Lesson Learned: Multi-city airline tickets

Back in the beginning of July, Jason and I made the decision to purchase a multi-city airline ticket that would bring us through the countries we wanted to visit in South America.

When we first left Canada for our travels, we had nothing planned.  Two weeks in, we had a rough idea of the route we wanted to take through South America: Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, and Argentina.  So we purchased a multi-city airline ticket that would take us through the major cities in those countries.  Although it locked us into set travel dates, the money we saved purchasing a multi-city ticket (vs. purchasing the tickets between each of the cities separate) seemed like it was well worth it.

  • Leg 1: Bogota (Colombia) to Lima (Peru)
  • Leg 2: Lima (Peru) to Santa Cruz (Bolivia)
  • Leg 3: Santa Cruz (Bolivia) to Santiago (Chile)
  • Leg 4: Santiago (Chile) to Buenos Aires (Argentina)

At first things were going well – we caught our Bogota (Colombia) to Lima (Peru) flight without any incident.  Although we didn’t know it at the time, things started going awry when we decided to skip our Lima (Peru) to Santa Cruz (Bolivia) flight.

When it was time to catch our Santa Cruz (Bolivia) to Santiago (Chile) flight, we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.  We had spent the majority of our time in Bolivia in the city of La Paz but we were scheduled to fly out of Santa Cruz, so we caught an early flight from La Paz to Santa Cruz.  We arrived in Santa Cruz at 8am but our flight to Santiago was at 5:30pm – so we had about 9 hours to kill.  Little did we know, it would the most stressful 9 hours of our travels so far.

Santa Cruz (Bolivia) airport

We were lucky that the Santa Cruz had some good food options, bank machines, travel agents, internet/phone kiosk. We’ve been stranded in worse airports before.

We tried to check-in electronically since our airline ticket counter was still closed.  We received an electronic message saying that there was no record of our reservation since it had been cancelled.

My immediate thought was that our flight was cancelled, but a quick search showed that our flight was still set to arrive as originally scheduled.

So then we had to call the customer service line of the company we booked our multi-city airline ticket through: CheapOair (I know, sketchy-sounding company, eh? But we’ve used them before without incident).  Problem was, we had no cell phone.  Since we were travelling for 6 months, we had both put our cellphone plans on hold.  There was no stores in the airport that sold SIM cards either.  Luckily, there was an internet/phone kiosk in the airport.

Internet/Phone Kiosk in the Santa Cruz, Bolivia Airport

The Internet/Phone Kiosk in the airport. Jason spent a lot of time in the phone booth here.

Jason got on the line with CheapOair and found out why flights booked through them were so cheap – their customer service sucks!  1-800 and 1-888 numbers do not work outside of North America so we had to call their number for International callers.  Companies that provide good customer service usually provide collect call services for their international callers.  CheapOair did not.  So we had to bite the bullet and call  long-distance.  They immediately put Jason on hold and at the 20-minute mark, we decided to drop the call as we were quickly racking up long-distance costs without any idea of how long we’d be on hold.

The airport had free WIFI, so we decided to call CheapOair via Skype.    Granted, the WIFI was spotty, but at least the call would be free.  Jason waited on hold for 30 minutes before a customer service rep got on the line.  Fifteen minutes into the conversation, the call dropped – the WIFI had cut out!  Jason called back when the WIFI came back on and had to wait on hold for another 30 minutes for another rep.  The call dropped again after 10 minutes.  This painful cycle repeated itself several times before we were able to get the whole story.

Apparently, the airline (Avianca Air) that we flew with for our Bogota-Lima flight had cancelled our reservation for this flight.  The CheapOair rep told us that we had to call Avianca and resolve the situation ourselves.  Jason was pretty annoyed at this and argued that, since CheapOAir was acting on behalf of us as a travel agent, they should be responsible for resolving the issue with Avianca.  CheapOair shrugged (or at least it sounded like a shrug over the phone) and said there was nothing they could do.

