Medellin Madness

I had two weeks to get from Cartagena to Quito, between my two IVHQ volunteer projects. My first stop was Medellin. I had heard great things about the city from all but a couple of people, but I knew very little about its history or culture and had no idea what to expect. It was raining when I arrived, so I did not instantly warm to Medellin. My hostel, Happy Buddha, was in El Poblado, the touristy area of the city. I spent the afternoon wandering around in the drizzle and wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by Poblado, despite what everyone had told me. It felt a bit like a ski town – lots of wooden buildings and hills, with no real atmosphere to it. Admittedly, there were some pretty good hostels, coffee shops and bars, so it was nice to enjoy a few luxurious (but still fairly cheap) meals after 4 weeks of rice and beans! IMG_3464.JPG Fortunately, my volunteering friend Nathalie is living in Medellin at the moment, so she invited me to go up in the cable car with her cousin and friends. This was the perfect thing to do on my first evening in Medellin; we got a fantastic view of the city, and I realised there is so much more to Medellin than El Poblado. IMG_3480.JPG IMG_3477.JPG IMG_3487.JPG IMG_3471.JPG IMG_3518.JPG IMG_3520.JPG IMG_3510.JPG IMG_3512.JPG IMG_4242.JPG On the Sunday, I went with Natalie and her many distant cousins to Guatapé, an authentic ‘Paisa’ (the adjective describing anything from the Antioquia region) town 2 hours from the city. Guatapé is famous for El Peñon, an enormous meteor that you can climb up, and is a must-do for tourists visiting the city. IMG_3524.JPG IMG_3523.JPG IMG_4240.JPG Rather than paying an extortionate amount for the hostel-organised trip to Guatapé, Natalie’s cousin rented a minibus and the big group of us headed out early in the morning. IMG_4244.JPG We climbed the rock, and were rewarded with fantastic views of the surrounding areas. IMG_3537.JPG IMG_3534.JPG IMG_3526.JPG IMG_3615.JPG IMG_3565.JPG IMG_3563.JPG IMG_3561.JPG IMG_3555.JPG Fortunately, it was a lovely sunny day, so we were able to take some pretty good selfies! IMG_4243.JPG After surviving the steep climb down the rock, we rewarded ourselves with a beer before heading into Guatapé for a classic Colombian lunch. IMG_4249.JPG IMG_3521.JPG IMG_3522.JPG Medellin and the Antioquia region are famous for the ‘Bandeja Paisa’ dish. This is an enormous, deep fried meal, containing rice, beans, ground beef, pork cracking, chorizo, fried egg, fried plantains, avocado and a tiny bit of salad. It’s a challenge to finish, but has to be tried! In the afternoon, we wandered around Guatapé in the surprisingly scorching sun. There isn’t that much to do there, but it’s still a really cute little town. IMG_3578.JPG IMG_3570.JPG IMG_3594.JPG IMG_3569.JPG IMG_3600.JPG IMG_3611.JPG IMG_3608.JPG IMG_3612.JPG IMG_4239.JPG IMG_4246.JPG IMG_4248.JPG On Monday morning, I donned my trainers and hiked up to Pueblito Paisa, a cute little town at the top of a hill in the middle of the city. There isn’t much to see there either, but you get a sense of what Medellin might have been like in the early 20th century. IMG_3620.JPG IMG_3621-0.JPG IMG_3625-0.JPG IMG_3627-0.JPG IMG_3632.JPG IMG_3629.JPG IMG_3630.JPG IMG_3622.JPG In the afternoon, I went on a fantastic free walking tour of the city with Full City Tours. IMG_3641.JPG IMG_3636.JPG IMG_3639.JPG IMG_3643.JPG The Colombian-American guide was able to offer two different perspectives on the city, and she explained Medellin’s history and culture without sugar coating anything. Although we learned a fair amount about the country’s corruption, and the troubled Cocaine-fuelled past of Medellin, the outlook was unexpectedly optimistic. The guide explained that it is precisely this troubled past that makes the Medellin of today such a lively, friendly place. The inhabitants are proud of their city’s recovery, and happy to welcome foreigners, hoping to show what a thriving city it has become. We visited many famous sights, such as the Plaza Botero, the Parque Bolivar and the Iglesia de la Veracruz, stopping at every point to learn about the history surrounding each point. IMG_3648.JPG IMG_3649.JPG IMG_3654.JPG IMG_3652.JPG IMG_3648.JPG IMG_3651.JPG IMG_3660.JPG IMG_3664.JPG IMG_3647.JPG In the evening, I met up with two of my friends from the Lost City trek for dinner and drinks. Medellin nightlife is supposed to be crazy, but I’d kind of missed the weekend and Monday night was pretty dead. Our hostel was the place to be, and we had a lot of fun drinking Aguardiente (the Colombian spirit of choice) and Medellin rum until the bar closed and we went out to the Parque Lleras to keep the party going! IMG_3666.JPG The next morning, I downed a few cups of coffee and went on a Pablo Escobar bus tour of the city. The four hour tour showed us where Escobar did his shady business deals, some of the many buildings he owned, the place he was shot dead and even his grave. IMG_3677.JPG IMG_3679.JPG IMG_3681.JPG IMG_3675.JPG IMG_3684.JPG IMG_3683.JPG The tour was incredibly interesting, and I learned a lot about the drug cartels and Medellin’s history of corruption and narcotrafficking, but I was fairly hungover and therefore struggled to concentrate for the full four hours! I’ve since read Gabriel García Márquez’ non-fiction book about Escobar’s kidnappings, ‘Noticia de un secuestro’, and kind of wish I’d paid more attention on the tour because I found the story so fascinating! I then treated myself to a relaxing afternoon after a busy few days. My Ciudad Perdida friends and I hid from the thunderstorm in cute Poblado cafes, and went to a local yoga class in the evening. On the Wednesday morning I made my way to the bus station for the journey to Salento in the coffee region. I had really enjoyed my time in Medellin, but was still looking forward to a bit of countryside peace and quiet!

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