Before arriving to Medellin we started watching the show Narcos, so it felt pretty damn good to see the view of the city from up in the hill, as it appears in the initial credits of the show. There it was, waiting for us with all its stories and memories. But getting there was not all pink and glitter. The road from Bogota to Manizales, our first stop before continuing our way up, was a living hell to me. Kasia held on a bit better, but she had her moments too. It’s a pure mountain road, with incredibly closed turns, one after the other, and when you’ve been in a freaking thousand turns and think it might be over, there’s another thousand waiting for you, and then another thousand, and so on and so forth. Combining this with a Colombian bus driver was a cocktail my stomach could not bear. The views were one of the best till now though. The Andes and its majesty are right there before your eyes. I spent the road between being amazed and going like “holy crap this is so beautiful!!” for a minute and then for the next minute sticking my head inside a plastic bag. And this went on for almost 4 hours.
In Medellin we stayed with Giovana and Juan Pablo, thanks to a friend of my sister, who put us in contact with them. Thanks so much again for everything to our great hosts!
We signed up for the free walking tour, that lasted almost 4 hours. It was definitely a great way to discover the city, at least its core and to learn more about its incredibly rich history.
Yes, Pablo Escobar was born here, and plenty of the shit the man brought to Colombia happened within the borders of this city, but there’s much more to it than drug stories, and thanks to Hernan, our fantastic guide, we spent a really interesting morning walking around Medellin. We discovered the original railway station. The construction of the station in 1929 was a huge turnaround for the city and the region of Antioquia, specially cause with the technology available at the time it was almost a miracle that they could get a railway through the difficult landscapes.
The fact that the city has a metro, which goes over the streets, makes it really easy to get to the center, and from there one can easily walk to the most common places to visit. People are really proud of their metro, as Medellin is the only city in Colombia that has one. When we were in Bogota, Luis and Andrea told us that Medellin is like Bogota but well organized and with a proper public transport system. It did feel a bit like that indeed.
Medellin is also famous for being the city where the artist Botero was born. Many of his art is visible at the Antioquia´s museum, which is right in the center of the city, in the square named after him. But if you don´t have the time or the money to enter (our case), you can enjoy plenty of his sculptures that are sitting in the square.
Couple of Botero sculptures are particularly special due to its history.
As you can see, one is a bit destroyed. In June 10th 1995, there was a concert in San Antonio’s square, that was part of a festival called “Yo soy Cartagena”, where hundreds gathered. In the middle of the event, a bomb placed in the base of the sculpture, today known as the wounded bird, exploded causing the death of 23 people. The criminals were never found. As the sculpture was damaged, the city was going to remove it, but then Botero himself called the mayor and told him not to do it, that he would bring a new identical sculpture that was to be placed right next to the original one. This new sculpture was named the bird of peace.
We also took the cable cars that take you up to Albi Park and the one that goes on top of Comuna 13th. Even though often the term comuna is associated to poverty, drugs and crime, it’s just a territorial division of the city. Every one that lives in Medellin lives in a Comuna. It’s like living in a certain neighborhood. In those cables we shared the ride with Colombians from other parts of the country, who were amazed by the technology used in the cable car. There’s quite a contrast when looking down from the car you’re staring at pure misery while being in the country’s most advanced public transport at the same time.
Albi park is huge, with the full meaning of the word. We didn’t check it before, and went up there thinking the cable would take us only up until the top of the mountain and there we would walk around an hour or so enjoying the views to the city and then we’d head back. But once at the top of the hill, the cable keeps going, and takes you pretty far. Among the many different routes one can take, we went to the shortest one, as we still wanted to go see the other cable car at the other end of the city that day. For hike lovers, the place is a must where you can walk for hours and hours.
The route we took included this apparently magical tree, which had a sign right next to it indicating you had to hug it to receive all the positive energy from nature. Of course, Kasia followed the instructions and gave a big hug to the tree. I’ve noticed no increase in her positive energy since then though :).
One day we also visited the botanic garden, which in Medellin is for free. It’s a nice place, but the one in Bogota was way nicer in our opinion. Still, it’s a very pleasant walk and worth seeing.
