So it was on the bus ride back from Palomino to Santa Marta that we made the decision that we were going to do everything we could to go to Carnaval in Barranquilla. It is hard to explain but that bus ride was one of the greatest times in my life. Will and I had just left the incredible Palomino and were making our way back to one of the hotels we were beginning to call home. We were on some sort of high after having such an incredible tubing experience in Rio Palominothe day before and an excellent sleep before packing up our things and walking towards the highway. We each shared a set of earbuds at the back of the bus and were busy rapping old school songs such as Hey Ma by Camron and Hey Ma Remix by Camron. At one point we kind of looked at each other and said Why arent we going to Carnaval? The decision was then made that we would make our way to Barranquilla after spending a week in Cartagena.
When we arrived in Cartagena we were not able to get into any of our preferred hostals but ended up stumbling across a hidden gem by the name of Yeimis Hostal. This place was far from a hostal and was actually more like living with a real Colombian family. Will and I were given a spacious room with one nice Queen sized bed and then a bunk bed as well. I am not sure if we were both supposed to sleep in the bunk bed or not but we ended up making some alterations to our setup. Will proceeded to take the mattress off of the top bunk and place it on top of his mattress on the bottom bunk while I settled in on a nice big Queen sized bed, my first one in a long time.
That week we spent lots of time playing in the waves at Playa Grande and working out at our favourite gymnasio in Colombia. We new it would be wise to eat right and give our bodies lots of exercise in order to prepare for a weekend of… well, we really did not know. Honestly, even as a tried to research this Carnaval I couldnt figure out much information. All I knew was that accommodation was next to impossible to find, cheap accommodation was nonexistant and there would be lots of colours and parades. After calling different hotels and hostals to ask for a room without finding any luck, I finally stumbled across a website advertising a hostal by the name of Casa Blanca Hostal. For $10 a night each I considered it a steal and quickly reserved two beds. In the back of my head I knew this was too good to be true but decided that I was done searching for more accommodations for the week. I wrote down the address and after calling the number 3 times with no answer decided there was nothing else to do.
Even though Carnaval did not officially start until Saturday morning, we decided to hop on a bus on Wednesday morning in order to make sure we had a place to stay for the festivities. Upon arrival in Barranquilla we hopped into a taxi and began to make our way towards the address of Casa Blanca Hostal. Upon arrival we found no signs saying anything about a hostel existing in this location. We decided to keep Will with the bags in the taxi while I went to find out the situation. After talking with the neighbour for a bit he helped me call down Jesus from the building that was the address of Casa Blanca Hostal. After being told that this building was student housing and not a hostel I began to plea with the man. I asked if there was anyway that we could just crash for the weekend in an unoccupied room and reluctantly Jesus allowed us to enter.
We sat in a bare room with only a chair and a couch for about 15 minutes not having a clue where Jesus had gone to. The only thing we could hear in the dirty student housing was an insane amount of bass coming from a students room and vibrating through the walls of the building. Eventually Jesus emerged and brought us down the hallway to a room with two paper thin mattresses on the ground, a broken closet, and a bathroom with a cockroach running around in it. We thanked Jesus and gave each other the Let us get the hell out of here look. We were able to get a key from Jesus so we locked our backpacks in the room after putting all of our valuables into our backpacks and then made our way to the street to find another taxi. On the way out of the front door some random guy with a machete slammed it on the concrete a hard as he could and then looked up at us while laughing. We laughed it off as well and picked up our pace as we left the student housing. Why would somebody have a machete in student housing anyways?
After telling our taxista that we wanted to go to the center of the city he refused to take us. We did not quite understand why and felt a little silly knowing nothing about the city but eventually realized that the center of the city was too dangerous for foreigners to walk around in. We all decided to stick together until a knew accommodation was found. We stopped at a nice hotel first and foudn that they only had accommodation for Wednesday night and Thursday. We decided to carry on until we found another hotel by the name of Hotel Horizonte. I do not think one would be able to find a dirtier hotel in Barranquilla but at only $15 a night for the both of us we decided that it was better than staying in an unwelcoming student housing. The owner, Jesus, was a total sweetheart and really began to enjoy our energy and love for his country. He did whatever he could to make sure that we enjoyed our time in his city. The only problem was that we only had two nights here because it was full for the weekend. We decided that it was a start and returned to the student housing to grab our bags. We gave Jesus $5 for his troubles and left with high fives and promises of Aguardiente shots at the Batalla de Flores on the Saturday of Carnaval.
