We always try to go with the flow, never more so than in the last few days…
Leaving Pana at 6am on Saturday had us reeling with mixed emotions – sadness at leaving our friends and the place that had come to feel like home and excitement about the next stage of our journey – Colombia!
As soon as we entered Guatemala airport, everything was different! The building was built with straight lines and modern design, there was air conditioning, good coffee, WiFi everywhere and everything operating smoothly. Other than the slightly awkward moment when I had to try and explain in faltering Spanish why I had three parachutes in my hand luggage, all went smoothly. It felt like we had already left Guatemala!
Arriving in America was a different matter… They have their procedures, and that’s just fine. But over 2 hours in queues from getting off the plane to out of the airport did seem a little much!
So first impressions of Fort Lauderdale? Everything is VERY BIG. And there are signs everywhere! Signs telling what you’re not allowed to do, where you should and shouldn’t go, things you should buy, ordering you to have a nice day, etc, etc. No one walks. I knew this, but it’s still a strange feeling driving along streets totally empty of pedestrians. The taxi driver seemed to have way more trouble understanding my English accent than any Spanish speaking Guatemalan had done in the previous 2 months and tried twice to drop us at the wrong house!
But when we finally arrived our hosts for the night, Heather and Benjamin welcomed us into their lovely home with open arms. If you’ve never tried www.airbnb.com (which you probably haven’t), I can highly recommend it. I have to admit we were a little wary of the idea of a website where people rent out their spare room, but with photos and reviews, it really is no different to finding any kind of hotel or b&b online. And at less than a third of the price of any hotel in town, we thought, “why not”?
Heather gave us a quick tour and offered us the choice of making ourselves at home with a takeout or joining her and Benjamin at a “young couples meet-up” they organise. The deal was further sweetened by a $5 brewery tour and beer tasting, and we bit (although I’m still not convinced the Funky Buddha Brewery pint glasses we were given will survive all the way back to the Uk)!
Not quite sure what to expect as we walked into the restaurant, we were pleasantly surprised to find a roomful of normal looking smiling and welcoming people! Apparently this kind of event is normal there. I suppose it’s natural that the culture that gave us internet dating has taken it one step further… As far as I understood it, these couples can network online and come together to make new friends. I remember how hard it was at times in London to meet new people and build up a good social network. This event seemed to solve that problem and there was definitely a great vibe.
Off early again, getting out of America was MUCH easier than getting in to it. The lady at security even complemented Graham on his new Guatemalan pant (and I genuinely don’t think she was being insulting when she called them PJs)!
With ideas of a new digital camera and some good quality suncream, we were looking forward to a bit of shopping at the airport. But America, the capital of consumerism, let us down! The airport had one small gift shop, a small duty free shop selling only drink and cigarettes and a bland café selling even more bland coffee. Puzzled and a little disappointed we had to content ourselves with people watching as we finished off the leftovers from the monster sized dinner of the previous night.
Arriving in Colombia the strangest thing was how normal everything felt. We were somewhat shocked by the sheer scale of Medellin town and relieved to find tranquillity, space and greenery a couple of miles outside the centre in El Poblado.
The 2 hour taxi-metro-bus trip up to takeoff the next day slightly undermined the benefits of our peaceful haven, but we finally made it to launch receiving a warm welcome from the local pilots. They seemed surprised to see a girl flying tandem and rushed over to watch and help! They called over the only other female tandem pilot there to meet me which restored a little normality and Graham managed to fight his way through the crowd to claim his place as my co-pilot. But it was all friendly and extremely welcoming and after posing for a couple of pictures, off we went.
We were rewarded with a lovely evening soaring taking in the amazing views of this enormous city climbing up the sides of a huge valley with steep mountains all around. We finished the day with a lift back down the hill in an overheating banger (I quickly recognised that driving style), with a couple of teenagers teaching us Spanish swear words and talking to us about salsa music.
We decided to head south today to meet up with friends in Roldanillo, before working our way back up the country, stopping off to fly Medellin again on our way back north. Like the rest of the last couple of days, the journey through stunning countryside has been spiced up with random and amusing little moments, from fitting all our belongings into the smallest taxi in the world (getting them in a tuk tuk was easier) to being proudly served pãn lasagne – yes, that’s lasagne made with bread instead of pasta! We just keep on going with the flow and look forward to the next little piece of randomness to make us giggle as we go 🙂