Before I had landed in Medellin, I was embraced by a local Paisa.
The flight from Miami to Medellin is a short three hours. As I awoke from my catnap with 30 minutes of flight time remaining, I was handed a bag of pretzels by the lady to my right. This act of kindness prompted me to strike up a conversation and ask if this was her first time to Colombia. The young lady, named Ana, happened to be from Medellin. She had moved to the states 4 years ago, met her fiancé, and was now headed back for a quick visit with family.
My favorite part about travel has to be the immediate bond formed when you have a country you love in common. I have found that Paisas (the word for people from the Northwest of Colombia including Medellin) have a pride and love for their country that is unrivaled. Ana's love for Colombia was no different. We continued to talk as we walked through customs, I taught her about the Chicago Cubs and she taught me a few new words in Spanish. As we exited the airport, she kindly invited me to her family gathering the following week. I was so excited! I had met my first local friend. And between you and me, I really wanted to experience a Colombian family party. I imagined a night filled with salsa dancing, latin music, roaring laughter and endless food. I couldn't wait to see if this was true.
Fast forward one week, I’m in an Uber (with a lovely Colombian man working to save money to visit his girlfriend in England) climbing the mountains of Medellin. The Uber approaches a beautiful gated community and I thank my lucky stars I have the kindest Uber driver. He was able to communicate with the security guard and took me directly to Ana's parents house. Within minutes, Ana’s father, followed by Ana, greets me at the door with a “Hello” and giant hug. I follow them into their beautiful home, filled with modern furniture and stunning decor. I receive an overwhelming and warm welcoming from aunts, uncles, cousins and friends alike.
I consider myself a tolerant person accepting and welcoming all cultures, but after a week in Medellin, I was reminded just how vulnerable one can feel in a new place. It's quite the humbling experience wanting to express your thoughts or tell a joke, and not being able to convey them properly due to a language barrier. However, I was fortunate that the Colombian culture, specifically Paisas and Ana's family, were beyond cordial. The rest of the night was just as I had pictured. I took my first shot of the traditional Colombian alcohol Aguaridente. I danced salsa. I chatted with Ana's 3 year old niece. We bonded, but most likely because we spoke the same level of Spanish. I was overfeed by Ana’s lovely Colombian mother, Sylvia - who insisted I try my first Colombian blood sausage. I sang my new favorite salsa song “Vivir Mi Vida” by Marc Anthony and Feliz Cumpleanos - proud I knew the words to both.
At the end of the my 7 hour visit, I was extatic with how the night turned out. I left with giant abrazos (hugs) and 10 new Colombian friends. I know my Mom will be reading this and still warn me to be careful of strangers - but I can say this was the absolute best case scenario. My confidence increased knowing I could hold a conversation in Spanish, easily make new friends and confirmed I had made the right decision starting my travels in Medellin.
Cheers to kind people who embrace those that are different, new to their country and welcome them with open arms. I walk away from this experience humbled and with an improved notion to be extra kind to those that look like they too are new to a city, place or country. Thank you to Ana and her family - I'm so glad that those simple two minutes turned into, what I hope, is a lifelong friendship. These memories will last a lifetime. My bar is now set very high for all future Colombian family gatherings.
Have you had similar experiences while traveling? Have simple conversations turned into amazing experiences or friendships? Please share in the comments below!
Check out the corresponding 1 minute video about my night.