Jason called Avianca and talked to a customer rep there.  Luckily, Avianca had a toll-free number that worked in South America, so we were able to use the land-line phone for this call (i.e. no dropped calls because of spotty WIFI).  Avianca told us that it was, in fact, CheapOAir that had called THEM to cancel the flight reservation!  They had a very detailed activity log outlining dates and times of CheapOAir’s activities regarding our airline reservations.  They also informed us that, as an airline, they do not cancel a customer’s airline reservation unless instructed to do so by the customer or the customer’s travel agent.

We were livid!  CheapOAir was giving us the run-around.  By then, it was almost 2pm.  We should’ve be checking into our flight.

Jason got back onto Skype and called CheapOAir.  Let’s just say there were a lot of heated words exchanged in that phone booth.  The rep who took the call said that Avianca cancelled our reservation but we knew he was lying as Jason had already talked to Avianca and they had an activity log of CheapOAir’s instructions.  Jason finally convinced the rep to call Avianca themselves to straighten it out – and then the call dropped AGAIN!   Jason called them back, waited on hold, and got another rep.  This one told us that we had to talk to LAN, the airline that would be flying us to Santiago (Chile) at 5:30pm.  Sounded like another run-around.  Jason stayed on the phone with them while I went downstairs to the LAN ticket counter to talk to them.

I was still in line when Jason joined me downstairs.  The call had dropped again and he was sick of having to call them back and waiting on hold.  He was getting nowhere with them.

We finally got to a ticket agent.  We told them that our airline reservation had been cancelled and that we couldn’t check in.  She was incredibly apologetic for the inconvenience and told us that she would help us out. FINALLY!  A helpful customer service rep!

After a couple of keyboard clicks and some digging around, she told us that she could see our reservations but that there were no airline tickets attached.  She called the manager over for help.  Some discussions in Spanish ensued and the manager took over.  The manager apologized again for the inconvenience and asked whether we had missed the second leg of our multi-city airline travel.  I didn’t have a good feeling about this: ‘Yes, we did but we still need the third leg of our airline travel‘  She sadly informed us that we cannot skip any leg of a multi-city airline ticket.  Once we skip one, the entire ticket is then null and void – apparently that’s the policy for multi-city airline tickets.

We stood there flabbergasted!  We tried pulling the sympathy card (‘But we were never informed of the policy!‘) but the manager couldn’t do anything.  We had no airline reservations to Chile and even our fourth flight to Argentina has been voided.  She suggested that we can talk to the airline’s head office on Monday (it was currently Saturday) to try to plead our case, but nothing was guaranteed.   She gave us a sympathetic look and called for the next customer in line.

We were numb as we wandered away from the ticket counter.  We had just lost two flights and a LOT of money – almost 10% of our travel budget!  I tried to stay positive but Jason was having a pretty hard time.  We let ourselves wallow in our misery for a few minutes.  But then I forced us to get past it and start thinking about the options in front of us.

  1. Stay in Bolivia until Monday to talk to the head office of the airline.
    1. Pros: we might be able to recoup our flights
    2. Cons: we’d have stay in Bolivia for two additional nights and find last-minute accommodation.  Also, there’s no guarantee that we’d be able to recoup anything
  2. Buy another flight to Santiago, Chile
    1. Pros: we’d get to leave Bolivia sooner
    2. Cons: flying to Chile would be expensive, as would the eventual flight out of Chile to Argentina

After a lot of thought, we decided to go with our 3rd option: book a flight straight to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  We would cut Chile from our travels (Chile is an expensive country and flying into and out of Chile would just add to our travel expenses).  We didn’t have much planned in Chile and haven’t heard too many things about the country that made us feel like we had to go there.  While on the other hand, there were plenty of things we wanted to do in Argentina.

So we chalked our cancelled flights up to a really expensive life lesson and started looking for the next flight out to Buenos Aires and  accommodations.  I think we must’ve used up all our bad luck, because within a few hours, Jason had found a beautiful apartment in Buenos Aires that was available and I found a flight that would fly us out the next morning for an amazing price.

It was an emotional rollercoaster of a day, but by 7pm, we had finalized our plans and settled down with beer and wings in the food court to celebrate.

