Okay, so my time in Medellin was pretty… bad. This entry isn’t gonna be super chipper. But it’s important to write it all anyway, because it’s part of the journey – and things did get better. Way, way better. As I will detail for you in due course. 🙂
I arrived in Medellin feeling a little weird, if I’m honest. I’d not fully gotten over the food poisoning at Tukawa, so I was hungry and weak and weary. Plus, I’d had yet more plans cancelled unexpectedly: the same friend who cancelled Tukawa suddenly also cancelled our Christmas and New Year’s Eve plans in Cali. I came to Medellin because I didn’t know where else to go. It wasn’t a great feeling.
Arriving off the bus, I had breakfast in El Poblado with my Tukawa friends Fritzy and Elisia, then said goodbye as they were heading on to another town. I took an Uber to a district called Laurales, and checked into my hostel for the next six nights: Wandering Paisa (a Paisa is someone from Medellin, apparently). I felt crumby: I wasn’t supposed to be here. All my plans in Colombia had so far gone up in smoke. It was the 23rd of December when I arrived in Medellin, which meant I had only two days to meet people with whom I’d hopefully feel comfortable and happy enough to enjoy a good Christmas.
I didn’t do much in the city during this period. I met a few nice people: Viv, a long-term travelling desert festival girl from Australia, and Yoan, a friendly yet tell-it-like-it-is gay guy from France. On my first night we explored the city a little and then watched like 5 episodes of Emily in Paris, which Yoan and Viv loved but made me feel a bit nauseous.
On the 24th there was a ‘pot luck’, which I think is an American thing. Everyone in the hostel cooked a meal or brought tasty treats (I bought wine for everyone, couldn’t be arsed cooking in the cramped kitchen) and in the evening around 30 of us ate together. For most people present, the 24th was Christmas Day, whereas for me the 25th is the main event. The hostel played reggaeton music all night, until at 11pm, tipsy and annoyed, I asked if they could knock it off and play some Christmas tunes. I played All I Want For Christmas Is You and Christmas Wrapping, but at midnight, just as the party was starting to get fun, the receptionist came in and told us that it was now ‘quiet time’ in the hostel.
I was fuming: who the hell did we have to be quiet for? Everybody in the hostel was downstairs, together, and besides, it was Christmas: a day far more important than any theoretical person getting eight hours of kip. And plus, the Colombians next door had been blasting music until 6am the previous day. It was very annoying. Kicked out of the hostel and unsure what else to do – I hadn’t the energy or the interest for a reggaeton club – I sat outside with Viv and Yoan and we talked about love and shagging until 3am.
I felt glum as all hell on the 25th, mostly because it was Christmas for me but not for anybody else. I woke up with nobody to wish Merry Christmas to, nobody to hug and squeeze and be thankful for. I felt powerfully bitter, lying on my bunk vaping sadly. I Facetimed my mum’s side of the family for two minutes, but I didn’t stay on for long because they were all around the dinner table, merry, and I was struggling to force a smile and I didn’t want to bring them down. I called my dad for a chat, which helped. I told him I was having a wank Christmas and he told me his was pretty wank too, and we comforted each other.
In the afternoon, ten of us from the hostel went to a park on a big hill, and we spent a few hours sitting in the shade looking out over the city. Medellin is pretty cool to look at, at least from a distance: the city sits in a giant natural bowl, surrounded by mountains, and over the decades the city, which I presume began as a quaint town nestled in the heart of this leafy valley, has expanded exponentially and crept up the mountainsides. From a good hill or rooftop bar, you feel as though you’re sitting in a phenomenal basin of life. At night it’s even better: the barrios on the mountainsides glitter like stars, higher than your brain can comprehend. You can see it wherever you are – any street. A gap in the buildings reveals this glittering cosmos. It’s very beautiful.
Back at the hostel we all watched a Christmas film, all huddled on the sofa, and we ordered takeaways. I got a Hawaiian pizza, but it was so bland and weird that it almost broke my spirit. I think I was just filled to the brim with emotion because of Christmas.
Then, while watching the film, my phone slid off the sofa and landed on the tiled floor. Despite it being fine after much worse beatings – I dropped it off the top bunk once, not a scratch on it – my phone decided that this was the perfect moment to smash. Devoid of a working phone, I swallowed my sadness and frustration, and went to take a shower. That’s when, finally – after being abandoned by my friend, plans cancelled, bank card lost, phone screen smashed, food poisoning, WorldHangover deleting itself, bedtime curfew on Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day away from loved ones – I went to dry my hair under the hand dryer. The vibrations from the dryer wobbled a shampoo bottle off the shelf, which fell and bonked me on the top of my head.
For some reason, that’s what did it. That innocuous bonk was the final straw; I flipped. Really? On shitting bastard Christmas? Really?!?! I clenched my fists and flailed around in wheezing silence, face turned purple, obscenities flying from my mouth like a plague of locusts. Then I saw my furious, silently windmilling form in the mirror, and I paused. I laughed. Whatever, I told myself. It’s all fucked. Fuck it.
I went back downstairs and caught the end of the film. I like watching films together with a lot of people. At 7pm, three friends and I took a taxi to go see the illuminations in the city. We bought a beer each and wandered through the heavy crowds of families, walking through giant LED doorways taken from the Disney film Encanto. At the end of the walkway there had been erected a huge LED house – the Encanto house in its entirety. And there were lights floating above the river. It was very pretty and the atmosphere was festive.
Keen to do something else, we got a taxi from there to El Poblado, and walked around for an hour or two looking for a place to party. Sadly, everything was closed. It turns out the Colombians drink all night on the 24th, into the morning and afternoon of the 25th, then they sleep off their hangovers. We drank, like, one beer somewhere, then got a taxi back to the hostel, defeated. Not a stunning end to the day, for sure, but as I lay in bed that night, I thought about everything: relaxing in the park, huddling together for a takeaway and a Christmas movie, singing Mariah Carey the night before, exploring the lights, watching the families – and I thought hey: for the worst thing that could possibly have happened, I’d actually had a quite a nice day.