Arepa & Chicharrón! A Weekend Trip to Medellín, Colombia!

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In October of 2016, me and my buddy Adam took a flight from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida for an adventure weekend in Medellin, Colombia. The relatively short 3.5-hour nonstop flight was uneventful. At the airport in Medellín we headed over to the “Yellow Cab” kiosk and hired a taxi to take us on the 40-minute drive to our hotel a couple blocks from Parque Lleras, the main part of town bustling with music, tourists, restaurants, bars and night clubs.

Location of Parque Lleras

Unexplored parts of Amazon Jungle (https://adventurephysics.com/downloads/5-rotation-rolling-torque-angular-momentum/) cuts through Colombia, where not even the locals, or anyone else, has been known to venture. We kept with that tradition and stuck with visiting the more accessible (and relatively safer) local regions. The first order of business, however, was to stave off dehydration and replenish lost liquids with the local brew! Although not very famous for its beer, there are indeed some fine craft beers to savor.

The local brew! Adam (in the blue shirt) knocked back quite a few.

The food on the other hand should be considered world famous! Arepas, Chicharrón, Ajiaco, Empenadas and Churros were never more than a few steps away and quite inexpensive. The Bandeja Paisa is a must – a traditional dish of white rice, pork rind (chicharon), red beans, shredded meat, a fried egg, plantains, avocado and arepas. Needless to say, you should bring your stretchy pants…or no pants at all!

Medellin gastronomy 101. I ate every single thing seen here. It was good.

That chicken laid some delicious eggs!

One of the fav food stops was Patria Mia. A large restaurant with all the local dishes available at very reasonable prices. The restaurant overlooks the main town square in Parque Lleras, so there was no shortage of people-watching while dining.

Patria Mia is a fantastic restaurant overlooking the main square. Great eats!

Discovering downtown Medellin on a local bus was a trip and a half. They say the population of Medellin is 2.5 million, and I think I saw every last one of them walking through the streets and selling in the local markets. The shopping itself seemed to offer a lot of locally-made goods. Street market vendors are generally quite friendly and helpful. They’re always ready to negotiate a good bargain.

Negotiating a deal on bracelets.

Where’s the Party?

Just a typical day on the streets of Medellin.

All of our evenings were spent hanging around outdoors at Parque Lleras. The cool air made it relaxing and enjoyable. Lots of people, music, food and drinks made for a lot of fun. The city certainly had a lively vibe to it, and we always felt safe. The locals and tourists alike were friendly and helpful with suggestions for areas of entertainment.

Parque Lleras is the main area of town for entertainment.

Adam and I took a couple of day trips outside of the city. One was taking the local train to just outside of town for a tour on the Metrocable gondola lift system.  For the affordable cost of 5,200 Colombian pesos (US$2), a rider can purchase a lift ticket on the Metrocable. There are 4 cable lines (Lines H,K,J and L) going to different areas. We took Line L to Parque Arvi located at an elevation of 2,000 m (6,600 feet).

The gondola used for the Metrocable system. Quite a comfortable ride.

The gondolas offer a fun ride. It moves slowly so there’s no chance of sickness.

The gondolas offer fantastic scenery of the mountain villages.

At the top of the ride, Parque Arvi offers stunning vista views and hiking trails. There’s a sheltered conference center for weddings and meetings, shopping vendors and a restroom. There are also local food vendors. Maybe no more than a couple of hours are needed to explore the top, and that includes a few of the short hiking trails.

The second day trip was to the very touristy but scenic lake region of Guatape. The local bus from the station in Medellin was just about free, and was supposed to be about a 2-hour ride. But, what they failed to mention was that the “commercial” bus that seats (legally) about 12 people, stops every 30 seconds to pick up a local carrying everything from a goat to a small airplane engine. Standing room only quickly became a joke of an understatement. It was just about all fun, though. Many new and very close friends were to be made on the 6-hour journey (with the 15,000 additional stops). Once finally there, it was very clear that the small town catered mostly for tourists. There were numerous restaurants, bars and small stores that lined the mostly cobble-stone streets.

Small streets are lined with restaurants, bars and shopping.

A scenic walking town with old churches and other historic buildings.

Besides milling about town, there’s zip lining, hiking, biking and boating available. We rented a boat for a nominal fee and explored the easily navigable waterways. I suspect there were fishes in there somewhere as well.

There are many lakes surrounded by scenic hills and lush countryside.

Boat for hire! I snagged one passenger, who didn’t pay. Thanks, Adam.

There’s that really big iconic rock off in the distance that can be climbed.