Our final attraction in the city was the one called Pueblito Paisa (Small paisa village). Paisa refers to the person that lives in the region of Antioquia and others around. Every Colombian we met before arriving to this region had only good words for the paisa people, mentioning their kindness and easy going spirit. Our hosts had this features among many other which made us feel very welcome and lucky.
Pueblito Paisa is up in a hill. You can easily walk from the city center up there. The little village is just too small to even qualify as a village, as it’s just few houses around a little square, but it does have its charm, and the viewing point you can find right next to it brings you the opportunity to look at Medellin from the top and enjoy all of its extension.
Thanks to our host Giovana, who is part of a dancing group called Corporacion Dancistica Matices, we had the incredible chance to go to see these guys dance. A village called San Pedro, sited an hour away from Medellin by bus, held its annual party called The Milk and its derivatives party. I know, they couldn’t come up with a more catchy name. Everybody on earth knows there’s no party like the milk and its derivatives parties. As it couldn’t have been any other way, instead of giving away free beer, we got a couple of bags of milk. Oh yeah, we were partying hard!
The thing is that San Pedro is a milky town. The city and the region around it provide most of the milk and cheese to Medellin and other cities nearby. To compare, here’s how a cheese arepa looks like in San Pedro.
There were up to 40 different performances, with groups from all ages. It was funny to quickly realize we were the only foreigners in the whole main square, and most likely in the entire village. People around us would smile to us and try to say something in English.
Giovana’s group was the best, and I’m not saying that just cause they brought us there, they really rock. And the best thing for us is that thanks to their show, we could see the typical dance from many different regions of Colombia, with all the colors, music and the choreography that were simply great.
The other performances went from hip hop to popular dances to some kids playing what their teacher called “contemporary dance and the illustration of a child’s birth”. Don’t mean no bad but it didn’t quite look like that, but it was funny to watch. Thanks so much guys once again for letting us be part of the show! Here you can see Giovana in action:
After such a great day spent with these formidable artists, we headed back to Giovana and Pablo’s place with a huge smile on our faces. They rented a bus to go and come back. The bus dropped us 5 minutes away from the house at 11 pm at night. When walking up the street to the house, all of a sudden a guy appeared and went straight to Giovana. At first, Kasia and I thought it was a friend of hers as he was simply walking calmly to her, as if he was to say hi, but after seeing her face and particularly when the fucker told her to give him her bag, well we knew then he was no friend at all. She told him to please leave her alone, that she was pregnant, a very advance pregnancy indeed, and then we all started telling him to please leave us alone, that she was pregnant. We were lucky the guy had no gun or knife, he only closed his fist and put it close to her at the beginning, but we were really lucky because he gave up really quick and went away without taking anything from us. It was a pretty damn awful experience, Kasia’s first time ever in such situation, and so close to Giovana’s house, and with her being pregnant, but I guess we all try stick to the good moments we spent, and just be aware that shit happens, even when you don’t “give papaya”, like Colombians say, and to try to be able to react as calmly as possible if another situation like this comes our way.
Our last day we decided to go visit Guatapé, a city an hour and a half away from Medellin and famous for its “Peñon¨, a huge rock where you can go up by ¨simply¨ climbing a bit more than 700 steps. The rock is amazing, but the views you can get from the top of it are simply crazy. The region of Antioquia offers really beautiful landscapes.
From the rock, you can walk to the city of Guatapé. It´s like 4 km, if I don´t remember wrong, and if at the beginning you have to use the same road as the cars, later on there´s a very nice walking path that runs along the road and takes you to the village. This place is famous because each house has a unique colorful edging. It was very nice to walk around before heading back to Medellin.
Medellin was a great stop, I still prefer the green rather than the grey concrete but it’s definitely worth visiting. By the way, the typical dish here it’s a light, 0 calories meal called “bandeja paisa”. It basically consists of sausages, pork rind, a beef steak or minced meat, fried egg, rice, beans, a bit of avocado, one arepa and a tiny little bit of salad. So yep, if you are going for it, make sure you have enough room in your belly, cause you’re gonna need it!