Food court in Santa Cruz, Bolivia airport

During our 24 hours here at the airport, we ate at every single food counter here. The place on the left served wings and beer 🙂

The travel agent who helped me book the flight to Buenos Aires even let us spend the night in the employee lounge behind their ticket counter (i.e. a secure space to store our backpacks, a comfy couch, and a huge flatscreen TV).  So Jason and I settled in after our food court dinner and dreamed of Buenos Aires.

Lesson Learned: DO NOT skip any leg of travel if travelling via a multi-city airline ticket.  Doing so will make any subsequent flights on the ticket null and void

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Eating: Colombia

Introducing the ‘Eating’ series! All ‘Eating’ posts will be wholly devoted to foods and drinks from our travels. Yum!

Jason and I love trying out local dishes and eating new foods when we travel (one of the reasons our travel blog is named Travels of Yum), but Colombian food isn’t really anything to write home about. (Which is a little ironic since, technically, I am kind of writing home about it in this blog post)

Colombian food is very meat and starch-heavy. Jason LOVES meat but I prefer lighter fare. Also Colombians love to fry everything, which is delicious occasionally but when you have your fifth deep-fried ‘some sort of meat encased in a ball of corn flour’, you start craving a stalk of celery.

Typical Colombian dish

Typical Colombian dish: a platter consisting of rice, slaw, fried plantain, beans, and then either chicken, pork chop, or grilled steak. It was tasty but lacked a little variety. (Taken in Cartagena)

Typical Colombian dish

Same traditional Colombian dish – different meat. (Taken in Medellin)

Something we both agreed on is the flavour of Colombian food – or maybe lack thereof. We’re used to the flavour explosion of Korean kalbi, or the subtle hints of fresh herbs in Vietnamese pho, or oregano-infused aroma of fresh Italian tomato sauce. In comparison, Colombian food is a little one-dimensional. Locals are always sprinkling salt, shaking pepper, squeezing lime or squirting hot sauce on everything to give it some sort of kick.

After two weeks in Colombia and in search of something different, I tried a seafood paella in Cartagena. Cartagena is on the coast and I thought the Spanish seafood dish would be a good choice. Unfortunately, it wasn’t prepared very well (rice was overcooked and it was too salty.

Seafood paella (Cartagena, Colombia)

Looked good…but was a little salty and overcooked.

While on the coast in Cartagena, we also tried ceviche (fresh raw seafood marinated or cured in lime juice and seasoned with chili peppers). We visited a place called La Cevicheria.

La Cevicheria in Cartagena, Colombia

A bowl of octupus ceviche in Cartagena

Apparently Anthony Bourdain had visited this place on his show No Reservations. I’m not sure why, as we found the ceviche very sub par – it was overpoweringly tart and overpriced. I had the octopus ceviche and Jason had the mixed seafood ceviche. Jason’s was mildly better because of the variety in texture.

Luckily, breakfasts were pretty consistently delicious. Fresh baguette served with huevos pericos (scrambled eggs with onion and tomatoes) or arepa (fried maize pancake) served with fried eggs, drizzled with butter and sometime served with a local cheese that’s really similar to feta.

Huevos pericos (Bogota, Colombia)

Huevos pericos and fresh baguette

Delicious breakfast (Jerico, Colombia)

Arepa with cheese and fried eggs (one of my favourite breakfast dishes!)

One thing Colombia does really well is their soups and stews. I’ve posted this photo before but I’ll post it again since it was so good. Their fish soups, pureed vegetable soups, chicken soups are so good! Add a splash of lime and it’s perfect.

Authentic fish stew (Medellin, Colombia)

Don’t miss the soups and stews in Colombia!

Supposedly, one of Colombia’s tastiest dishes is the ajiaco – a very thick chicken stew that’s chock full of vegetables, maize, potatoes, cream, and capers. I only say ‘supposedly’ because I don’t think the version we tried was that great. It was a little too thick in consistency, almost like I was eating a bowl of really thick chicken-flavoured mashed potatoes. We would’ve given it another chance but we ran out of time in Colombia.

Ajiaco (Jardin, Colombia)

Ajiaco – A popular Columbian stew

Colombia also has some amazing exotic fruits (guanabana, mora, etc), so they have delicious fresh jugos (or juices) everywhere. Definitely not something to miss! No pictures to post though, since I always forgot to snap a picture before gulping down the deliciousness. Here’s a picture of Colombian beer though (which was also pretty good) 🙂

Colombian beers

Cool graphic beer logos.

