Today I have been thinking about Colombia. My friend and I lived in Medellin, Colombia for six months in 2017. We did not originally plan on being in Colombia for six months; in fact, we did not at all plan to travel for (what has now been) a year and a half. We both bought one-way tickets to Medellin, and we made AirBnB reservations for two months.
The second AirBnB booking we ever made (while still in the States, planning our second month in Medellin) was the Finca. The photos of the Finca looked absolutely stunning, including a private balcony and a beautiful view. On the AirBnB map, this Finca did not look especially far from the center of Medellin. It seemed somewhat rural, yet still accessible to the city.
We flew to Medellin, spent one month in the city center, then packed our bags and boarded a taxi to our new Finca home. Gustavo, the owner of the Finca, texted us instructions in Spanish for the taxi driver. Upon handing the taxi driver our address and directions, he seemed utterly perplexed. We explained that this Finca was only a fifteen minute drive past the Centro Comercial City Plaza. The driver knew where this was, and so he headed towards the mall.
We reached the mall and began driving up a steep, mountainous hill. On more than one occasion, my friend and I genuinely feared the taxi would roll backwards. Most of the taxi drivers in Medellin use a manual transmission, and switching gears on the side of a mountain is rather treacherous. After some terrifying driving, the area became very rural, with virtually no street signs. My limited Spanish deciphered some of Gustavo’s original instructions: make a right turn near a senior center, then continue past some alamos, then veer into a left at a fork. I am obviously not remembering all of the details, but at this point our taxi driver was nervous and confused. We found Gustavo’s phone number, and our driver stayed on the phone with Gustavo, receiving clearer directions as we travelled closer and closer to the Finca. Finally, we found a gate with a giant “B” on it, matching a “B” in the original address. The gate opened, and we drove down a long driveway. At the end of the driveway we found a stout man (Gustavo), a smiling woman (his wife Cecilia), a ranch-style house, and a smaller ranch-style cottage. My friend and I thanked the taxi driver profusely, and he offered us his personal phone number to provide his taxi services (as he now knew how to find this obscure address).
We moved into the ranch-style cottage, while Gustavo and Cecilia retired to their house. We were stunned by the utter seclusion and beauty of this new home. Medellin looked like a distant speckling of burnt-sienna tiles.
After settling in, we tried to locate the Finca on a map. We quickly surmised that Gustavo’s address containing the “B” was more of a self-imposed label than a documented location. When we tried to call other taxi drivers to pick us up at the Finca, they could not understand the address. We relied upon a taxi driver friend of Gustavo, as well as the taxi driver from our initial entrance.
Early in our stay, to exercise a degree of independence, my friend and I walked down the massive mountain to the Centro Comercial City Plaza for cappuccinos and groceries. The walk was even steeper on foot than it was in a vehicle.
It was also more naturally beautiful than anything I have ever experienced. There were cows.
There were loud, barking dogs. Once, we walked past an old man in a sombrero on horeseback. I snapped this photo:
Once, after spending a day in the Poblado region of the city, we used the EasyTaxi app to book a random taxi for our return home. We told the driver to take us to the Centro Comercial City Plaza, and we saved Gustavo’s text instructions for the rest of the drive. Slightly beyond the Centro Comercial, our driver halted the car and demanded to read the entirety of our instructions. He became angry and confused, expressing that the text did not make sense. We tried to call Gustavo, but he unfortunately did not answer. Our driver dumped us near the entrance of a restaurant barely past the Centro Comercial. It was night time and I panicked. My friend suggested we try calling one of the two taxi drivers who memorized the route to the Finca. Luckily, Gustavo’s taxi driver friend was available when we called, and he quickly arrived to take us home.
The next morning, my friend suggested that we record our own route down the mountain, so that we could personally communicate the directions to any driver. That day, we left the Finca with a piece of paper and pen, jotting down landmarks and rights and lefts. After grocery shopping in the city, we tested our notes by booking a random taxi. It worked – remedial Spanish and notes combined, we actually made it back to the Finca on our own.
Over time, we did not need notes. We memorized the twists and turns along the route down the mountain, so that we could relay them to any taxi driver, any time. Eventually, we began a routine of walking down into town, and using the EasyTaxi app to return to the Finca. We simply told the taxi drivers that we lived about fifteen minutes past the Centro Comercial City Plaza, and we would give driving directions beyond the mall.
Some drivers responded to our lack of real address with fear. Once, we had a taxi driver who was not even familiar with the Centro Comercial City Plaza. He stopped near other taxis at traffic lights, constantly rolling down his window to check in with other drivers, asking if he was moving in the proper direction. We left his cab at the mall, then booked a second cab for our ascent up to the Finca. We did not trust his extremely evident self-doubt; how would he handle uncharted territory if he could not handle the heavily-charted?
Of course, the majority of the taxi drivers handled our verbal instructions just fine. And this exercise in communicating in another language, vital communication to ensure our return home, was rather gratifying. Honestly, it really made me think, “Oh wow, this can actually work. We can actually memorize the twists and turns of a rural, 45-minute walk down the side of a Colombian mountain and dictate it, in Spanish, to a taxi driver.” We were always able to communicate our way home.
I certainly never thought I would be doing anything like this in my life, nothing this strange and exciting.