Medellín: "A Unique Travel Adventure"

Antioquia Department
Republic of Colombia
November 18, 2008,

Dear Family and Friends,

Now here's a unique travel adventure:

My Avianca flight from Cartegena to Medellín left on time at 08:00. Ten minutes into the flight the pilot made an announcement. Since my Spanish is improving day by day, little by little, poco a poco, I understood the pilot to say that the airplane had a technical problem and we had to return to Cartegena. We made a sweeping 180 degree turn and in a few minutes we were on the ground.

The gate agent estimated that our waiting time would be about an hour, mas or menos (more or less). "Mas or menos" I figured out is the Spanish equivalent of the Arabic "Inshallah."

The gate agent also announced that we had an option. There was a plane leaving soon for Bogotá with a change there for Medellín. I decided to be patient and wait for my original flight. Since we were allowed to leave the gate area, I went back to the terminal for the breakfast I missed: scrambled eggs with pieces of corn, butter and toast, and espresso with hot milk.

I returned to the gate area and sat next to a young man who was wearing a Yale shirt. Christophe is German. He went to Italy for undergraduate studies and took a Master's degree at Yale in Economics. He now lives in Washington and works for the World Bank. We had a spirited conversation until he departed for Bogotá.

At 11:00, my new friend the gate agent personally escorted me to the tarmac. He informed me that all the other passengers had opted for the Bogotá-Medellín route. I would be the only passenger on my flight directly to Medellín. He requested that I sit in the very last row of the cabin in order to maintain proper balance!

Before takeoff the flight attendants greeted me warmly and the pilot came back to introduce himself and apologize for the delay. He explained that not only is he concerned for the safety of his passengers but also for his personal safely. He has two young children waiting for him at home. He invited me to the cockpit after takeoff, but I decided not to bother him.

Needless to say, the one hundred seat Fokker 5, with only one passenger and one suitcase aboard, took off like a shot through the sea-level atmosphere. On the first takeoff I had a good view of two large cruise ships in the Cartegena harbor. Now there were three. When I landed in Medellín, the baggage handler brought me my luggage with a big smile.

The price for the taxi to downtown Medellín seemed expensive, so I tried one of my tricks. I went to the tourist information counter and inquired about a bus. Within minutes, a taxi driver approached and offered me a 25 percent discount which I happily accepted.

At the hotel reception, I pleaded poverty (retired teacher traveling on a budget) so the manager himself explained that the rate he quoted was already discounted, again by 25 percent.

What a great day! I flew in my own private jet which was a first for me. Plus I received two substantial discounts.

Soy feliz. I am happy.

My best wishes for safe and patient travels.


PS From time to time I am criticized for reporting relatively trivial personal travel stories from the midst of large and sometimes world shaking events: tsunamis, demonstrations, insurrections, coups, and national elections. I plead guilty, especially when it comes to politics.

So let me step out of my normal role and relate the following two incidents:

In Colombia, in a small town last week, I overheard a group of travelers who were speaking American English. I turned on my best "Hi, how are ya?" and asked where they were from. They said, "Ohio." I responded with, "Well, you guys finally got it right this year!" to which they parried, "Well, if you say so."

On the beach in Cartegena, I rented a small shelter from a local man. He asked me where I was from so I said, "The United States" and then I added, "Obama." This lovely man who makes his living on the beach pointed to his black Caribbean skin and broke into a gigantic joyous smile.

Yes, I had a unique travel experience today. And regardless of our politics, surely we are all now living in a unique moment in history.

PPS I managed only one short walk before my body broke down in Medellín. After three days in bed at the hotel and two painful trips to an Emergency Room to treat my strained right sciatic nerve, I returned to my rental apartment in Miami.

Now that my leg is healed, I will consider a return to Colombia with an additional stop in Panamá. And in between the two, the Colombian islands of San Andrés and Providencia. My guidebook says, "Providencia will fulfill your every expectation of paradise."

Nos vemos la próxima vez. See you next time. See you there!


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