Our first impressions are of a city that’s lacking the spirit of Bogota. Whilst most people we met travelling through Colombia dished out advice to skip Bogota in favour of this red brick ex cartel city, we found ourselves sitting on the other side of the fence. For starters, after stepping off our overnight bus and making our way to the clean, relatively new (1995) Metro system, everybody here seemed to spend a lot of time coughing and sneezing.
Admittedly the metro makes getting around town pretty easy, and our home for the night, Casa Amarillo (Yellow House Hostel) was only a short walk from La Florista station. Owned by a French guy who’s lived in Colombia for years, you immediately feel like you’re staying with a friend of a friend, complete with two 50kg labradors who don’t realise how big they, and he soon has us checked in and offered us a hearty breakfast complemented with scrambled eggs and a much needed coffee.
Stuffed down into the small (emphasis on small) basement-esque dorm, where the top bunks leave little room for anything other than lying down without banging your head on the roof, it’s a great place to enjoy good WiFi (catching up on The Walking Dead), a fully equipped kitchen and rear courtyard.
Jacked up on free coffee, much needed as the sights are spread out, Medellin is best explored using the Metro system card, inclusive of buses, trains and cable cars. Tired from the previous nights bus, Parque Metropolitano’s seemed like a great place to chill out with the yoga freaks and take stock under the impressive Orquideorama, which resembles a bouquet of giant wooden flowers stretching more than fifty feet into the air.
Containing a cactus garden, pond full of affectionate looking turtles, along with a free butterfly enclosure where Matt picked up a hitchhiker who refused to move from his shoulder, the Botanical Gardens affords a pleasant respite from the hustle and bustle going on over the fence, just mind the ducklings waddling around.
Located outside the park for the science nerds, Matt included, is the Parque Explora with over 120,000 square feet of geeky goodness, both inside and out. it’s no wonder it’s a major family attraction (go on kids piss off and play).
From here a short ride on the metro brings you to Parque Berrio, Calle 5 and Parque Botero. At Parque Berrio you’ll see many a juice vendor whizzing up all kinds of exotic fruit blends whilst the Basilica de la Candelaria lingers in the background. Quite a pretty place though you need to watch their belonging as the place has a few crazies lingering around.
Under the elevated railway along Carrera 51 there’s all sorts of wares (crap) for sale, and there’s also plenty of places to grab a reasonably priced almuerzos. Having enjoyed our time at the Botero Museum in Bogota, we couldn’t miss one of Medellin’s famous public spaces, the Botero Plaza.
Scattered with sculptures by the same artist it’s a must for any art lover. Whilst the pieces themselves didn’t disappoint, unfortunately most of the bases of the statues have been occupied by hawkers flogging off shitty replicas of the famous art, ruining most photo opportunities.
Passing by the nearby black and white chequered Palacio de Cultura building just outside Parque Berrio metro station, we strolled amongst the larger than life bronze statues, some of which were previously housed in museums in Paris, New York and Madrid, and all of which exude the same light hearted humour as his paintings.
Deciding after lunch to take a stroll down Avenida Carabobo, we arrived at Parque de las Luces (Park of Lights. Originally the delivery point for all goods and transit coming from out of town, the ‘sculptures’ reaching to the sky that now occupy the park seem to replicate a meeting of Jedi Master’s light sabers.
This place definitely has an edgier feel transposed by the locals drunkenly attempting to practice their English with horrible failures. Can’t blame em really, our Spanish ain’t up to much either. But seriously, don’t come here at night. Even with all the lights.
The one thing that Medellin owns over Bogota is contemporary architecture, and for this you have to go no further than a short stroll to Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Park). While Sarah was disappointed she couldn’t induldge her barefoot hippy side as the park was closed, we could indulge our love or architecture with the surrounding building and a recent sculpture made out of plastic bottles providing enough photography inspiration.
Medellin is a city whose poorer populations inhabit the many steep hillsides surrounding the city centre, and in order to make life easier, the government has built three cable cars across the city. Not surprisingly these have also become a bit of a tourist attraction, as they provide excellent views of the city and surrounding favelas.
Heading up the K Line first to Santo Domingo, we grabbed a cheap lunch at a little restaurant and watched the local life go by, before heading down and across town for a different view on from the J Line. Taking you deeper into the favelas on the west side of town, we’d received a few warnings not to exit the station in certain areas unless we were looking to donate our cash and cameras, so we planned to simply ride all the way up then come all the way down, however Mother Nature thought that was too boring.
Two thirds of the way up and deep in favela territory, a huge electrical storm closed in and the local security and police shutdown the entire cable car, kicking us all out to wait until it had passed.
Which took one cold, windy hour. Interesting that nobody checked their watch every two seconds, huffed and puffed, cursed the cable car company, stamped their feet and called their boss/brother/wife/mother to shout loudly down the phone that the incompetent cable car company would mean they would be late for work/meeting/dinner/soccer practice…as everybody would have done in London.
Making our way back to town we obviously still had one big box to tick, the craft beer box, so we hit the pavement headed for what we hoped was the google maps correct 3 Cordilleras brewery a little further south. After stopping briefly at Puente Guayaquil, the oldest bridge in Medellin dating from 1898, we came to a large roundabout where we passed a young couple who’d parked their motorbike right in the middle to sit and conspicuously smoke a big fat joint.
Just a short walk from there we hit the awesome Avenida Palace underpass where we admired some spectacular street art while a scantily dressed drug induced transvestite danced around cars at the nearby traffic lights, camply begging to clean windscreens for small change.
Making a run for it when ‘she’ started to come towards us, we soon found ourselves in a slightly shady feeling industrial area with no craft brewery in sight, so we hightailed it to the famous Poblado area some cervezas at MBF (Medellin Beer Factory).
While the beers were good the decor was bland (Matt: apart from the scantily clad tattooed bar chicks), and we soon needed a change of scene. Just around the corner you’ll find Patrick’s Irish Bar where the local girls were more scantily dressed than either of us had ever seen on a barmaid in any Irish pub, either in Ireland, London or the rest of the world in all our years of traveling. They would have felt more at home heading for a shift at the Spearmint Rhino. Sorry, no photos allowed, said the bar manager.
Medellin is an easy town to walk around, as it’s not that hilly until you head into the favelas, so we opted the next morning to take a sunny one hour walk from the hostel to Pueblito Paisa, a reproduction of a typical Colombian township. A mapped walk takes you through a route of contemporary sculptures, however last nights antics led us instead to head back to Florista metro station for cheap ice cream sundaes and creamy caramel pastries.
I guess you’re wondering by now where conspiracy theories come into our time in Medellin. If you find yourself at Casa Amarillo you’ll find your host more than happy to chew your ear off for an hour or two about anything from aliens to Morgellons (WTF you say? read about it here) to pyramids in Bosnia. He’ll keep you entertained and give any conspiracy theory advocate a run for their money, so if that’s your thing you’re in for a long conversation, some interesting websites and a great night.
Need more Medellin? Never fear, our Flickr page is here!