Medellín Means Serendipity

View of downtown Medellin
View of downtown Medellin
Another day looking at Fernando Botero's art? Nah, done it a hundred times.
Another day looking at Fernando Botero’s art? Nah, done it a hundred times.

Writer’s note: This is Part 1 of a two-part story.

Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, Urban Buddha Hostel, Medellín

Four days off in a row, starting now, something almost anyone loves, but there’s no fun in it if there’s nothing to do so I grabbed my laptop as I lay in bed and started looking.

No, nothing going on this weekend in the city. I had to expand my search to flights out-of-town.

If I find something cheap to a good location, I thought to myself, I’m going. The destination I tried was Bogotá, because I wanted to see friends I made during my first trip there, in June.

A roundtrip flight popped up for 128,000 pesos (about $71), Copa Airlines, leaving at 4 p.m., today. I booked it immediately then started packing my bag. After lunch, I jumped on the bus to Centro Comercial San Diego, where I would take another bus to the airport.

I didn’t realize, then, that this trip would change my life.

Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, Chocolate Hostel, Bogotá

As daylight died and night came back to life, I wondered if I would hear from Nico. I sat next to him on the plane from Medellín to Bogotá and we exchanged cards during our long conversation, which almost never began.

The plane couldn’t land immediately and we circled Bogotá, to try to wait out a storm, but after 20 minutes or so the pilots were told to go back to Rio Negro, the city an hour outside of Medellín that is home to the international airport, Jose Maria Córdoba.

I honestly thought Nico was an American when he first sat next to me. He’s tall, maybe 6’3”, has very light skin and brown curly hair. In fact, he kind of looks like Cole Hauser’s character in Good Willing Hunting.

When we got back to Rio Negro, he pulled out his phone to make a call and he spoke with that perfect paisa accent.

We started talking after he was done, first in Spanish, then in English, before using a mix of the two. A financial advisor at a Medellín-based firm, he learned to speak English after spending a lot of time in London, and later, in the states.

We were stuck on the tarmac for two hours so that gave us a lot of time to cover everything about the paisa culture, the lifestyle in other parts of Colombia, and the way things work in my home state, Hawaii.

I told him I hope to stay in Medellín for a long time but that means finding a good job with a company that is willing to renew my visa year after year.

One of the last things we talked about was grabbing a beer in Bogotá the following night and someday doing the same in Medellín.

I never heard from Nico again.

The view from la piedra, the giant rock in El Peñol.
The view from la piedra, the giant rock in El Peñol.

Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, Hostel El Encuentro, Guatapé

One of the best day trips you can make (spoiler alert for an upcoming “best of” post) if you live in Medellín is the 2-hour jaunt to Guatapé. The only thing better is staying longer, and if you do, you want to stay at Hostel El Encuentro.

The hostel is clean, the staff and owner are nice, and the view of the lake is spectacular.

I made sure that a stop here was part of the itinerary for my sister’s three-week visit. She loved it.

I spent a good part of the time hanging out with my friend Alejandro, the hostel chef and tour guide who I met during the summer while meeting so many other interesting people as you tend to do at a hostel.

By this point, I had forgotten all about my encounter with Nico on the flight to Bogotá because life was moving on, quickly, and I had to figure out what I was going to do with my life when the new year started.

The Christmas lights along the Rio Medellín.
The Christmas lights along the Rio Medellín.

Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, El Social, Medellín

The party was going strong because the alumbrados (Christmas lights) had been on for 2 ½ weeks and everyone was in a festive mood. But one person was a little worried.

A 28-year-old woman named Maria needed to find someone to help her on the digital marketing team at work and she just didn’t know anyone who fit the job description. She was getting a little frantic on this night, at this bar, as she talked to one of her friends from high school.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do!” she said. “I need someone who speaks English as a native language, who has writing experience and marketing experience, who knows about promoting things online, and if he can speak Spanish too that would be great…”

Her friend just happened to be someone I knew, a guy I sat next to on a flight to Bogotá about two months prior. Maybe Nico never contacted me, but he sure didn’t forget me.

“Relax, Maria,” he said. “I know somebody.”

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