Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Medellín's Cerro Pan de Azúcar: The Ultimate Walk in the ''Jardín''

Not sure if I want to let our secret out, but we have discovered a hidden gem in the eastern hills of Medellín. Cerro Pan de Azúcar (Sugar Loaf Hill) is the location of one of the city's newest parks ... and has definitely become one of our favorite walks in the ''jardín'' (garden).

Like many of our RVentures, the journey to Cerro Pan de Azúcar is part of the fun. From where we are currently staying, we walk about twenty minutes to the Envigado Metro station and pay our 2355 cop (about $.70 usd) fare to take the subway north to the San Antonio station.

From this central Metro station, we get off and walk east across the street to the Tranvia and head to the Miraflores stop. At Miraflores, we head over to the adjacent Metrocable cars and take them to top of the hill to the 13 de Noviembre stop. Because they don't charge for transfers, this whole trip costs us just the price of the original fare (about $.70 usd).

From there, get ready for some amazing views ... after a short but intense two block hike up a neighborhood street. While we couldn't measure it directly, our friend estimated the street to have a gradient of at least 35%. Yes, the adventure begins!

The street is always bustling with pedestrians, vendors, cars, motorcycles, buses, and garbage trucks all competing for the same space on the very narrow roadway. It is always best to be prepared to jump onto the entryway of one of the homes or businesses, especially when a huge bus or truck is heading your way ... and hope that their engines and brakes are functioning properly!

Once again, the journey is half the fun, as views of everyday paisa life surround you. Make sure you grab a piece of fruit, a fresh-squeezed orange juice, or a hot chicken leg from one of the many little ''tiendas'' (shops) along the road ... you are going to need the calories as you climb the hill.

After the two block urban uphill climb, you will reach a leveling of the road where El Camino de la Vida (the road of life) walkway begins. This paved, relatively flat walkway circles a portion of the hillside. Alongside it you will find colorful gardens of plants and flowers along with entertaining garden displays.

Completed about four years ago, a walk along the flat perimeter of Cerro Pan de Azúcar offers a fairly easy stroll as well as some amazing views of the neighborhoods below.

But for an added challenge with even greater payoff, head to ''La Cima'' (the summit) ... only about 1000 steps to the top!

Yes, you heard right ... 1000+ steps await you, but the rewards will be well worth the effort! The concrete and stone steps lead you by blooming flowers, through pine forests, and past scenic overlooks. Every rest stop (and believe me, you will need a rest stop every now and again) will reward you with magnificent views.

Make sure you stop to admire the flowers, banana trees, and play areas along the way.

And just when you think that you can't climb another step ...

... the summit with its 360 degree panoramic view awaits you!

''La Virgen de la Candelaria'' welcomes you to sit down and relax for a while. Swarms of butterflies dance in the breeze. Flocks of birds glide in the wind currents. The Virgin's shadow cools you off as you enjoy the views of the city below.

The Cerro Pan de Azúcar hike has all the elements that make it a great way to discover the beauty of Medellín. The process of getting there allows you experience three unique types of public transportation for just the cost of a single Metro ticket. The walk through a typical barrio (neighborhood) gives you an ''up close and personal'' look into everyday paisa lifestyles. The hike up to the summit provides a good work-out while rewarding you with amazing views. And the view from the top makes you realize the incredible vastness and beauty of the Aburrá Valley.

So, while I would love to keep the beauty of Cerro Pan de Azúcar a secret ... I really think that it is something that everyone who lives in or visits Medellín should discover. 

The ''ruta de campeones'' (route of champions) is quietly waiting in the eastern hills of Medellín.

Climb a few steps ...

... in order to enjoy the ultimate walk in the ''jardín''!

Monday, February 10, 2020

Back in Our Colombian Groove Once Again

Like this flower child, we are getting back into our Colombian groove once again. Having visitors for the first few weeks set a very fun, yet different pace for us. We kept busy showing them all our favorite Medellín sights. This week we welcomed another friend named Dave to Paisa-land. He is staying with us for a month and, like us, is very interested in improving his Spanish through everyday interactions with the local Paisas. Because of this, we have found ourselves slowing down a little and showing him more of what we love about the ''tranquilo'' daily life in Colombia. 

We are reminded of all the Amor and Pasión that surrounds us as we get back into our Colombian Groove once again!

We have embraced the Paisa philosophy that every great day should start out with café (coffee) and arepas. When we first tried them, we felt that the most popular type of arepa here (made of common cornmeal) was a bit bland. We found it quite comical that the Spanish word for ''bland'' is ''soso'' ... yes, they were quite so-so. But after discovering the arepas de chócolo, we are in arepa heaven ... united with our fellow Paisas in their LOVE of arepas!