The highlight of the food we had in Colombia was definitely the fish in Cartagena. They brought fresh fish to us while we lounged on the beach, so that we can select one we liked (we chose the Red Snapper) and they fried it up for us and served it with coconut rice. Absolutely amazing.

Deep fried red snapper (Cartagena, Colombia)

Fresh, deep-fried red snapper served right on the beach

I couldn’t get enough of it. I ordered it again for dinner (where I tried the Mojarra). And again for lunch the next day.

Deep-fried Mojarra (Cartagena, Colombia)

Deep-fried Mojarra in Cartagena

Closing in on 3 weeks in Colombia, we decided to get a taste of something familiar – Chinese food. We found one of the few Chinese restaurant in Medellin. Thanks to my dad insistence that I learn the language of my ancestors (i.e. 3 hours of Chinese school every Saturday all through my grade school years), I was able to converse well enough with the owner of the restaurant to order off the menu. That meant we were able to order some authentic Chinese food, as opposed to the Americanized (Colombianized?) Chinese food that she normally serves.

Chinese food (Medellin, Colombia)

Pretty authentic Chinese food (Ma-Po Tofu and Sweet & Sour Pork)

Chinese veggies in soy sauce and garlic (Medellin, Colombia)

After weeks of eating meat and starches, it was nice to have some leafy greens. The owner has to special order in ‘Guy Lian‘. What a treat!

Adios Colombia! The country was beautiful, the people were really friendly, but the food could be better.

Pretty Pueblos Part II: Jardin (of Eden)

Central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

Colourful chairs and tables fill the central plaza

From Jericó to Jardin, we embarked on a 3-hour adventure via the traditional ‘chiva’ bus to the nearby village Andes (COP 11,000/pp), and then took a 30-min taxi (COP 4,000/pp) from Andes to Jardin.

Cathedral in central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

The central plaza

After we got off the crazy bus (and just so we’re clear, I’m referring to the crazy-colourful bus and its crazy driver..not the passengers), we arrived at the closest thing to paradise on Earth.

Colour buildings (Jardin, Colombia)

Colourful building of Jardin

We had arrived at our next pueblo: Jardin. It was rumoured that the earliest discoverers of this village stumbled across it and, amazed by its natural beautfy, called it a garden. And I can see why – its literally a modern-day Garden of Eden. Mountain vistas, lush green valleys, and crystal clear mountain rivers from all angles.

Mountain vistas (Jardin, Colombia)

Beautiful mountain vistas

As was with Jericó, neither Lonely Planet or Rough Guides makes any mention of the pueblo, so foreign tourists rarely visit.

Curious locals (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason and I were mild celebrities in Jardin. These kids came up to us and asked if they can take pictures with us. We happily obliged. They didn’t ask for our signatures though.

This perfect combination of breathtaking natural beauty, mild climate, and ‘not-a-single-souvenir-shop-in-sight’ makes this village an ideal place to stay for a couple of nights.

Cathedral in central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

Sunset over the central plaza

Jason and I took a quick ride out of the village centre on one of the (what locals affectionally call) “motoratones” or motor-rats, because they resemble little rats on wheels.

Motoratones (Jardin, Colombia)

One of several motoratones in the village

We arrived at ‘La Trucheria’ or the trout farm which I thought was going to be kinda cheesy. I was totally proven wrong when we discovered we got to fish for our own trout!

La Trucheria (Jardin, Colombia)

La Trucheria (or trout farm)

Jason finally caught the ever-elusive fish that’s haunted him since last summer!

Fishing for trout (Jardin, Colombia)

That is one proud man!

I technically caught a trout first but I screamed so loudly in excitement that I think I scared the fish off the hook and onto the ground, where he flopped around for a few frantic seconds before gratefully escaping back into the pond.

Fishing for trout (Jardin, Colombia)

I caught one too (before Jason did!)

Cleaning the trout (Jardin, Colombia)

Cleaning station

We got the fish cleaned right there, and afterwards, brought the fish to the restaurant on site for them to prepare the freshest, tastiest trout I’ve ever had!

