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Published: September 12th 2005
Everything is very expensive. Looking at the beginning of my last entry, I think I was myself being a little over-sensational
A piece of modern art at the gallery in Medellin
about what goes on in Colombia. Probably just playing up to the ususal stereotypical fears of the ignorant public at large, in order to hype-up the story. And I apologise to all Colombians for doing so
. This country is truly something else, the level of warmth of the people I have only ever encountered once before - in India. Almost everywhere you go, the people are helpful, friendly, curious, charming and truly alive. In stark contrast to it's neighbour, Venezuela -which is still for me the biggest dissapointment of my trip thus far. Oh yes, I can hand on heart state that the most beautiful women in the world are Colombian and certainly NOT the Venezuelans - having seen both sides of the coin. I think because so few travellers come here and the country gets a raw deal anyway, it often gets overlooked in more ways than one. It's also apparent that in neighbouring countries like Venezuela and Panama they look at Colombians like an average British person would look at an asylum seeker - with small-minded, bigoted, racist and ignorant opinions.
More modern art.
I like this one, it'd go nice on my bedroom wall methinks.
It's unfortunate, but that's the nature of the beast. Medellin
And so... I did, as predicted, go to Medellin, a hot city about 12 hours south of Santa Marta by bus. Probably most famous for it association with Pablo Escobar and his drug-cartel and his eventual demise whilst on the run from the police. Also, for the men reading this, there a lot of women with plastic asses, lips and chests because the surgery is very cheap here. Although there isn't a great deal of the usual backpacker stuff to do there (like hiking, adventure sports, talking pretentious bullshit and asking the same old questions ...etc), I actually really liked the place and had good experiences there. At first I stayed in the centre and at long last got my haircut, because I was starting to look like Ringo Starr in 1965 on the cover of Revolver
On my first night there, I went to a bar in the centre called 'Souveniers' which had the funniest fish tank I have ever seen in my life, although very tragic aswell. It was only about 3 feet long and had a big, gruesome nasty Piranha
Parque El Periodista, Bogota
A gloomy park near the La Candelaria zone in Bogota.
in it called something like Daisy. But, it also had about 200 small fry and 3 goldfish living in it - permanently running for their lives from the beast! Wherever Daisy was, the others were huddled at the other end of the tank in fear of their lives. It was like something from a Monty Python sketch, I may even go back there for a beer to see it again. And whilst there I got talking to the boss about football and there was apparently a very big local derby the very next day. Perfect.
I didn't have tickets for the match so I bought them from a tout outside for about $6, for the north stand. The match was between Nacional and Independiente Medellin. And by god, do they take their security seriously, countless rings of police checks for knives and guns, they check your shoes and frisk you quite intimately! The atmoshpere inside the ground is electric and certainly more passionate than in British grounds, and they have more rythmic chants and a higher percentage of females in the crowd. Even the number of objects they throw at corner-kick takers is awesome - though I don't
A work by Francis Botero in the gallery, Medellin.
condone that kind of thing! I left before the end when they started to surround the stadium with water cannons and riot police, whilst Nacional were winning 3-1, in order to avoid any crowd violence. Being from Swansea you'd think I'd like that sort of thing? But I don't, it's for the dregs of society. Anyway, I nipped onto the Metro and was back in town probably before the final whistle. All in all, for professional footballers, the standard of play is pretty dour and the balls bounce just a bit too much if you know what I mean. Bring back Valderamma for god's sake!
I did the other usual stuff in the city like travelling on the Metro to various places, visited the big art gallery which has various ugly works by the national artist Francis Botero, met some lovely local girls, one of whom (Andrea) showed me around the city university and I met some of her friends (excellent for practising my Spanish)... although at first they wouldn't let me in the university - probably because they thought I was English! But we eventually stormed through a different gate, with the guard looking at us incredulously.
A new one from Venezuela!
On the Saturday night we also went to a crazy place in the centre of town called Parque Los Periodistas. This place is just a little concrete park with two trees which comes alive at weekends I believe. It was mayhem, a tribal gathering of drummers, fire-eaters, guitarists, drunks, bums, students, hippies, drifters, a guy sleeping up a tree, lesbians, gays, young-guys fighting over a girl, people smoking grass, venders selling cigarettes and chewing gum... And one bemused, Welsh guy who must´ve stood out like a sore thumb... Well, only because I'd shaved earlier that night. I met a couple of Andrea´s friends, one of whom is nicknamed 'El Diablo' = the devil, actually a very likeable guy, a talented student of art, but he has a penchant for carrying knives and fighting! Later we went to a park after the bars had shut, to drink some of the strong national liquor called Aguardiente (an aniseed-based drink), when the heavily-armed police came running over from nowhere, shot-guns pointed at us and cocked! The boys with us immediately put their hands on their heads and looked a little scared for a change! Having never been in this situation before,
Pico Espejo, Venezuela.
A new one from Venezuela! Again!
I again was a little bemused and unsure what to do- so I left my hands in my pockets! They must´ve thought look at this idiot
, he's either very arrogant, has a powerful Colombian family or is a bloody tourist. I think they figured out pretty soon I was a tourist and didn't really bother me thankfully. But they frisked the other guys quite thoroughly and sent us on our way. Interesting, especially being on the end of a cocked-gun.
I also stayed at the relatively new Casa Kiwi for a few days, another one of those usual backpacker places with bunkbeds, TV, guidebooks, laundry service, kitchen, beer, pool table and Internet... these places are great, but it's like you never have the urge to leave the place. It was also situated in the posh end of town where people are a little colder or simply aloof.
And then to Bogota
, the capital.
Now, Bogota is a lot colder than the previous cities of Medellin, Cartagena and Santa Marta. It stands at somewhere between 2 and 3,000 metres and is subject to daily rain, wind and low temperatures. A lot like Britain, so I prefer this climate all in all. I am curently staying in the La Candelaria zone which is teeming with universities, rock-loving Colombians and colonial streets. Although the city is cold, the people are not. I had the good fortune to meet a local guy called Fredy, a graphic designer, who has shown me around the city, introduced me to his friends and family, given me many hints and tips and told me some bonkers stories about his time in London and stumbling into a blood-drinking underground Goth party!
I also went to a great little student bar near his shop and met lots of the locals and got evidently pissed. The guy on the bar, Mario, was fascinated by other countries and cultures and wants me to send him pictures of my home and home town... Although I can't see why he wants pictures of a council-estate flat in Port Tennant, Swansea, when his family home or farm is set in the local Colombian mountains with animals and rivers... But I'll do my best. That´s life.
I also stayed in a hostel called The Platypus which is very popular here in Bogota, often full to the brim. I didn't like the place too much so I checked out after two days, the door had a double lock which took an age to open and it was a generally soulless hostel with another god-awful book-exchange, sometimes I get that feeling I don't know why? and I still haven't got rid of my 'Central America Handbook' which weighs about a kilo and a half, soon I think I'll just throw it away.
My next move, I think, is to head back to Medellin or to the Zona Cafetera or maybe even to Ecuador? Whatever happens, I'll be here a bit longer than I thought even if it means having to go to Ecuador then returning with a new 60 day visa. I have also been following the football back home of late and devastated to learn of Wales losing to the English by one f**king deflected goal, again! Well, at least our buddies the Irish gave 'em what for! And the Swans are absolutley flying right now and banging the goals in. Rock on my lovelies.
PS. Sorry for the lack of photos this time around, I just couldn't be bothered.
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