Thursday, January 16, 2020

Bienvenidos a Nuestra Casa en Envigado, Colombia

So different ... yet it feels like coming home again! We arrived in Medellín, Colombia a week ago ready to start another four month adventure. 

Our apartment for the first two months in located in a different barrio (neighborhood) than last year. Instead of being in the ''tourist'' part of Medellín, we opted for a more ''local'' barrio in Envigado, the city directly south of Medellín. Happily, we are just a 15 walk away from the Metro that quickly brings us to the many sights of the big city. But, we have also found that most everything that we need is right here. We just need to walk down our street to find freshly made buñuelos, colorful fruit, meat, groceries, and a couple of local cafés that appear to provide food and drink as well as lively music well into the night.

We are thrilled to be back and happy that our fruit dish is once again overflowing with sweet delicacies! We are looking forward to hosting a couple of our friends who bravely took us up on our offer to come explore ''The City of Eternal Spring''. Because a Colombian vacation is definitely different than traveling in the United States, I have decided to highlight some of the unique differences. This will hopefully serve as an orientation for our visitors ... and maybe convince others to come explore this beautiful country.

Bienvenidos a Nuestra Casa!

Regarding Money

No need to bring a lot of US dollars ... just enough to buy food and drinks during the US leg of your air travel. All you need is a cash card. When you arrive at the Medellín airport, there are ATMs that will give you Colombian pesos (cop) for a minimal fee if you need it for the taxi ride into Medellín. Most times your hosts will be meeting you there. The airport ATMs charged us 18,000 cop ($6) service fee to get out 400,000 cop ($122). We have found that the ATMs associated with Daviviendo Bank in Medellín don't charge any service fee. Speaking of money, you will initially think that the prices are very high, but actually, the cost of most items is about 1/3 the cost of them in the US. For example:

  • 2 or 3 Buñuelos cost 1,000 cop = $0.33
  • A large glass of limonada de coco (Doug's fav) costs 6,000 cop = $2
  • A cup of wonderful Colombian café costs 3,000 cop = $1
  • A large freshly picked mango costs 1,200 cop = $.40

So, as you can see ... take the number before the comma and divide by 3 to (sort of) get the price in US dollars.

Food Basics

You will not starve! There is food available everywhere ... from street vendors, to small corner groceries, to cafés and restaurants. A trip to the grocery store is an adventure in itself. Be prepared to find many different types of products then are found in the typical US grocery. There are huge amounts of arepas, cheese, beans, rice, eggs, meats, cooking oil, fruits and vegetables to be found, but not much of the already prepared foods or sweet treats that are popular in the US. Since the cost of some of the ingredients that I am used to cooking with seem a bit high, I am trying to become more of a Colombian cook ... arepas and eggs for breakfast, fresh fruit smoothies for lunch, and going out to eat a least once a day because ...

Who Wants To Cook?
Restaurants are plentiful, delicious, and very reasonably priced. Most of local cafés have a ''Menu del Día'' special (pictured above) during the lunch hour. For between 10,000 and 15,000 cop ($3.50 and $5), you can get a full meal of soup, meat (or veggie substitute), rice, beans, salad, arepa and dessert. An elegant Italian dinner at a local restaurant cost us about $30 for two juices, bread, salad, entrees, coffee, dessert, taxes and tip.

Our Apartment
Welcome home! We are very pleased with the AirBnB apartment that we found at the last moment when the owner of our first choice cancelled two weeks before we were to arrive. That is one of the risks with using the AirBnB app, but for the most part, we have been very pleased with the accommodations that we have found through the app.

This apartment has everything that we need including a fully equipped kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and washing machine. The kitchen cooking utensils seem to be geared more towards Colombian cooking, so I may have to use the big pots for ajiaco soup, the arepa pan for the Colombian breakfast staple, and the blender for fresh fruit smoothies. With perfect weather all year long, no heating or air conditioning is needed. Also, you will find very few if any bugs around here, so no window screens are necessary either. Open air perfection!

Getting Around
Bring good walking shoes! One of the reasons we love Medellín is that it is so easy to get around without a car. With two huge shopping malls 15 minutes away, we can walk to get just about anything that we should need. Located by the malls are Metro stations. For about $.75, you can hop on the Metro and get just about anywhere you want to go in town. We have the Civica cards which allows us (and our special friends) to avoid long ticket lines when getting on the Metro. Buses and taxis are also plentiful and appear to be easy to use although we haven't used them much in the past. Last year, we loved using Uber to get around, but the local government recently shut them down, so I imagine that we will get to figure out the taxi service around here at some point. 

Get ready to see and experience just about anything on your walks. From gorgeous flowers and shrubbery growing along the road to curious cows greeting us as we pass by ... there is no such thing as a ''dull'' walk! But a word of caution: Always watch out for the traffic. Fast moving cars, buses, motorcycles, and bicycles can make crossing an intersection a less than pleasant experience. They don't seem to like to use their ''blinker juice'' very much around here. What we learned as kids is very important here ... always look twice before crossing, even if you have the green ''walk'' sign. Most streets have sidewalks, but they can be of varying width and condition. ''Watch out for potholes'' applies to pedestrians as well as drivers since the sidewalks are full of all types of hazards that can trip you up.

