Panama & Colombia: 4/2 – 4/8

Panama City >>> (Colombia) Medellin >>> Bucaramanga >>> San Gil

Planning Day and Happy Hour at La Rana Dorada Brewery
+ Today was yet another day to hang inside, trying to stay as cool as possible while we did work stuff online.
+ Worked on taxes and researched possible itinerary for South America.
+ To reward ourselves for our attempts at focus and dedication, we went to happy hour at La Rana Dorada and had half price pints!
+ We then walked to a different part of town and had dinner at Coca Cola cafe (no relation to the soda. It is the oldest historic diner in Panama City! Food was decent, but as usual in Panama, they had 1 poor server trying to take care of every single table so service was lacking.
+ Walked back to the hostel and packed up our bags in our new 12 person dorm (still at Magnolia Inn). We got everything prepared for our super early departure the next morning.
+ This dorm was laid out similar to hogwarts! It is a big ballroom they have converted into a large dorm room. 12 Single beds each with their own plugs and high power fan and lots of open windows since the room didn’t have A/C. Many Panamanians were partying late into the night and blasting music from the buildings right below and all around us.
+ Liz was amazed at how backpackers can seem to sleep through anything! People were in bed at only 9pm with the lights on and music blasting!
+ We watched Man of Steel in the common area before bed and stayed up way too late.
+ Went to bed around 2am. Music was still blasting outside the dorm but we were able to get a few hours of sleep before leaving for South America in the morning!

Flew to Medellin, Colombia– Our 1st flight since Christmas!
+ Caught an Uber around 5 am to the very small airport we were going to depart from. The airport was so small even our driver had trouble finding the departure building!
+ After a weird check in and and waiting around for a bit we were finally on our way! This was the first flight we’ll have taken since leaving the U.S.!
+ We boarded the plane without the usual “gate”. We felt like movie stars as we climbed up the stairs into the plane. (Although this was a first time for us, I’m sure it will not be the last.)
+ As the sun was rising, we got some awesome aerial views of the Miraflores Locks in the canal and being able to see both oceans in the 1 flight!
+ Landed in Medellin and caught an Uber to Cocobamboo Hostel in the El Poblado district.
+ The ride was about 50 minutes and we saw a whole bunch of cool scenery on the way! We also passed a ton of bicyclists (well over 100) on their fancy expensive bikes. Corey was impressed at how many people partook in biking as their hobby, and that they all had such expensive bikes ($5000+)! The whole country was very different than Central America already!
+ After waiting around at the hostel for a bit until the room was ready and a quick Subway lunch, we checked in to our private room and promptly took a nap to recover from the lack of sleep the night before.
+ We were happy because after 13 days of nothing but dorm rooms (almost all of our time in Panama), we were ready for some privacy and peace and quiet!
+ After our nap, we walked around and explored the El Poblado district/neighborhood. With lots of nightlife and restaurants and cafes, El Poblado was very lively even for a Sunday night.
+ For dinner, we ate at a wing place and got 30 wings (6 different flavors), a big tray of fries, and a 1.5 liter soda all for less than $10! (We are such health nuts, I know) And we learned that in Colombia, it’s customary to eat wings while wearing plastic gloves. We thought it was clever since there’s less germs touching your food and you don’t have to use napkins as often.
+ Then it was back to the hostel to enjoy the cool weather and our private tv too! Liz worked on taxes while Corey planned out itinerary for the next day. We again stayed up way too late!

Planning Day: Taxes, Colombia Itinerary
+ The first part of today was spent relaxing in the room and doing work. Liz finished most of our taxes and Corey made a rough plan of every day we’d have before our cruise at the end of May!
+ Lunch was leftover wings from the night before, and around happy hour we went and tried out Bogota Beer Company. Our beer came with a delicious huge burger that we split. We then sampled a few of their different beers too, of course.
+ Next up we walked to Medellin Beer Factory. This was another brewery and also had very tasty and cheap brews. We wish they were this cheap in the U.S.!
+ We needed to use the Internet some so we stopped in a Coffee shop for a quick latte for Liz.
+ Mexican was on the menu for dinner to satisfy our craving from the night before and it definitely hit the spot! We didn’t know if it was all the spicy things Corey had been eating lately, or the new Colombian water (which is perfectly safe to drink), but Corey’s stomach was not liking all the new stuff!

