Downtown Medellin, Friday night. In the entrance of an unassuming street corner shop, encased in burglar bars, sits an old man in a wheelchair. I'm with B, an Aussie girl, and a Swiss guy, and we all hesitate before approaching the doorway. The man in the wheelchair nods us through, and we decend a narrow staircase. Halfway down, the sticky air, thick with sweat, starts to crawl up my body, as my eyes struggle to adjust to the dim light in the small room. The loud music made conversation impossible, not that I could have found any words anyway. I was speechless.
Every square inch of floor space belonged to paired up pairs of feet, moving at superhuman speeds in a perfect manic unison with their partner. Hips slithered together, but never touched, hands were clasped tight leading flying elbows that somehow never clashed. It was as though the music had taken over the wiring in everyone's brain, and released some kind of primal instinct that went beyond spoken language and even complex emotion - this was raw unified movement, and I'd never seen anything like it in my life. We'd heard about this local salsa bar from a girl who worked at the hostel, but it was blindingly obvious that any attempts to even begin to join in were going to be futile and painfully embarrassing. Nevertheless, 4 beers down and I accepted a dinner plate sized hand that emerged from the darkness, and tried my hand at Colombian salsa. Never before have I felt like such a malcoordinated alien, and it only took one song before the dinner plate hand delivered me back to my seat, demoted to watch on in awe and envy.
Desperation had driven us into Medellin from Lake Guatape, just a few hours out in the hills. We loved the lake, but the sudden realisation that I had just a few weeks to get to Chile in order to catch my flight to New Zealand, and the ache in my gut as I researched how expensive it was to fly to Santiago, meant that we tried one last ditch attempt to do it as cheaply as possible, and went to the airline office in the city. Glum faced, I was cursing my decision to head north instead of the sensible and logical decision to head south from Peru, all the way to the airline desk.
But traveller luck must have been on our side, because we strolled out of there beaming, having just secured a last minute promotional flight from Medellin to Santiago for $300 less than we'd thought possible. We tried to stick it out in Medellin, as we had a week to kill before our flight left, but the traffic, the mirky heat and lack of open space made it impossible, so we headed back to the lake.
The hostel we'd stayed at previously was stuck between the busiest part of the lake, churning with jet ski's and peddal boats, and the main road out of town. The highlight of this trip had been a 25km kayak trip to see Pablo Escobar's old holiday home on one of the islands. An aussie staying at the hostel had given us directions from Google maps, that quickly evaporated from memory like the droplets of moisture in the hot air. But even half hours of paddling in the wrong direction, and stopping off at random islands to ask directions didn't dampen out spirit, as we both revelled in fresh lake air and the open water. Pablo Escobar's old holiday house, that once held elaborate, invinsible cocaine parites, was now a burnt out shell covered in graffitti... the infamous druglords oasis now nothing more than an eyesore.
Second time round, we decided to explore a different hostel. This one was out of town perched up on a hill, and after the toll that Medellin had taken on our souls, skin and spirit, this place was heaven. Overlooking a private, quiet and undeveloped part of the lake, with a cosy kitchen and living room, a terrace with a hammock, a rolling garden and the smells and temperature of an English summers day - it felt more like staying at a relatives house on school holidays.
B loves to hike, and was itching to explore the surrounding hills. I on the other hand, don't see the point of hiking unless you've got a dog to walk, so much to B's relief, there was an energetic hostel dog named Zorro that was eager to accompany us on walks around the rural Colombian countryside. I got my dog fix, B got her walk fix - happiness!
We ended Colombia on a natural high, which is the high that's actually easier to come by in this country now. Onwards to Chile; with the prospect of skiing, horse riding, fine wines and a whole new taste of adventure.
Love to all x