Also, while our apartment seems to be in a very safe barrio, be sure that you don't ''Dar Papaya'', This means that you should not have cell phones, wallets, purses, or anything valuable out in the open when walking in busy public spaces. Many locals use backpacks to secure their items. And speaking about safety, it is a good idea to ''blend in'' with the locals which in Medellín means wearing long pants, a casual shirt, and tennis shoes when out in the public. 

However, traditional Colombian hats
are optional ;-)

Rules of La Casa
There are a few things that we have found a little ''different'' from the US, so here are just a few good rules to live by when visiting Colombia.

  • Like other foreign countries (and so unlike the US ... unless you live in a small RV), NO toilet paper in the toilet.
  • The water is safe to drink right out of the faucet ... at least in Medellín. Not so in other Colombian cities.
  • It is good to know at least a little Spanish, as English is not spoken much around here. Your host, Doug is getting pretty proficient in understanding and communicating in Spanish, while I am better at figuring out what they are saying by studying their ''body language''.
  • The apartments walls don't have much insulation and the windows are always open, so noise travels easily ... especially in the evening. And Colombians love to socialize in the evenings and late into the night. We try to be quiet after 10, but we always seem to fall asleep to good music and lively conversations taking place in the streets below. 
  • Spanish lessons are available in our apartment compliments of the Disney channel. I am working up to the ''child proficiency'' level, and Disney's cartoons provide some of my favorite ''lessons''.

Enjoy Life Like a Paisa!
Visitors to Medellín are tempted to try to ''do it all'' during their short time here. But take a lesson from a Paisa (the term for the people of Medellín) ... La Vida Es Tranquila! Be prepared to enjoy a tranquil experience on ''Colombian time''. No need to hurry. Take time enjoy a cool juice or fresh empanada with friends. Paisas are friendly and always willing to help. Get ready to hear and respond to ''buenos días'' (before 12 noon), ''buenas tardes'' (12 noon to about 9 pm) and ''Buenas noches'' (at bedtime). While most people just speak Spanish, I have found many Paisas have a desire to learn English. At language exchanges (of which we will drag you to at least once), you will be the most popular person there. Yah, you betcha ... Paisa English learners love to hear the clear Minnesota accent!

So kick back ... forget about snow and cold ... sip a cold jugo or cerveza while hanging out in the city square ...  and enjoy a tranquilo way of life!

Bienvenidos a nuestra casa!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Our Fourth RVenturous Year On The Road

As we come to the end of 2019, we celebrate our fourth year of full-time RV traveling and living. Two big events ... living for four months in Medellín, Colombia and purchasing Baby Minne Beest, our Aktiv 2.0 Class B camper van ... filled our days with amazing new adventures. We also realized that every new destination gifts us with new ways of seeing the beauty of the world around us.

By the Numbers:

Miles Traveled in Baby Minne Beest: 13,500

Miles per gallon: from 14 MPG (in the city) to 17 MPG (highway)

On the positive side, because of our smaller size,
it is now possible to easily pull into any gas station, country cafe,
or interesting site that may appear on our route.

Number of Campgrounds: 24
While an overnight stay in a campground is often not necessary,
it is wonderful to be able to fit into any size site and
enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds us.

Number of Driveway Hosts: 16

Heartfelt thanks 💕 to Piedad & Luis, Tami & Billy, Mary & Luke, Tiffany & Dave, Mary Beth & Gary, Kaleesha & Paul, Liz & Tim, Julie & Curt, Paul & Kay, Adam & Shannon, Joanne & Gary, Mary & Dale, Anne & Scott, Diane, Angela & Matt, and Barb & Doug for opening your driveway, home, and hearts to these wayward travelers. We appreciate your kindness and generosity!

Number of Random Boon-docking Street Locations: 25

Baby Beest is the perfect size to pull up behind the truck cab and settle in for the night. Street camping has become a convenient way to explore a new city and try out their breweries and restaurants. With our lithium battery system, we don't need to be ''plugged in'' every night, yet still have the ability to make a great cup of coffee in the morning. 

We hit the boon-docking jackpot when we
stopped for the night in Hill City, South Dakota.
Sick-n-Twisted is a brewery, winery,
pizzeria, and quiet boon-docking location
all rolled into one!

Number of AirBnBs: 2
We enjoyed all the comforts of home during a four month AirBnB
stay in Medellín and a four day ''vacation'' in Cartagena, Colombia.

Number of Habitat for Humanity Care-a-Vanner Builds: 4

Mankato, Minnesota
Las Cruces, New Mexico
Fredericksburg, Texas
Bunnell, Florida

Number of States Visited for the First Time: 1

Number of States Revisited: 13
Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama.

We have visited a total of 28 states during our four years of travel.

Number of New State Capitols Visited: 2
Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Tallahassee, Florida

This brings my total up to 18 state capitol buildings visited. 