Medellin Metro and Cable Car, Parque Arvi, Flew to Bucaramanga
+ Today was our only day to explore the rest of Medellin so we headed out across town to catch the metro. After the 20 minute walk and some yummy street food of empanadas and tacos, we caught the metro and headed north for about 30 minutes.
+ Then we hopped on the Metro cable car which was suspended high above the city and gave us spectacular views of all the different buildings and houses built on the side of the hills and mountain. It looked just like scenes from a movie or what you think of with Brazil.
+ After a much longer than anticipated ride (about 30 minutes again), we finally arrived at Arvi park. The whole journey had taken over an hour and a half!
+ At the park we were given a very small map and confusing information in Spanish. Although we had been traveling for over 3 months in Spanish speaking counties and had studied Spanish for 7 days in Guatemala, we felt like we did in day 1 of our trip because we could read and understand almost nothing! Spanish here in Colombia is very different than Central America. They use different words and have different accents. This was very frustrating to feel like we were speaking a different language all over again and not being able to understand much!
+ So without knowing where we were going, we started off towards what we thought was the trail. The park was not crowded at all, so we couldn’t simply follow people to a trail. We gave up on our initial direction, then asked some police where to go and they agreed the map made no sense but pointed a different direction. Sure enough after 5 minutes we reached a trail. So we walked along for 15 minutes and reached a road. Our phone map said there was another trail if we headed left on the road for a little bit. So we did that and on the way we passed 3 sketchy looking guys walking the other way, but they didnt seem to notice use and we made sure we were not being followed. After 5 more minutes, we reached the trail then started walking up. About 10 minutes after getting on that trail, Corey stopped to go to the bathroom and Liz walked on about 40 feet further up the trail. All of a sudden those same 3 guys (all about 18-20 years old) came running up the trail and before we knew it, one guy had a giant knife (blade was about 8-10 inches) pointed at Corey demanding his hat and other stuff while the other 2 guys were screaming “Camera, Camera” at Liz and immediately took that from her. By now Corey had backed up to Liz and we were backing away from the 3 guys. The main guy with the knife was still demanding stuff from us (probably the backpack Corey had on, or our phones) but we couldn’t understand him. We said no and turned around and ran away. Luckily they did not pursue and were content with the camera.
+ Shaken up and wondering how that happened so fast, we ran up the rest of the trail to the finish (worried the guys would return again) and quickly headed towards the police we had seen earlier. We explained our situation to them and they called for backup. Then about 10 officers started searching around the park for the assailants for at least an hour. Corey even rode on the back of one of the motorcycles with the police but nobody was able to find them or recover the camera.
+ We were not able to get a police report from them, so we gave them our information in case they were to find them.
+ Then we had to leave to get back to the hostel in time to catch our flight that night. So we rode the cable car, the metro, and walked back to our hostel in time to meet the taxi driver. Then we rode the extra hour to the airport through rain and traffic.
+ Caught our flight to Bogota (our quick layover) and climbed on and off the plane via stairway, just like movie stars! The trip became less glamorous when all the passengers were then shoved into a bus to be transferred back to the terminal.
+ Then we had to walk through the airport one direction for 15 minutes only to arrive, check in for the connecting flight and have to board another bus that took us back the direction we had just come from. Yet another example of Latin American inefficiency.
+ On this plane, we met 2 new friends: Matt from Philly who is on day 1 of a year long stay to teach English! And Eric from Toronto, Canada who has lived down here for a few years and works at the university in Bucaramanga. Both were friendly guys and Eric gave us a few good tips for Bucaramanga.
+ When we arrived, we said goodbye to Eric, then shared a taxi with Matt who was also staying at our hostel, Kasa Guane.
+ After we dropped off our bags, we went out to grab a bite to eat and chose a place called Wok. We all split a wing/nacho platter and ended up having some drinks and talking with the 2 workers there for a couple of hours. They were really nice and we practiced our Spanish while they worked on their English. Finally around 2 am we headed back to the hostel to go to sleep.