Trout bounty (Jardin, Colombia)

Me holding up our bounty!

Our just-caught trout meal (Jardin, Colombia)

The mouthwatering trout we had for lunch. This was only half of it, since we caught 4 trout.

One of the top hiking destinations nearby was to ‘La Cueva del Esplendor’ (Cave of Splendour). There are number of ways to get to the destination: hike, horseback ride, rappel down the waterfalls. We booked our horseback ride to the cave through a local guide, Jaime (pronounced HY-mee). (Ask around town for him – there appeared to be only 2 main guides who offer this tour.) I was excited to try my hand at horseback riding again…my last experience was pretty scary and I got eaten alive by mosquitoes so I didn’t really enjoy it that much.

Jaime's finca (Jardin, Colombia)

At our guide’s finca

We arrived at Jaime’s finca (or coffee farm) and he paired us up with our horses. I got paired up with a handsome white horse named Leonardo. He turned out to be the sweetest horse – responsive and wouldn’t go faster than a trot unless I directed him to.

Jenn on horseback (Jardin, Colombia)

Me looking like I’ve been riding all my life (not!)

The trail we took was a different story…it was slippery, muddy, steep, and at times incredibly narrow. I have a new-found respect for horses. I thought the slippery trail was going to do my horse (and as a result, me) in, but Leonardo was so sure-footed. He never let me down (well, not until we reached end of the ride).

Jason's steed (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason on his steed

The actual views we took in during the horseback ride was breathtaking (or perhaps it was the altitude?). The views of the endless Andean mountain range were spectacular. Pictures do not do them any justice whatsoever.

Andean scenery (Jardin, Colombia)

Andean scenery

Horseback trails through Andean mountains (Jardin, Colombia)

Horseback trails through Andean mountains

When we reached the end of the trail at another finca, we tied up our horses and took a pretty difficult trail through the dense foliage to get to the waterfall. The trail by foot was equally slippery and muddy, and we found ourselves having to hang onto nearby vines and branches for dear life. An older American lady that was with us had to be lead down personally by our guide. Jaime was great – really patient and wanted to make sure the entire group was always safe.

Jaime the guide (Jardin, Colombia)

Our guide, Jaime.

But all the work was worth it. The sight that greeted us was breathtaking – seriously our group took in a collective gasp. Like a ray of light, the waterfall rushed down through a hole in the roof of the cave, sending up misty droplets into the air.

The cave of splendour (Jardin, Colombia)

The cave of splendour

Jason was the only one brave enough to face the icy cold water and he took a quick dip under the falls. Crazy, this guy! 🙂

Waterfall swimming (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason shivering swimming in the waterfall

The cave of splendour (Jardin, Colombia)

Jason and I in front of La Cueva del Esplendor

Instead of taking the same muddy trail back up to the second finca, a small group of us (the two of us and a young American couple who were spending a few months in Central America and Colombia) were allowed to walk up a section of waterfall. Pretty cool and, at times, a little scary as we jumped from rock to rock in our borrowed galoshes.

Climbing up the waterfall (Jardin, Colombia)

Climbing up the waterfall

We met up with the guide and the older American couple at the second finca and remounted our horses for another beautiful ride back through the mountains. This time, Leonardo decided to be a bit more daring and would often walk right on the edge of the trail, so there was nothing but a steep drop on one side of us. He lost his footing briefly at one point, and I nearly peed my pants! After that, I led him away from the ledge.

Riding through the Andean mountains (Jardin, Colombia)

Riding through the Andean mountains

We had a wonderful lunch of chicken, yuca, potato, rice, cornbread – all wrapped up within banana leaves when we returned to Jaime’s finca. Sooo good!

Our delicious homemade lunch (Jardin, Colombia)

Our delicious homemade lunch

Sunset over the central plaza (Jardin, Colombia)

Farewell Jardin, Colombia

Jardin has definitely been one of the highlights of our trip so far. Make sure to stop in for a few days if you’re ever in Colombia.

Psst: Missed Part I of Pretty Pueblos? Click here.

