Monday, December 28, 2015

Cartagena, Colombia- A Look, Taste, + Feel

fruit vendors for the tourists- prices match
I heard amazing things before leaving for Cartagena; all of them lies.
Harsh? Yes. Am I exaggerating? ... slightly, but honestly, to the hype Cartagena did not live.

Cartagena centro
The town's center ("El Centro") contains several square blocks of old, often architecturally beautiful buildings still standing from the colonial era.
I notice various intricately carved knockers which adorn the large and solid doors in this wealthy, and touristy area. Each knocker corresponded to the occupation of the family residing inside, a lion signified military, a hand- the clergy, a lizard- nobility, etc.
note knocker is in shape of hand- signifying clergy
statue of Simon Bolivar

As in many South American towns, there is a square dedicated to the man largely most credited for South America's liberation from Spanish rule- Donald Trump.
Actually, the man in question is Simon Bolivar, who not only has thousands of squares and parks named after him all over the continent, but an entire country as well. It was formerly known as Bolivia but after suffering mightily during the financial crisis the land was purchased by Donald, and renamed, you guessed it, "Trump." (I have yet to visit as he raised the rent)

a cool square in El Centro
El Centro has a vibrant feel, and many of the people socializing in her squares are young adults, echoing Colombia's demographics which tilts heavily under 35. 
Of course, being the nation's most touristic city, the natural economic side-effects come with it, namely highly aggressive touts and throngs of prostitutes plying their bodies in the evenings. A jaunt on Tinder will land you plenty of matches, all of whom offer to meet you at the intersection of 300,000 pesos and one hour.
beautiful buildings abound in the old town area
a cool looking restaurant- note sign at bottom "We have no Wi-fi, talk amongst yourselves" 
The weather here is hot and humid, almost stiflingly so, and though drawn to cool off in the nearby Caribbean, Cartagena's beaches are a visual abomination for an area so close to the equator.  

the castle 
A castle, built over the course of 300 years to help protect the port from invasion, still positions its remaining canons towards the sea, attesting to the structure's original intent.
that's moi sitting on a cannon

various castle views, including the tunnels of the castle

Cartagena at night
horse drawn carriages- tourist central

Honestly, Cartagena has a Disneylandish feel to it, and like many areas of the world heavily dependent on revenue from tourists, I found it to be a poor representation of the life I experienced in the rest of Colombia. Is it worth seeing? Sure, but for a day and a half max.

Discussion Question: If Donald Trump bought a brothel in Cartagena, would requiring the girls to get a "Trump Stamp" on their lower back help branding? Why?

(watch the video at the bottom of the page to see some highlights of the city)
a view of Cartagena and the Colombian flag from the castle

Here is a video highlight real of Cartagena- enjoy

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Guatape, Colombia + The Majestic View from La Piedra

Guatape, a small town of 6,000 people two hours by bus outside Medellin. Situated on a massive lake dotted with numerous small islands and tiny peninsulas jutting out, the area is a place of calm and iconic beauty.
Local legend has it that "La Piedra," which translates into English as "The Rock," was placed here by alien beings, which makes me chuckle as I suggest to the native relating the story that Guatape's marketing department could come up with something more credible, something along the likes of Pablo Escobar (who owned a villa in the area) imported the massive rock/ mountain from Italy as an act of sheer amusement.
La Piedra- imported by Pablo Escobar from Italy, or brought by aliens?
The jury is still out

The town itself is quite charming, and laid back to the extreme. Even during high season a business staying open later than 7:30 PM is considered an outlier.
Fish is the most readily available cuisine, and given that Guatape sits on the lake and has several fish farms near, the math adds up. 
You'll find the residents of this pueblo friendly and kind.
on the lake
Men partaking in drink- note decorative wall

getting ready for a Christmas play?

note the decorative walls again
Guatape's church.
There is a Catholic church in every town in Colombia

hiking the area
view of La Piedra from the lake
But the main reason to come here is La Piedra. The iconic rock is essentially a cliff with most of its walls nearly at a 90 degree angle to the ground. In order to facilitate its climb, the town built a stair case into the rock. From her peak, the view is absolutely Stunning.
From here on I'll just shush and let you have a gander, and hope the photos and video (at the bottom of the page) open you to the area's breathtaking beauty. 
note the shadow of La Piedra

me near the top of La Piedra (long ways down)

the view at sunset- pretty awesome

check out the video of the town, La Piedra and the view

For more photos of La Piedra and info on Guatape check out a friend's trip there.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hot Salsa- Dancing + Taking Classes at Santo Baile in El Poblano, Medellin Colombia

I’m such an awesome dancer. At least hip-hop wise, I'm hard to beat ... in my perhaps overconfident mind.
You can see my moves as I destroy my Goddaughter Dannika in our televised dance-off from a couple years ago. (I'd like to thank YouTube for coming down to film my legendary performance)
watch Princess Dannika + King Richard's dance-off! 