Planning Day and Korean Food in Bucaramanga
+ Very tired from the previous day, we slept in really late (maybe new trip record?) and then set out to go find a lunch spot.
+ Definitely the hardest time we’ve ever had finding something to eat due to it being in between lunch and dinner. We think Colombia might be a little like Spain where the stores and people might close up shop in the middle of the day for a siesta. We did find a fast food place open in the mall, but it had prices so high even Americans would scoff. So we said no to that place and continued the search/tour of the city. Despite passing hundreds of stores and businesses, there wasn’t one local restaurant open for food (only drinks).
+ After an hour, we finally stumbled onto a Korean restaurant that, despite not having any other customers, was indeed open! Our stomachs rejoiced! The food portions were absurdly humongous (the platters took up our whole table!) and only cost $5/person! We stuffed ourselves and still had enough leftovers for 2 more meals!
+ With our leftovers in hand we went to Liz’s new favorite store, Exito. It’s like a mini Walmart and offers nearly everything. There, she went shopping while Corey updated the Evernote blog. We finally were able to purchase some things we needed that had been accumulating on an ever growing list for a few weeks.
+ Back at the hostel, we tried to work on some tax and flight stuff, but the Internet was frequently cutting in and out.
+ Eventually around 11:30, we headed back out to the Wok restaurant again to meet up with Matt as well as Howard, and Janie (our 2 new South American friends). We spent another 2 hours just hanging out and talking about funny things. For example if men say anything negative/mean/degrading to women in Colombia, it is socially acceptable for the women to throw plates, shoes, or anything else within reach at the men’s heads!
+ We wanted to stay longer, but still had work to do so we headed back to the hostel. Unfortunately the wifi had not improved and we spent the rest of the night becoming frustrated at our lack of productivity and efficiency.

The Nest Hostel and Dinner with Argentinian Couple
+ After waking up, we packed up and checked out then ate some of the leftovers from the day before for brunch (still didn’t finish them!)
+ Started to work online when the power went out so we ended up moving down the street to an Internet cafe. Worked about 2 hours there doing taxes and preparing documents for the travel insurance on the camera.
+ Then we had to leave to catch a cab with some other people from Kasa Guane to our next destination: The Nest Hostel and Fly Site! This is where we were going to go paragliding! The bus drove us all straight to a launch site but after waiting around for a while, the weather was only getting worse so the instructors deemed it unsafe and canceled the flying.
+ During that time we got to know the 2 other girls who came with us from Kasa Guane, Ashley and Brianna. They were really nice and from Chicago, visiting Colombia for 10 days. Plus we all got a free ride up the mountain and some fantastic views of the city!
+ So we said goodbye to them when we were dropped off at our hostel and they continued back into Bucaramanga. Our room was perched right on a cliff and had incredible views and much to our delight, a nice cool breeze too.
+ After some time relaxing at the hostel we went down the street for our dinner appointment (yes, this was especially scheduled only for us) at this older couple’s house/restaurant. There was no menu, they simply asked if we liked meat, we said Si, then about 20 minutes later they plopped down the 2 biggest steaks we had ever seen in front of us! Plus potatoes, plantains, and a big salad too!
+ The couple joined us for dinner (although their steaks were half the size of ours!) and we sat around speaking Spanish/miming for about 90 minutes. They were very friendly people and talked about how they had 53 animals on their property, ranging from different kinds of birds, parrots, dogs + cats, chickens + roosters, and larger livestock too. It was definitely a unique and authentic Colombian experience!
+ When we had stuffed ourselves silly and gotten the other half to go, the couple took us inside the house and showed us their home and the very pretty mosquito curtains the wife made (looked just like giant wedding dresses!) We eventuality said our goodbyes and walked 5 minutes back down the mountain to our hostel.
+ In our room, we were greeted by another fantastic view of the city at night!  So many lights of the city and so quiet up here on the mountain. Very cool.
+ Continued our recent nightly trend of working until the wee hours of the morning on flights and stuff, including making many wifi calls to airline companies. Although we were much more productive than previous nights, we still longed for the nights of relaxing watching movies. But that’s the difference between a vacation and long term travel.

