Georgia Road Trip: Part 1

I’ve been back in the USA over 7 months and COVID has hit the world. I’ve spent many months quarantined in my room or doing an occasional outdoor activity. I haven’t actually caught covid so far but I am still scared to travel (I had one pretty nasty illness in May that my doctor insisted was not COVID). I really need to get out of the house for a week or so. I finally get the courage to book a solo road trip to the nearby state of Georgia. I’ve noticed a couple of friends taking trips up there to do day hikes and it looks like a safe and interesting thing to do.

My first stop is southwestern Georgia at Providence Canyon State Park, a place many refer to as a mini grand canyon. It is a canyon caused by erosion from poor farming practices. Fortunately/unfortunately the end result is a neat little place to visit for the day to view and take a hike.

I am driving in from central Florida and arrive in the evening. I book a hotel in a nearby town that is actually in Alabama. Eufaula, Alabama is a small town that is very low-key and seems safe enough to stay for an evening or two (it is a good thing I booked two evenings, more on that later).

Driving into Alabama from western Georgia

The drive north, mostly highway miles, is where I think I notice a strange noise from my car (my car is quite old but a very reliable model and current on maintenance). I essentially do the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and try to ignore it. If I pretend the noise doesn’t exist will it go away on its own? I eventually arrive at my hotel and my car still sounds strange as I pull in the parking lot. “Maybe it is just tired and if I let it rest for the night it will be fine”. I check into my hotel room and rest for the evening. The next morning I am heading to the Providence Canyon. I wake up and start the 30 minute drive to the canyon, still ignoring the noise (I know, totally irresponsible). I arrive as the canyon is opening (since I read warnings that there can be crowds and they limit visitors for the day). It is impossible to ignore the noise anymore. As I park I get weird looks from others in the parking lot. I do an inspection to see what the problem might be. Luckily another visitor in the parking lot is knowledgeable of my issue and points it out right away. I have eroded a break pad and that is what is causing the noise. I am confused because I didn’t think my break pads were that old. This seems like a problem I need to resolve right away. I find a repair place who will take me immediately and drive back 30 minutes to the town I am staying. I need new break pads and rotor. The cost is ridiculously expensive to fix but it isn’t like I can comparison shop at this point. I get the service done and pay the price. I could head back to the canyon but it is already late in the day. I decide to wander around Eufaula instead. Luckily I have one more night scheduled in my hotel here.

I end up on a little paved trail that is mostly empty. This town is on the water so I can see boats on the water from the trail.

After my walk I order a pizza to take back to the hotel and go to bed early to return to the canyon in the morning.

The next morning my brakes are working great again and come in handy when I need to stop to make sure I don’t runover a parade of hogs on the road.

I am back at the canyon, this time for good. I start along the loop trail which slowly descends into the canyon.

I have the choice to explore the inside of the canyons from below or head up the incline to do the 2.5 mile loop trail. Today I decide to do only the 2.5 mile trail because I am out of hiking shape and I have longer hikes ahead of me on this trip.

The area used to be a settlement that had to be abandoned due to the earth collapsing. Left behind are some old cars.

Most of the loop is shaded and like a forest hike but the last part is mostly open but offers great vistas of the canyon.

There is an old church and cemetery on the walk back to the parking lot. I can never resist a peek at an old cemetery.

Overall it is a great visit. My only wish is that I would have spent the time to hike some of the canyons. Perhaps if I didn’t have the car issues I could have split the hikes over two days to make it more manageable.

I drove up to north Georgia afterwards to be closer to Amicalola Falls, the place I will start my adventure for the next couple days.

The Limelight Inn in Dahlonega, Georgia is a beautiful place to spend the night.

I enjoy my lovely porch view of the fall for a little bit then head into the town of Dahlonega for dinner. I find a nice little outdoor restaurant to enjoy dinner in this cute college town.

Gyro at Capers on the Square

After dinner I head back to my Inn and enjoy the sunset from my porch since it is COVID times and most places appear to close early. It seems like a cute town to do some shopping in, maybe during another visit.

Tomorrow I head out on a 5 mile hike to a lodge I will be staying for two nights. More on that later.

