Bogota and Beyond

For the last stint of my Colombia trip I am spending some time in Bogota and Chia (a nearby city) with Jake and our fellow friend Santiago from MSU. The last couple of days have been exactly what we’ve been needing. We arrived in Bogota Saturday evening and promptly went to Santiago’s family finca where we enjoyed some Colombian rum around a fire pit and caught up on stories. Sunday morning we slept in and then took a trip to Guatavita, a city that formed around a man-made lake that exhibits all the qualities of a quaint Colombian village. We had a wonderful idea to take a small boat onto the lake, which lasted about 15 minutes and only two of those were spent dry before a storm cloud erupted over us. It was beautiful though!

A colorful house near the finca.

There really has been a perpetual sprinkling of rain since we arrived Saturday and I can officially say that I should have packed a few more sweaters and scarves before I started my travels. But it’s Colombia, who knew it could be so cold? Bogota has a much higher altitude and to cut it some slack, this is considered their winter or rainy season. We had a great day today though, starting with some more gift shopping for family and friends and then we spent some time with Santiago’s parents and went to the famous Salt Cathedral. We took some great pictures, check them out below!

Inside the Salt Cathedral.

A personal favorite from the weekend. I see this look quite a bit.

Only two more days left in Colombia, it’s a bittersweet thing to realize that we’re going home soon. Staying with Santiago’s family gives us a better taste of Colombian culture but it’s going to make it that much harder to leave. We’re incredibly grateful for their immense hospitality and all the hot chocolate two little gringos could ever ask for!

The Pablo Escobar Tour

A little while ago we went on a three hour tour of Pablo Escobar’s life. I’m not sure how I feel about yet, it was all very bizarre. For those of you who are not familiar with Pablo, he was quite arguably the largest drug lord in modern day history, let alone in Colombia. He ruled Medellin and all of Colombia through the 70’s until his death in the early 90’s. He  was responsible for over 10,000 civilian deaths, hundreds of kidnappings and a variety of other crimes (including the mass production of cocaine that infiltrated into the U.S.). However, he also was responsible for building dozens of soccer fields and entire neighborhoods for the poor in Medellin. So to some he was highly respected almost to the point of worship. It was all just very odd.

Anyways, we went on this three hour tour to see several milestone’s in Pablo’s life which included his first home in Medellin, his grave site, and the house where he last resided and where his brother supposedly still lives. We got to meet his brother, Roberto Escobar. He is a very strange man who claims to have the cure for HIV/AIDS; I call delusion. It felt a little like disaster tourism to me, but all of the sketchy things aside, it was interesting to see how one man impacted the country so strongly. I think the best way is to just show you a picture collection:

Pablo’s first home in Medellin. It was bombed while he lived there but he received an outside tip and was able to evacuate before him or his family was harmed.

Graffiti on the side of his home.
“Pablo Vive” means Pablo lives; some people still believe he is alive somewhere.

 

The family plot of the Escobar family. Pablo is on the furthest left.

Pablo’s headstone.

 

Inside Roberto Escobar’s home showing a broken window frame that was pierced by a bullet.

Roberto showing us one of many hidden escapes inside the home.

 

A shattered gunshot to an outside window into the Escobar home.

 

Manizales (just happy that we survived)

This past weekend Jake and I traveled down South to a small city called Manizales for one unforgettable experience. It was one of those adventures where I hope it will be funny some day, but right now we’re still just thankful that we made it back to Medellin in one piece (really I guess it wasn’t too terrible).

Sunset from the top of Manizales

After receiving inaccurate directions from a police officer in Medellin to the bus station and then having the wrong address to our hostel in Manizales we rested Friday night. My phone decided to make a quick escape out of the taxi and spent the night with a Colombian man who agreed to give me my phone back the next morning if I paid him a nice propina (tip). We switched hostels on Saturday to be in a better location and met two Swiss couples that we hit it off with. Saturday morning we went to a phenomenal coffee tour at a local finca. All the coffee and espresso we wanted! We got to hand sort our own beans and then roast them; it really makes you appreciate a simple cup of coffee! Below is a picture of the variety of beans that we got a miniature lesson over.

