What was meant to be a long, horrible bus journey, was actually quite a comfy ride. We caught a posh bus with ac, wifi and toilet breaks (Lucy was chuffed) and arrived on time. A short taxi ride later and we arrived at Room (a taxi ride where we managed to rip ourselves off, but the taxi driver was just so friendly!). Room was our home for the next few days, with a prison window, width as wide as Tom’s arm span, and a ‘bathroom’ at the foot of the bed, we dispelled any myth that we were holidaying in luxury. We quickly left Room to see El Poblado, a wealthy neighbourhood of Medellín with lovely cafes, bars, restaurants and shops (calling themselves boutiques!). If we didn’t still have Asia prices in our minds, we may not have been shocked to find that food, drinks and clothes were the same price as back home! Having explored a little, we settled into the Rosa square to watch the league final between one of the Medellín teams and Cali, shown on a big screen. Having supplied some cheap beer from the supermarket we watched the drama unfold – Medellín scored two in twenty minutes, Cali pulled one back levelling the game in aggregate, before Medellín scored another three and managed to get a player sent off! At the final whistle the crowd went nuts (as they had done for each of the five Medellin goals – the Cali goal was met with stunned silence) and fire extinguishers and foam soap were squirted around everywhere as people sang, danced, jumped and ran around. Despite being innocent bystanders by the time we walked home we covered in soap (which smelt nice) and fire extinguisher foam (which didn’t). The rain poured just as we pottered home, supplying a form of shower to rid us of the foam.
With quite a lively welcome to Medellin, we headed out of town for the holiday Monday, heading to nearby Guatapé to enjoy the mountains and the man made lakes. The place was incredible, a postcard landscape, lush mountainside and a quaint little town. The town was a stereotypical imagining of a South American town, brightly coloured houses, cobbled streets and cafes/restaurants that all looked family owned. Having pottered around the streets we then ventured to the mound to get a higher view of the scenery. We walked half roadside, half in the wilderness before making the sweaty climb for a good view. Refusing to pay £10 to climb some stairs, we sat with a beer and took in the views as the sun began to set. All we could see was vegetation and lakes, almost like a view of the world before human’s got involved.
Having had a day away we were ready to jump headfirst back into the hustle and bustle of Medellin and decided to go on the real city walking tour, something that everyone had advised us to do whilst we were here. We weren’t disappointed as our Paisa (what people from Medellin are called) guide Julio showed us the good, the bad and the ugly, with context by providing all the background information. It was incredible to hear how Medellin had been transformed from the murder capital of the world, to the beautiful city we were safely walking around in. We learnt about the far left and far right, along with the drug cartels terrorism, but how the people still remained upbeat throughout it all. We saw the signs of the damage as we walked around, but also saw how much the city was investing to try and reclaim previous no go areas. There were still signs of the past, with blown up statues, and crack being smoked in parks near where families were playing, but all in all Medellin is definitely a city on the up. The constant police presence also ensured safety. The rest of the day was spent climbing to Publeto Paisa, a model village on a hillside where we got a beautiful view of the expansive city as well as getting to relax in a little village with a beer. We’d set aside the evening for music and rum, and that’s what we found, a Cuban bar where we tried all the cheap rums, with Cuban music blasting out alongside a never ending supply of popcorn.
On our final day we wanted to see communa 13, previously the most dangerous place within the city, which has been transformed through a huge orange escalator and artwork. The place was amazing, with graffiti covering pretty much every wall and slides built into to areas for the kids to play. It further highlighted how much Medellin wants to rid itself of it’s past, especially the memory of Pablo Escobar, and move forward. It was a fascinating place to walk around, and whilst so much had been done to transform it, if you looked away from the graffiti the alleys and houses still looked pretty terrifying. Next stop was the cable car that ran over the city. We jumped on to catch the incredible views and even managed to get stuck midway up one hill at one point! The cable car was a way of ensuring that people up the mountains (which tended to be less well off) could make it into the city work. It showed off how the city was trying to look after it’s residents, and on the tour we’d asked how this all worked, where had all the money come from? It turns out that there is a massive utilities company from Medellin which is a cooperative, and provides utilities from Mexico to Chile, with the profits being poured back into the city! We were going to miss Medellin but the upset was lessened as we checked into an amazing, and cheap, airport hotel ready for our 7am flight to Cartagena.
We hopped on the public bus to get to Palomino, a small beach town 2 hours down the coast. We stayed in one of our favourite places yet. A small thatched roof room with open windows ran by a lovely French couple who made their own French bread which was incredible! There was a cute dog, a river basically in the back garden and the most incredible breakfasts! Palomino was a really lovely small town, with an uncrowded surfer beach. Even the beach sellers here were polite, bringing amazing snacks up and down the beach which were difficult to resist most of the time! We found an amazing Paisa restaurant where carta de la dia was only 10,000 pesos for a huge plate of delicious food with a mass of vegetables! Having enjoyed our stay in palomino we headed for the national park. Fearing a hammock shortage, we headed out early, power walked the first part and then ran around like headless chickens in the heat trying to find somewhere to stay. Once we settled we sat back and relaxed enjoying the beaches that we were anticipating. Blue water, clear sand and beautiful sunshine. We’d made it! Having relaxed the whole afternoon, the night consisted of cards, a cheap tea and swinging on our hammocks which were huge!