Pretty Pueblos Part I: Jericó

Jerico, Colombia

Overlooking the village of Jerico

From the advice of other travel bloggers, we decided to spend some time off the beaten path in the Antioquia region. This region contains an endless number of pueblos (or villages) that will allow the weary traveller to kick back and enjoy a slower pace.

Jericó is one of the many pueblos in the coffee zone, just 3.5 hours south of Medellin. We spent a day in the little village (approx population 13,000) enjoying the sunshine, the mild climate, and the company of incredibly friendly people.

Parque Reyes (Jerico, Colombia)

Most cities or villages have a central plaza where all the locals congregate to catch up on gossip or just to people-watch. Jericó had a very pretty central plaza, named Parque Reyes.

People-watching at a cafe (Jerico, Colombia)

We drank a lot of coffees at this cafe. It had the perfect vantage point for people-watching people in the central plaza.

This charming little village also had a meticulously-maintained botanical garden, ‘Los Bolsos’.  It was pretty impressive.

Bridge to botanical garden (Jerico, Colombia)

The bridge that led from the village to the botanical garden.

Botanical garden (Jerico, Colombia)

Flowers in the botanical garden

The botanical garden, ‘Los Bolsos’, is located at the base of El Salvador.  The pathways will eventually lead up top the top of El Salvador, where stands Jericó’s own statue of Christ.  From here, you can take in breathtaking, panoramic views of the village and surrounding mountain vistas.

Panorama from the top of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Panorama from the top of El Salvador

We met a friendly local up at the top who tried to teach us about the village’s history. Too bad his lecture was entirely in Spanish 😛  He offered to take some pictures of us though.

Christ statue at the top of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Christ statue at the top of El Salvador

We stayed up at the top enjoying the breeze and the views for awhile.

Christ statue at the top of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Jerico’s own statue of Christ, at the top of “El Salvador”

Top  of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

This is me imitating the statue. No, just joking..I’m not sure why I’m posing like that.

Asian tourist (Jerico, Colombia)

This little girl cozied up to Jason and wanted her picture taken with the rarely-seen Asian tourist.

Top  of El Salvador (Jerico, Colombia)

Jason pondering life’s mysteries….or what to have for lunch.

On our way down we saw this beautiful wild horse just horsing around (haha). He was a little scary since he was humongous! He almost charged me at one point and I freaked out!  It took a lot of coaxing from Jason to get me into the same photo frame with him after that incident.

Scared of the wild horse (Jerico, Colombia)

Scared of the wild horse

We were wandering the small streets, when we were stopped by an older gentleman. He guessed we were from Canada (We must’ve been in the middle of asking a question, eh?) and told us that he lived in Toronto for years! Say wha?!? What are the chances of bumping into a local who used to live in Toronto but now lives in this tiny little village??

Decio the Canadian/Jerico local (Jerico, Colombia)

Jason, Decio and Decio’s friend Jaime.

Jenn & Decio (Jerico, Colombia)

Jenn & Decio

His name is Decio and he was born in Italy, lived in Toronto for years, but has now located to Jericó where his wife was born. It was great to be able to converse with a local in English so we spent the afternoon with him, enjoying coffee in the central plaza and walking around the beautiful streets.

Weekend market (Jerico, Colombia)

Vendors set up on the weekend in the central plaza, Parque Reyes

Typical Antioquian architecture (Jerico, Colombia)

Typical Antioquian architecture: colourfully-painted doors, window frames and balconies.

Cobblestone staircases (Jerico, Colombia)

Flower-lined streets, cobble-stone staircases, more colourful houses

Decio invited us into his home to show us the view of the mountains and his cattle farm from his rooftop terrace.

Panorama from Decio's balcony (Jerico, Colombia)

Panorama from Decio’s balcony

Pretty cool to see what a local’s home looks like. All in all, Jericó is a must see. Go before its overrun by tourists 🙂

Misconceptions of Medellin

Two posts in two days! I’m on a roll! Medellin, Colombia

Medellin is a city of misconceptions.  A lot of Colombia’s bad rap comes from Medellin.  In the 80s and 90s, drug gang turf wars were rampant and that bloody era earned Medellin the world’s highest murder rate.  Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s cocaine druglord, ran the show back then, but when he was killed in 1993, Medellin began to turn itself around.