Medellín: El Clásico Paisa

Today we are attending a fútbol game (or soccer for those from the Estados Unidos). The game we are attending is El Clásico Paisa, the name for the rivalry between the teams of Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín, both of Medellín. They both share the Atanasio Girardot stadium but once a year play each other. El Clásico Paisa – Wikipedia

While attending a couple tours in Medellín we noticed that the guides had mentioned the upcoming exhibition game on Saturday and how fun it would be. The thought of going to a soccer game in Medellín seemed scary to me due to the city’s history. Days passed and we eventually find we have a free day on Saturday, our last day. One of the ideas for the last day is to explore the neighborhood near the soccer stadium; after that idea it didn’t seem too much of a stretch to actually buy tickets to the game. To be honest my travel companion M is more on board with this idea than I am, but I am willing to go along for the ride. We mulled the idea too long I guess because the only available tickets left are on the supporter section of the underdog. Attending the game is one thing but sitting in the supporters section? I’ve been to soccer matches in the USA and I rarely sit in the supporters section because there is a high expectation of participation that I don’t always have the energy for. We decide to purchase tickets anyway.

We have our seats so now we think it is a good idea to buy jerseys plus a bum bag for me. We figure there has got to be lots of vendors selling knockoff Jerseys around town. We wake up semi-early the day of the game and wander our neighborhood after breakfast. We have yet to see any jersey vendors but we do come across a parade. We watch for a while since it is blocking the crosswalk. Growing impatient we “join” the parade for the purpose of crossing the road. No one seems to care. We aren’t quite sure what the parade is for.

We are in the parade

After the parade we are still having a hard time finding decent looking shirts for the underdog team (Independiente Medellín). It seems people only want to buy shirts for the better team so that is most of what we see. The knockoffs are pretty terrible, some not even the current year design. We eventually find some that are satisfactory. After our shirt purchases we head to a shop where I find a bum bag. It is black but it is obvious that I am buying a bag that was given away free at some tech conference and now is being sold in this shop. It is a rip off but I need something small to carry my items to the match so this will do.

While we are out M buys a couple gifts to for people back home. We take our things back to the hotel and get ready for the game. We want to head out early so we can witness the tailgate fun near the stadium. Also M wants to hang out somewhere to catch another game on TV nearby the stadium.

Eventually we take the metro down to the stadium area.

View from the metro

We start in the very crowded tailgate area of Atlético Nacional . We are wearing the jersey for the opponent but no one cares. No heckling or anything happens.

We walk down the street to where the fans of “our” team is hanging out. It is lively but much less crowded.

It is time to start looking for our seats so we head toward the stadium. We end up walking pretty far to find our entrance gate. M talks me into walking beers for the journey. Good call since no alcohol is sold in the stadium.

We are obviously early. The supporters section is only partially filled. The section that contains our seats appears to have many other tourists who joined the fun like we have.

Stadium view

Finally the stadium fills and the game starts.

As the game goes on the energy level increases. The supporters loudly sing their chants. They are loud but we can still hear the very busy supporter section from across the stadium.

Fans hold onto the banners draped over the stadium seats like their life depended on it, for some of them it is the only thing keeping them from falling below – guys stand on top the railing, grasp the banner and sort of swing slightly. They also sometimes hop up and down. We watch in anticipation and fear of a fall to below but it doesn’t happen; not to say it hasn’t happened in the past.

Somehow people have brought in cream colored burlap-like bags full of torn paper. It becomes useful for pivotal moments of the game as does the smoke bombs.

The other side is quite lively as well.

We buy some water in a bag and watch the tifo during the half.

We are having so much fun.

A vendor is selling fruit soda from a liter bottle in the stands. No alcohol sold just water, snacks and juices. Probably a good thing because I wouldn’t want to see this lively crowd drunk.

Someone hands out streamers to throw. We get to participate in the action!

Quite the mess to clean up.

The match ends in a Tie. The DIM supporters are very happy since that doesn’t usually happen. We head out of the stadium and hang out a bit where the supporters hang out. We watch the band play from a bar.

Here is a video I put together of the tailgating, game and post party in case you want to feel like you are part of it. (It is pretty long).

We fly home tomorrow which means this is the official end of my seven month sabbatical. I’ve had so many great experiences during my travels but what a fantastic way to end it all!

View of the last night of my sabbatical

Note about flight home, we both have colds we are fighting and we are trying to take a flight on the onset of the covid pandemic. We worry we’ll get booted off our flight. We don’t think we have this new and nasty virus but it is so new that we aren’t sure we’ll be flagged or not. Luckily we made it home and then the world shuts down about two weeks later. The timing of my return trip home seems to be impeccable.

Medellín: Comuna 13

Today we are taking a walking tour of Comuna 13, a place once considered one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the world (80s and 90s). In the past it was run by violent drug traffickers but now is a very colorful and popular neighborhood for tourism. Tourists visit Medellín and take a tour of its great graffiti art.

We meet our tour guide at our metro station, El Poblado. Once the group has all arrived we ride the metro together down to where we ride the cable cars uphill. At the end of the cable line we take a bus. Alternatively you can take the metro to San Javier metro and walk to the escalators. We took the escalators down later at the end of our tour.

