Colombia | Poisoning Myself For No Good Reason

After Christmas I repaired my smashed phone. Boxing Day evening, a few of us from the hostel got a cab to El Poblado to meet Maud, my Dutch friend from Salento. It was Maud’s 37th birthday, and we got tacos in the rain and went boozing around the town. There wasn’t much open, so we spent most of the evening in a chicken shop that served beer, as a cast of plastered Colombians stumbled in and harassed us jovially.


Next day was a write-off, pure hammock, and in the evening I changed hostels to a place called Gaston Coliving about a kilometre away. It was a weird but pleasant hostel – family owned, strange layout, no real common areas for chilling, hammocks on the roof upstairs where they hang the laundry out to dry, tables on the front porch with umbrellas to shield you from the sun. I spent six nights there, and met many nice people whose names I do not recall. There was a guy called Tefel I think.

Notable things I did in Medellin in this period:

  • Communa 13

Went with a jolly French girl I met at Gaston. The tour was in Spanish so I didn’t learn much, lol, but essentially Communa 13 used to be one of the most violent and dangerous barrios in the city – which was really saying something, because Medellin was one of the most dangerous cities in the world while Pablo Escobar was around. Today Commune 13 is a colourful, vibrant place, safe for visitors (of which there are lots). The tour was run by a local youth organisation; guys from the community guide tourists around to educate them, and the money goes towards helping kids from the barrio get an education. We watched a break dancing show and did some spray painting. I can never think of what to draw when someone gives me a pen or whatever, so I just sprayed ‘Dan’.

  • Parque Arvi/Cable Cars

To get up to Parque Arvi, which sits one thousand metres above the main city of Medellin, you take a series of cable cars up through the hills. The view over the city is one of those views that scrambles your brain a little bit – too much detail, too much humanity in one gigantic scene. The fact that Medellin sits in a bowl means you can see the entire city at once, and you realise just how vast 2.5 million people is.

  • Pueblito Paisa

Little fake town on a hill, made as a recreation of what Medellin looked like back in the day. Cute.

  • Guatape

Guatape is a pretty little touristy lake town a few hours out of Medellin, with a gigantic rock just outside the town that’s very famous and people go up for cool views. It looks like some weird colossal black egg standing upright, 200 metres tall with a zig-zagging staircase up the side.

Fun fact about the big rock: as you approach from the south west, you’ll see a gigantic pair of letters adorning the rock. They read: G I. They’re all in white, thirty metres tall each. Me and my hostel friends couldn’t figure this out, so one night during my stay in Guatape we researched it. Turns out, Guatape and another nearby town argued over who owned the rock for a long time – presumably because it brings a lot of tourists. One night, the residents of Guatape took it upon themselves to paint their town’s name in enormous letters right across the rock. The residents of the other town got news of this, raced over, and they had a big argument and a brawl and the painting was ceased before the U could be completed, leaving only ‘G I’ forevermore.

Anyway. I went to Guatape on the 29th and intended to stay until the 2nd and spend NYE there. I fancied a quiet one – free from the constant reggaeton of Medellin and all that boozing. My first night at my hostel (Casa Kayam, little hippy lodge far away from the town, they had a horse, why do all my hostels have horses) was a success: I made like ten friends. The next day, however, every single one checked out. Bummer. I made more friends on the 30th, and on the 31st they all checked out too, heading for Medellin.

Well, arsehole, I wanted a cosy, familial NYE, not utter isolation. I panicked, and on the 31st I took the bus back to Medellin with a bunch of affable Dutch people.


I still had my bed booked out at Gaston – I left the booking live just in case – and so I returned there to meet Maud and a few new friends: a French guy, some stoner Canadians, a pair of Greeks, a Colombian guy with thick head of hair who was very worried about going bald.

Now. Because I was feeling a little jaded, having just passed a very weird Christmas and a rough December, I decided I could do with a little pick-me-up. Many backpackers in this country talk about the cocaine here: it’s sort of par for the course. However, I never touched the stuff here for ethical reasons. I know the drugs trade has fucked up this country massively, and many places – like Medellin – are only just recovering. However, my friends convinced me it wasn’t a big deal – apparently something like 90% of the world’s cocaine is made here, and 7% of that amount is consumed here. That means many Colombians do it – often. Well then, I thought: do as the Romans do.

