A dream come true, my time in Colombia. A TESTIMONIAL
By Lisa Bauer
For a long time I had the dream to get to know Colombia. However, I was always a bit unsure. Can I really do this on my own? Is it too dangerous? I had never been to Latin America before, my Spanish was also more bad than good and the whole thing completely alone? I had my doubts.
This is how it all began: Arrival in Medellín
“No risk, no fun” I thought to myself, so I decided that now was exactly the right time to fulfill my dream. And so, a short time later, I got on the plane and set off for Medellín. The connections to Medellín are great. WanderWorld also made me a good flight offer right away, which convinced me. It also sounded good to start in a modern rough city and save the fun in the Caribbean for later.
When I arrived in Medellín, my German-speaking supervisor Federico was already waiting for me. Federico is a very nice Colombian who I immediately took to my heart. And he speaks German really well and has also been to Germany himself. It was very nice to share a bit of home with him and at the same time, as a local, he is of course the best contact for any insider advice. The airport in Medellin is relatively far away from the El Poblado district, which is located in the very south. You drive for about an hour, but the ride is gorgeous: the drive goes down from the mountain into the valley, past beautiful villas and you slowly get closer to the city. I used the drive time to pester Federico about everything that had been unsettling me the whole time. He was totally honest with me and explained how life works in Medellín; educated me about safety and suggested the golden rules that you can use to travel your country with ease. He also had a Colombian SIM card already for me.
My first hostel and the introductory meeting
In El Poblado was now my hostel for the introduction days and when we arrived there I was really positively surprised. Wow, I had never seen such a cool, nice and clean hostel! In Colombia, there are many boutique hostels that have only recently opened and are therefore in great shape. And the whole thing for really little money compared to German conditions. You can definitely stay here for a few days. What impressed me about El Poblado from the beginning is how green the city is. At every corner you can find small parks and especially small waterfalls. And every restaurant has somehow a tropical palm ambience. Dreamlike beautiful.
The next day Fede gave us a little city tour in the center of Medellín. I learned so much about the history of the country as I could hardly read before. Really impressive what a change the city has experienced in recent years. On the way we ate empanadas and arepas – really delicious. In the evening we had the Welcome BBQ, which gave us the opportunity to get to know the other program participants better. Afterwards we went out again to explore the nightlife of El Poblado: here you can find one restaurant, bar and club next to the other. Totally crazy, but also very cool! You definitely won’t get bored here. After a few drinks, I fell into bed exhausted.
My social project in the Comuna 13
The next day Fede accompanied me to the famous Comuna 13. Here they also do tourist tours. But for me it was about a slightly different mission: because Comuna 13 was my first project. I was really excited and had no idea what I was in for. So I was really happy to have someone at my side, whom I took to my heart after a short time. We took the metro (by the way, it is really modern and soooo clean, because the people in Medellín are so proud to have a metro that they really try to keep it in good condition) and went to the station San Javier.
There Sulay was already waiting for us. Sulay grew up in the Comuna herself, which means she knows everyone there and has been through the change herself. In the meantime she also gives Free Walking Tours for tourists. We had to take another bus and then we were already in the middle of my project. First I got a guided tour. We walked along the streets. Sulay explained to me the meaning of the graffiti that you see on every street corner here. And we even met the artist himself and watched him do his latest work! I also got a free mango ice cream to try; I guess that’s quite typical here. With the temperatures, it was just right and I took a big bite right away. That was a mistake haha – because the Colombians put lime and salt on it. Yes, you have already read correctly. I could hardly believe it either and had to refrain from making a face. After all, I didn’t want to be rude. But once the salt was gone, the ice cream was also really tasty.
Walking along the streets in the Comuna, you will always find groups of young kids practicing their hip hop performance, and also happy to perform for anyone who comes by. Hip hop and graffiti have a very special meaning for the Comuna; however, this is also a problem, because the kids should actually go to school instead of dancing on the streets. Therefore, very important: do not give them money! Art saved the city as a vehicle for creative and political expression. The walls became a canvas on which to tell one’s story while beautifying the area and bringing about optimism and peace among residents, children and visitors. For several years there has also been the longest outdoor escalator, without cost. This makes everyday life easier for the residents, because before they had to walk up quite a few stairs up the hill. And at the same time, there is now a better connection to the rest of the city. You can clearly see the progress that has already been made in recent years.
The children in my project are so adorable that I felt right at home. And with Sulay as my contact person, everything was fine anyway. So my work for the next two months consisted of taking care of the children, playing soccer with them and helping them with their homework or teaching them English and also some German. And at the same time they taught me Spanish, which was a perfect win-win situation! After the soccer game, I was usually invited to have a sancocho. This is a traditional soup with potatoes, meat and vegetables. The people there are so friendly and open. Despite the poverty that still exists, you are always invited and warmly welcomed. Of course, this also motivates me to want to give something back to the people there.