The bus ride back to the hotel was even more eventful than the ride getting to Guatape. I swore on the first ride that they couldn’t possibly fit one more person on that bus, but I was very, very wrong. A 6-member music band joined us (instruments and all) and got the show on the road, so to speak. Another 4 hours (apparently we took a short cut back to town) slowly went by with multiple strangers taking turns sitting on my lap…for I had a seat that I actually paid for. And no, there was no bathroom on the bus. Just the open window which happened to be…yes, you guessed it, in the row of seats I was sitting on. Boy was that fun! All in all, we had a blast in Colombia and most certainly would return there at the first opportunity. Fun people, fantastic food and some amazing scenery.

Journey into the Arctic Circle and Edge of a Continent – Land of the Midnight Sun!

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Here’s the story of our journey north, to Lappland inside Norway’s Arctic Circle! My wife Felizia (who’s Swedish) and I embarked on this trip in the middle of summer, July, actually. But this was Scandinavia, so warm clothing was still necessary, as daytime temperatures were in the 50’s – 60’s, and nighttime lows could easily get into the 20’s – 30’s. The trip began on highway E14 in Östersund, in the north of Sweden. Things are generally less expensive in Sweden than in Norway, so many travelers make the effort to stock up on supplies before crossing the border from Sweden into Norway…if they’re coming from that direction, of course. We were no exception. All the basics including sausage, pasta and whiskey were included.

Felizia doing a “little” shopping for the basics.

Our faithful Citroën Berlingo “Berran”. There’s a kitchen sink in there somewhere as well.

The mostly pine trees of the coniferous Boreal Forest and tranquil lakes of Sweden’s Norrland (by the western border) eventually gave way to the more mountainous terrain of Trondheim, Norway. The driving time/distance on the first day was about 3.5 hours/265 km.

The scenic drive from the west of Sweden to central Norway.

The first night of camping in Norway was next to a very large lake in Steinkjer, with no shortage of mygg (mosquitoes)! The inch-long blood-suckers, by the way, have absolutely no respect for citronella candles or bug spray of any brand. Nevertheless, dinner (and whiskey) was much more important to worry about. True to Swedish camping style, we cooked on a Trangia kök (Swedish alcohol burning stove). We camped right there next to the lake. At that time of year, there never really is any real darkness, more like dusk that rolls around at about 11 pm  – midnight, and it’s bright again at 3 am. This of course, made sleeping a bit of a challenge. But it was good practice for what was to come as we inched our way closer to the Arctic Circle and into a full 24 hours of continuous daylight. The 360° rotation of the Earth on its axis results in the changes of day and night cycles every 24-hour period. The four seasons of the year, winter, spring, summer and fall (autumn), are primarily due to the 23.4° tilt of the Earth’s axis and its revolution around the Sun. https://adventurephysics.com/downloads/chapter-5-celestial-movements-astronomical-observations/

Since the Earth is a mostly rigid body, either the northern hemisphere or the southern hemisphere can be tilted towards to location of the Sun at any given moment for a total of 6 months of the year (summer and winter periods.) The hemisphere that is tilted towards the Sun experiences summer for approximately 3 months while the other hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun and experiences winter for those 3 months. The other 2 seasons, fall and spring, each represent 3 months of transition where neither hemisphere is tilted towards or away from the Sun. During winter at these high latitudes close to the Arctic, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) are on its most brilliant display. The Earth’s magnetic field is responsible for producing these northern lights (and southern lights close to Antarctica as well). https://adventurephysics.com/portfolio-item/magnetic-fields/

Tilt of the Earth’s axis and its orbit around the Sun produces the four seasons.

Almost like sleeping at home – the first night of camping in Norway.

Cookin’ up some mygg soup and enjoying a Norrlands Guld (5.5%)!!!

On the second day in Norway we started north on highway E6 but focused on finding the most scenic route (which meant no highways) for the long drive north. Just about on every turn there’s something amazing to see, and warranted a stop. Fishing boats, waterfalls and strange geologic rock formations were just a few of the spectacular sites along the way. Sprinkled along the way were also a mix of authentic traditional structures and mostly small modest houses. Here and there we found lappkåta (teepee huts) of the indigenous Sami (or lapp as they are commonly referred to). The Sami are welcoming people, and happy to invite you in for some reindeer soup while trying to sell you something crafty. My guess is that tourism has become more profitable than reindeer herding in later years.

Inside a “typical” lappkåta (Sami teepee hut).

The indigenous Sami people live in huts such as these.

A million pristine lakes. The fishing industry flourishes.