Modern art sculptures (Medellin, Colombia)

Modern public art sculptures

When people travel to Colombia, they might expect to see a still-developing country.  However, Medellin is a modern city that rivals big cities in North America.  Modern freeways, a fast and efficient public transportation system, and bustling commercial centres have allowed this city to grow and prosper.

Medellin metro system

The metro was a great way for us to get around the city. It also connects to the cable cars – so once you pay for the metro, you can take a free ride up to the top of Santo Domingo for spectacular views of the city

It’s still important to note that there are neighbourhoods (i.e. some areas in the downtown core) that should be avoided.  Jason (of course) was curious so we wandered into one of the sketchier areas (during the day..don’t worry, dad!) but hightailed it out of there after we got some weird stares from the locals huddled around a crack pipe.

Cablecar to top of Santo Domingo (Medellin, Colombia)

On our way up to the top of Santo Domingo

Travellers who come here today will find a (relatively) safe and modern city.  No wonder so many travellers decide to stay put and actually live here.  It has a pleasant climate (year-round temperatures of mid-20s°C), inviting green spaces, excellent restaurants, and an interesting arts and culture scene.

DSC00289 (683x1024)DSC00301 (683x1024)

We spent the day wandering around the Museo de Antioquia, walking down the lively, pedestrian-only Avenida Carabobo (Carrera 52), and then took the cable car up for views of the city from Santo Domingo.

Plaza Botero (Medellin, Colombia)

Medellin is the birthplace of the artist, Fernando Botero. Plaza Botero has about 20 of his sculptures on display (free of charge), right next to the Museo di Antioquia

Street musicians (Medellin, Colombia)

Musicians on Avenida Carabobo (Carrera 52)

Cablecar to top of Santo Domingo (Medellin, Colombia)

View of the city from the cable car

Cablecar to top of Santo Domingo (Medellin, Colombia)

On the cable car up to the top of Santo Domingo

If we were to move to Colombia, we would likely choose Medellin as well.  It’s a definitely a city to live in, as opposed to a city to just visit.

El Corral (Worm)Burgers

El Corral (Bogota, Colombia)

Mission accepted!

We were instructed to check out El Corral and to report back findings while in Colombia.  El Corral is a restaurant chain in Colombia that’s known for its burgers…..more specifically, its worm burgers!

Rumour has it that its burger patties contain ground up worms. Apparently worms are high in protein and are cheap and effective substitutes for meat.

100% beef (Bogota, Colombia)

They DO claim that it’s 100% beef. But then again, so does McDonalds.

Jason and I decided to accept our mission and check out whether the rumour is true.

El Corral (Bogota, Colombia)

About to embark on our El Corral mission

Jason ordered the classic and I ordered the Criolla – which is the classic with sautéed onions, bacon, cheese and a fried egg.

Criolla burger at El Corral

Beef (& worm?) patty, sauteed onions, tomato, bacon, fried egg = perfect burger!

Yummers!!

After Lick’s burgers, this was the most delicious, messiest, artery-hardening burger I’ve ever had!

Criolla burger at El Corral

The view of the Criolla burger from another angle

I scrutinized the patty after I’ve taken a few bites. Little globules of fat?…worms?…I wasn’t sure. So the verdict is…….inconclusive.

I cannot confirm or deny the use of ground up worms in their burgers. I can, however, confirm that they are delicious.

El Corral (Bogota, Colombia)

Stuffing my face Testing for scientific purposes at El Corral

Sardines in a Can Van

Interior of the Chiva bus

The more eclectic the decor on the bus, the faster and crazier the driving.

Whenever possible, Jason and I try to avoid intercity or inter-country bus travel.  But in South America, there isn’t really any sort of useful passenger rail system – leaving us with either expensive flights or the dreaded ‘superlong, head-tossing, stomach-churning, hairpin-turning, traffic-weaving, over-air conditioned’ bus rides.  So we have accepted the fact that ‘superlong, head-tossing, stomach-churning, hairpin-turning, traffic-weaving, over-air conditioned’ bus rides will be part of our South American adventure – or the actual adventure itself.  Let me tell you about our epic bus adventure from Cartagena to Medellin- a whopping 16-hour, multi-part saga.

