Yesterday was a perfect example of why I love to travel. That crazy mix of emotions, nerves, and the realization that everything is going to work out okay. I knew it was a gamble relying on a taxi to be there to pick me up (having had a similar experience in Nepal), so it was without much surprise that I surveyed the crowd and did not see my name as I exited customs in Medellin. All I can say is…thank goodness for chocolate!
Everyone hears stories of people who met someone on the airplane who has a cousin/house/business that ends up being just the right thing they needed. I have to admit, I am always kind of hoping for something like that. So, when an older couple scooted into my row armed with Lays, bottles of orange juice, and cozy neck pillows, I smiled my face off. Yeah…I never said I was terribly good at hellos! Usually the smile works as a conversation starter. But, though they politely smiled back, I got nothing in terms of conversation. I told myself it was okay, we had three hours after all, and got out my book. The gentleman got out his laptop and started playing solitaire, while his wife closed her eyes - not much to spark conversation there. The flight attendants came by with offers of food to purchase (Just a note: Spirit will charge you for EVERYTHING other than your seat. If you want water, pretend you need it for medication and they have to give it to you :p) Still no conversation. Then, I remembered my sea salt and almond chocolate bar I had bought on a whim in the airport as a last "taste of the US" as it were. After eating a little, I worked up the courage to say three words "ustedes quieren chocolate?"
Now, normally when you offer food in the US or Europe the tendency is for people to politely decline, however Latin Americans are much more willing to accept your offer. The couple each took a piece, and the transformation was incredible! I could see their eyes widen as the flavor hit their taste buds. In Spanish they asked "where did you get this?" and I answered - in Spanish. A brief pause and then "You speak Spanish?!" From there, the friendship was solidified as I shared my story and the woman, Piedad, told me about her sister who might have a room for me, and showed me pictures of her daughter's wedding. As we exited the plane, we shared contact information, and then they proceeded to shepherd me through immigration, getting my bag (and almost taking the wrong one!) and exiting through customs, only to be faced with a sea of signs that weren't for me.
When they understood the situation, the only answer was for my suitcases to be stuffed under the cover of their truck, and for me to squeeze into the back seat while their son drove us to their (very nice!) apartment in town. I wished I had more words than "muchas gracias" for their generosity, but all they said was "tranquila" and "con mucho gusto" (essentially, be calm, it is with much pleasure that we are helping you). Now I ask you, is there any better introduction to a culture?!
After arriving at their apartment and spending some time gaping at the HUGE city from their gorgeous balcony, I was treated to a typical Paisa lunch and three different kinds of juice, followed by a coffee. At this point I was so overwhelmed I couldn't say much more than "bueno, muchas gracias" over and over again. Finally they called me a taxi and I made my way to the hostel I had booked through what I would come to know as typical rush hour traffic. I would learn a lot in the next few days about living in a city of over 3 million people, but for then I was glad to arrive at a bed I could call my own for six nights.
After a brief period of meeting Sofia, settling in, and choosing a room, I was finally sitting alone with my thoughts. Reviewing the whirlwind that had happened in the last three hours, I had to smile. It was an auspicious beginning to my time here in Medellin and I was going to go with that. Before I left my room to go see if I could convince Sofia and her daughter to help me find dinner…I broke off another piece of chocolate <3