Colombia Update #6: Cartagena to Medellin

photo[8]Our group of intrepid travelers has headed inland, leaving behind the Caribbean coastline and heading back up into the Colombian highlands.  Kiira writes:
On Thursday morning we rose early to pack up and get ready for our move back into the mountains. After doing a deep clean of the Alex Rocha Center and making sure all of our knives and liquids were tucked into our checked luggage, we hopped on the bus to the airport.  Alex and his family joined us on this final bus ride in Cartagena for an extended goodbye.  After a closing circle led by Alex, and many hugs and good wishes, we were through security and boarding our Avianca flight to Medellin.
photo[5]Our shift from the Colombian Caribbean to a valley in the Andes was quite stark. In addition to all of a sudden finding ourselves in the second largest city in Colombia, the cooler mountain air and the difference in city culture came as a big (yet welcome) change from Cartagena. From the airport our bus wound down switch-backed roads lined with brick houses on steep hills, and into the valley to where our hostel is in the center of Medellin.
photo[4]Our group was happy to arrive at our hostel in the Candelaria district of the city, where we are centrally located to all sorts of city attractions. Hot showers and beds made the group feel at home after a week of what was essentially indoor camping at the youth center.
photo[9]Yesterday we hopped on the metro and saw the city from a local perspective. Their elevated trains and trams run high above the city, putting all it has to offer on display for our group. We rode one tram to the top of the valley, passing over stacked suburbs of brick houses with brightly painted doors and steep winding roads.
photo[3]At the top of the tram line we had arrived in Parque Arvi, a natural preserve far above the city, where we took a guided hike through the trail system. Plants and vegetation look very different here from the last time we were in the woods (actually better described as jungle!) near Santa Marta, and students noted the similarities and differences, both natural or cultural, that we’ve seen in the various regions of Colombia we have visited. After lunch, we headed back to town in our little gondolas, watching lightning storms roll in over the city and experiencing the first rain we have seen since our first days in Barichara. Students danced in the rain on the patio of the hostel once we were back, celebrating the change in weather and this final leg of our trip.
photo[7]Today we woke to a breakfast of mangoes, bananas, and rolls from a local panaderia, and headed to the Museo de Antioquia at the Plaza Botero. We perused the art museum, whose collection is primarily composed of works made or donated by Fernando Botero, a sculptor native to Medellin and whose work appears in big cities around the world. He is known for playing with the volume of his subjects, and his round depictions of bodies have been a notable feature in many of the Colombian cities we have visited on this trip.
photo[1]

Touching the butt of a Botero is encouraged!

After our wander through the museum, we headed to the city center’s public market for another local experience.  While our group was in awe of the hustle and bustle of the marketplace and all of the meat, fish, produce, and other goods available around us, the sight of 14 gringos was even more exciting for vendors and marketgoers — everyone commented on how out of place we looked! But the students prevailed, collecting fruits and veggies enough to create a meal for our final night in Medellin this evening.
photo[8]Students are currently holding a discussion on Marquez, and preparing readings for the next leg of our trip. Tomorrow we take the bus to Salento in the coffee growing region of Colombia, where we will continue to explore and enjoy our time together, while also making time for needed reflection before heading back home at the end of the week.
photo[10]Reports from all our staff reflect the positive ways in which the students have been working together and savoring their diverse experiences.  Spirits have been high, intestinal bugs have been few, and the level of inquiry the students are bringing to their travels is notable.  The group has worked well together, with shared leadership and efforts made by individual students — often with no adult guidance — to draw in anyone who is not feeling included.  All this, while absorbing copious amounts of Spanish vocabulary, meeting and bonding with numerous Colombians, and studying regularly, using their thick readings book and faculty leadership to maximize their learning.
In short, as the expedition winds into its final few days, it is clear that this is one of our most successful overseas expeditions, and we remain profoundly grateful to the parents, donors, and other supporters that have worked to make it possible for these fortunate students.  Thank you!
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