Women traveling alone seems to be the hot topic in the travel world. At 25, a recent Uni graduate and ready to start a career, I announced that I was about to leave for Latin America. I wanted to do something completely different, and had decided to travel in Cuba and then volunteer with a non-profit organization in Colombia. An independent Scandinavian girl, living in international, gender-equal and open-minded Europe, I still got more than enough of rolling eyes and perplexed (read: annoying) questions: “Shouldn’t you be settling down and doing something serious?” “Alone, don’t you have a boyfriend or friends to travel with?” and “To Colombia! That’s way too dangerous for a girl!”
Sure, I could have found a job and started a responsible adult life, but I didn't. Also, I like a lot traveling with my friends, don't get me wrong, but this time I wanted to really challenge myself and experience it on my own. And it was great. However, to truly understand how it is to choose a different path, and despite a general disapproval become a vibrant, cosmopolite woman traveler, I would like you to meet my friend Aida. She is a not-so-typical 30-something Bolivian, with a big heart and big dreams. Embark the adventure and discover what she has to share with other solo woman travelers, and those who aspire to be like us.
This is it then. I feel overwhelmed; strange but somehow happy. 199 days (200 when I land), 5 countries, 74 posts, 80 300 words, 1520 pictures. I want to thank you all for reading this blog and for following my travels. Your likes, comments, inquiries and support mean the world for me. Should you have any questions regarding the places I visited, volunteering, or anything else, keep contacting me, I'm happy to help. I hope you have enjoyed reading my stories as much as I have enjoyed writing them.
As authors often do, I wrote this last chapter long ago, when I was traveling in Cuba. Back then I promised myself that I would keep an open mind for changes and for other opportunities that would certainly come along. I reminded myself that I was free to do exactly what I wanted, that I wasn’t tied to anything or anyone. That if I wanted, I could keep traveling to exciting places, and I could find a job anywhere in the world.
But somehow I knew it all along, that I would not change my mind. And I haven’t. On this day 199 of my Caribbean life, there is really only one thing I want to say. As always, one picture tells more than thousand words, and I think this picture speaks for itself.
I'm going home.
I have a strange relationship with Miami. First of all, I don't seem to get out from South Beach because I like it so much. Second, I'm always sick here (pfff). But even if I'm sick I always manage to have a good time. Miami has already become to me like a hideaway from the real world, and a break between trips or chapters in my life. Last time it was to escape to the civilisation for a couple of days between Jamaica and Cuba, and I really made the most of it. This time, I'm here to take a break and clear my head between Cartagena and Paris. It is good because I don't think I could have handled arriving from Cartagena directly to Paris. Miami is my safe haven, I don't really belong here but it's nice to be somewhere in between and not to think about anything before facing my new life.
This is what Lonely Planet writes as an introduction about Cartagena: "Cartagena de Indias is the undisputed queen of the Caribbean coast, a fairy-tale city of romance, legends and superbly preserved beauty lying within an impressive 13km of centuries-old colonial stone walls. Cartagena's old town is a Unesco World Heritage site – a maze of cobbled alleys, balconies covered in bougainvillea, and massive churches that cast their shadows across plazas." - in short: a perfect place to live.
I hate goodbyes. And I'm not going to wallow in the sadness that I feel about leaving, I'm sure most of you know how it is and can relate to my pain, there is no need to write chapters about that. It seems unreal that my time in Cartagena and Colombia has come to an end, I'm confused, I don't even realise it yet. I've been traveling around so much lately that in a way it feels like this is just another little trip. Even if I have more luggage than usually, got into a minor ESTA confusion at the check in desk (S wanted me to stay here and was planning on tying me up to a hammock so that I would not be able to leave, well I almost had to stay because they didn't find my ESTA and wouldn't let me board the plane), and for the first time went to the "Salidas internacionales" side of Cartagena airport, I still don't really get it. But here I am, on the plane on my way to Miami. With my surfing teacher F we used to lay on our surfboards in the sea by La Boquilla beach and watch planes take off and fly over us. Today I could see La Boquilla beach from the plane window and I really can't believe it: I'm leaving Colombia.
Well I haven't yet seen that many others but I definitely understand why Guatapé makes it to almost every "Top places to visit in Colombia" - list, that I could find on the internet. Ever since I spent three wonderful days in Trinidad, Cuba, in January, and fell in love with its beauty, atmosphere and friendliness of people, I compare every small town I go to with Trinidad. And it's hard to beat, I don't know if any other cute little village ever will. However, Guatapé came close and even if its a lot smaller, in many ways it reminded me of Trinidad. So I couldn't have felt happier spending a day there.