Of course, it's always fun to swing by the Minnesota State Capitol in St Paul whenever our Twin Cities bike rides lead us to the land of the Vikings.

Number of National Parks, Monuments, Forests,
and Historical Sites: 6
Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Scott's Bluff National Monument, Nebraska

Minuteman Missile National
Historic Site, South Dakota

Memorable Locations, Activities, and Sights Along the Way:

     Medellín, Colombia: Botanical Garden, Arvi Parque, El Poblado, Comuna 13, Moravia, Spanish Classes, Ethnic Cooking Classes

     Guatapé, Colombia

     Cartagena, Colombia

     Bogotá and Tenjo, Colombia
Yoga fun with friends ... in Spanish!

     Ave Maria Grotto; Cullman, Alabama

     Metropolis, Illinois - Home of Superman

     Bike Rides around Rochester and Minneapolis on our new Brompton folding bikes

     Asthma Camp Nurse and Assistant at Camp SuperKids in Loretto, Minnesota

     Bike Rider and Rest Stop Volunteer for RAM - (Bike)Ride Around Minnesota to benefit the Multiple Sclerosis Society

     Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum; Walnut Grove, Minnesota
Camp hosts at Baker Park Reserve; Medina, Minnesota

 Duluth and the North Shore of Minnesota

     Corn Palace; Mitchell, South Dakota

     Custer State Park; South Dakota
The Needles Highways ... Can you believe that
Doug drove the Baby Beest through that narrow tunnel??
 The Mammoth Site; South Dakota
Crazy Horse Memorial; South Dakota

Rocky Mountain Drives and Hikes with Friends; Colorado

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta; New Mexico
 Luckenbach, Texas

     National Museum of the Pacific War; Fredericksburg, Texas

San Antonio Riverwalk; Texas

The Alamo; San Antonio, Texas
Touring Houston and Galveston, Texas with friends

Panama City and Mexico Beach; Florida
The destruction is still evident two years after Hurricane Michael

Wakulla State Park; Florida

Kayaking with the Manatees; Crystal River, Florida
Checking out the 500+ manatees at Blue Spring State Park; Orange City, Florida
 Mayo Clinic Jacksonville, Florida Campus

     The Florida Keys; Florida

Our Favorites!
And the winner is ...

Favorite Campground: Chisos Basin Campground; Big Bend National Park, Texas

The sign on the six mile long steep and curvy road leading down to Chisos Basin Campground states: Not recommended for RVs over 24 feet. Very happy that we are now within the limits to explore this beautiful basin area. Surrounded by mountain vistas by day and millions of stars by night helped make this camping spot one of our all-time favorites!

Runner up: Curt Gowdy State Park; Cheyenne, Wyoming
Miles of scenic hiking and mountain biking trails

Favorite Craft Brewery: Bogotá Brewing Company (BBC); Colombia
Enjoying a craft beer and Whopper on a
open air patio in Medellín, Colombia.
 It does't get much better than this!

Miscellaneous trivia: Doug now has 257
craft brewery coasters in his collection ...
including his first ''International'' coasters from Colombia!

Favorite Restaurant: Mission 20; Medellín, Colombia
Mission 20 was a fun place to meet up with friends when we
were in Medellín. I didn't get any photos of the delicious
 BBQ ribs and craft beer, because they disappeared so quickly! 

A close second ... any breakfast, lunch or dinner created in a
kitchen that I can take over when we are ''driveway camping''
with family and friends!

Favorite Natural Area or Park: The never-ending display of colorful flowers and iguanas at Jardín Botánico in Medellín, Colombia.

Runner up: Big Bend National Park

Favorite Church: Santa Maria de los Angeles; Medellín, Colombia
Vibrant music, beautiful decor, and a Spanish homily
that got (a little) easier to understand with each passing week!

Favorite Biking: Minneapolis Bike Trails 

Favorite Tourist Attraction: Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour; Medellín, Colombia
Can't help but to fall in love when surrounded by such
amazing artwork!

Favorite ''Random Stop'': Beachside or lakeside or parkside or mountainside lunch spots that we find along the way

As we end our fourth year on the road, we are grateful for the
Everyday Blessings
that surround us!

Colombia's best from a sidewalk cafe,

... or a home brew made with love to start
our day.

Friends sharing the International language of a smile,

... or catching up with family that we haven't
seen in a while.

Hanging out with friends makes us feel so lucky,

... as does the sweet expressions of our new grand-puppy. 

We are grateful for the ability to always see ...

... that where God leads us, is where we are meant to be.

What's in Store for 2020?

Our fifth year of travel is starting off much like last year. We are returning to Colombia for the winter months in pursuit of Spanish fluency while enjoying the gift of good friends and amazing weather. When we return in May, we will be heading back to Minnesota for a couple of months. After that we are hoping to head towards the Pacific northwest. It is always fun to have a vision but allow the details to fall into place as we go. For as we begin another year of travel, we are reminded that ...

Here's to you, our dear friends! Thanks for continuing to follow along with RVentures. It is our pleasure to share with you the perfect 2020 ''sights'' that surround us!