(click here for photos) Greetings from Colombia! I arrived in Bogotá almost three weeks ago and spent a week in the capital city, which is very spread-out relative to Quito. After I recovered from a mild cold (greatly helped by eating plenty of good food, such as a fish stew called ¨sancocho¨ my friend Carlos introduced me to), I went to a game of ultimate frisbee hosted by the couch-surfing (travel enthusiast) community. One of the locals invited me to join an ¨English Club,¨ which was a group of about 40 Colombians who wanted to practice speaking English. I was one of about 3 native speakers there, so we were in high demand to explain the difference between tricky words like cheap, cheat, sheer, and shear. After that, I took a few days to travel by bus through the ¨Zona Cafetera¨, where most of Colombia´s famous coffee is produced. Unfortunately, I don´t drink coffee so I can´t say whether it is really the best in the world. But, I can say that the small towns and people are extremely friendly. On the bus from Ibagué to Armenia, for example, we had to go over a high mountain pass, and a landslide blocked the road for hours. With a large family and crying babies in front of me, and no food for 5 hours, it was very frustrating, but nevertheless the man sitting next to me shared some plantain chips and invited me to stay with his family in the next town, Santa Rosa de Cabal. I accepted, and spent a lot of time learning about his business, which involves shipping garlic and onions from Peru to Venezuela, and hanging out with his 11-year-old son Sebastian. Experiencing family life in Colombia made me think about how some things are really universal across cultures, even if the language isn´t the same. I next spent a couple of nights in Medellín, which used to be famous as the ¨murder capital of the world¨ and the headquarters of international drug lord Pablo Escobar, but now is much safer. I was particularly impressed by their extremely efficient metro system, which connects seamlessly to a cable car leading up into the hills, where a very modern new library with internet access has been built in the midst of what once were slums known as ¨the cradle of assassins¨. Currently, I am in Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast (interesting article about the town here). About a week ago I flew into Cartagena and spent a night in Barranquilla (home of famous pop star Shakira), then started the trek to the Lost City, an archaeological site about 3 days walk inside the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park. Hiking through the forest and along raging rivers (one of which we had to cross by a wobbly cable car) was really an adventure, and I got to see not only the ruins but also many unusual plants, including the famous Coca bush from which cocaine is derived. The indigenous Kogui people were growing it in their backyards, along with Guava and Cacao (chocolate) trees, and banana plants. Also, it was my first time to sleep in a hammock on the trip. I plan to explore the beaches of the nearby Tayrona National Park over the next few days, then fly to Leticia in the Amazon region before crossing the border into Brazil.
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