Monday, 22nd September
I woke up on the bus around 5am when it started go get light outside, but managed to slumber for another few hours finally waking properly for the final hour of the journey. We have travelled some distance south into Colombia (around 600km) and the countryside is much greener and lush here than from where we came from in the north of the country. There is clearly a big dairy industry here with cows in a lot of the fields, milk processing plants, cows in the backs of trucks being transported and milk churns on the sides of horses plodding along. We passed through several toll checkpoints and at the last one a man jumped on board with a microphone, wearing a white shirt and slacks. From his look I assumed he was some kind of official checking up on who was on board, possibly wanting to check our passports or something but it turned out he was just a busker/singer trying to make some money for charity. After belting out a tune with a backing track from a speaker slung around his neck he collected some money, I felt he was due some as it was a pretty unique and brave way to raise money.
We arrived at the northern bus terminal in Medellin around 10am and there wasn’t the usual swarm of taxi-drivers to meet us which was a pleasant change. In general this terminal seems much calmer than the ones we have dealt with before. We decided to catch the Metro to where we might find a hostel as it seemed easy enough to deal with and wasn’t rush hour or anything. We were aiming for the Poblado area of the city, having done some research and found some hostels which might be good. We didn’t book anywhere beforehand as we didn’t know for sure we could get on a bus last night and didn’t want to potentially lose our money on a room we weren’t going to use. The Metro (all elevated, above the roads) was easy and cheap, costing about US$1 a ride, and a direct line to the ‘Poblado’ station. From there it was a 15 minute walk to a Parque Lleras, a square with cafes and restaurants where I left Kirsty and checked out a couple of hostels close by, both with no private rooms going so we grabbed a drink in a cafe and used their wifi to call another hostel which did have a room. I booked it and within an hour, after finishing our drinks, we were all checked in at the ‘Black Sheep Hostel’. By this point we were pretty hungry so we stepped out for some lunch and settled on a place which does a set lunch for about US$4, consisting of a soup, juice and main plate (meat, rice and salad). It was really good, much better than the set lunch option we had in Cartagena. There are lots of places that offer this kind of economical lunch option, some better than others.
On first impression, the centre of Medellin seems like a place with lots going on, with loads of places to eat about and snack stands to grab an empanadas or two from. Being on a budget we went back to the hostel via the supermarket for a cheap pasta dinner although found that a can of tomatoes was nearly US$4 so opted for a broccoli pasta instead. I think the bus ride was catching up with us both by now and we were ready for a sit down back at the hostel, after which I cooked up dinner in a kitchen not really designed for so many cooks. There were four of us all trying to cook around each other without spoiling each others dinner or getting burnt. It worked out though and dinner was a success, albeit a simple success. You can’t get too complicated in a hostel kitchen, it’s not a place you want to be for too long. In the kitchen we bumped into a girl we had seen a few times before on this trip, Michaela, minus her friend Hannah who had go on somewhere else. We hadn’t seen any familiar faces for a while which was strange considering how frequently the same faces kept cropping up in the first half of Central America. By Costa Rica the trail seems to be too all over the place and the chances decrease of seeing anyone you know. We went up to bed early after dinner as the bus ride had well and truly caught up with me by then and was in need of a lie down. We would see what Medellin had to offer in a more conscious state tomorrow.
Tuesday, 23rd September
We tried to sleep in but the tissue paper acting as a curtain (not literally) was failing to keep the sun out so we eventually got up around 9:30am and went downstairs for our cornflakes and coffee/tea. We didn’t intend to do that mch today, just have a roam around the city and check out a couple of sites. The first one was a cable car that was part of their Metro system and would give us a good view of the city as we made our way up to Avri National Park. The Metro is great here, all above ground so you see the city as you whiz by, cheap (US$1 a ride) and easy to navigate. Medellin sits in a valley and there are three cable cars that connect the suburbs on the sides of the hills to the city below. We caught the Metro train to ‘Avecedo’ station where we changed onto the first cable car which took us overhead some suburbs for three stops before we changed at ’Santo Domingo’ and got on the longer cable car that took us into Avri National Park. You can get off here and have a wander around but we decided we had seen enough greenery lately so we just stayed on and got a return trip for our single fare. The ride was spectacular, seeing the sprawling city of Medellin laid out below us, getting smaller and smaller as we climbed the hill. It’s a great way to see the city and the journey took around a, hour there and back on both cable cars.