Geology at work – Unconformities and Discontinuities.

The things you find when you’re not looking for them – graffiti welcomed.

As the journey north continued, the landscape changed noticeably, with fewer large trees, more wide open spaces and mountainous terrain. It made finding a comfortable camping spot to pitch a tent a bit of a challenge at times. In the Scandinavian countries, it’s legal to camp for only one night at a time on someone’s land, a concept known as allemansrätt (freedom to roam or “wild camp”).  The restriction to this is that you must camp at a certain minimum distance from any dwelling structures. The actual minimum distance varies by country, but typically is in the range of 150 meters. When the going gets tough, with terrain, weather, etc., there is another option for shelter. Many land owners, and the government as well, provide tiny houses – called hytte, often furnished with just beds, a table and cooking corner. Guests bring their own sheets, towels, kitchenware and other necessities. They offer communal bathroom and hot shower areas. A hytte typically costs around US$80/night (and be prepared to pay 10kr for a 2 minute shower). The picture below is one of the hytte we stayed at. It’s very modest, but welcoming accommodations for a night or two.

Small, but comfortable hytte accommodations.

On the third day heading north, we encountered two hitchhikers who made it all the way from Poland! Konrad and Dominika would turn out to become our close friends with whom we shared the next few days. They were trying to make their way north as well. We pitched our tents together, cooked dinner and shared lots of stories and what I believe was a polish version of hembränt (moonshine). Dominika actually turned 21 during our trip so we enjoyed a little birthday celebration with her. Sure beats any night club!

Dominika’s 21st Birthday “party”.

Konrad and Dominika – The best hitchhikers ever!

We made our own little campground each evening.

The home-made Polish beverage was just what the doctor ordered.

After the birthday celebrations in the chilly, wet weather of Norway’s north, we packed up and continued the trek. Somewhere around this point we made a decision to push as far north as the road infrastructure would allow. That meant a long, additional 3 days of driving well inside the Arctic Circle, the marker for which by this time, was just a few kilometers north of us. The final destination was now centered on Nordkapp (North Cape), the farthest point north reachable by car not just on the entire European continent, but on the international roadway system of the world! Very few people, we discovered, ventured that far to the north. For much of the driving time, very little modern-day facilities were encountered or even reachable. We were going to embark on a drive where we were pretty much on your own for the next 1,600 km.

1,600 km to the edge of a continent.

Crossing into the Arctic Circle and entering in the land of 24-hour sunlight was amazingly surreal. It was like entering into a different world. Any vestige of large trees or even tall vegetation of any kind was left behind and replaced with wide open Arctic tundra and large, grazing herds of reindeer. Anything man-made was far and few in-between. Countless waterfalls and patches of snow-covered mountains became ubiquitous. The numerous waterfalls in the far north of Norway, in particular, seem to flow with a special kind of beauty and ferocity. The last town we left behind was Hammerfest, the world’s northernmost city.

Overlooking Hammerfest, the world’s northernmost town.

Entering into the Arctic Circle – Land of the midnight Sun.

Santa’s little helpers at home in the Arctic Circle during the off season.

Once inside the Arctic Circle, the rest of the drive towards Nordkapp was like a screensaver at every turn. The magnificent beauty of nature in its original form, untouched by the hand of man, was overwhelming. Just wide open spaces as far as the eye could see.

The Arctic Ocean hugs the desolate road for hundreds of kilometers.

 The weather became stranger as the drive towards the end of the continent progressed.

Felizia enjoying one of the many scenic views of the Arctic landscape.

Konrad and Dominika enjoying the view.

Dominika collecting seaweed as a souvenir.

After countless stops along the way, we finally arrived at our destination – Nordkapp! If the theory that it is the journey, not the destination, that counts, then this would be that journey! The adventure to the top of the world was nothing short of spectacular. After numerous rivers, snow-capped mountains and reindeer herds, we finally made it to the literal end of the road, where it simply ended on a giant rock that dropped 300 m almost vertically down to the sea. Fantastic vistas in every direction was all the proof we needed that the long trip was more than worth it. Would I ever do it again? Yes!

At least I made it.

The Arctic Ocean.

Behold it all.

The land of 24 hours of continuous daylight in summertime.

Felizia lost in wonderment.

The literal edge of the European continent.

                                                                                                                                       

       

A fitting end to the trip of a lifetime and new friendships found along the way.

 

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Mt. Pilatus, Switzerland

Munich, Germany

Newfoundland, Canada

Nordkapp, Norway

Northcape, Norway

Ostersund, Sweden

Papallacta, Ecuador