Multimedia storytelling extravaganza

(This preface is wordy, ergo by Sarah. Start some background tunes here.)

I write this sitting on the second story balcony of a beautifully renovated room in Guatape, overlooking the lake. A horse in the pasture a stone’s throw away just nervously moved inside with a few crowing roosters, and thunder intermittently crackles overhead as giant clouds pour in over the mountains, covering uniquely pastel-painted houses in an ominous shade as our neighbors bring their laundry inside. A friendly dog is ambling around the empty pasture as vultures coast overhead. My gentle, chivalrous, unshaven, and relaxed spouse is buried in his kindle, 97% done with some book that he still hasn’t finished because I kept making him look at the views on the bus ride here (and because I made him stay up until midnight last night drinking Medellin Rum and Club Colombia with our new Colombian friends). Every afternoon this week has erupted into a storm following our “almuerzo,” and the comfort of our Laureles apartment in Medellin has become a safe haven in place of the myriad of museums and sightseeing we intend to do. Today was no different, despite our two hour drive outside of the city; yet we can both relax and let the storm pass through with the satisfaction of having already filled our day with activity and our souls with friendship. But, enough about how perfect this moment is —this post is intended to share my feelings through more than just words — so without further ado, here is a mixtape, a soundtrack, a barrage of clicky links to a story of music inspiring my journey.

For the last two weeks, I have spent every weekday morning in Medellin learning Spanish at a private catholic university just down the street. Last Friday, my teacher brought his guitar to class, and we translated a classic cumbia song line by line, and eventually sang along with “El Pescador.” Three simple verses and an easy chorus later, our class (consisting of a Chinese nun, American programmer, Brazilian engineer, and myself) was enthusiastically singing when the ESPEX program’s coordinator Gustavo walked in to invite us to a cultural exchange with the primary school on campus. So on Wednesday, we roused early and sang to a group of boistrous 5–10 year old boys in a small but inspiring library. Clara’s solo performance of a beautiful childrens’ song took the cake and got famous on the school’s Instagram feed. Later that afternoon, I returned to the library with Steve, who put on a very scientific powerpoint presentation for two classes of girls who definitely didn’t care about futbol and applauded whenever a wedding photo showed up (I spent his presentation sitting with the students on the floor, which was much better than being at the front of the room).

“Habia una vez…” Once upon a time, dioramas and flying bicycles and gringos adorn the UPB primary school library.
Steve patiently presiding over the Q&A which consisted of such important issues as, “What’s your favorite color,” and “Have you been to the Eiffel Tower,” and “how long does it take to drive across America?”
The children of UPB’s primary school presented me with an Orchid bookmark, the national flower of Colombia, as a thank you for our visit. Though he’s not Colombian, I’ve been spending some time with Pablo Neruda’s poems this week, and use this bookmark to keep track of the lines that move me most: “Tu eres parte de la fuerza de su vida, ahora despiertate!”
Fourth-grade girls are a bit of a moving target. I ran into a few of these girls a few days later while they were on their way to the “Olympics,” decked out in sequins and telling me about their dual karate and cheer-leading competitions.

I have spent one hour every afternoon (…ok, sometimes two hours every other afternoon) playing with a $35 guitar made in Barranquilla. On the advice of my Spanish teacher Jorge Estupinan, (who is was a finalist in Colombia’s version of “The Voice”) I have been finger-picking my way through “Besame.”

The cab ride to our finca in Girardote was winding, full of potholes, and breathtakingly gorgeous, like all good journeys.

Miri introduced me to her favorite song by Choquibtown called “Somos Pacifico.” We spent last Saturday night and Sunday together with a tossed salad of 17 others at a beautiful “finca” in Girardota, thanks to our roommate Mitch and the benevolent planning of his Colombian friends. Miri and I watched the sun go down while handing out shots of “Guaro!” (aka Aguardiente, the official pre-gaming liquor of Colombia). As the sun tucked behind the bowl of hills surrounding us, lights started to flicker on in surrounding fincas and Steve and Mitch jokingly took credit for the distant green lights as a side-effect of their laser-vision surgeries. Our “landlord” Keenan brought a giant speaker, his gorgeous dance-machine girlfriend Dani, and our Reggaeton-loving housekeeper Alejandra who dubbed me Colombiana after hours of dance-floor tutelage. Our roommate Weston brought his spanish tutor, who explored the orchard and taught me via a delicious Sunday snack that green mangos can be sliced thinly and enjoyed with salt, and that green oranges are effortlessly delicious. Duryulay and Mario kept me practicing my Spanish, David and Steve kept a consistent frisbee-horseshoe match running between dips in the pool, and Kiki and Fathi kept the kitchen turning out amazing pieces of meat. Fathi had me singing ILoveMakonnen’s “Tuesday” all night, and into the next week…

Sunday: taken from the deck over the pool bar: our finca had a shaded patio, soccer field, orchard, and huge charcoal grill.
Sunset over the hills of Girardota. We were surrounded by fields of cows, horses, goats, chickens, and vegetable patches.
Sarah scopes out the finca features: pool, bar, sauna, bathroom, Jacuzzi… finally found a good, shaded, painting-free handstand wall for hangover yoga.

