Continuing from my previous post. After Cartagena, I left for Medellin without knowing that the city will be my home for almost 6 months and the experience I would never be able to forget for the rest of my life. Colombia had one of the longest lockdowns in the world due to Coronavirus pandemic. I had solo traveled to Four Continents i.e. Asia, Africa, North America, Europe before traveling to South America but I have never lived in a foreign country and nor I had the intention of living in one but the Universe had different plans for me. So, Here’s My Story!
I traveled from Cartagena to Medellin by overnight bus. I reached Medellin and started exploring the city while many attractions were closing down. It was mid of March and coronavirus was heading the news but the majority of people were not taking it too seriously. I was one of those people. After my few days in Medellin, Suddenly the news breaks out that everything is going to be under lockdown. Medellin, Colombia, South America, India, Almost all the world. My mindset still did not change. I thought it will be a short term thing and decided to stay back in Medellin to avoid buying a highly overpriced ticket back to India while watching life coming to a standstill. Airports Shut, Schools/Colleges Shut, Shopping Malls Shut, Offices Shut, Shops Shut, Transportation Shut. In the initial period of Quarantine, we were only allowed to go out twice in 10 days to stock up grocery, doing banking transactions as per the last digit of Cedula(Colombian National ID card) and Passport number. I was staying in a budget hostel and the initial couple of weeks were really good. I was enjoying the experience of staying with local people. There are a Venezuelan guy and his Colombian girlfriend. The guy was really optimistic about his life in Colombia and has really positive energy around him. He used to tell me about his life in Venezuela and how it was the best country to live in Latin America 25 years ago before the crisis hit them. There was another Venezuelan guy who is the manager of the hostel and whose favourite activity was listening to Jesus songs all day. And then there was a transsexual Colombian girl who was suffering from depression but is a very articulate person. And finally, The Turkish guy who came to Colombia to study Spanish at the national university and got stuck. We became friends. He is the kind of person with whom you won’t agree most of the times but would like to be friends because of his clean heart. We were surprised to find many similarities between our cultures. So we were 6 people in the hostel. We used to cook together, watch movies, play card games sometimes. There was a long balcony in the hostel which was our viewpoint to the outer world. The world was not what it used to be. We used to spend a lot of time on the balcony for fresh air and for the feeling that we are not trapped. One good thing that comes out of my stay in that hostel was my cooking improved a lot and I got the habit of cooking every day. I was staying in a dormitory bed there and trying to spend as less as possible. After almost a month I feel stuck and there’s no sign of returning home or traveling again. So, I decided to change my hostel.
I and the Turkish guy moved to a hostel in El Poblado. El Poblado is the most touristic neighbourhood of Medellin where many foreigners live. In this hostel, several people from Peru was staying who was stuck in Colombia and their embassy was helping them financially. There were more than 10 people in the hostel. Peruvians, Argentinian couple, An American guy, Venezuelans, An old German and A Canadian guy. There was a very good dancer from Peru. He taught me a few steps of Salsa which I think I mastered by now haha. There’s a Peruvian couple who were really curious about India and the guy was obsessed with Monopoly. Every time he used to see me, his first words would be “Hey Saurabh, Let’s play Monopoly”. Then there’s the Turkish guy who was obsessed with Chess and wanted to beat everyone in the hostel and he actually did. No one was able to beat him at the game of chess. Argentinian couple who are jugglers taught me a few juggling tips while Canadian guy gave me a few sermons and a German guy who has all the conspiracies theories about Coronavirus. I tried to observe them and learn from them whatever I can. I think the best I learnt from the two Peruvian friends who are Video editors. They were so focussed on their work that coronavirus doesn’t matter to them. Their dedication motivated me to learn Spanish seriously and focus my energy there. I signed up for a mobile application called “Busuu” and started learning Spanish. The best thing was I could practice my Spanish with so many native speakers in the hostel. The quarantine was as strict as before with an exception of going out for a walk, ride a bicycle for an hour every day. It was a much-needed breathing space. It was such a welcome change to move into the city without worrying about the last digit of my passport number. A little freedom in a lockdown. There were days when I used to be really angry about the whole situation but I guess the circumstances moulded me slowly but surely. After a few weeks, most people left the hostel and I started to feel a bit depressed and decided to leave the hostel. This time I left alone without the Turkish guy who was happy to stay at the same hostel. I moved to another hostel in the same neighbourhood of El Poblado.
