepa I ate during my trip and besides being round and containing corn it had nothing in common with any other arepa.

Near the end of our tour our guide asked me my impression of the market. I said it was surprisingly clean and empty. He said "exactly - that is why we do our tours here and not at the larger more popular markets. We do them here to help bring people back to this market." He then told the history of this market which for a time was extremely dangerous. Criminals had taken over the market under a protection racket and those vendors who didn't pay were gunned down which included the nearby shoppers. Over time the Plaza degenerated and most avoided it. Some years ago the vendors pulled together and formed a collective that repelled the criminals, convinced the police department to construct a police station inside of the market, added security cameras and made sure it was clean. It's like Detroit.

After the tour I asked our guide where to go for lunch. He directed us to a fish place in the basement where I finally was able to try sancocho soup. The soup was good and large and served with a huge chunk of catfish.

Medellin by ATV - video

I found this option while re-booking my trip and looking up more things to do. Ride ATV's in the mountains around Medellin - seemed like a great plan.

I ended up booking it right through the Charlee Hotel's best concierge lady, Daniela. Michael went with me and it was all that I hoped for.

It was a 40 minute drive and right near the airport (one of the pics below actually shows the planes parked at MDE airport - we were a few hundred yards away!). I set the ride length at 2hours and they recommended a complete change of clothes from head to toe.

I loved every minute. It helped to have 15 years of motorcycling experience but I think the one day I went snowmobiling in the mountains of Tahoe helped even more. "Always stand up, never slow down, and use your body to steer." was my "friend's" primary instructions. I hated that day because "my friend" expected me to drive his new snowmobile up and down the side of a forested mountain perfectly - routes that had taken him many hours to master. After 3 hours of treacherous riding and constant verbal abuse, 2 sprained wrists and 1 run in with a tree I gave up in protest. Riding an ATV was easy compared to that.

We arrived at the ATV staging house and quickly signed a release form, put on the jacket, gloves and helmet, listened to the 2 minute summary of ATV controls and we were off.

I had to hold the camera in one hand and drive with the other so I couldn't film me riding the more challenging areas. The best one being the steeper-than-it-looks watery hill climb which I did film Michael doing. I stood up and gunned it until I reached the top and had a huge smile the whole time.

Other photos from the day

Medellin El Centro Walking Tour

I booked a walking tour with Real City Tours. The tour is around El Centro and lasts about 3.5 hrs.

I took the metro for the first time to the meeting place in El Centro. I can't believe my buddy has been to Medellin 4 times and has yet to go on it. I love anything on tracks so I jumped at the chance.

Colombia's metro is strikingly clean and barren. Every stop, every car looks brand new with virtually no signage. After riding on mass transportation in many countries and cities I have never seen anything like it. The stops did have a couple of ad banners but the cars had none. Virtually no signs of any kind - no graffiti, no ads, no maps, no safety messages, nothing. I did eventually find two very small stickers: one was instructions on releasing a lever, and the one I think was the car number. There were, however, hundreds of stickers of shoe prints on the floor indicating where to stand. I assumed it was due to the COVID but because they were about 24" apart they made me smile.

I was the first one to arrive and met my guide, Hernan. Two other off-duty guides started with us as well and though they mentioned that they would be leaving didn't do so until late in the tour. I think they just really liked their job.

Hernan is highly educated with various degrees in science and art. He epitomized for me what "highly educated" used to mean: a combination of intelligence, study and wisdom. No mental gymnastics to contort reality by changing definitions or swapping exceptions for the rule. Just highly informed knowledge. I could listen to Hernan for days.

He delivered a vivid retelling of Medellin's history. More than that he was passionate and proud of his City and multiple times I even became a little verklempt. He repeated his stated goal of providing an honest history of the City with "warts and all" a few times during the tour and he definitely achieved it. I left with a very different view of Medellin and a desire to learn more.

I will try retelling one of his simpler informative stories as both an example and the one that may best epitomize Medellin culture. For context our group is standing in front of the former judicial building in the middle of a pedestrian only intersection surrounded by street vendors. (I have a picture of the area below).

