La Piedra, as seen from the Embalse (Reservoir) Peñol-Guatapé.
Medellín is perfect for day-tripping, with several great destinations within easy reach. But be forewarned — if you take one of the standard tours to El Peñón de Guatapé, you are probably in for a bit of exercise! Our driver dropped us off at the base of La Piedra de Peñol (the Rock of Peñol), as the freakishly pointy rock is also known, and then informed us that he’d wait while we ascended the 740 steps to the viewing platform on the summit. That we had a two-year-old on our hands did not seem to change our driver’s expectations. My husband, ever the good sport and fortunately boasting admirable upper body strength, was up for the challenge. I did a bit of toddler-hauling myself, and we made it to the top. The good news is that the climb was worth it.
La Piedra is a natural rock formation with a total height of 2,135 meters above sea level. The prominently visible portion rises 200+ meters from the surrounding terrain. The locals told me it may have been a meteorite, though other sources state that it emerged as part of the region’s natural rock bed. Regardless, it’s no surprise that the rock was treated as sacred by the indigenous people that used to inhabit the area. La Piedra was first ascended in 1954 by local admirably-crazy guy (I have deemed him such) Luis Eduardo Villegas López and a couple of others. The masonry steps, squeezed into one of the Stone’s few natural crevices, were built in subsequent years by a visionary family that supposedly still maintains them today.
Visible on the rock are two giant painted letters — a “G” and what looks like an “I”. Legend has it that they’re remnants of a dispute between the towns of Guatapé and Peñol, between which the rock sits. The story is that Guatapé residents started painting their town’s name on the side of La Piedra until folks from Peñol mobilized to stop them. Only the almost-GU remains. Personally, I kind of feel for Peñol, seeing as how the original town of Viejo Peñol was flooded in 1978 and relocated to create the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir. That being said, another account I read seems to imply that the letter-painting was halted because of La Piedra’s designation as a national monument by the Colombian government. I choose to believe the more fun mob story.
In any case, El Peñon is definitely worth the pain in your calves and shakiness in your quads. Take a look and enjoy for yourself! Click on a photo to open a slideshow and see captions.
It’s around 650 stairs to the top of the rock, but 740 to the top of the viewing platform built on the summit.
The view from La Piedra got a lot more watery when the area was flooded to create the reservoir.
Made it. Those of you who know me know those are my shoes.
Marcello was more impressed with the gift shop than the view.
Gio carried an extra-large 2 year-old up almost 740 steps (I carried him up a few!) and then back down. Never underestimate the descent.
A bit of the painted letters “GI” are visible here.
Don’t look down!
A new plant species was discovered at the top of the rock.
Posted in Friday Fotos, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged adventure, Colombia, El Peñón de Guatapé, La Piedra de Peñol, Latin America, Medellín, photography, rock formations, south america, travel
A pictorial depiction of Guatapé’s motto.
A trip to Medellín is not complete without a side excursion to the nearby town of Guatapé. A one-day visit convinced me that the people who live there have committed completely to the Renaissance of their region. Their efforts have made Guatapé justifiably famous now as a tourist destination, rather than infamous as a dangerous region too close geographically to the power and corruption of former drug lord Pablo Escobar. The outer walls of houses in Guatapé feature brightly painted squares, or zócalos, that tell the stories of those who live there. Many zócalos feature the town’s symbol, a sheep whose stance depicts Guatapé’s motto: “caminando hacia adelante, mirando hacia el pasado” — walking forward, looking back. Grounded in a promise to never forget its history, the future of Guatapé looks very bright indeed.
Note: Many photos in the mosaic have captions. To read them, click on a photo to open the slideshow. Some photos don’t make sense without their captions. Thank you!
This sign in the town square explains the zócalos. It says in part, “An element of identity, the zócalo tells the story of an individual, a family, a past or a value of this friendly community conglomerate.”
The zócalos on the left depict the lamb that is Guatapé’s symbol. The zócalos on the right appear to show doves with olive branches.
The cathedral in the town’s main square.
Inside the cathedral.
Even on a rainy day, this town shines bright.
This zócalo depicts the displacement of a family during the drug-related violence that was so common to the region in the 80’s and early 90’s.
Some zócalos tell you about the person or business inside. These are on a home for the elderly.
The zócalos on the side of this hospital show the cycle of life from conception to death and the afterlife.
Marcello wears a ruana, a traditional cover-up for the sometimes chilly weather.
Not all zócalos tell of times gone by. Marcello was a fan of these pictures that decorate a trucking or construction business.
Antioquia, the state in which Guatapé sits, has a rainy season and we were in it. This awesome moto-taxi allowed us to tour the town and still stay dry.
La Piedra de Peñol (the Rock of Peñol), or El Peñon de Guatapé, is a natural rock formation that rises over 2,000 meters above sea level. Like an iceberg, supposedly the largest chunk of it is below ground. The locals told me it may have been a meteorite. This big hunk deserves its own post, coming later!
This cross marks the town of Viejo Peñol, which was flooded in 1978 to create the Peñol-Guatapé Reservoir that produces approximately 30% of Colombia’s energy. The town, originally founded in 1714, was relocated to a new spot nearby.