After settling in to our disgusting hotel room near the city center we decided that our mission was only half over. We still needed to find a place to stay on Friday and Saturday so we locked up the room and headed out into the streets in search of another hotel. About hotels were in the area and all were well overpriced as well as occupied for the nights that we needed. We finally stumbled across Jose and Villa Maria Hotel. This place was still pretty basic but definitely a step up from our place at the moment. Jose hoped to rent out the rooms for 4 days minimum but after realizing that Will and I were not interested in staying for more than two nights decided to agree to our terms. $25 a night for each room was the final price. The reason we reserved two rooms is because our friends from Chile were arriving on Friday and had no idea where they were going to stay. I guess you could call us a couple of good Canadian kids.
The reason I wrote so long about accommodation is because this was one of those real problem solving moments where you have to just figure things out. After solving all of thi,s Will and I went to eat as we were absolutely starved and sent a message to the Chileans with the directions to Villa Maria. After that we went back to Hotel Horizonte in order to catch some shut eye. My bed was hammock shaped do to over use and I swear you could see the dust fly out into the air as my head hit the pillow. I still do not understand how I was able to leave that hotel without a severe case of pink eye.
The pre party started on Thursday night and after meeting up with some Israeli friends and a different group of Chileans we made our way to the stadium where we were told the parties would be that night. It turned out that inside the stadium they were choosing the Queen of this years Carnaval as well as having a concert starring the one and only Silvestre. Tickets were going for over $50 dollars so we decided to just enjoy the festivities outside the stadium. We were all taking it quite easy making sure we were in good shape for the parties starting on Friday. After awhile we all made our way to the back gate where the police were making sure nobody was sneaking into the stadium. Our group consisted of 8 girls and only Will and I as the boys so they actually let us sneak into the concert for free. Unfortunately belts are considered a deadly weapon in Colombia so I had to belt check my belt with some random man who wrote down a random number on a piece of paper and said it was 2000 pesos if I wanted my belt back. In the end the man was still there and had my belt ready to go when I was leaving the stadium. Quite the entrepreneur if you ask me.
As I mentioned before Silvestre was the singer at the concert and the crowd was going insane. Even the Chilean girls had no idea who this guys was but he was massive in Colombia. At one point Will turned to me and just mentioned that this Silvestre character was just living the dream in Colombia and it was crazy that no one knew who he was. After about an hour of watching this man perform and the crowd jump up and down our entire group concluded that he was just playing the same song over and over.
The next day Will and I spent the entire day searching for Carnaval gear in the markets throughout the streets. From the picture below I think you can see we did quite well. We even custom made some Carnaval V necks.
Friday afternoon we made our way back to the stadium and began to enjoy some beers and buy lots of bottles of foam. I honestly think I bought more than 20 bottles of the stuff before the festival was over and thoroughly annoyed everyone that surrounded me. It was a great way to have lots of laughs with the locals.
On the Saturday we woke up at about 10 am and made our way to our favourite restaurant for a cheap breakfast and a few shots of Aguardiente. Almost immediately we left for the Batalla de Flores which is the biggest parade of Carnaval. After snapping quite a few photos and drinking quite a few beers with our massive group of friends we had met in Cartagena, someone took it upon themselves to pickpocket myself and two of my friends so that they no longer had their BlackBerrys and I lost a couple thousand photos. With so many people around it was next to impossible to retrieve our electronics so we did our best not to let it phase us. I have a knew camera now but unfortunately have lost quite a few pictures from my trip so I apologize for the lack of photos in this blog entry.
The rest of the Saturday Will and I travelled all through Baranquilla meeting tons of locals and even a few people who were also from North Vancouver. The entire festival could not have been more fun and I do not know if I will ever have that much fun again in my life. No matter how much fun it was however, we were more then ready to hop on a bus that Sunday and make our way far, far away from Barranquilla and its crazy Carnaval.