Hernan talking to the group.

These now pedestrian roads used to be for cars but long ago one street vendor pushed his cart further out into the road which restricted normal traffic. When no one stopped him he told his friends to join him and together they pushed their carts until all traffic stopped and it became pedestrian only. It just happened, no ordinance no variance, and this all happened directly in front of the court house.

Imagine this line running down the center of this now pedestrian road is the dividing line between legal and illegal. In many cultures you have comfort in standing here, on the legal side, and you know exactly where the line is that you shouldn't cross. However, in Medellin, we are very comfortable doing the salsa all day long directly on the line. (Hernan now doing a very good salsa on the line). In the remaining two weeks of my trip whenever I would be confused by Colombian culture I would recount Hernan's tale and it all somehow made sense.

I tried an empanada and a bunuelo for the first time in Medellin during the tour. Hernan agreed with me that the empanada I got wasn't right but I did like the bunuelo. I was one bite into the bunuelo, which was an amazing semi-sweet doughnut thing, when an older needy lady approached. I quickly gave her the second uneaten empanada and after a few seconds handed over the rest of the bunuelo. I hope she enjoyed it because it was the only one I had the whole trip!

I also met Tim, blue shirt and black backpack shown below. We exchanged numbers and ended up doing the Barrio tour together.

I thought I took more photos. I get better.

Medellin Dentist & Pulpo

First full day started with breakfast at Charlee's, which I would do every day of my stay mostly because it was included but it was also pretty decent food with an incredible view.

Charlee's open-air restaurant was located next to the lobby with seats fronting the narrow street and sidewalk. I sat, and would always sit, closest to the sidewalk in the seat giving me the best view of Parque Lleras. From there I watched students, joggers, dog walkers, street cleaners and young women in yoga pants on their way to the gym. But there were also the street vendors and I would learn that they never sleep. Candy, Colombian soccer jerseys, hats, homemade deserts, and donation requests for homeless Venezuelans are mercilessly offered 24/7 to gringos. The restaurant at 5 feet above ground level and separated by 3 feet of shrubbery and a metal railing was no deterrent to their overtures.

I ordered Tipico Aburra which was the only meal I never had an interest in trying again. No complaints just nothing special and it was confirmation on how few spices are used in Colombia.

Then I was off to see Juan Carlos, the Dentist. I took a cab up a steep and windy road. San Francisco has quite a few roads like that. Medellin has many more. The office was in a large commercial complex anchored by the city's main grocery store chain, Carulla, which I would end up going to many times.

The office and staff were professional and I was promptly seated in the dentists chair. Hard not to like Juan. He was jovial, professional and spoke English well. He quickly rejected my previous dentists' claim that I needed two crowns. He agreed that one tooth required a crown but the second simply needed a filling - a crown for the second was overkill. Meticulous and thorough Juan worked on me for next 3.5 hours.

I was very hungry and restless when I left and I didn't have a plan for lunch. Bad idea. I Uber'd back down the hill and went to the only place I knew, Mondongo's, for the second time in two days. I didn't have a meal lined up and couldn't get the wifi to work in order to see the menu so I panicked and ordered their namesake soup: Mondongos soup. Which is tripe soup, which I did know going in.

I ate 10 bites quickly and I thought 'this isn't so bad - maybe I like tripe'. When I tried to continue I found I couldn't. I had reached my tripe limit. I worked my spoon in vain trying to gather anything other than tripe but it had been diced so small my efforts were futile. If you like tripe my guess is that you would love this soup. For those, like me, all you need is a few bites and you will end up paying your bill and leaving most of it behind.

After a quick stop at the Hotel to freshen up and charge my iPhone I was off to get complete dental X-rays at the mall. Juan Carlos Juan Carlos armed me with the order form and directions - "it is across from the McDonald's". X-rays cost me $23. So hard not to repeat "Juan Carlos".