Paragliding over Bucaramanga  and Bus to San Gil
+ Got to enjoy some free breakfast today, although by ourselves again. The only 2 other people staying here were students doing a 10 day Paragliding course offered by the hostel. Both The Nest and Kasa Guane were probably the 2 most empty hostels we’d been in on the trip. I guess getting off the tourist trail sometimes can be nice though, since we got a free room upgrade since no one else was gonna be using it!
+ After some more work with our Travel Insurance company and some of the leftovers from the night before, it was finally late enough in the day (when the wind gets strong enough) to go Paragliding!
+ At the Fly Site literally next door to the hostel, Liz was up first and got harnessed up with our American instructor from Alaska named Russell. After laying out the parachute/kite correctly, it caught some wind and just like that they were lifted off the ground! In just a matter of seconds they were both lifted up and away over the cliff side and over the towering drops below!
+ For 20 minutes they flew around, past mansions, 6 star hotels (didn’t know those existed), chicken farms, cow fields, a humongous waterfall, lots of vultures, and spectacular views of the city and distant mountains. Then they landed as graceful as a butterfly! Next up it was Corey’s turn and although he didn’t get as high or far (due to the weather changing to rainy and much less thermal winds) he still had a great time too and enjoyed his first ever Paragliding (or Parapente in Español) experience.
+ After another safe landing we paid our bill, grabbed the bags and caught a bus down the mountain to a gas station where we were given vague directions on what to do next.
+ We asked a passing bus driver if the bus was headed towards San Gil, he said yes, but after we got on we learned it was actually going the opposite direction to Central. So we made a quick exit ASAP, walked up the side of some small but steep cliff with all our stuff on, across a bridge, then caught a correct bus actually going to San Gil.
+ What we were told would be an hour and a half ride was actually about 3 and a half hours and most of the journey was after sunset. We did make it through most of the crazy twisting roads of the Chicamocha Canyon before dark however, which provided some impressive sights. Supposedly, it’s the 2nd deepest canyon in the world, behind only the Grand Canyon!
+ We were unfortunately stuck in the back of our overcrowded bus and therefore had to ensure some extra bumpy shoulder rubbing with very sweaty and smelly people!
+ When we finally arrived in San Gil, we were very relieved to regain our personal space and breathe some fresh air.
+ A taxi took us the remaining 5 minutes through the very hilly town to our hostel called Bacaregua. We checked in to find a religious ceremony going on in the courtyard, literally right outside our room. So not wanting to be rude and interrupt the ceremony, we waited in the room sweating 30 minutes for it to end, but to no avail. Finally the heat and our hunger outweighed the possibility of offending and we snuck out as quietly as possible.
+ Then went out to get a bite to eat at a popular restaurant called Gringo Mike’s. Corey couldn’t believe his eyes as the menu seemed almost catered to his liking. It had, among many other types of food, about 20 different burgers all with different spicy Chipotle, jalapeño or other sauces. And all for $5-7 including fries. After nearly memorizing the menu we ordered our unique concoctions and while waiting we drank some delicious $1 beer!
+ Stuffed, we walked back through the park/town square to our hostel and spent the rest of the night watching the Agro channel in Spanish on our cable TV. It was like a QVC chanel except for selling livestock. How funny!

Click here for more photos from Panama and more photos from Colombia!

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