The man-made lake has given rise to many outdoor leisure activities – boating, fishing, zip lining, etc. – and to the return of posh urbanites who maintain luxurious weekend homes on its shores.
The bombed shell of La Manuela, one of drug lord Pablo Escobar’s most well-known estates.
The guides on our boat tour informed us that these holes in the hillsides lead to a series of tunnels. Pablo Escobar had them built in case he needed to make a quick escape – to his submarine. No kidding.
The nightclub that was part of Pablo Escobar’s estate, La Manuela.
Posted in Arts & Culture, Friday Fotos, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged adventure, Colombia, expat, guatape, Medellín, pablo escobar, south america, travel
Little did I know the changes amassing in Quilla while I was in the US!
I spent a truly lovely few years of my life – longer ago than I care to admit – living in Seattle. I don’t know whether Seattle is this way now, but back then, even though it was (and is) a big city, it offered a level of “sameness” that one might usually associate with a small town. One could go away on vacation and feel confident that Seattle would be waiting, basically the same as before, when one returned. Even after I had been living in Miami for two years, when I went back for a visit to Seattle I was still able to get coffee at Café Ladro and Espresso Vivace, and a big, fat peanut butter cookie from Cinnamon Works in Pike Place Market. I swear the same guy even checked me out at Bartell Drugs. (Whether this is good or bad is a question for that guy, but the fact that Bartell’s still exists is actually a little remarkable in and of itself.)
This isn’t to say that nothing changed – like any big city, there were always new developments in the urban landscape – but the changes were usually additions to what was there before, not replacements. This made Seattle sort of a comfort food of cities for me, which was important at the time since I was going through a divorce and other seismic life changes. Seattle was not always perfect, but there was a lot of security in knowing exactly what I was going to get.
This feeling stood in sharp contrast to my experience of Miami, the next place that I lived, this time for nearly a decade. Continue reading
Posted in Daily Life, Making the Leap
Tagged adventure, barranquilla, Colombia, coping with change, expat, holidays, Miami, pike place market, seattle, south america, travel
Por fin! Finally! After nearly a month Stateside (can you say “Stateside” if you aren’t in Europe?) — plus a frantic week preparing to go and an extraordinarily drama-filled week upon return — I’m happy to be writing again. For now, I hope you’ll put it in reverse with me to explore a few of the wonders and woes of an expat’s trip home. “Back it up!” as my son says, quoting his toy Caterpillar trucks. And with that, I bring you five “normal” American things that seem pretty weird if you’ve been out of the US for a long time:
- The astounding variety of stuff available, for better or worse, in an average US grocery store. My mental dialogue while browsing goes something like this: “Honey Bunches of Oats Greek Honey Crunch? I’m not sure I understand. Snack chips made with chia seeds? Oh, let’s try that! Take-out sushi? There is a God, and he has chosen to put heaven in this place.” And this is the way that I feel when I go into Kroger or Publix. Put me in Whole Foods too soon after re-entering the US and I might pass out. Seriously. Continue reading
Readers, I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from Paige Poole, a fellow Barranquilla transplant. Paige’s own blog, Transatlantic Adventure, includes fun and useful regular features like “Word Wednesday”—a must-read for people looking to bone up on Costeño (Coastal) Spanish. Paige also writes regularly for Uncover Colombia, a great source of destination-related info.
Brightly painted buses, often tricked out with special lights, are a common sight in B’quilla. Figuring out how to use them is the challenge!
After my family and I scored cheap plane tickets to Medellín based on Paige’s insights, I realized that she would be the perfect person to demystify what can be a challenging prospect for newcomers: figuring out how to get around. Believe me, if you’re moving here or even if you already live here, I know you’ll join me in thanking Paige for her incredibly helpful post, which follows below.
Transportation in, to, and from Barranquilla
When first arriving to Barranquilla, public transportation can seem daunting, confusing, and overwhelming. While at its core you can find similarities between public transportation in Barranquilla and public transportation in other big cities around the world, you’ll also find there are many differences and peculiarities that can cause chaos if you are not aware of them!
First of all, you need to know that the main methods of transportation within the city of Barranquilla include: taxis, buses, “busetas,” and Transmetro. Continue reading
Posted in Daily Life, Making the Leap, Travel & Tourism
Tagged barranquilla, buses, Colombia, Public transport, south america, taxis, tourism, Transmilenio, transportation, travel
A Strickland Family Thanksgiving.
Just before my senior year of college, thanks to a generous scholarship from the Georgia Rotary Student Program, I had the opportunity to attend the International Summer School at the University of Oslo in Norway. (By the way, the application process for this scholarship is currently open!) The students hailed from more than 80 countries around the world. The experience was equal parts magic (there’s nothing quite like the views en route between Oslo and Bergen) and practical learning (people from almost anywhere will eat rice with a bean sauce, but music is harder to agree upon). Regularly scheduled “Cultural Nights” were intended to help students get to know each others’ cultures, from local crafts to music, dance, style of dress, food, and more.