The most “exciting” part of the weekend by far was when we woke up at 4:00am on Sunday to go on a tour in the mountains to see an active volcano. However, our tour guide forgot to warn us that because of the extreme altitude we would be climbing the temperatures were expected to drop into the 30’s. So clad in our t-shirts and sock-less shoes, we climbed into the back of a farmer’s window-less truck and made our way up the mountains. We essentially stayed in the truck for the majority of the seven plus hours because it was easier to share body heat and keep each other shielded from the wind. We took turns rotating away from the window seats and intermittently stole a 12 year old’s blanket when we got out of the truck to see the views. We did see a volcano though; for about the only six seconds my body would allow me to stand in the wind.

Overall, it’s great to be back in Medellin. Definitely.

Weekend Adventures

These last few days have been spectacular in Medellin, we’ve had a lot of adventures and I’m truly falling in love with this city. I’m pretty exhausted from this weekend’s activities, we exercised SO much and were outside for a good portion of the time.

Friday night Jake and I ventured to a neighborhood close to us and walked around to see all of the little cafes and shops. We had previously found a vegetarian restaurant that we were attempting to hunt down but we ended up finding another one close by; it’s great to have options here for us veggie lovers! We had a relaxing night and prepared for our trip to Guatape on Saturday morning. We woke up bright and early and headed to the bus station around 7:30am. It was a relatively easy two hour ride there with an abundance of beautiful views.

Once in Guatape we made our way El Peñón de Guatapé (a giant monolith). We declined offers to take several horses for the uphill trek, instead we chose to walk up a huge hill to the rock, where we then paid about $5 USD to walk up 740 steps to the top of the rock. It may not sound rough, but let me tell you. It was intense! Once at the top we got some incredible pictures from the view, enjoyed some cold beverages and relished in our accomplishment. Then obviously we had to walk all the way back down. My calves have been punishing me all day today to say the least. We spent the rest of the day swimming in the lake, kayaking and touring the cute little town of Guatape. After a lovely dinner (and ice cream) we took the 7pm bus back to Medellin to rest from our day.

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Jake and I started our Sunday today by a long run this morning. One of my favorite things in this city is that the city blocks off one lane of traffic on one of the busiest streets every Sunday for several hours, it is then accessible to bikers, runners, and anyone who just wants to exercise! I wish more cities in the U.S. did this! Today there were little stands of bike repair stations and juice vendors all over the place, it was just lovely. We spent the day shopping and catching up on reading and homework. It’s nice to have my travel buddy here!

Have a wonderful week,

Madison

Life so far!

Well I just got back from a morning full of class and grammar review, so I thought now would be a perfect time to fill everybody in. I’m loving this city so far, it’s such a drastic change from back home but it’s been full of good “out-of-your-comfort-zone” adventures.

We are going on a Pablo Escobar tour this afternoon; Medellin is where Escobar was born and conducted much of his business. If you’re not familiar with Escobar than I highly recommend you looking him up, he was a pretty intense guy. I’ll be sure to post after our tour!

Also, this weekend we are going to a little city about two hours away from Medellin called Guatape. It is supposedly very beautiful and it is also home to one of the world’s largest rocks in the world!

Have a mentioned how much I love getting to speak Spanish? I am perpetually making mistakes and learning along the way but I enjoy feeling myself improve and advancing in my language skills. I hope everyone has an exceptional weekend, ciao!

Welcome to Medellín, Colombia!

Well we made it to Medellín! It was pretty smooth travels getting here and all is so far so good. This is a beautiful city, and it’s huge! With a population of 3.5 million it is the second largest city in Colombia, next only to Bogota. We haven’t been able to do too much exploring yet but the people seem to be very friendly and overall the city appears to be relatively progressive compared to other parts in the country. There are several large malls and a vibrant night life. I absolutely love the weather and the abundance of vegetation; many people call Medellin the city of eternal Spring because it is always so beautiful and colorful.