We opted to check out the art gallery, Museo de Botero, after the cable car trip and caught the Metro back into the downtown area of the city and jumped out at Parque Berrio. We grabbed a snack for lunch (empanadas, cold so not impressed) and paid our COP10,000 (Colombian pesos) to get into the art gallery. This was a great gallery and had a whole floor dedicated to Fernando Botero with some other Latin American artists also on display on other floors. We spent 1-2 hours here and it was nice to walk around a gallery which we haven’t done in a while. Fernando Botero is a figurative artist and sculptor from Medellín, Colombia. His signature style, also known as “Boterismo”, depicts people and figures in large, exaggerated volume, which can represent political criticism or humour, depending on the piece. He is considered the most recognised and quoted living artist from Latin America, The paintings were great, kind of funny in the way he depicts his subjects (voluminous as he describes them, absolutely not fat). You will need to check out that the photo gallery of Medellin, where I have taken pictures of a couple, to see what I mean. When we walked out of the gallery there was some kind of youth march starting outside the gallery with banging drums, banner waving and lots of balloons. Not sure what it was all about but it seemed noisy and with a purpose. We caught the Metro back to the ‘Poblado’ station and walked up to Parque Lleras to find a cafe where we could read for a while. On the way up the hill we stopped at another empanada stand for a couple of delicious fried snacks. This was the best yet, fresh and crispy and filled to the brim with tasty meat mixture with an array of condiments to suit your needs. They are so tasty but incredibly deep fried so maybe not too many of these are in order. We found the cafe we sat at yesterday and did some reading on their veranda which was nice in the afternoon warmth. We then made our way back to the hotel feeling worn out from not a particularly packed day but more than we have been used to lately. The hostel wasn’t as manic as previous nights and we had our broccoli pasta leftovers for dinner before retiring for the night.
Wednesday, 24th September
Our last full day in Medellin began with the usual cornflakes with tea and coffee for breakfast. Some champ had used all the hot water by the time I got the the showers and so a cool shower followed. We had booked ourselves on a ‘real-city’ walking tour today which would take us around Medellin and tell us some of the history of Colombia and Medellin whilst taking in some of the sights. It’s a good way of getting to know a city and understand some of the undercurrents that run through it. We started off from the hostel at around 9am and took the Metro into downtown. Our guide, Juliana, started off by explaining how and why Medellin was settled, what their present day psyche is and how they became the industrial leaders of Colombia. Medellín is the second-largest city in Colombia and the capital of the department of Antioquia. It is located in Aburrá Valley, a central region of the Andes Mountains in South America and was founded in 1616. During the 19th century, Medellín was a dynamic commercial centre, first exporting gold, then producing and exporting coffee. With its surrounding area that includes nine other cities, the metropolitan area of Medellín is the second largest urban agglomeration in Colombia in terms of population and economy, with more than 3.5 million people. At the beginning of the 21st century, the city regained it’s industrial dynamism, with the construction of the Medellín Metro commuter rail, and liberal development policies, improved security, and improved education. Once we had a solid background of Medellin, in the setting of the old Medellin Railway Station, we set off for the Palace of Justice and Government administrative buildings where we learned about the conflict within Colombia, the politics, drug trade (Medellin was home to the Medellin cartel, led by Pablo Escobar who in the 1990’s was the wealthiest criminal in history with a net worth of around $30 billion) and how this city came from being the world’s most dangerous to what it is today.
During the tour we walked around, without going into the Palace of Justice, Antioquia Government buildings, Botero Square, Park of Lights, Parque Bolivar and Plaza de San Antonio, amongst others. The last stop on the tour, Plaza de San Antonio was the scene of a bombing back in 1995. In Medellin you could walk around and really not know about the violent past of the city, with there not being any clear reminders. Here however, there is a stark reminder. Here there is a Botero statue sitting on a plinth which has been ripped apart by a bomb. On June 10, 1995 an alleged FARC bomb was detonated under the sculpture during a concert, killing 23 people and injuring dozens more. The original statue, all ripped apart, is still in place serving as a reminder of this horrible event on the request of the artist himself. Beside it is a reproduction of the original statue.
This is where we parted ways with the tour group and having covered some ground we decided to head back to the hostel to have an afternoon of not doing that much. We picked up some groceries on the way back at the confusingly named ‘Exito’.The first time I encountered one of the these stores was in Cartagena and there I went to walk in only to see a large sign stating ‘Exito’ above the doorway. I went around the block trying to find the entrance and in the end cottoned on that this was th name of the shop (meaning success). Anyway, we ended up having lunch in there also as our hunger got the better of us. They have a cafe where a chef cooks up your lunch on the spot. Not bad for effectively a large Tesco. It was nice to relax back at the hostel and I even had a nap, something that can’t become habit as we’ll see less and less of places. We decided to have dinner out in the Parque Lleras area, a square near to our hostel (15 minutes away) with loads of cafes, restaurants and bars surrounding it. We had a walk around and found a place that looked nice then went back to a bar we had passed for a rum and coke. For those that remember World Cup, USA 94, there was a Colombian footballer who, after scoring an own goal, was shot dead in Medellin when he returned. Not sure of the exact details but this was a huge story in football back then. Anyway, as I was ordering our rum and cokes, I noticed a newspaper article framed on the wall and managed to pick up that on the day he died he was drinking in this bar. A bit morbid but kind of interesting, to a football fan anyway. One rum and coke later we headed to our chosen venue for dinner, and had a nice dinner and drinks. We then went back to the hostel to get our stuff in order before bed as we would leave tomorrow for Bogota on a bus in the morning. We haven’t booked a ticket yet, having been told there are buses all through the day on this popular route.