Arepas de chócolo start with yellow corn that is ground up and mixed with butter, milk, and SUGAR! The corn is tasty, of course, but the added sugar makes this sweeter version of the traditional paisa arepa our new favorite. Serve this up with queso crema (spreadable cream cheese), fried plantains, and café, and you too will start to feel the Colombian groove.

Hearing the birds singing in the morning sun, Doug steps out on our patio to make his daily weather announcement. ''Wow, it's another nice day!'' Re-energized, we put on our walking shoes and plan our day.

If it's Sunday morning we prepare for an entertaining, people-watching extravaganza ... Ciclovia. Every Sunday, half of Poblado Avenue, the main north-south artery in Medellín, is closed to motorized vehicles from 7 am until 1 pm. Bicyclists, runners, and walkers of all ages claim the space as they celebrate another beautiful day. As we walk the route, talented musicians, cute kids, and adorable puppies keep us entertained. We usually walk about six miles down the Ciclovia route, grab lunch at the food court of one of Medellín's many malls, and hop on the Metro that brings us back home.

Doug's fav food court meal ...
fish, pasta, salad, and mango juice
for 23,000 cop ($6.75) at Montolivo. 

During the week, just a walk to the grocery store, fruit stand, Metro, or Mall easily gives us a step count of 10,000 or more. But more importantly, we easily discover new reasons to embrace this beautiful city.

Fútbol Stars meet Fútbol Hopefuls
as they practice on the canchas de deportes
(sports fields) that seem to be everywhere.

Jungle meets Garden as we pass
tall groves of bamboo trees
and other greenery that line the streets.

Country meets City as a herd of cows
greet us a few blocks from our apartment.

This year we are living in Envigado which is the town just south of Medellín. We continue to be pleasantly surprised at the differences between our current neighborhood and Poblado neighborhood where we lived last year. Poblado seemed very ''touristy'' while Envigado feels much more ''homey''. Smiles and ''buenos días'' replace hurried glances. Small grocers and fruit stands replace huge supermarkets. Family-run diners replace chain restaurants. 

It is always a treat to find a ''menú del día'' special
that many small neighborhood cafés serve up.
For about 13,000 pesos ($3.80 usd),
we are very satisfied and ready for our next activity.

The afternoon sun can be very warm, so we usually return to our apartment for some Spanish studies... and possibly a siesta.

Doug has decided that listening to Spanish YouTube videos produces the best ''bang for the buck'' for him ... and I think (maybe) he might be right. His hours of listening practice has greatly improved his comprehension and speaking skills making him ''el experto'' when talking to waiters and taxi drivers.

But sometimes no amount of Spanish
can help us figure out the confusing maps
that show the many bus routes around town.

My favorite way to learn Spanish is by speaking with locals and by helping them learn English. This method of learning Spanish helps fill our evenings up quite nicely. Once again, we are volunteer English teachers two afternoons a week at San Javier library in the under-served Comuna 13 neighborhood of Medellín. In order to teach English to these beginner students, I need to speak quite a bit of Spanish. The determination of these students to learn English in order to provide a better life for their family helps me to ''buckle down'' on my own studies.

So thankful that we can rely on the universal language of sharing a smile when the exact words may not yet be ''on the tip of our tongues''!  

Many evenings we continue our language practice by attending ''language exchanges''. These usually take place in cafés, hostels, or language schools around town. Local Paisas wanting to speak English as well as visitors like us wanting to speak Spanish meet up to practice the new language as well as learn about each other. Last week I met and talked with a 20-year-old talented photographer and film maker who is going to start a three year program next September in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada. While he was actually quite good with his English skills, he did appreciate me filling him in on the ''beauty'' of a northern winter. I give him a lot of credit ... the thought of possibly experiencing the point where Celsius and Fahrenheit meet at -40 degrees didn't seem to deter him (too) much!

While it is a joy to get to know new people all the time, it is also very special to reconnect with dear friends that we met last year. I appreciate being able to spend time once again with friends like Melissa. She helped me immensely this past year by texting back and forth in Spanish. Her huge hug and heartfelt, ''Bienvenidos, American Mom'' really made me feel like I had come back ''home'' again.

It sure is good to feel the love and passion of our paisa amigos as we get back in our Colombian Groove once again!

Monday, February 3, 2020

Lo Mejor De La Vida Lo Compartimos Con Amigos: Exploring Medellín With Friends

The last two weeks have flown by in a very good way! Visits from our friends, Dave, Mario, and Jill have filled our days with a lot of activity and even more laughter. By introducing them to the amazing sights and beautiful people of Medellín (including the picture above with the artist who created this graffiti art), we have been able to embrace the Spanish title of this blog post ...

We Share the Best of Life with Friends! 

During the time that they were in Medellín, our friends enjoyed some of our old favorites, and we all discovered some new treasures. Completely covering all that we saw and did would result in a very, very long read. Stay tuned for details of some of these new adventures in future blog posts. But for now, I would like to recap a few of the activities that kept us busy, and maybe by the end, you too will realize why .... 