View from cable car station

Once off the cable railway we stop for an arepa and fruit juice.

We hop on a bus and head further uphill to start our walk.

Once off the bus we walk a little further uphill. He tells us the history of the area. We learn stories, even personal stories of his own, about how the residents lived in fear for many years. In 2011 the government started a series of improvements to the community, including an escalator. The area gradually evolved into a safer and visited area by tourists (to the dismay of some locals). These tours try to bring dollars into the community and minimize the disruption to the locals. Hopefully our tour did not cause too much distress.

Fascination with busy power poles

We learn about one of the most famous graffiti artists of the area Chota 13 (@chota_13). We learn that he started a school in the barrio. The school is dedicated to teaching the children art and hip hop dance to keep them out of violence.

We stopped at a bar for a pit stop. The bar displays pictures of celebrity visitors. They were especially proud of the visit by former president of the USA Bill Clinton.

We stopped for some frozen mango.

Around the corner from the mango place there is a fun black light gallery. Some of the art is best seen with 3D glasses.

Eventually we start heading downhill back toward the train station

The soccer match we attend tomorrow: the two local teams

We say goodbye to our tour. The tour from Comuna 13 Medellin Graffiti was money well spent.

Before we head back to El Poblado we stop at the Museo de Antioquia so M can see all the Botero artwork. I am able to save her some time by showing her the interesting exhibits like the religious art wing.

We stop to try some cheese balls.

We head back to El Poblado. We find a very busy dog walker and some more street performers.

I try tonight to meet up with another friend I knew in college who happens to be in town. We try to stay out late to meet up with her but our schedules don’t align. They don’t even head out until late and we do our partying early. We did stay out late enough to witness just a little bit of fun of the neighborhood.

37 Park Medellín

Zona Rosa area of El Poblado

We shared a good amount of Sangria.

We stopped at one last bar where we had lots of street entertainment.

Dance groups in El Poblado

At least we had one night of fun in our vibrant neighborhood.

Tomorrow is our last day in Colombia and we plan to attend a soccer match. Wish us luck.

Medellín: Guatapé

Today M and I are taking a day trip out to the town of Guatapé from Medellín. There are a few different ways to get here (taxi, private tour, bus) and we decided to take the cheap route and take the bus. For us it is a 20 minute walk to train then take metro to Estacion Caribe. From Estacion Caribe walk to the terminal del norte bus station. There are a couple bus companies that have a bus to Guatapé, find one that has a soon departure (ticket booth #14). Go early so you’ll have time to climb and explore town. Once you arrive book return ticket since seats are assigned/limited – we found this to be very important on the return trip back.

The ride takes about 2 hours and is comfortable enough. There are not any empty seats so it is nice that I at least share the row with someone I know this time.

If you want to get off at the Peñól de Guatapé before you go into the town of Guatape, you have to tell the driver or listen carefully for the stops. We didn’t and ended up going all the way to the town of Guatapé when we really wanted to stop at the large rock first. We take a cab to the rock (Peñól de Guatapé) and he drops us off at the bottom of the hill. We had to walk uphill to get to the small town of El Peñol where we bought a ticket for the climb.

Piedra del Peñol

La Piedra del Peñol is the large rock nearby the town of Guatapé . It is an awkward looking rock but at some point some people decided to climb it. There is conflicting stories that one man did the climb but I’ve seen online that it is a group of men. Since then a set of stairs have been added for tourists and locals to make a climb as well.

Our morning task is to climb 700+ stairs to the top.

In the 1970s the area was dammed so the rock now overlooks a series of lakes and islands.

Fun chiva bus in the town El Peñol

In a crevice of the rock is a winding set of stairs.

It is tiring but we make it to the top (with lots of stops of course).

There is a café at the top so we take a break and have a beer.

We head back down and take a jeep back to the town of Guatapé.

Guatapé

It is lunchtime and I decide it is a great time to try Bandeja paisa and I have a new best friend as a result. It is a very good amount of meat and this dog wants me to share.

After lunch we wander around town. I am once again in a beautifully colored small town in Colombia.

I love all the scenes depicted at the bottom half of the buildings.

There is a large town square that is surrounded by restaurants.

The large white church has a beautiful wood ceiling.

More wandering around town

There is an afternoon storm coming. The clouds look ominous so we head to a indoor/outdoor cafe to wait it out. It doesn’t take long. Good thing we climbed the big rock in the morning.

More of the town….

We stop at a colorful café for a dessert treat.

