New Baltimore, Michigan: A Return Home

In March, before I left for Colombia; I got the chance to spend some time with my older sister, Alexandria. She now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, so I don’t get to see her often, but she was visiting Michigan for a few days. She wanted to go urban-exploring in Detroit, checking out old ruins and taking pictures. After being tied up with work for longer than expected, we decided instead of Detroit, we would go check out our childhood stomping grounds, New Baltimore.

New Baltimore is a small city of around 12,000 which finds itself on the northwest shore of Lake St. Clair. It always had a small-town feel for me. I was friends with most of the people in my neighborhood, and was familiar with the rest. It also holds a lot of great memories for me: my first kiss, attending many Bay-a-Rama festivals, winning the Little League All Star tournament with my friends, learning how to skateboard and play guitar, and many more. But even more than all of those things, I think New Baltimore holds a special place in my heart because I had lived there longer than anywhere else in my life. For slightly over 10 years, I was able to call a house that my father largely put back together, home.

We arrived at the waterfront and parked across from the old police station. We entered the park first; both of us armed with our camera, intent on capturing some hometown nostalgia.

The weather was nice enough for us to walk around without jackets, yet the lake was still frozen, and the sun was bright and warm.

We saw the playground we used to play tag on, the new beach which neither of us had used, the ledge on which we had watched many nights of fireworks, and the new dock, seemingly for police boats. I remember when the water tower was new and was given a fresh coat of vivid red paint, it was now rusty and a tired shade of its old self.

New Baltimore

We found our way to Washington Street where I saw the Rec. Center which I had totally forgotten about; yet played floor hockey in, year after year.

We walked past Main Street and noticed that the library had gotten a very nice makeover.

Our favorite corner store was now a bar; replacing 50 cent candy bars with 4 dollar pints.

Across the street, Stahl’s bakery was giving out free smells; we obliged to our senses and went in. I purchased a fresh bag of cookies. After trying one and confirming it was delicious, my sister quickly confiscated the bag for herself. Ah, just like old times.

Ally at Stahl's Bakery

We walked further down the street and passed Mike’s Comics, where I would rush to buy my next pack of Pokemon cards each week when I was younger. I was secretly glad to see it was still around, considering most of the other storefronts seemed new. A few restaurants and bars now exist where a hair salon and pizza shop used to be; I would have to return with some old friends to check them out.

We headed back to the car for a quick trip down Ashley Street, the one where our old house was located. Turning onto the street, I could see the Stanton’s beautiful home on the corner; with the backyard the twins and I would play baseball in until we started hitting the ball well across the street.

Home

Finally, near the end of the street, there it was; the pinnacle of New Baltimore. Home.

A Bus, a Brit, and La Burgerhouse

 

The Brit in question, Amelia.

 

SATURDAY MORNING: I heard the buzzing of my alarm and peeled one eye open to see if there was time to snooze. The time read, 6:45; so I needed to get up and get ready. With some great effort, I managed to drag myself out of bed. I hobbled around the dark hostel room and collected my things. As soon as I was ready, I grabbed my cast and went out into the hallway to put it on. I figured that I would spare the rest of the dorm from the ripping Velcro noises. I walked to the front desk and asked if they could point me in the direction of the nearest Transmilenio(bus) station. One of the girls asked if I was leaving right then, because she was leaving as well. I said yes, and she happily showed me all the way to the bus stop.

 

From the center of Bogota to Portal del Norte; it was a quick hour by bus as I arrived to the transfer station to meet Paula Andrea.  Paula is an awesome/ hilarious girl I met back in 2009, the first time I visited Bogota. We kept in contact through Skype and Facebook, and I was very excited to see her again.

 

I ended up waiting for about an hour at the bus transfer station as a result of overcompensating for how long it would actually take to get there. Paula arrived with her friend Angelica, and we quickly found our way onto the next bus to Sopo. We caught up a bit on the bus, and tried to work through my real struggle with Spanish (The struggle being that I had never really studied it before). This second bus took another hour north of Bogota. We passed SO MANY cows on the way there; I guess that its the dairy district. MOO-ving on…

 

We hopped off the bus in Sopo and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Afterwards, we walked up to the town square to meet some other friends. In the square was an immaculate little park. Clean, very green grass, many benches, and what was surely the oldest tree I had ever laid my eyes on (it was MASSIVE). Not to mention; it smelled fresh, a small comfort being out of the sometimes fumey Bogota. As we were walking near the park, we saw another of Paula’s friends, Larry. He joined us as we took a seat on one of those benches. After a few minutes I noticed one of Paula’s friends Giselly walking towards us with her boyfriend, Cristian. We said made some introductions and then grabbed a pair of taxis towards the local national park.

 

Sopo sits on the side of a nice little mountain(big-steep mountain). The national park was at the very top of this mountain, and the road to the top was mixed dirt, rocks, and short portions of pavement. It was probably the steepest road that I have ever driven on. At some points, the road is very narrow; if there is another vehicle coming the opposite way, one of the vehicles will reverse to the nearest driveway. This occurred a handful of times. Another fun part of the drive up is when you are headed up and have to wait for a car to pass, there is often a struggle to gain any momentum and start going back up the mountain road.

 

Fifteen minutes and seemingly lots of burnt rubber later, we paid the driver and hopped out of the taxi. It was there that I met the final member of our party, Giselly’s brother Andres. We paid around 4 mil (not quite 2 USD) to enter the park, and were on our way.

We hiked for around a mile before we came to an opening that felt like a natural balcony to the valley below. It was an absolutely riveting view, complete with a white handrail. We hiked for a few more minutes and came to another balcony with a beautiful view. We all snapped handfuls of photos of the group and the excellent view. After a few minutes, we started the hike back to the entrance of the park.

Paula Andrea and I

The ride back to the bottom of the mountain was also a fun one. We packed seven of us into a small SUV and headed down! It was a much smoother ride this time, I expect as a result of the 4wd. We stopped at Giselly’s house for a few minutes and played with her hilariously happy dog and cat. After a while, we headed down to her family’s new restaurant, La Burgerhouse, to eat a late lunch.

The restaurant wasn’t officially open yet, so we had the place largely to ourselves. The layout of the restaurant is “muy chevere” (very cool), it was largely designed by Giselly and her brother, who happens to be a very talented graphic artist. We ate in the restaurant’s backyard, in a nice green tuft of grass. Once we finished eating, we started with a few beers. After some storytelling, listening, and questions; we went into the restaurant and played some drinking/ card games. It was an amazingly memorable time, full of laughter, smiles and Colombian music!

After a while, we realized that we may have missed the last bus back to Bogota; we were having too much fun to keep track of time! We hurried off to the bus stop and luckily caught the last one! We said our goodbyes and left Sopo. Andrea and Andres helped me find the right bus transfer to get back to my hostel, and when I walked in; all hell broke loose…

 

“Where the hell have you been? We were so worried! We even phoned the police!” shouted Amelia as she gave me a monster hug.

 

I guess I had forgotten to tell her that I was headed out of town for the day. After I recounted my day for her, I gave her another hug and thanked her for being so concerned about my well-being. I had only met her a few days before, but I am definitely glad to have a new friend who is so caring that they would report me missing to police before I actually go missing! Hah.

 

I am loving Colombia so far. Meeting class acts like her make me remember why I love traveling so much.

Have you met some friends on the road who you just instantly clicked with too?