The club was goin’ up on Tuesday. Our Laureles pad became the site of a goodbye party for Kiki, where Mely and Sarita took over the kitchen and made a delicious salad and chicken-bacon-chorizo fajitas. I learned the Colombian way of saying something is taking forever, “como una semana sin carne,” (like a week without meat) because every meal features meat, sometimes 3 types! Lorena and Miri took over the music in the way all amazing Colombian women do and had us all dancing (or stumbling) salsa late into the night.

Kiki, Lorena and Steve tucked into our cab with food and baggage in every square inch of space!
Colombian style: Sarah, Miri, Sarita, and Mely: boys kicked out of the kitchen!

Thanks to Miri’s Spotify takeover, I stumbled upon “No Mas” by Zona Marginal (this link includes both translation of lyrics and some graphic documentary footage). This became the perfect soundtrack to a cramped, bumpy, smelly, and gorgeous 2 hour bus ride to Guatape yesterday, rocking out as the bus rocked, and smiling at the women, children, and salesmen who jumped on and off our bus as if it were a trolley.

Guatape, from above, or “The Sea of the Interior.” The old city was submerged in the 1970's when a hydroelectric dam was built, and this new “waterfront” city is a popular tourist destination.

Every weekday, our school offers Club de Conversacion wherein Spanish language learners practice their listening and speaking skills under the guidance of tutors who direct class by focusing on different cultural aspects of Colombia and the Spanish language. My favorite tutor prepped the group for a trip to the Casa de Memoria by commenting on how even (perhaps especially) when a country has a violent and dark history, finding ways to tastefully yet firmly honor that history is important in the unwieldy quest of reform. He passed out lyric sheet’s to Juanes’s “Que Pasa,” which were simple enough that even a beginner could pick out the theme of frustration about a Colombia rife with war, violence, and death. After we worked through the lyrics’ meanings and heard the song, we were surprised at how upbeat the song actually is, and this too served to fuel my spirits on yesterday’s bus ride. I love how Colombians are so strong, doing what it takes to get by, and in one afternoon this included jumping onto a moving bus for a free yet very uncomfortable ride, strangers reaching out to keep children safe and joyfully singing along to a tinny radio as a bus lurched through the fields, and masterful musicians writing the pain of decades into triumphant rock anthems.

Steve couldn’t pass up this photo-op. The entrance road to climb La Piedra de Penol is a trek in itself, then we climbed the staircase built into the side of the rock. Left from a volcanic eruption, only one quarter of that rock is visible above ground.

On Saturday, we joined three new Colombian friends (thanks to the lovely social atmosphere at Lake View Hostel) on a hike up “La Piedra,” and ended with a perfect cup of “tinto” (coffee) while they shared some traditional Colombian music including Carlos Vives’ “Alicia Adorada.” As we reconnected this morning, I nursed my hangover with the delicious, carbohydrate-based Paisa breafast of champions: Calentado. I have become almost irritatingly obsessed with beans and rice, and the chance to mix them with gooey egg yolks and a fresh arepa and butter and cheese, polished off with mango juice, was amazing. Even after 750 exhausting steps to the top of the giant volcano-based rock for sweeping vistas, none of us were hungry afterwards — well, unless you count hunger for riding in a classic Colombian car, which led to the 5 of us cramming into what I think was a studebaker on our way down the mountain. We were thirsty, which unfortunately stayed unsatiated — since Sunday is a (primary) election, the country did not serve alcohol on Saturday. Interestingly enough, the president shortly thereafter signed a statement that withdrew the dry law due to massive complaints, and the bars were open on Saturday night.

Saddling up to ride down from La Piedra. The rough translation I heard between Luis and the driver was something akin to, “well, if you can fit 6 people in a Mazda 3, you can get them in here.”
Safe and sound in the main plaza of Guatape pueblo. Our driver was so proud of his 40+ years on the road with this car. We went to that mango stand in the background more than three times to refill on spiral-shaved green mango with lime, pepper, and salt.

Sunday’s activity was kayaking around Guatape, so we didn’t bring any music or photography equipment; instead I’ll leave you with a song I rocked out to on a much smoother bus ride back: Baracunatana by Arctiopelados. We used a sit on top kayak from our hostel, but all the locals were touring in small “lanchas” or playing in jetskis or big party boats, so we got plenty of extra paddling practice in the wakes from curious onlookers. We have over 190 songs on the collaborative “Musica Tipica” playlist so far; if you have Spotify and want to give it a listen head over here; most music has been added chronologically, so start at the bottom if you want our most recent finds.

The descent from El Penon was through a second, shaded staircase closer to the rock; we could feel wetness from the previous night’s rain even at noon as we descended.
Rocking out, like we do.
Guatape waterfront: zip lines, booze cruises, jetskis, lanchas, and one crazy couple on a kayak.
A beautiful church highlights the Guatape town square. Colorful moto-taxis offer pedestrians a break from the cobblestone hills.
She makes the best arepas in Medellin. She proudly told me her “trucos,” or tricks: use two kinds of cheese in the middle, put powdered milk in the cornmeal batter, add butter when they’re grilled, and drizzle sweetened condensed milk on top. Reminded me of the recipe for my Uncle Dave Hess’s traditional Thanksgiving baked corn.
Driving back through beautiful, hilly Penol on the way home to Medellin on Sunday night.
No picture does it justice, but each house had colorful zocalos depicting a story of what the inhabitant does for a living.
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