Tech note: You can now follow my trip on Snapchat for real time snippets. User: Flyshiba. Be prepared to feel old as it is not intuitive to anyone over 20. Plus – it is no longer cool for the kiddos since we the old people have joined.
Medellin summary: An incredible city. Too little time. Color, life, and a vocal love of city. Out of utter darkness, the city is thriving. Get here before the rest of the tourists.
After the airport issue, we arrived to a beautiful boutique hotel Steven had picked up Sunday for half off on hotels.com ($80, Diez Hotel). Each floor had a different regional theme and artifacts in the hallway. Awesome views from all sides. We dumped our stuff and hopped an Uber to the city center. We got off, unintentionally, at the square full of Boteros (awesome) and then walked the 20 minutes to the Museo Casa de la Memoria which chronicles the violence of this region (both from the cartels and guerrillas). Unfortunately given most the exhibit was in Spanish, we didn’t have the benefit of hearing the personal stories.
We then took the advice of the NY times 36 hours and headed to a coffee shop (Pergamino) that could just have easily been in LA. Hipsters surrounded us and they brought us Steven’s French press beans to smell before brewing his coffee. The coffee was delicious. Would have been great if we had longer to linger.
Here is the main cathedral and one of the many Botero statues:
After a power nap, we awoke to a torrential downpour. We had a quick dinner on the main square/park (Tex-mex, hence the tequila shots), but it was dead and we called it an early night and watched Narcos in the room to prepare for the next day.
Yes, we took a Pablo Escobar tour. Our guide Wilson, from Miami, showed us a good set of historic monuments, including his grave, the “prison”, his house, and where he died. It is hard to comprehend here the ambivalence felt here towards the man responsible for so much death and chaos. What struck me most was that he had a gravesite. Apparently no cemetery would take him except one that was a family friend. Hard to imagine the US would allow someone of the same ilk a public gravesite.
Here is the gravesite:
Here is his house in the city. Now abandoned and will ultimately become police housing.
The coolest part of the tour was the “jail” he stayed in. Here are some photos, including the room with his round bed. The beautiful mountain site now hosts an elderly home.
We ended up having Wilson show us around the rest of the day since we had an evening flight and not much time. After a delicious and filling traditional local lunch at a packed hole in the wall where we were the only gringos (food pics to come in a seperate post), we headed to two of the hilltop barrios – ones that a few years ago our guide would not go into.
One we took a cable car up. Since the end of the violence, this city has invested in innovative public works projects that put Seattle to shame. There are three gondolas that serve as public transit. We took on that had three stops in some of the previously worst slums in the city. As a result, residents now have safe and reliable transit to jobs, and children to schools. We could tell we (gringo tourists) were rare in these parts, but had a lovely conversation with a group of young women and two little girls on the ride down.
Here are some photos of the gondola and surrounding area, the houses get more primitive as you get further up the mountain:
I was struck by the color and vibrant life in these neighborhoods. Unlike the quiet and empty streets we saw in Bogota, here kids were playing, well kept dogs ran around, and grandmas sat on the stoop. There was a strong sense of community.
The next neighborhood we visited was up a series of escalators. Like I said, innovative. The project replaced 28 stories of stairs that residents used to walk up. Along the walls were some of the best graffiti I’ve seen. I’ll add a photo album after I leave Colombia with the vibrant street art we’ve seen this week. Learn more about the project here.
At the top, we rescued a dog that got stuck in some plastic, here is a pic of the dog before, when I originally saw it, and how we came across it on our walk back. Good deed for the day. With that done, we did a few more stops and headed to the airport. It was a true 36 hours in (or a bit less) and I’m sure I’ll be back.
We stopped by a hillside park for some final views and friendly military police (the President was apparently about to leave – we saw the Colombian Air Force One, and the military watches for rockets from the park) and then off to the airport.
Next up: The place everyone unanimously said to go in Colombia – Cartagena. Stop one, Jen stays in a dorm-style hostel for the first time, ever. With a shared bath. This should be interesting! Preview, I actually checked in and as of today have stayed one night without fleeing to a resort.