Doug needs a long nap!

Every trip to a new city should begin with a city tour. Real City Tours offered excellent insights into the history, transformation, and current culture of Medellín. This ''free'' tour (they gladly accept tips) around the city center was lead by a local citizen of Medellín or ''paisa'' as they refer to themselves. ''Best of Life'' moments included ...

''Monumento a la Raza''
(Monument to the Race)
The 125 foot tall sculpture recounts
the history of the region's people.

''Parque de las Luces'' (Park of Lights)
The 300 poles of light symbolize the great
transformation of Medellín from a city
of dark violence to a city of bright hope.

The activity and beauty of
Plaza Botero where you can
find 23 of Fernando Botero's
massive sculptures as well as
an empanada or two.

If you research ''what to see and do in Medellín'' on the Internet, two activities stand out ... A visit to Parque Arvi and a day trip to Guatapé. We were happy to once again share these ''Best of Life'' activities with our friends.

Parque Arvi

This very large ecological nature preserve
is located on top of the mountains that
surround Medellín.

Getting to Parque Arvi is half of the fun!
A Metro cable car takes you over some
of the neighborhoods and forested
mountainsides that surround Medellín.

Once you arrive there are many food
stands, nature displays, picnic areas,
 and hiking trails (although with a lack
 of trail signs, it is recommended that
you hire a guide if you want to hike).

Walking down the road, we
came upon the main reason this
park is so busy on the weekends.
A beautiful picnic area surrounding
a creek and small waterfall
provides a relaxing area for
families and friends to gather.

Of course, just like any other place in
Medellín, there are plenty of opportunities
to find traditional Colombian food.
I quickly found my favorite, obleas
which have a sweet arequipe filling between
two thin wafers. Add jam, cheese and coconut
to make this treat even more ''paisa''.

Guatapé and Piedra del Peñol

We were happy to enjoy the colorful town of
Guatapé (located two hours from Medellín)
with both groups of friends.

Climbing up the 700+ stairs to the top
 of Piedra del Peñol (Rock of Peñol) did little to
drain the energy of Dave, our ''Energizer Bunny''.

We all were rewarded with spectacular
views of the reservoir and landscape below.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately),
the rock was closed on the day that
Jill and I visited. No hay problema!

Our extended walk around the pueblo of
Guatapé revealed many colorful treasures ...

and a great view of La Piedra from a distance.

Showing our Friends New Experiences and Everyday Life

Even after living in Medellín for four months last year, there were still plenty of new experiences for us to enjoy with our visiting friends. Some of these experiences deserve a blog entry all their own. But for now, here is a brief summary of why we are grateful to share the ''Best of Life'' with friends.

A walk through our neighborhood
will easily net us fresh avocados and
hot, greasy, oh-so-good buñuelos.

Meals that included beans, rice, chicken,
avocado, plantains, eggs, and arepas
were the typical paisa lunch ...

but a Bogotá Beer Company cerveza and a
Burger King Whopper enjoyed on an open-air
patio nicely capped off one of our busy days.

A trip to Medellín gave our visitors
a great daily step count as we walked
the streets and climbed the stairs ....

but the views from the top of
Cerro Pan de Azúcar (Sugar Loaf Hill) ...

and Cerro de Las Tres Cruces
(Three Crosses Hill) made it well
worth the effort.

A tour of Comuna 13 showed
us how some simple escalators
helped transform a neighborhood ...

and revealed ''angels'' hidden in
its beautiful graffiti art.

During a cooking class, we all helped
prepare a ''paisa'' lunch of patacones,
ajiaco soup, and lulo juice ...

under the patient guidance of
our Paisa chef, Astrid.

We toured churches filled with
ornate art and cascading flowers ...

and enjoyed helado (ice cream)
as well as people-watching in the quaint
town square of Sabaneta.

We learned that our perfect cup of
morning joe starts with hand-picking the
finest beans at the peak of their flavor ...

as we toured a coffee finca (farm)
in the middle of God's country.

We introduced our Spanish-speaking
friends (who happen to speak good English)
to our English-speaking friends
(who do not happen to speak good Spanish)
at a language exchange and shared the
universal language of laughter.

We learned that our
Minnesota friends will embrace
the Colombian rain ...

as much as the Colombian sunshine!

While some of the jungle
hikes were a little more
than I bargained for ...

the chance to see monkeys
in the wild was a definite
highlight for our northern friends!

As their paisa vacation came to a close,
we toasted our friendship ...

with delicious fresh fruit smoothies.

We will cherish the sights seen ...

the smiles shared ...

and memories made as we
were able to ...

Share the Best of (Paisa) Life with Friends!

Photo credits go to out Dave, Mario, and Jill. Thanks for sharing your paisa memories with us!