I didn’t know I had family in Colombia until I stayed with them in Medellin.

OK, I technically don’t have family in Colombia, but my friend Omar from Peace Corps does and he connected me with them, giving me a place to stay and, it turns out, much more.

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Medellin

To begin with, his cousin, Adriana, and her husband, JP, picked me up from the bus terminal and walked me over to Omar’s mom’s (Rosillo) house nearby. I had just spent almost 25 straight hours on three different buses and I was barely holding it together. Sentences were difficult to construct and I probably smelled bad – not the best first impression to leave on a family doing me a big favor. Despite meeting an underwhelming version of me, however, they immediately fed me (great move) and were friendly and otherwise totally welcoming.

Now, a week after that introduction, I’ve been on multiple excursions with various members of the family and, despite my protests, been treated to almost every meal. Following is a brief post about a couple of those excursions.

The Flower Parade

Sillero Flowers from Flower Festival in MedellinI coincidentally came to Medellin during The Flower Festival – a one week festival that essentially celebrates Medellin’s fantastic weather, which facilitates flower growth year-round (eternal spring, I heard it described). Every day had a different themed parade or event (e.g. antique car parade, bird and flower display at the aviary, various concerts) – I went with Adriana and JP to the final parade.

The final parade celebrates a part of greater Medellin that is famous for making elaborate flower displays and consists of people from that area carrying these displays on their backs. Doesn’t sound too bad, right? Thing is, the displays are mounted on heavy wooden “chairs.” And also, most of the people carrying the flowers are old. I don’t know why. It seemed a little unnecessarily Jesus-esque to me, especially since the festival isn’t religious, but that’s the tradition and that’s how it’s done.

Now, I’m not a big botanical gardens type of guy, but these flower displays were genuinely impressive. They were essentially giant paintings, made entirely of flowers. That said, after about 45 minutes of nonstop displays, I was a little flowered out. What kept me most entertained were the people around us.Colombia

They were drunk, which definitely seemed to be helping. Two guys on either side of me in particular had mastered positive heckling and had the crowd and the flower-bearers laughing pretty consistently. One of the guys also had a canteen of cane liquor and whenever an old flower-bearer stopped in front of us, he (with the help of the rest of us) would adamantly offer a shot. He usually succeeded and whenever the poor old dude carrying the cross of flowers would accept and take his drink, our entire section would erupt in applause and cheers.

We passed a couple hours admiring the displays and laughing with the crowd before we got hungry and moved on to dinner. It was fun being among rowdy Colombians and I’m glad my timing was lucky enough to see one of Medellin’s most important festivals.

Cable Cars and Kids

With an extra day to kill in Medellin, I joined two families and another of Omar’s cousins on a day trip. The trip itself wasn’t particularly noteworthy, but there were eight of us in total, including three kids, which made the outing completely different from any other I’ve had on this trip to South America.

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The Metro Cable

I’ve traveled alone this entire trip (with the exception of two weeks when a friend visited me in Ecuador, but she let me make all the decisions), so it was strange to suddenly be 1) In a large groups and 2) With children. Traveling in a group is of course always different from traveling alone, even with a group of peers, but traveling with children has a totally different dynamic.

I never really thought about that dynamic. I’m 25, don’t have kids, and don’t have many friends with kids either, so it just never comes up. I didn’t realize that kids essentially dictate the day’s activities, directly and indirectly. (Parents are smiling right now, aren’t you?)

First of all, everything takes longer, because, well, life just has so many distractions! The food cart selling sweets, the tree to climb, the dog over there. At first, I was a little annoyed that we weren’t getting quickly from A to B, but as I watched the kids take tangents and explore even the most mundane parts of every street, I began to think that maybe I was the one missing out. They walked the streets without worry and without filters, absorbing every part of the path more completely than any of us grown people ever could.

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The families

Outside of observing and interacting with the kids, the most interesting part of the trip were the cable cars. The cable cars in Medellin are part of the metro line and connect an otherwise distant section of Medellin on the other side of a valley and on top of a mountain. Imagine if part of your daily commute involved taking a cable car and then transferring to a metro. AND use of the cable cars doesn’t cost more than a metro ride sans cable cars (unless you go up to the National Park).

Naturally, the kids were pretty psyched about the cable car ride, though much less psyched about the library tour that we adults decided would be interesting. I’d like to say I have more refined taste now that I’m older, but in reality, I think the kids are right – I think we adults just aren’t nearly as fun when we grow up.