We took an overnight bus for about 15 hours way into the centre of the country to an amazing city called Medellin. On first arrival in Nicaragua from Canada I realized that the weather was just way too hot and ended up giving my sweatshirt and track pants to the children at my home stay. This ended up being quite an unwise decision as I sat on that bus with only my t shirt, things, and shorts on. As we loaded onto the bus, people began to make their way on holding onto ski jackets and loads of blankets. I was too embarrassed to ask but knowing that Medellin was quite high in the mountains I began to think maybe there was a ski resort nearby the city. I soon realized that was not the case. Before we left the terminal in Barranquilla the bus driver even came up to me to warn me that I may freeze to death without my jacket. Without having any sort of long sleeve jacket and my jeans in my backpack below smelling like beer I began the long and cold journey to Medellin. After about 2 hours the air conditioning was on full power and I slowly began to freeze. I eventually took two head covers of the seats off of vacant seats and through them over my head as if I was kidnapping myself. By the time we arrived in Medellin my lips were blue and my knees were so frozen I could hardly walk. I had never been happier to make my way off of a bus before. The first thing I did when I arrived at the hostel was make my way to the shower. Still frozen to the bone I looked at the handles for the shower and realized that there were two handles. I turned the handle on the left and to my absolute delight began to feel hot water come out. This was my first hot shower since leaving Canada in November and it could not have come at a better time. I stayed in the shower for about 10 minutes until my body was completely thawed and starting to sweat. The second thing that I did was to go and buy a hoody!
The city of Medellin, however, was absolutely incredible and could not have been more different than those cities lying on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia. Its settign was way up in the mountains in the centre of a long valley. Houses and slums covered the hillsides and Will and I even took a Gondola which was a part of the local transport all the way up to the top of one mountain in order to look over all of the city. We stayed at a backpackers favourite called Casa Kiwi and made sure to get out lots in order to explore all that Medellin had to offer. We spent the week preparing ourselves for the weekend as we ate healthy plates of chicken and worked out at the outdoor gym across from our hostel. Probably one of the last things I want to do is bench press cinder blocks along the side of the road but since drop in was $10 at the official gym and the outdoor gym was free, we decided it was the best plan. We met tons of great people at Casa Kiwi and Friday and Saturday we went out to quite a few different clubs in order to meet some locals.
Will and I went out on Friday to buy jerseys for the local soccer team Nacional and decided to assemble a group to go watch the game on Saturday night. The one real shame was that Will became quite ill on Saturday and even though we both bought our Nacional jerseys he ended up hopping in a Taxi at the front gates to the stadium in order to head back to the hostel and sleep. Even without will their the game was an absolute thrill and Nacional ended up winning 4 to nothing. I swear that the fans on the south side of the stadium had more stamina than the players as they never stopped jumping up and down, singing their chants, or waving their banners even when the players were standing around waiting for an injured player. Fights were abundant and the energy levels were always high. It is definitely an experience I would recommend to all that are in Medellin.
All this time I had been Skyping with a Colombian girl that I had met in Panama City and I was feeling a little torn about what I wanted to do next. I had also become quite close to a group of Panamanians that were staying at Casa Kiwi and after some convincing I decided to book a flight back to Panama City. My flight left at 3 pm on Sunday and after being interrogated for close to an hour in a small room with an x ray machine the police finally allowed me to make a full sprint to my plane. It turned out that they were holding the plane for me which was quite nice because these plane tickets do not come cheap. I arrived back at my hostel in Panama City where Alejandra was staying at about 6 pm and in just enough time to say Happy Birthday! She was more than a little surprised but quite happy to see me.
I have had amazing times with Will and plan to meet up with him shortly in Ecuador. For those of you who are unaware, my number one goal from this trip is to learn Spanish and I was not getting quite enough opportunities when I was travelling around with Will. Since I arrived back in Panama City I have hardly used any English and have already began to notice great improvements in my Spanish. I am not sure how long I will be here in Panama but I plan to head to Bocas del Toro in the north soon in order to get some more surfing in.
Life is good up here in Panama and I am enjoying being back in the heat. I also am really looking forward to meeting back up with Steamin Willy Beamen down in Ecuador in order to share a thousand more amazing moments. Hope life is going well for everyone and I will blog again when I have more of a plan!