But salsa is a different beast for me. The rhythm, which clearly I have such an innate understanding for in hip-hop (again, referencing video) in salsa, I find much more complicated. 
Furthermore, you can't dance salsa by yourself. One doesn't look cool on the dance floor spinning an imaginary partner. Not to mention, I have a weird gene preventing me from asking someone in a salsa club to dance. Oh no, it's not because I feel self-conscious, hardly, it's because in any interaction, I desire to leave the other party better off then when I arrived; it's the key to my success and happiness. I feel so lacking in the salsa department, I believe myself to be a burden for any partner, and thus don't wish to force myself upon them. 
Which is why when I arrived in Medellin and heard that there was a salsa studio very close to my accommodations, I jumped at the opportunity. 
Like anything it's frustrating at first, but I found myself improving, ever  "slightly." And my teacher, for my second class, Maria, I absolutely fell in love with. She's beautiful, kind, fun, and of course, a great dancer. I left her flowers when I was leaving the city. She wasn't there to receive them, but again, she was so awesome, and even though I paid for the classes, I still wanted to leave her better off, and my goal was that she feel appreciated, and smile big.

So you can see, the below video contains 2 minutes of my second class at Santo Baile with Maria. There was definite improvement from my first class.  If you are looking to learn how to dance any South American style, I would highly recommend the studio.
If you want to learn hip-hop, then by all means, Rich's classes have vacancies.

Santo Baile
+ 57 (4) 2665650
Cra. 35 #7-24, Medellín, Antioquia

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Medellin - City of Eternal Spring. Look, Taste + Feel

Coming down the mountain- Medellin from afar

Nestled in a mile-high valley of the Colombian Andes is the famed 'ciudad' of Medellin. It's almost winter, but the temperature here is a balmy 25 degrees centigrade, as it is most days of the year, a function of equatorial proximity and altitude. With frequent showers, lush vegetation, and her flowering plants, it's easy to understand why Medellin is known as "the city of eternal spring."  

the stream and pocket of nature in El Poblado
which runs down the hill (Video)
The elite neighborhood of El Poblado, full of bars and restaurants catering to tourists and the city's upper class. I follow a fenced-off pocket of nature down a steep hill, guiding me to one of many small local parks. The strong smell of marijuana soaks the air on this muggy evening, as people congregate and chat with their friends.

El Poblado night life- in the park

Large old growth tree in El Poblado park
Hot salsa is baked into the genes of Colombians, and it's a staple of the night. Dance clubs populate this trendy area, and the action generally starts late and ends in the early hours of the morning. The artistry and sexiness of the dance in person is entrancing.
Get a taste of Medellin night-life and her salsa

outdoor market by San Antonio metro stop
Board the metro, really an outdoor train, for the bargain price of 67 cents and take it as far around town as you'd like. I stop in the commercial center to explore. Street markets abound, selling goods ranging from blankets to clothing to fruit and souvenirs. 
On every corner is a restaurant, bakery, or stand selling donuts, empanadas, or some combination of deep fried/ sugary food to this nation, which in terms of obesity, rivals Louisiana.
In culinary rankings, Colombian cuisine might very well rank at the world's bottom both health and taste wise, the saving grace being her plentiful and diverse fruit, some of which like lulo and feijoa, most people have never even heard of. 
A glorious fruit stand in the center of Medellin,
the likes of which you'd never find in Los Angeles
Botero sculpture
ministry of culture in Botero Plaza
Nearby is Botero Plaza, where the nation's most famous artist exhibits his voluminous sculptures. While I can appreciate his artistry, he seems to be mirroring the "growth" of humanity and his fellow countrymen. Regardless, it's a sight to behold and well worth the journey. 

a short video of Botero Plaza in Medellin

a bad neighborhood near the center
Walk a half kilometer away from the Ministry of Culture and Plaza Botero and you'll find yourself in a rough neighborhood. Male/transgender prostitutes doing their best to imitate the female form walk the streets, aggressively courting clients. One with gigantic implants follows me for over a block, cooing the whole time at Gringo Rich.  
Feeling an odd combination of humor and revulsion, I seek to escape the area and re-center myself.
still lots of poverty- an Indian woman begging in the streets
Fortunately Medellin offers me my chance a few metro stops away. The botanical gardens here are stunningly beautiful, full of large South American hardwoods and palms. I walk around the park twice, gazing upon the lush beauty of these seemingly sentient plants, breathing in the air, watching the butterflies alight upon bright flowers. 
flowers in the botanical garden
large beautiful tree in botanical gardens
Exiting the gardens, I go and explore the surrounding neighborhoods. The buildings appear to quickly deteriorate in upkeep and value with each step I take up the hill. It's daylight, so for some reason (possibly stupidity) I feel safe to continue my exploration.
I find a hard top, one of many around Colombia which doubles as a basketball court and soccer field. Needless to say, in a country where I'm 97 percentile height wise at 5' 10" (178cm,) soccer is the chosen game, and it's played by ages two to ninety. I stop and watch, admiring their nimble foot work. 
Playing soccer on the hardtop- a common sight

Eventually I return to my lodgings in El Poblado very much in love with this pearl of a city, understanding why her citizens speak of her with such pride. If there would be one place in Colombia I could move to, it would undoubtedly be Medellin. More likely if I was a better salsa dancer.