At Gaston, almost every backpacker was planning to order something in for the big night. Maud and I agreed to split a gram, because although neither of us wanted to go hogwild, we still wanted to try it. I just wanted the energy, to be honest. Travelling knackers you. Anyway, in London it costs around £80 for a gram: in Colombia it’s £2. Just wild.

Alas. It was very bad stuff. I don’t know what it was cut with – rat poison or something – but when I tried it at Gaston, it emptied my stomach immediately. I was back and forth to the toilet for two hours, and aside from this it only made me feel tired and made me gurn. Dumbly, I thought maybe if I had some more it might get good. I had a little more, and a little more, but then it gave me acid reflux and a dry mouth and still no positive side effects. Well, that’s the chance you take. I’d not done any drug in almost a year by this point, and I doubt I’ll be having anymore any time soon.

The night itself was pretty soggy. This Colombian woman decided that we’d all have a family dinner at the hostel, and took 20,000 pesos (£3) from everybody for food. She cooked with a few others from the hostel. It was meant to be ready at 8pm, but by 10.30pm we were still waiting, drinking on the patio. I’d wanted to get out and enjoy the city lights and street parties, but sadly at 11.30pm I was washing dishes (while gurning) and at midnight we had no choice but to go into the quiet street and do a flaccid countdown and hug each other a little bit. It wasn’t the eruption I’d hoped for, but oh well – that’s NYE for, like, billions of people.

In the night we went to a reggaeton bar that an Italian girl dragged us to, but I don’t really like reggaeton unless I’m with close friends. It’s the sort of music you want to be silly to – dance madly and dumbly and wave your bum around like a flag – and with strangers it felt a little off. I just bobbed around a bit and didn’t know who to dance with because I didn’t feel properly comfortable with anyone except Maud. She was busy chatting to the Canadians, so I passed most of the evening sitting on the pavement outside, smoking angstily and gurning and retching because of the acid reflux. Should old acquaintance be forgot…

We went to a techno party after. Our group had thinned out by this point – me, the Canadians, Maud, the French guy whose name I forget – and it was very dark and Berlin-y and everybody had not many clothes on and dyed hair. I bobbed from side to side for a bit, jaw grinding, then I said fuck it and said bye to whoever was beside me and got a taxi home all grumpy and sighing.


On the 1st of January I awoke with a horrid comedown which I really didn’t deserve because I never had a blood come up. I didn’t feel particularly good about life, after spending New Year’s Eve voluntarily poisoning myself and then shuffling around a sequence of dark rooms blasting music I hate.

I checked Instagram and saw a video of the Dutchies (who I’d promised to meet in Poblado and then had to bail on because of the bloody Colombian woman’s promise of a family dinner at EIGHT) having the time of their lives laughing and smiling and dancing in the street with fireworks overhead at the pass of midnight. Well, arse. My original plan had been to eat the family dinner at EIGHT PM then whiz off to meet them for 9pm, but alas. I always try to make good decisions, but sometimes you work with the information you have and make sensible choices based on that info, and then fate just knobs you.

Anyway, while I was sat outside on the 1st day of the year feeling like an idiot bastard, I met a very nice person: Fatima. She was 34, from Paris, and she chatted to me while she told me about her wonderful exciting passionate authentic New Year’s Eve experience as she ate a healthy salad and sat there glowing with joy. Beside her I was an empty snail shell, snail within long gone, pecked out by a bird, remains blackened in the sun into an unintelligible stain on the pavement.

Some people are sunshine: Fatima was sunshine. She talked to me about health and yoga and travel, and later on when I was laid on my bed wracked with comedown anxiety, she popped her head into the dorm and invited me to join her on the hostel’s little-used terrace, where two hammocks are slung side by side, surrounded by fairy lights. We lay there in the hammocks for two hours, talking about everything – family, dreams – and in the end, despite everything, I felt warm.

I had a few more mini-adventures in Medellin over the next week, but I’ll leave it there: me, feeling a little broken and confused and bullied by Colombia, wondering what the next few days and weeks would bring. I wish I knew then that the answer to this was: incredible things.

Colombia | Merry SHITmas

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.