We start heading to the edge of the town where it becomes more residential and less touristy. We end up by the water where obviously the water level is super low. The low water level gives the appearance of the boats looking stranded.

We see the bus station. Since it is getting close to time to leave we stay in the area and wait. There is a guy acting strangely nearby. We keep our distance to save trouble.

Bus station

Finally we board our bus for the ride back from Guatapé. I am glad we got on early otherwise we would be standing the entire way. The bus is full when we leave and we stop to pick up others on our journey. Unfortunately we chose the row up next to the door so we had quite a few people squeezing around us making it uncomfortable. Also the bus stopped frequently and people would ride temporarily trying to sell things, food, jewelry, etc. But it wasn’t until this man who got onto the bus and proselytizing to the bus loudly did it really get annoying. He stood right in front of us and screamed loudly at the bus for many minutes about Jesus. We put our heads down and pretended we didn’t understand. At some point we heard him talking to those in the seat across from us and we heard them tell the man that we don’t speak Spanish and that is why we did not interact with him. M and I both heard and understood the conversation and grinned briefly at each other. Now is a great time to play stupid! Eventually he leaves the bus. Good riddens!

Needless to say we are happy when we finally arrive back in Medellín.

The bus ride to Guatapé is cheap as heck. It isn’t the most glamourous way to travel but now we will always have the memory of the crazy bus ride.

Me not knowing what to expect on the ride back

It is a long day and long bus ride. Also I don’t mention enough that though I love the metro in Medellín it is exhausting to take the 30 minute journey uphill after a long day of sightseeing.

We only have energy tonight to stop for dinner around the corner. After that it is to bed. Partying will have to happen another night.

Back to Medellín

M and I head to Medellín Colombia today. It is the second time for me and the first for her. A couple weeks ago I spent some days leisurely around the city. I hope to see more this time around.

The flight to Medellín from Cartagena is only around an hour and ten minutes so our travel journey is not long. The flight is in the morning and I order a cheese and ham toasted sandwich to hold me over before my journey.

When we arrive we check into the same hotel I stayed in prior, Diez Hotel Categoria in El Poblado. It is a good choice. Our room has two beds and a hammock that overlooks the neighborhood.

I wasn’t sure how we would feel when we arrived so we didn’t have much booked on our first day in Medellín. Luckily we are early enough to take a free walking day tour with Real City Tours (pay guide by tips).

Fortunately I already navigated the metro during my prior visit so we took the metro to meet our tour.

We are a little early for our tour so we stop for a beer in a old charming bar called Salón Málaga. Most were not drinking, in fact we thought we were getting a sneer from the table next to us but we ended up chatting with the girl and her mother instead. They were Spanish speaking but actually live in the USA and were tourists in Medellin as well. We made plans to share a taxi with them to Guatapé the next day but plans fell through when they had to leave town early.

We meet up with our tour guide who then takes us around the city and points out different landmarks.

Plaza Cisneros
Parque de la Luz (Plaza Cisneros)

At one point we sit by an old train station (Edificio Antigua Estación del Ferrocarril de Antioquia) where our guide gives us a “real talk” about the history of Medellin – tells us the history of all the factions that caused turmoil: the government, the military, drug lords, right wing militia, left wing militia. The losers are the ordinary people who had to live through the war and terror.

We are taken to a shopping district where there are lots of pop up stands you can get cheap goods (Carabobo pedestrian street).

National Palace Mall

Sex workers hang out in front of this church.

Parroquia de la Veracruz
We are told where to go to get some great empanadas

We end up at the Botero park where we can see lots of Botero statues.

Our tour group

Our guide talks about the metro and the pride the locals have for their train.

We are told the area under the train is where people go to exchange goods. We don’t have time to watch but we go back later to see it in action. Mostly men take items to exchange (belt buckle, watch, coins or whatnot) and engage with conversations with others to see if a deal can be made. It is interesting to watch and seems to be a sport of its own in the city.

We walk by some musicians playing outside at Parque Berrío. People are dancing to the music.

Parque Berrío
Fun Jesus taxi
Church across the street from Berrio Park

Our guide talks about some local fruits. I finally get to try that weird looking fruit (guama) from my first visit to Medellín.

guama

Finally he takes us to the Parque San Antonio where he tells us the story of the bombed statue.

Parque San Antonio

At the end there is a question and answer session about the city. Some was asking about seeing a futbol (soccer) game while in town. The guide tells us about the upcoming El Clásico Paisa game. I don’t listen too carefully because at this point going to a soccer game in Medellín seems too intimidating to me. Plus I am not sure we’ll have time. M pays attention though and is able to talk me into attending the game. More on that later.