During my time here in Medellin I will be staying at the Pit Stop hostel, which is relatively centrally located and a great place to stay. Everything is very clean and I’m definitely enjoying it so far. I’m the only American as of now but most people come and go, only staying a few days. Currently there are about a dozen British travelers and handful of other Europeans and even a few fellow Colombians. I’ve started my Spanish lessons, which is good since that is really why I’m here! It’s nice being able to practice my language skills, especially with native speakers and in a Latin environment.

Well we’re off to do some exploring around the city, I’ll keep you posted!

Back home!

Well we made it back to the States, it definitely was quite the experience but I’m thankful to be home. Jordan truly provided a once in a lifetime experience and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend some time there. Here’s one last picture and please stay tuned for when I come back to my blog in early July when I embark on my next trip to Medellin, Colombia for a month!

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The (pottery) sherds of our labor

Every morning we spend out in the fields is another day that our pottery collection grows a little bit larger. Today after our (last!) afternoon pottery reading session we calculated the grand total to be just a little shy of 3,500 pieces of pottery and lithics. So. Much. Pottery. We have hand washed and scrubbed, categorized and recorded each and every one of them! We’ll be bringing back about 1,000 to Springfield to be studied further in the Archaeology lab on campus.

A sample of collected pottery

I do feel as though it’s a wonderful feeling to find a really good piece when you’re in the field, it’s bizarre to imagine how old it potentially is and what purpose it once served. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn so much about the different time periods and the significance of our finds. All in a day’s work!

Amman

The capital of Jordan, Amman, is everything I imagined a bustling and bright city to be like. We’ve spent some time there over the last two days and I can definitely say that I’ve enjoyed our experiences.

We spent most of the day shopping yesterday, buying souvenirs and walking through the markets. I loved the hustle and bustle of the city, there were so many new things to see and places to go. We drank lemon mint and cranberry juices at the oldest cafe in the city and then had lunch at a Western restaurant that had a beautiful view. Most of the prices were pretty good, it definitely satisfied my shopping needs.

Market in Amman

Today we spent the day touring several archaeological sites in the central region of Jordan (Amman included). We visited the Amman Citadel which was magnificent and also Mount Nebo. We briefly stopped in Madaba, Jordan and visited an old Byzantine church that houses the oldest art floor mosaic in history. The mosaic was created in the 6th century and was also the first map ever made of the Holy Land. It was quite the day but after touring five sites, I’m just about archaelogy’ed out. Back to the field tomorrow!

Working in Jordan!

All is well here in Jordan. We’ve made it through two weeks, one left to go! While we’re enjoying our time here, the primary reason why we are here  is to participate in an archaeological dig in the Northern region and to help solve the gaps in human settlement throughout the area. Our week days are separated into three portions: morning field work, afternoon pottery washing, and lectures on Monday and Wednesday evenings.

When we’re in the field we have to work very systematically and efficiently. All of us students from MSU were separated into two teams, each of which work in different areas of the village. However, on Wednesday my team found an entirely new site that requires the work from the entire group so we will be working together as one large unit for the remainder of our time here! When we are surveying the land we walk each individual plot side by side looking for any sign of human settlement (pottery, wells, cisterns, tombs, etc). We either flag the large feature and then return back at the end of the sweep, or we bag the pottery and move to the next plot. It is a long and strenuous process but it is incredibly exciting when you find an impressive piece of pottery or even a tomb!

Getting ready to do a pottery sweep in the olive grove.

Once the heat becomes unbearable we return to campus, normally around 12-1pm. After a small rest pottery washing begins. This is an important part of the day because not only is all of the pottery we uncovered washed, but it is also categorized and separated into time periods. We have found remains from many, many different periods, including the Byzantine (Roman) and Islamic eras. We scrub the pottery free of dirt and then set it out to dry.

Our lectures in the evenings vary week to week, but they typically have a relevance to what we are doing in the field and the general purpose to why we’re here in Jordan. By the time lectures are over, we’re  exhausted and down and out for the day. The next day we do it all over again!

A view of the Wadi (valley) near our survey site.

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