Very important: the Spanish course
In the afternoon, I took a language course for the first two weeks to be able to communicate better with the children. The course was already included and organized by WanderWorld in the program price. So I didn’t have to worry about anything. There I had fellow students from many different countries: Brazil, USA, England, Sweden and there was also a German. The group was small and our learning success and group cohesion all the greater. We also did a lot together in the evenings and stayed in contact after the course. Our Colombian teacher was really top and responded to our individual wishes. The school is relatively small – but that was great, because the owner personally invited us to her home and cooked Colombian dishes with us.
When my project time was over, I was honestly really sad to move on and leave the children and also the adults behind in the comuna. I promised them that I would come back before I left the country. And that is what I actually did. To this day, I still have fond memories of that time. And the nicest thing is that I had the feeling that my help, which consisted of the simplest activities, actually arrived and was accepted. I really hope that future volunteers can build on that. This is so close to my heart. But well, my adventure should continue elsewhere for now. I took a few weeks off and explored the surrounding area of Medellín.
Adventure travel time
Even on the weekends in Medellín I had enough time to explore the surrounding area. My absolute highlight is Guatapé. This is a small colorful village about 2 hours from Medellín. I just took the local bus there to save money. That was totally easy. It is best not to get off in Guatapé, but a few minutes before at the station of the “Piedra del Peñol”. This famous rock you can also climb and after exactly 700 steps you have the most brilliant view on the most beautiful reservoir.
I also went to the coffee region – after all, I was in the land of coffee! Salento is a cute little village where every house has a different color. Even though it rains here from time to time, it still just creates a happy mood. I love this place and could have stayed there a few days longer. I did a trekking through the Cocora Valley. That was really impressive. There you can see the highest palm trees in the world and I love palm trees! Finally I got to see some nature again. I was also able to pursue my passion there, horseback riding. And of course I also visited a coffee farm, where I learned everything about the process of making coffee and got to taste the best coffee of my life. A paradise for all frahling lovers.
Off to the second job in the Caribbean: hostel work
A few days later, I took the plane to Cartagena. With Viva Air, you can get the flight really cheap if you book it early enough. I was glad that WanderWorld gave me advice early on and helped me book the flight. Because the Viva Air website is a real challenge without fluency in Spanish! Living in the Caribbean was something I had always wanted to do, and now it was finally going to come true. Cartagena is a city with a very special charm. You will find here both the super beautiful old town, whose wall, which once served to protect the city, is still preserved today. Here you will also find small houses in all kinds of colors. The balconies are designed with much love and decorated with beautiful ornaments. But as a contrast, Cartagena also has a super modern skyline. It looks almost like Miami! It’s hard to believe you’re still in Latin America.
My hostel is located in the old town district, this is also the main place for tourists. The tourist police here is also totally well developed and helpful. I felt super safe walking the streets here alone. Also here I was in a new boutique hostel and there I should work this time now. My main task was at the reception. Thank God I had already been able to improve my Spanish in the last few months and thus felt more comfortable to sit at the reception. After all, I wanted to receive the guests with the best service and there are also a lot of Latinos coming through here. But none of that is a problem. You learn the necessary vocabulary for this very quickly if you make an effort, and I found it totally good to be surrounded by a Latino audience instead of just Germans. I quickly learned all the processes of reception at the front desk, and I was also allowed to be creative in other activities. Together with the other volunteers, I also organized some events for the guests – for example, we organized a really cool pool party and when I knew the city a little better, I was also allowed to try my hand as a guide and give the guests a free walking tour myself. Finally being on the other side and not always being the tourist! You are also allowed to do the tour in English. That was really good so that I don’t forget my English after so much Spanish. I had a lot of freedom and my employers were always open and grateful for creative new ideas on how to improve the services in the hostel. There was also a very familiar atmosphere among the staff and they also invited me in the evenings to go out for dinner or a drink together and meet their friends. I had a lot of fun at the hostel and would always come back.
Travel time: From Cartagena to Santa Marta
However, after two months my working time was over and I used the time to explore Santa Marta and especially the surrounding area. Because in Santa Marta itself there is not so much to see. One day there is enough and then on to Palomino. There you can stay for a few days and do various activities or just chill by the pool.
My favorite place is Minca, a small town in the middle of the jungle and the Sierra Nevada. It’s an agricultural dream and I’ve never been in the jungle before. Just the ride there by moto cab was an adventure. Arriving at the finca, I just wanted to chill in the giant hammock for a whole day and enjoy the view. The next day, however, I pulled myself together and undertook a hike through the jungle, past various waterfalls, in which you could also swim.
My conclusion of this trip: I am so glad that I chose Colombia – it is and remains a dream, and I would love to go back right away! I would also like to take this opportunity to thank WanderWorld again. They looked after me so wonderfully the whole time and without them I probably wouldn’t have dared to go to Latin America until today!