I had no plans after that so I walked around the mall. I came across a brightly lit cell phone repair shop and I stopped, it was time. My iPhone 6s needed a new battery 3 years ago and if I wanted any photos of this trip past the first 30 minutes of leaving my hotel I needed to do it. I dropped the phone off and was told to come back in 1.5 hours. I walked the mall again. Then I walked around the outside of the mall. What to do? I paid for a mani-pedi to the delight of two smiling ladies and for the next hour they worked hard while they pointed and laughed at me. I had no idea what they were saying but I did convince a third lady to take a photo of the session and text it to me. Near the end, the pedi lady rested her arms and sighed, wiped the sweat off her brow and pointed at my size 15 feet with her 18 inch industrial file and shook her head with a "what the hell" expression. I don't do this very often so I tipped them both equally and generously. I walked back and picked up my iPhone with my glistening fingernails and was satisfied with my day. And I still had dinner.

Tonight was to be my first fancy dinner and it would end up being my favorite meal of the entire trip - if not life. The Carmen's five course tasting menu.

First dish was ceviche with tigers milk paired with a southern French sparking wine. The tiger's milk was a dusting of frozen cream. I have never seen anything like it, I don't how they did it and it was the coolest thing I have seen a chef do in some time. Imagine a superfine dusting of frozen cream. Best ceviche ever.

Second dish was pulpo (octopus), unusually small potatoes and Colombian sour cream paired with a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Very good. Second best pulpo after the one I ate in Italy.

Then came the seabass with panko butter topping and topped again with dollops of butter on a bed of buttered noodles in a veggie broth with house bread and sour cream paired with another white wine. I sent the white wine back before it was poured in favor of an Argentinian Malbec which was perfect. Seabass was amazing. And buttery.

Next was pork belly with black kale and sweet potato puree paired with a young "but bold" Italian red as described by my waiter. Wine was great. Pork belly was good and the black kale was amazing.

To end the meal I was served loganberry and mango ice creams with a Colombian white chocolate over powdered tapioca and lychee sauce and strawberries. I had been concentrating on my waiter's every word throughout the meal and while I sat back proud of myself for understanding any of it he started describing the paired cocktail. Though the description was even longer I spent most of it trying to catch up and was left with only one comprehensible word - "hibiscus". Possibly rum with fruit juice - no idea? Cocktail was good and I wasn't that impressed with the desert at first but it just kept getting better with each bite. Ended up loving it.

I could have easily gotten some of the descriptions wrong. Example: I checked the loganberry ice cream and on their website which says blackberry.

All this for $74. My most expensive meal in Medellin and definitely a top 10 meal of all time. For me this was the perfect place. Great atmosphere, great food and nothing needlessly complicated. I would put Carmen's up against any restaurant.

After dinner I went walking around Parque Lleras. It is not what I would call a family-friendly area. I went to a bar which was filled with attractive young women with unusually large features. All were very keen to have men buy them a drink (this is how they are allowed into the bar) and all were working hard to get into to your hotel room. I was talked into buying one drink for a lady, bought a coke for myself and then went home - alone.

Medellin Day 1

Dedicated to those you keep asking me for Medellin updates...

The trip started in the dentist's chair and a $3.8k quote to fix two crowns. Teeth didn't hurt so I decided it was best to wait.

A few months later a friend told me he gets all his dental work done in Medellin Colombia. Odd choice I thought but I was intrigued. I started looking at flights, hotels and the City but I hadn't quite pulled the trigger.

The following week at a fancy restaurant my buddy and I had dinner with six very attractive ladies. One was my best friend who sat beside me.

"So how is everything going?" asks Liz
"Great! I am really excited about possibly going on a trip to South America to get my teeth fixed" Dan
"Me too, except the teeth part. So where are you going" Liz
"Colombia" Dan
"Me too. But what city?" Liz
"Medellin" Dan
"Me too. What dates?" Liz
"Last two weeks of March" Dan
"Me too." Liz

Then we rejoiced over many glasses of wine and I was booking the trip before my hangover was over.

