I have finally made it to Medellin!! I was so excited to come here! A lot has happened this week so I am sorry again for a really long post. I arrived late on Friday night with Viviane and we stayed at the Ivy hostel, which is a really chill hostel a bit away from Poblado, but very close to the metro station. On Saturday, we woke up early and did the free walking tour of the downtown area to get acclimated to the city and what it had to offer. The downtown area is very cool. It is very obvious they are making huge efforts to change the image of the city and try to make areas safer than before. I never have felt in danger in this city. It seems that the Paisa people (Paisa is what the people from this region call themselves) really want to change the world perception of Medellin and welcome tourists with open arms. We have been asked so many times how we are liking Medellin and Colombia and people are welcoming us all the time with smiles on their faces. Though there also is still a fair bit of staring at the extranjeros.
On the walking tour we started at the government buildings and went through many squares. I will talk about a couple of stories that they told us here, but if you come to Medellin I HIGHLY recommend this tour! There is one square in town that is full of tall poles fitted with LED lights with a school building next door. This area used to be a huge area of prostitution and homelessness and has now turned into a square of light and hope rather than crime. There is another building in town which is this large black and white building that was supposed to be a government building, but was looking more like a church. Therefore, they fired the Belgian architect and tried to finish the building themselves, yet did not have the skill and just finished it with a cement wall. The most notable feature of the city are all of the Botero statures that exist around the city. There is one square that has a Botero statue of a bird and you can see the statue all blown up because at one point during a concert a bomb was placed in the statue and killed over 20 people. Botero built a new statue like the old one and put it in the square and asked the old statue to remain as well as a reminder of what happened in that square. There were many more stories, most notably of a street that sold porno movies and prostitutes that did their most business by standing outside of churches. The tour was 4 hours long and was a great first experience in Medellin.
Some of Botero’s artwork
After the tour, we took the metro to the Japanese Garden where our tour guide had told us that there was a festival of books and art occurring. So we were there and there were lots of book stores and stands set up, but there was also lots of music and food stands as well. We bought an artisanal beer and sat in the grass with two other people from our tour. We were talking for awhile and then a huge group of medical students were coming by offering free hugs, so naturally we took them all up on the offer and then took a picture with them all. That night we met a lot of people from our hostel and went out in a large group. Most notably we met Sean, Jordan, and Sam. Jordan and Sam were traveling together and Sean alone, but they were all from California and really cool guys and so much fun to hang with. We would be off and on with these guys for the next week. The club that we went to was a speakeasy so it was disguised as a mechanic shop I think. Inside there was one side that was swanky and the other a bit more traditional Colombia. I had a good time, but I expected a bit more from Medellin nightlife.
The following day we woke up a bit late with a hangover and then decided to go up the cable cars to Arvi park. The great thing about Medellin is they put in an amazing metro system which is so clean and well run and even attached cable cars to this same system so you don’t need to pay any more to take the cable car. It requires only a transfer and then you have an amazing view of the city! You can take the cable car in the north or the west. They constructed these in order to give opportunities to the poorer people living up in the mountain because they can now reach city centre quickly when it used to take them hours. If you take another cable car further for 4,000 pesos, you will reach Arvi park which is a national park right outside the city. Upon arrival, there is a food and jewellery market which was very good. After, we tried to figure out where to go in the park and had a bit of difficultly. So there are two buses you can take that go to different places in the park so naturally we got on the super colourful crazy bus and got ready for the ride. We drove up a mountain a bit and got off at a place the you can picnic and had a butterfly house. But, we thought that it was 30,000 to enter (it was only 5,000) and we only had 30 minutes before we had to go down so we quickly ran back to our bus and just rode back down.
After, we went back down the cable car and took the metro to the soccer stadium in town because we were going to see the local Medellin team Independiente play a team from Cordoba, Colombia. The game was insane!! There were people with banners everywhere jumping up and down. There were even people on the second level standing on the guardrail jumping up and down with banners.
Throughout the entire game, they were singing songs where they would have maybe one or two lines that they would sing constantly for the next 10-15 minutes, then move on to the next song. It seemed like they were barely watching the game!! There was a PK for the other team, which was scored, and the fans barely noticed the game was now tied. If they missed it, there was not scoreboard in the stadium to indicate the score. Though no alcohol is sold at games, there is no shortage of the smell of week filling the air. There was a group of guys near us that must have shared 7 joints throughout the game and they played this game where they pushed each other all over the bleachers. I am still amazed that none of them got hurt. Finally, there was a fight on the second level where guy were punching on each other and then one guy was being held by his hair and they were trying to throw him off the balcony. It was crazy! We luckily stayed out of all of the crazy action. What surprised me most was the level of soccer was not extremely high. After the game, Viviane, Sean, Jordan, Sam, and I went out for some more traditional Colombian food which I am slowly realising is just some form of meat, rice, and maybe an arepa or plantain. It gets a bit old after awhile. Yet, in Medellin there is something called Bandeja Paisa which is a crazy dish that is basically fat on a plate. I don’t know how Colombians are not all obese!
