Stopping at The Pit Stop – a crash course in hostel living & adventures in Guatape

6 Oct

In Cartagena, it’s so hot that my nail-polish melts off onto the white sheets of my dormitory bed.  For an entire day I don’t realize what’s happening and think there are random red stains on my bed, which I try to ignore.

This is hostel living: dirty, communal and at times uncomfortable.  Things like showering or changing are not exactly private.  The curtain doesn’t close all the way, or you’re too short to fling your towel onto the rod.  Instead, it flops into the big puddle that is left after your shower.  Then you can’t really dry off or cover yourself.

As an only child this is a huge adjustment for me.  I was first introduced to the realities of hostel living in Medellin.  After a luxurious evening at my friend’s apartment, I packed up and happily went off to The Pit Stop.  The name should have been the clue.

It reminded me of the large fraternities that stately sat on the Indiana University campus – empty beer bottles and a kitchen that wasn’t entirely clean.

I was a bit horrified, and mentioned my horror to my new friends not knowing that some of them had been living there for months.

That’s another thing about Medellin.  People come for a visit and then never leave.  They get seduced by the climate, which is a Spring that never quits, or they fall in love with the location.  A white, hilly town full of flowers that sits in a valley surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen.

I meet a man with a neck tattoo who is living off his army pention and found a girlfriend on the Colombian version of OkCupid.  I learn later that he had to date her Mom first, stating his salary and intentions.

Then there is the kind, cross-eyed computer engineer who talks like he just strutted out of Silicon Valley.  He tells me and Christy, the Texan, that his greatest relationship started the night his face got burned.  We both laughed, but secretly agreed his lack of scars made his story an absolute lie.

These are the kinds of people you meet traveling – confused, broken, happy, searching, or enjoying the break that life gave them.

Those with the breaks are the ones with the time limits because they have something or somewhere to go back to, and these people are the ones who are most interested in exploring.  This is how I end up tagging along with three Australian Jews who just graduated law school.

I find out that they grew up in the same community in Melbourne and that their plan is to ride the Metrocable that stops at the EcoPark.  This is a “must see” in Medellin, and so I invite myself because I really don’t know how to navigate anywhere on my own.

We hop on the subway, which is better than anything I have seen in the States, and then jump onto what looks like a Ski Lift.  A hanging car from a wire that lifts us up over the city and into the mountains.

My companions talk constantly, and a part of me wishes they would be silent and appreciate everything that we are flying over.  It’s not only the trails and mountain shrubs, but the Communas – shanty towns with corrugated tin roofs that stretch out for miles.  The mass of humanity that inhabits these towns is like a world onto to itself.  It is a life that I can’t really imagine, though it puts my hostel grumbles into perspective.

Eventually, we arrive at the EcoPark.  It is fresh, cool and completely boring.  We stop to eat a mediocre lunch and then I spend the next few hours writing in my journal, and trying to engage the others in conversation.

Time passes by slowly and finally we ride the cable back into the station.  I sit alone on the subway and watch the three of them talk.  That night I spend my time making new friends.

This is how I end up getting invited to Guatape with a similar, solo female traveler.  That next morning we lazily awake, eat bread, and then I ride my very first South American bus to a tiny town that sits on a river and is full of colors.

The town itself is not the attraction; it’s the massive, meteorite of a rock that draws people.  It’s 740 steps all the way to the top with surreal views that exist in dreams people strive to remember.

Of course, I secretly puke before the climb because I order a weird mango drink with milk.  However, after my hostel complaints, I stay determined not to let my friends know the state I’m in.

I wheeze all the way to the top and stop every 100 steps.  The altitude is a bit crushing, but eventually when I climb the 740th step the view leaves me speechless.

We stay until we are kicked out, and then we hop onto an army truck (back into town) that the United States dropped down into South America after WWII because we had too many and we didn’t know what to do with all of the metal.

The truck drops us off in the center of town near a gorgeous church that has clearly been there since its beginning.  I wander into the services, but the Spanish is beyond me.

Dinner is skipped, and I am more than okay with that, but as we walk the streets we are invited into a fiesta.

The town is inhabited by 18-20 year old army cadets who joined to travel and for opportunities.  They all have sweet girlfriends, and they tell us that they rented out the bar to celebrate surviving their first few weeks.  My two companions watch me as I salsa with the giggling boys and girls.

The next day we see them in uniform carrying large guns and shy smiles.

Eventually, we cross the bridge back to bed, and I climb up top with my book, and decide that if there’s anything I could get used to it’s living like this for a long, long time.

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