Exterior of the Chiva bus

The bus ride from Jerico to Andes was one of the most interesting bus rides we’ve taken so far. Unfortunately, the one from Cartagena to Medellin was the exact opposite

Part 1: The Negotiation

Getting to the main bus terminal in Cartagena took a 40 min cab ride (which surprisingly only cost CDN $11). Once we arrived, we found out the next available bus would require us to wait another 3 hours in the sweltering bus terminal. We couldn’t afford to leave Cartagena that late since the estimated 13 hour bus ride would mean we would arrive in Medellin somewhere around 3am. We had read warnings to only arrive in Medellin during the day.  Note: Although this warning was directed specifically to people flying into Medellin (i.e. to avoid the stretch of highway between the airport and the city at night), we decided that it might be wise to apply this to our bus travels as well.

After a game of Colombian Charades (i.e. Charades with Colombian locals) with a few random men hanging around a couple of passenger vans, we were able to negotiate a ride to Medellin that would leave immediately.

Part II: Sardines in a can van

12 people crammed into a van that is supposed to seat 8. This part lasted 6 hours.

sardines in a van

Squished into the 2 front seats were 3 people. Squished behind me in the 3 back seats were 5 people.

sardines in a van

Jason and I were lucky enough to get our own seats!

Part III: Language barrier

Our bus driver stopped at a bus station in some unknown town. Everyone got off the van and got into another van.  A Colombian fellow took our bags and loaded them into the van too. Just before we took off, Jason asked “á Medellin?” The driver looked at us as if we had both grown an extra head.  Then a stream of Spanish words came out of his mouth, of which none were ‘Medellin‘.  He waved us off the van, while a Colombian boy unloaded our backpacks.  He then put them both on (one on his back, the other on his front) and walked off around a corner.  We scurried after him and when we caught up to him, he was loading our backpacks onto an entirely different bus.  “Medellin?“, we asked one of the random men standing around the bus. “Si.”, one them replied.  So we hopped onto the slightly bigger, more run-down, dark and dank bus and hoped the guy outside knew what he was talking about.

Part IV: Musical Chairs Buses

Another 5 hours later, we arrived at a bus station in another unknown town.  We got off the dark, dank bus because everyone else did.  This time, our bags got moved into one of those fancy coach buses.  The conductor started drawing up new tickets for us, and I thought we’d have to pay again for the next leg of the epic saga titled “The never-ending bus ride”.  Luckily, there was an English-speaking Colombian man in the mix.  We’ve discovered on this trip that finding someone who speaks English in Colombia is like receiving good customer service from Rogers Cable…a rare and pleasant surprise!  He told us that this was the last bus transfer and that we should be arriving in Medellin around midnight.

Dirt road from Cartagena to Medellin

On this bus ride, we spent 3 hours travelling on a dirt road. We probably could’ve walked it faster 🙂

The Epilogue: 

I can’t really title this part, “Part V”, since we were still on the same bus.  But around 11pm, we came to a sudden stop on a winding mountain road.  At first I thought we were having engine trouble or maybe a flat tire.  The bus driver adjusted the bus a bit and then turned the engine off.  We were plunged into darkness and silence.  No one was panicking so I didn’t think we were in trouble.  Everyone else on the bus just sat back and went back to sleep.

After sitting in the dark for 15 minutes, I asked Jason to find out what was going on.  The English-speaking Colombian was not with us, so we tried to patch together whatever Spanish we understood and figured out that we were going to sit here until the road construction up ahead was finished(?!!)  We were flabbergasted!  We had to wait here for at least another hour until the construction crew finished building, apparently, the only road between here and Medellin.

So we sat.

And sat.

And sat some more.

When we finally got started again, and drove over the newly-formed “road”, we gaped at the line-up of cars, trucks, and buses on the oncoming side of traffic.  Colombian efficiency at its best, I tell ya.   Who schedules construction on the only road in the area when there’s obviously still plenty of traffic?  We finally rolled into Medellin at 2 in the morning.

Ten minutes later, the bus that left Cartagena 3 hours after we left also rolled in.