On Monday, we woke up, not very early, and Viviane, Jordan, Sam and I took a noon bus to Guatape. Guatape is probably in my top 10 of most beautiful places that I have seen in my life. It is a small town about 2/3 hours from Medellin. It is a small town, but surrounding is a series (or 1? I’m not sure) rivers/lakes that weave in and out of the land. They exist because they damned up a river and everything flooded including a couple of towns. All of the land is so green and the water is the most beautiful blue. Now, take a giant rock that looks nothing like the surroundings and put it right in the middle of this stunning scenery and you have Guatape. It is about 650 steps to reach that top of the rock, but it is so worth it because of the stunning 360 views you get when you get to the top of the rock then the tower. The first day we got there, we walked around town and saw their beautiful church and then walked about 30 minutes to our hostel which was out of town closer to the rock. When we got there, we discovered we were too late to hike the rock so we just walked around, got a bottle of wine each and talked and drank for hours.
The following day we woke up and went on a tour to Pablo Escobar’s blown up mansion that he had in Guatape. We had to take a tuk tuk to a meet up point. Tuk Tuk’s are basically motorcycles with a kind of cart on it to carry people in the back. We went to the most bizarre meet up place of an outdoor replica of some town that was now below the water. Then, some jeeps pull up and we meet up with people taking a day tour from Medellin as well. We can’t all fit into the jeeps so now people are also riding on top of the jeeps (super safe right??) We get to the mansion and get a history tour of why Pablo built it, why it was blown up, and that no one was injured because he was not there when it happened. The place had an amazing view and you can tell that it was a beautiful place.
Then, we hike up to the guesthouse that Pablo also had (he would only let security guards and his family in his house). This is where….we played paintball on Pablo Escobar’s property. I was so scared at first because I had never played before. Our team was also at a disadvantage since the other team was made up largely of Israelis and all citizens of Isreal are mandated to serve in the army for 2/3 years. Therefore we went against a properly military trained team. So….we lost all 4 games, but it was fun!!! The setting was really neat even though it smelled really bad. I cannot say I am a good paintball player, but i was a pretty good sniper.
After paintball, we had lunch which was very good and then took a boat ride back to the town of Guatape. From here, we took a tuk tuk to the rock and climbed up to get those amazing views. After, we returned to the hostel grabbed our stuff and took a bus back to Medellin.
Wednesday was a bit more of a low key day. We had had a couple of action packed days so we wanted to take it easy. Viviane needed a pair of jean shorts so we walked to the mall close to our hostel and went shopping. It was really interesting to me because the style of clothing is very different than what is popular in the US. They like very tight jean and crop tops. We ate lunch in the food court and then I came home and wrote my blog about Cartegena. That night was a bit of a crazy night. I am glad I had a chill day before really going out for a crazy night. Viviane and I made salads (so amazing to eat some vegetables) and then met up with Larissa and Ellis from our hostel (our future road trip buddies) for drinks at this pizza place. There we also met up with Sean and Sara (who we knew in Santa Marta). We drank a pitcher of Sangria, then met up with Jordan, Sam, and two other guys from our hostel for 3 x 1 drinks at another restaurant. Then, we were looking for someone to dance. As it was a Wednesday night, the square wasn’t really hopping too much, but we did find a club Gusto that had some good music. Upon arrival, there weren’t many people there and we were the only foreigners. I found out later from the guys that we were the only girls in the club that were not prostitutes. Regardless of that we had an amazing time with each other. We danced all night and they played fun hip hop type music. It was a blast! The club closed at 2, then we needed to find a way home which was funny because now all of the prostitutes (all girls around 20 years old) were going after the guys in our group. Also, people were trying to sell us cocaine…kind of bizarre (no I did not buy any if that is your question).
The next day, Sean, Viviane, and I went on a Graffiti tour to the area with the escalators. We went with in interpreter and then met up with a local guide from the area. He took us around that area and told us the history of how it used to be a very dangerous neighbourhood because Pablo Escobar’s men would fight the police in that area and therefore a lot of innocent people died. The group that our guide belonged to was trying to change the youth of the neighbourhood through teaching them graffit, hip hop, DJing, and other artistic outlets. The graffiti that we saw was truly amazing. I will post it as its own album on facebook. The city has also build escalators as well in this neighbourhood to help people get up the hill to their house. The community has mixed views on this since it was an expensive project and they were not really needed. After the tour, we took the other cable car up to the west and again saw some amazing views of the city. After, we took the metro to Poblato to meet up with a friend from home Dave and we ate at this really good Arab restaurant.
Our final day in Medellin was Friday. We again took it pretty easy. I went for a run in the morning and Viviane went to eat with Jordan and Sam. After, I went out with a guy that I had met on Tinder that worked at the international school in Medellin so I was very intrigued. I have fallen in love with this city and it would be pretty amazing to find a job here. Therefore, when he offered to show me the school and tell me about working there I jumped at the opportunity. I walked to his house and from there we went up on his motorbike to the school. The drive up is pretty amazing as the school is up on a mountain overlooking the city. The weather got much colder as we got higher. The school was a beautiful campus and he obviously loves working there so I will leave that open as an option for next year. We drove through a national park on the way back to the city and were able to see the sun setting over the mountains as we drove. It was beautiful and this nature aspect is the piece that I was missing in Buenos Aires. After that, I went back to the hostel and got ready to go our since it was Friday night! We went out to a restaurant with pretty decent food and made a couple of attempts to find somewhere to go dancing, but we weren’t too successful. We ended up back at Gusto, but it just wasn’t as fun.
The next morning we woke up and started our road trip to Bogota! I will talk all about that in my next post!