Fortunately, making a presentation during Cultural Night was optional. Why fortunately? Continue reading
Posted in Arts & Culture, Food & Coffee
Tagged adventure, barranquilla, Colombia, expat, holiday, Latin America, south america, Thanksgiving, travel, University of Oslo
I am not much of a shopper. I find the whole process a little intimidating. In spite of this, I’m a bit of a clothes hog and a total nester, as well as an admitted sucker for beautiful design.
One of Barranquilla’s primary “big box stores” – a Super Almacen Olimpica (SAO).
There’s no doubt I like owning nice stuff. If you add the fact that I have lived most of my adult life on my own at a nonprofit salary, then it becomes (maybe) a little understandable that I developed some semi-unconventional shopping habits. For years, I craigslist-ed my way into great furniture, bargain-binned into fancy clothes, and spent all the rest of my money traveling and moving to new places. I thought I had the whole shopping thing figured out — and then I moved to Colombia. Below, are ten facts that took me off guard as I learned to navigate the shopping landscape in Barranquilla. For more shopping specifics, be sure to also click on my Leap Sources page.
1. Generally speaking, imports are really expensive.
Imports are heavily taxed. Now that the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA) is in force, tariffs are being reduced or eliminated entirely from various categories of US imports. Continue reading
Posted in Daily Life
Tagged adventure, barranquilla, Colombia, Costco, expat, Latin America, living abroad, PriceSmart, Shopping, south america, travel
Last night I said goodbye to a dear expat friend who returned to the US after living in Barranquilla for almost two years. While I am excited for this new era in his journey, he’ll be deeply missed here in Colombia.
As I helped him take his luggage to the counter at the airport, I felt that pang in my chest, signaling that the page is turning to a new chapter. While the page was mainly in his book, not mine, I have been there often enough to be familiar with the gratitude and anxiety, the hope and happiness, and the sentimentality and the sadness that pools behind that pang. It’s the feeling that comes up at all turning points — your own, and those of friends and loved ones. It’s the feeling that this poem tries to capture. Continue reading
Posted in Making the Leap
Tagged adventure, barranquilla, Colombia, expat, Latin America, moving, poetry, relocation, south america, travel, U-Haul
A gun doesn’t look like a gun when it’s pointed at you – at least it didn’t to me. It looked like a dark gaping hole – an ominous round circle, the center of which disappeared into a black void. That circle is the first and really the only thing I saw when I was mugged at gunpoint a couple of weeks ago about a half mile from my home in Barranquilla.
An artist’s rendering of a black hole in the Milky Way, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
It happened like this: I left the house around 4:00 pm on a Saturday afternoon, to do my weekly “long run”. I had planned to jog 18 miles through Barranquilla’s northern neighborhoods, but about eight miles in, I wasn’t feeling it. At mile 10, I reached the Parque Electrificadora that’s popular with many runners – there’s about a ½ mile loop around it – and stopped to walk. The sun had gone down, but plenty of people were out. I decided to walk toward home. I did not think this was a dicey decision – it’s about a mile between my house and the park on a busy street through an upscale neighborhood. Continue reading
For those who are long-time readers of this blog, you know from this post that I run. It’s more accurate to say that I jog, but that sounds so boring. I think if the activity requires your knees to bend more than your butt joint, then you are entitled to say that you run. But I digress…. You also know from this post that running in Barranquilla can be hard, not just because of the extreme heat and humidity, but also because of the crazy uneven or nonexistent sidewalks and the drivers who most definitely do not believe that pedestrians have the right-of-way. What you may not know is that running in Barranquilla sent me on a quest for a product I wish I had found long ago – the Armpocket.
My brand new Armpocket.
Before I tell you why I recommend this product so highly, let me tell you how I came to realize that I needed it. The story starts in Miami Beach, where I trained for three marathons but never ran with a phone. I wanted my daily run to be off the grid. I did, however, run with an iPod Nano since running without music is, as far as I’m concerned, some outer circle of Hell. That, and I am totally addicted to tracking my runs with Nike+. (Almost 2,000 miles logged!) I tried a variety of arm straps for my Nano – one by Nike, one by New Balance, and some others that I can’t remember. In the process, I got blisters on my arm and ruined two iPods through water damage. (Sweat, people. Lots of sweat.) I chalked this up to the price of running – after all, it’s a pretty cheap sport on the whole – and kept hoping my iPod would survive at least six months. (Don’t even get me started on earphones… no telling how many of those I burned through before I discovered that Sennheiser’s are serious troopers. But again I digress….)
When I came to Barranquilla, I quickly realized that I was going to feel more comfortable if I toted my phone with me on runs – not just because I could make an emergency call if needed, but also because of the GPS. Being the practical person that I am, I plopped my iPhone into a plastic sandwich bag, leaving the bag open just enough for the earphone cord, and carried it in my hot little hand. (I ditched the iPod since the iPhone had both music and the Nike+ app – although let me tell you, my average time per mile plummeted because if you use the Nike+ app with the GPS, as opposed to the one that goes on your shoe, then you get no credit for all that time you’re running in place at the red light. OMG, I digress again….) That’s when some pretty interesting things started to happen. Continue reading