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Good Bye Costa Rica – Hello Colombia!

leaving panamaLiving in Costa Rica the last six months was memorable.  I will never forget crossing into Costa Rica from Panama at Sixaola and my journey to the gorgeous seaside town of Cahuita in the Province of Talamanca.  As a digital nomad Costa Rica for me was a much needed spiritual retreat.  The music and culture are spectacular.  You haven’t lived until you hear the rhythmic drums and start dancing in the street to the beat.  There is a reason that Costa Rican’s say, “Pura Vida”.  Costa Rica is full of life and natural beauty that you will not find anywhere else in the world, however sadly;  my time in Costa Rica has come to an end.

I heard so many wonderful things about Colombia that I started planning the trip in my head.   Then one day I found myself sitting in front of the screen looking at flights on Kayak.  The price looked right so I said, why not –  I booked myself a round trip ticket from San Jose Costa Rica to Medellin Colombia.  Then I booked my first two weeks in a furnished apartment in Medellin.  Finally, Booking asked me if I wanted to reserve a car from the airport to my lodging and I thought to myself, why not?  This decision would ultimately back-fire but more about that later.

As the days progressed, excitement started building until the day I had to pack my bags.  I was definitely going to be overweight.  My first challenge in making this move was going to be to let go of things that were not serving me.  I was left with one big bag that I had no use for so I donated it the day before I left.

Now, I am on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica and in order to make this flight I needed to get to a city named Alajuela far inland close to San Jose.  There I would spend the night 3km from the airport so that I could check in on time.  On the first leg of my journey I took the Caribeno bus from Limon to San Jose.  The ride took about 4 and a half hours and cost 5 thousand Colones.  When I arrived at the bus terminal there were plenty of taxis hawking for a fair.  I choose a friendly Ticano named Luis and we departed San Jose for Alajuela but I had one small problem.  I was not sure that I had enough Colones to make it till the morning.    I asked Luis to stop at the closest BCR (Bank of Costa Rica) Branch on the way to the hotel.   I dashed into the BCR with the taxi parked outside on the meter and exchanged $150 us dollars for Colones.   I didn’t mind having extra Colones as I planned to return some day.  My only fear was running out of Colones and having to exchange 100 dollar bills at a horrible rate somewhere.  Now with Colones in hand I jumped in the taxi and we were on our way to Alajuela.

The trip from San Jose to Alajuela took about 45 minutes not including the pit stop at the bank.  I arrived at the hotel Tucanes in Alajuela and after a brief check in I left my bags in the room and grabbed my Canon to go on a walk about and take pictures.  Central Alajuela like all Spanish influenced towns has a main square or Plaza.  The town’s church is located on the plaza and serves as the town’s main public park where the townsfolk come out to meet, socialize, play and generally enjoy life.  The surrounding streets were lined with shops, food markets, banks, and offices that provided services.  I had to admit I did not expect there to be so many people but the sun was out and the whether was mild in the mid-afternoon sunlight.

I enjoyed the afternoon walking around, snapping photos, and stopping to grab a bite at a local restaurant before returning to the hotel.  I had to be up at 5am the following morning so I decided to sleep early.  I woke up early and grabbed a shower before breakfast which was included in my stay.  I said farewell to El Tucan and took a taxi to the International Airport.   The airport was very clean, modern and well maintained.  I found my check-in process quite easy because I have a broken hip, I am allowed to use the line for people  needing assistance.

The flight from San Jose Costa Rica to Medellin had a brief stop over in Panama City which is Copa Airline’s hub in Central America.  The flight from San Jose to Panama City only lasted about one hour and so did the flight from Panama City to Medellin.  Flying into Jose Maria Cordova International Airport was absolutely breath taking.   As the plane banked to the left I got a clear view of the beautiful rolling hills, farms and nurseries.  The area surrounding Medellin is perfect for agriculture as well as live stock.

medellin-landingNow the plane makes it’s final course corrections in order to line up with the runway in preparation for landing.  If you are like me your heart starts racing.  All the dreams, researching and planning comes down to actually being there in this moment.  Will it be everything that I imagined or will it prove otherwise?  Entering any country for the first time is an exciting time.  We landed and taxied to our gate.  My first impressions of Jose Maria Cordova International Airport were it was an older airport however it had been well maintained in the past.  Skycaps were located immediately upon exiting the the airplane but after sitting for so long I really just wanted to walk a bit.