Day 174, Medellin: Learning about Pablo Escobar, and more - my top 4 things to do in the city of eternal spring.
Medellín is Colombia's second largest city and the capital of the Antioquia region. It is located in a valley and surrounded by the Andes mountains. Medellín is called the "city of Eternal Spring", since the weather is very pleasant all year long (average temperature 22°C). Some 20 years ago Medellin was ranked the most dangerous city in the world, but has gone trough an impressive transformation since, being now one of the safest big cities in South America. It is an industrial and commercial centre for the region, a modern city that in 2013 won the title of the world's most innovative city (WSJ ranking). I had heard a lot about Medellín and was very excited about traveling here. When people ask me if I would like to live permanently in Colombia I used to say that no, I don't think so, but if I did I would live in Medellín. And this without ever having visited the city.
My first impressions are mixed: yes I like it, but I don't really understand what all that buzz is about. I have changed my mind. If I wanted to live in Colombia, I would live in... Cartagena! However, I spent a nice few days there, strolling around and discovering some of the most popular touristic spots. Medellín has its charms and is definitely a place worth seeing when in Colombia.
I am on holidays now, and it feels great even if I already miss work, La Boquilla and the La Vecina kids. Time really flies by, I have only one month left in Colombia and I intend to make the most of it. Only one month left by the Caribbean Sea also means that I just have to spend as much time as possible on the beach and in the waves. Thus, on Friday we decided with my friend K to hop on a bus and go explore a nearby town called Manzanillo del Mar, where our friend A lives. Manzanillo is a very small town and there is not much to do - other than spend time at the beach. But that worked perfectly for us. Then on Saturday I finally made the trip I had planned for a long time, I stayed one night at the beautiful beach of Playa Blanca, a 1-hour bus ride outside Cartagena. For some reason I had slept really bad the whole week and really needed to take a rest. Also, the last days at work were emotionally very hard and I really wanted to get out from Cartagena, be alone, clear my head and stop crying about having to leave La Vecina and my little loved ones. Sunbathing, sea breeze, crystal-clear water and walks along the beach did the job: I slept well and didn't think of anything. Now I have regained some energy and am ready to travel to Medellin tomorrow!
As I mentioned in the other post from this weekend, there are two main things to do in Cali: dance salsa and eat. In addition to salsa classes, my hostel also organises (almost) daily street food tours and I really wanted to go on one because I had heard it is great. But I was unlucky, there were no tours on Sundays, nor this Monday because it was a public holiday. No worries though, I googled a little bit for places to go and things to eat, and decided to do a tour on my own. I got company of my new friend, S from Switzerland, and together we took a map and started walking towards our destination: Mercado La Galeria Alameda in downtown Cali.
I don't know about you, but I'm feeling 22... That is exactly how I felt in Cali: young, care-free and having so much fun that I'm still smiling at the memories.
Cali, the capital of Valle del Cauca region and Colombia's third biggest city, is a lot of things. It is famous for its salsa culture and called "capital de la rumba", thus the best place in Colombia to party. It has its unique gastronomic traditions, and the next best thing to do in Cali after dancing is eating. Also, Cali is currently ranked the 10th most dangerous city in the world, but luckily I didn't even notice it. In many ways, Cali was an interesting city to see. However, people always make the place, and why I spent such wonderful three days in Cali is because of the great people, "Calenos" and other travellers, that I met.
Turning 26, enjoying every second of my life. Love it! :)
This past year has been a year full of adventures. Being 25 I traveled to Asia, Middle East and South/Latin America for the first time. I discovered many amazing and exotic countries such as China, Japan, Oman, Jamaica, Cuba, Brazil, and of course Colombia. I wrote another Master thesis and graduated from Uni with top grades. I worked with Microsoft, became a geek and had the best co-workers ever. Seriously, I've never had that much fun at work. I also discovered working in the education field and for a non profit organization. I like it a lot and I've fallen in love with the kids in La Boquilla. I got hit by a car on a casual morning run, was in Paris during the November 13 attacks, and got into a terrifying situation (guns involved) while visiting a favela in Brazil. I learnt that anything can happen and I do my best to enjoy and appreciate life every day. I had 4 very good friends move away from Paris and then eventually I left as well and am still in Colombia. I went on dates with can't remember how many guys but still didn't find my prince charming. Instead I made at least 50 new good friends and learnt a lot about myself and about what I want to do in life. I spent countless wonderful moments with people I love, and I hope I will keep doing exactly the same being 26.
I'm Emilia, Finnish-Parisian, a recent Master's graduate. I'm currently traveling around the Caribbean and on a volunteering mission in Colombia. I'm passionate about writing, music and different kinds of sports. I can't wait to discover new places and cultures - and share my adventures with you!