March comes and my dentist in Medellin, Juan Carlos (real name and hard not to repeat), emails me to say his country and his office is closed. I gloomily stood at my window with my packed bag sitting anxiously by the door and watched the mindless running to buy toilet paper. Their idiocy scared the shit out of me so bag and I escaped to Puerta Vallarta instead.

However my Medellin flight and hotel were non-refundable - so I waited. On November 6th I learned my dentist buddy was on his way to the airport and hadn't told me Colombia was open!! I spent the rest of the weekend re-booking my trip and would be on the plane four days later.

Jay, my new co-worker, drove me to the airport. Airport seemed empty but as I walked in a decent crowd had formed at the entry point to Spirit's queue ropes. Every person was busy filling out forms. Shit, I must have missed something - but what? I had checked both embassy websites and both government websites for Covid restrictions. Last week I would have still had to do the PCR test and also download a Covid app to track my movements but that was all gone. The only thing I had was the printed copy of my Colombia immigration form which couldn't be it because there were like 400 warning and notifications insisting that this must be done online and prior to arrival at the airport. Nope. That was what everyone was doing. I wiggled past the blockage and zoomed through the post and rope queue to the empty counters at Spirit and was on my way. Almost.

Dan and Jay

For some reason my Trusted Traveler number didn't register with Spirit so at TSAPre security I was shuffled to the regular line. I moped slowly down the sad line watching those in front take off their shoes and belts and then I remembered all those free agents waiting for people to fill out their forms. I stopped - gosh darn it I am better than this and people like me. I walked back to the Spirits counters and the nice lady went to work. She tried the TT number again but it failed. I then showed her my Global Entry card and she used the number from that and it worked!! I headed back and proudly showed the same TSAPre agent my new approved creds. We talked for a bit because he really wanted to know how I managed to do as it happens a lot and he doesn't know how to help anyone. If you want TSAPre get a Global Entry card and take it with you. I felt like a pro.

Ate some Cuban deep fried bread things at the Fort Lauderdale airport and waited for my now much shorter flight due to my recent move to the East coast.

Landing in Colombia's MDE airport I grabbed my bags and made a rookie mistake. Possibly two. But actually three. I am skeptical of the first gauntlet of transporters trying to grab my bags as it is almost always the most expensive way to get from the airport to your hotel. So I wrestled my bags free and called an Uber. Like an idiot I then waited on the wrong level, with my nearly dead phone for my unknown-at-the-time illegal Uber driver. I know better than to wait at arrivals for Uber. I had checked on the legality of Uber and knew It was once illegal but a recent article had said it was back to being legal. I also really need a new phone or at least a battery upgrade. I have been living with a 30 minute lifespan phone for far too many years.

I realized my level error with 8% battery life and ran up the stairs. I called another Uber and was on the road with 1% left. I didn't find out Uber was still illegal for another 3 days.

First glimpse of Medellin

I checked in to the Charlee Hotel and walked to my first meal. I had planned to be eating Ajiaco soup at Mondongos by 4:30pm but I still made it before 5pm. The soup was amazing!! Chicken soup and fresh amazing avocados - I loved it. The slight extra work of picking out both restaurant and entree is absolutely worth it.

Ajiaco soup at Mondongos

Arepas: See the white round disk at soup's 1 o'clock. That is an arepa. I would later ask a few locals and tourists "Who invented arepa's? Why do they exist? And can they be stopped?" Everyone laughs and wholeheartedly agrees that they are terrible and inedible. I love corn, which is their primary ingredient, but the only way to make these better is to entirely change the recipe. They are hard tasteless cardboard. See more on areapas on the Medellin Fruit tour post.

I met up with my Michael Cheng, dentists buddy, later and we ate doner kebabs near my hotel. Just average and would not go back. But this is where I figured out that Colombians don't eat spicy food. As the trip went on all I can say is that if you ask for hot sauce I have no idea what you will get and only occasionally will you be happy.

It started pouring. Hard. We had plans to hit a few bars but the rain seemed like it could go on for hours. We hoped in an Uber and went to one bar. I of course ate again from a food truck which was a really bad idea and will go down as the worst meal of the trip. Colombians fry everything and their oil had turned rancid.