By the time that I reached the line for customs I realized there was no way I would last in that line.  I was also one of the last passengers to debark so consequently I had wound up last in the immigration line.  My hip cried out in pain and it was then that I knew I needed assistance to get thru the line so that I could sit down again.

I saw a policeman walking along to him and whistled at him in a friendly way which is routine in my country, big mistake.  The policeman took offense as this is not a customary greeting in Colombia.  I felt all eyes fall on me and the approaching authority.  His immediate reaction to my whistle was disrespect as I was whistling for a dog or horse which was obviously not what I intended.  I quickly apologized to the gentle policeman and asked him if there was a special line for disabled passengers.  He had apparently forgiven me hastily and turned immediately to ask his colleagues in immigration and a minute later I was being escorted to the front of the line.   After only a couple minutes I was called forward and presented my Panamanian Passport to the official.  Surprisingly he asked me absolutely no questions.  I was at least expecting a, “where will you be staying, or what is the purpose of your visit.”  I was not even asked about proof of my covid vaccination.  The next thing I knew I heard, “Bienvenidos a Colombia!”  – STAMPED.  Nice . . .

Now I just had the small matter of claiming my checked baggage and finding a taxi and checking in my accommodations.  After leaving the immigrations area I immediately entered the baggage claim area.  I was delighted to see my luggage waiting patiently for me to catch up and I was then greeted by a nice fellow named Sergio.  He approached with a big smile and admirable disposition.  He helped me with my big suitcase while I managed the my laptop a backpack.  We then left the baggage claim area and walked thru the sliding doors and out into the public arrival area at the airport with taxi drivers waiting for their reserved passengers.   I never reserve in advance as it can be a recipe for disappointment so instead I rather scan the drivers waiting that look decent enough and would appreciate my fare.  I also had the small matter of changing some US dollars into Colombian Pesos immediately so that I could give Sergio a tip for his assistance.

Exchanging currency for the first time is always a learning experience.  Exchanging currency at the airport is not recommended and so I only changed $100 usd.  I received around 430,000 pesos which was plenty to tip Sergio and pay for my taxi ride into Medellin.  Now that I had some local currency I made my way to the exit with Sergio’s assistance.  At the door I noticed several men that were obviously “informal” taxi drivers, men trying to earn an honest living driving even though they did not have their taxi licenses properly.

arriving in medellinThe driver that stood out to me was Fredy.  Little did I know at the time that I was actually meeting one of my best friends and sources of information in Medellin.  Fredy, now 35 years old and standing approximately six feet tall presented himself well and could obviously take care of himself.   I always look for taxi drivers that are decent, honest fellows that know their way around well and quickly bring me up to speed where to get my kicks and stay safe at the same time.  I thanked Sergio with a 25,000 peso tip while Fredy took charge of my baggage and led me toward his parked car.  The car was nice, late model Mitsubishi, sun roof, clean inside and out.  Fredy quickly loaded my luggage and we were off to pay the airport parking and make our way to Medellin where my reservations were waiting.

I arrived just after sunset so leaving the airport was not the best time of the day to take in the scenery.   One thing however stood out in my mind which was how clean and well maintained the road was and the crisp mountain air.  I’m glad that I was wearing my blazer jacket because it had to be around 60 F or 15 C, big change from Costa Rica at sea level.  This was about the time that it dawned on me, “I’M HERE!”  Woohooo.  I made it.  Riding along on the way to Medellin, a place that I have heard so much about.  A place that has been the subject of many tales of lore and legend.

The skin on my arms drew taught and hairs stood up as my senses took in my new surroundings while enjoying Colombian Reggaeton on my 7.8km drive thru what I believe was the oldest and longest tunnel of my life.   However, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for what awaited me once I exited the tunnel.  You ever hear of the light at the end of the tunnel?  I was starting to see the light and just about to get my first glimpse of the great City of Medellin.