I spent more than a month at this hostel. I chose this hostel because of its big garden space. I was so sick of being indoors that I wanted that feeling of being out in the open. Initially, there were 4 people in the hostel excluding me. All of them are Colombians. The manager of the hostel, another Colombian guy who was volunteering at the hostel, A Canadian-Colombian guy who introduced himself as gay at the first encounter even though I didn’t ask and A crazy Colombian girl. Well more about her soon. I continue to live in a dormitory bed and save money but the best part was the whole room was just for me. Well, on most days. The manager of the hostel used to move into my room on some days when the other rooms were filled with guests. Well in case you are wondering “what guests?”. Many Colombian couples used to come to the hostel for a short stay to get out of their apartment for the much-needed change of scenery. I met many different people during the course of my stay. One night a couple came to celebrate their anniversary. I remember since then I got interested in Spanish music as they particularly played the same song in the loop for million times(or at least seems like that) i.e. “se que bebo se que fumo”. I started learning Spanish through Spanish songs which is quite a good way to learn a new language. I keep honing my Spanish skills and also signed up for an online writing course to make full use of my time. Okay back to the crazy girl. So when I arrived at the hostel, this girl welcomed me so well. She cooked for me and shared a cake with me. I felt so welcomed but slowly her attitude changed. When I first came to the hostel the manager of the hostel told me to stay away from her. I had no intention of getting close to her anyway. Gradually, she started fighting with everyone in the hostel. It was getting worse day by day. One day she called the police because she thinks someone stole her omelette and the police came too. I found that hilarious! So it turns out that the police is a regular visitor to the hostel thanks to the crazy girl. The owners of the hostel wanted her to leave the hostel but couldn’t able to do so because of the quarantine. After a week or so, an Irish girl who lives in Colombia moved to the hostel and the situation comes to its boiling point. Both girls couldn’t stand each other and one night the Irish girl throw a party inviting more trouble. They also invited me to the party and I reluctantly went even though I knew it was a bad decision. After a while, the obvious thing happened the police arrived and asked for our identity proof. They let me go seeing that I am a foreigner and sober but fined other people who were drunk and instructed the crazy girl to leave the hostel the next day. The next day in the morning she told the guy who was volunteering in the hostel that she is not going to leave the hostel. So I decided to go out to search new hostel as I cannot take this shit any more but when I got back she already left the hostel and I decided to stay put. Everyone was so happy after she left the hostel but I felt bad for the people in the new hostel who are going to tolerate her. There was a phase when we all used to play a lot of Ludo till late in the night. We were totally obsessed with the game! Taking advantage of the loophole of a new quarantine law, I started going on very long walks with the Irish girl as she loves to walk like me while accompanied by her dog. I discovered a lot about Medellin since she is living in Medellin for 3 years. We used to walk 15-20 km a day. Its when I discovered Medellin and its beauty. Medellin is such a green city with several parks and mountains. I love walking in the city. We hiked several mountains. One day we all went for a hike and it felt like I was traveling again. I was in touch with the Indian embassy all this while and at a certain point, I was seriously thinking of returning back home but several factors contributed to staying back in Colombia. Even though by now India was slowly relaxing the quarantine but insanely priced evacuation flights deter me to go back. Also, I had come to terms with this whole pandemic situation. I used to think and laugh about the fact that I quit my work of so many years because I didn’t want to be stuck at one place for my whole life but ironically I am stuck again even though I am traveling now. After staying for more than a month, the feeling of being stuck kicks in and before I fell into depression, I changed my accommodation.
This time I moved to Envigado. A municipal near Medellin. My favourite neighbourhood in Medellin. I love this place. Envigado is such a great neighbourhood. This place has such positive vibes. Great people, neatly designed, full of nature, parks and waterfalls nearby. I stayed for a month in the new house where I lived with two Colombian guys. Both are musicians. I had a great time there. They gave me a few piano lessons. Strangely, all those years of working on computers kinda helped to learn the lessons quickly and efficiently. We used to go for morning walks and do exercise later except for the total lockdown days. Sometimes we had competitions about who cooks better. I almost always won 😉 One day we went to the waterfall and had time of our life. The waterfall was actually closed for public but we sneaked in and while returning back, the police caught me and I very calmly handled them by just saying “No hablo Espanol” and just walked off. Thanks to my housemates, I did the radio podcast show where I was interviewed by the RJ who quizzed me about Medellin, India and my time in quarantine. It was a fun show and I had a great time. As a solo budget traveler, I am quite used to walk for a long period of time but I took this habit to another level in quarantine. I used to walk for several hours while listening to music and discovering different parts of Medellin. It gave me such a high. During one such walks, I went to “La Sierra” which is considered to be one of the poorest and dangerous neighbourhoods of Medellin. I met a guy there who instantly recognised me that I am from India and invited me to his home for a cup of coffee and Oblea(Colombian sweet). He told me about his time in the Middle East where he used to work with an Indian guy. It was such a heartwarming experience. After a month, It was the first time I did not want to leave the place but had to because I found volunteer work in Envigado in exchange for food and accommodation. So I thought it is a good opportunity to save some money and have a different experience.
I moved to the sixth and last accommodation of my quarantine period. I volunteer for around 3 weeks here. My job was to basically do online marketing of their health-related products. There are an Italian guy, his Colombian wife and their crazy dog in the house. He used to bark anytime and every time like he just saw some ghost. Italian guy was a bit eccentric like an artist. His wife was really caring. They used to argue a lot but when they used to do it, they almost always intentionally/unintentionally switch to Italian. In those 3 weeks, I have eaten enough Italian food that it felt like I have already been to Italy. We were in the second half of August and there was a strong talk that the quarantine will be finally going to over in the month of September. Time passed by and finally, the moment we all were waiting for has become a reality. The Mandatory Quarantine finally ends on 1st September in Colombia! Just one day before my birthday i.e. 8th September, I finally left Medellin to explore Colombia where I spent a big chunk of my life. I couldn’t have left the country without exploring it. Now when I reflect on my quarantine time in Medellin, I am a better cook and can speak Spanish now but I think what quarantine really changed in me above all other things is that it made me a patient guy. Being lived in a fast-paced city like Mumbai for more than 15 years, I needed this more than anything. I think what worked for me as I keep on changing places and meeting new people, listening to their stories, having a different set of experiences which felt like traveling in itself. I saw Medellin with enough different perspectives to make my own opinion about the city. I can now say that I know more about Medellin than many people who are living in the city. After exploring Colombia for more than 2 months after quarantine, I returned to Medellin before leaving Colombia. Just to say goodbye to the city which now feels like a second home.