Traveling with 4 children in tow has a way of drawing attention, not unlike a mother duck who’s trailed by little ducklings. Some of the attention is wanted, and some of it is a little over the top. But it’s been a great icebreaker for conversing with the locals, and we’ve made friends like never before. Behind us in line at the grocery store was another young family, and the father was wearing an Alpinestars hat. I figured he was American, but when I greeted him, he responded in the pure Paisa sing-song tones we’ve been hearing a lot of. After a brief conversation we exchanged contact information and he offered to show us around if we’d like.
Yesterday we took him up on the offer and he acted as our tour guide for the day. We traversed the winding roads up and out of the valley that is filled by the population of Medellin and made our way to el Salto de Tequendamita… an idyllic little haven that is misted by a powerful waterfall . This stop was actually directed by me, something I found while browsing lat/long photos on Google Earth, as our friend Felipe, had never actually been there before. He was as tickled as we were and we spent the better part of an hour taking pictures and letting the kids play to work off the car sickness that two hours of sharp turns in the back seat of a hatchback had given them.
Felipe is one of few Colombians to have his own vehicle, but it hasn’t come without sacrifice. His $611 per month salary doesn’t allow for extravagances like a 1998 beat-up and re-painted Mazda. He only has it because he’s been judicious and saved.
Our next stop was the Piedra de Peñol, an enormous monolithic stone which towers over a landscape that begs to be described in superlatives. After it was first scaled in 1954, someone decided that with a little help it could become quite a tourist destination. In true South-American fashion, they cobbled together some ladrillos and concrete to form some 720 steps in a makeshift spiral fashion. No two steps are anywhere near the same height, but it didn’t hinder our ascent as even the kids were enthusiastic about making it to the top.
Strange as it may seem, most of the “tourists” who joined us were from Medellin, though there was an American couple from California. They were impressed by our resolve in bringing four young children along. I stopped short of telling them that it only cost us $570 for all six of us to travel to Medellin, but I was tempted.
Our final stop of the day was a gorgeous Antioqueño pueblo of Guatape. Nestled into the lake, and organized in typical Spanish colonial style, it consists of two main draws – a plaza in front of the church surrounded by restaurants and vendors, and the lakeshore where entrepreneurs sell their goodies and boat captains bargain for water tours. We strolled along the lakeshore and sent Westley, our oldest, on a zipline for $2.70 while Miles and Belle settled for a less thrilling llama ride.
Felipe was a terrific tour guide and has become a great family friend. Having a Colombian accompany us added some insight to local culture and it was a real pleasure to share his company in the context of such a great experience.