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Published: December 27th 2007
Random guitar playing in the middle of Medellin
After leaving Salento in the early hours we headed off towards the city of Medellin. Again yet another endless windy road was our path and again we were witness to amazing scenery as we made our way north. It seemed today that the hills were even greener, steeper and more magical then I had seen before in Colombia. By this time my patience for taking long bus rides was waining and with 2 hours to go to Medellin I couldn't sit still in my seat, so when we did arrive on the city outskirts I was pretty damned happy. Medellin is situated in in a valley and surrounded by lush mountains that also harbour quaint pueblos or towns. The town was founded in 1675 and in it's early days consisted mostly of individual haciendas that later became the basis for many beautiful suburbs that surround the city centre today. The city is known as the City of Eternal Spring and was the centre of Colombia's drug trade for many years. It was the home to the most notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar, but since Pablo Escobar's cartel was brought down Medellin has been a safe city and we were actually able
Toasting a start to our weekend in Medellin.....me, Yiftach and Sharyn
to visit most places. The city is also on the move, civic development projects like the clean up of the Medellin river and a cable car extension of the subway make Medellin a clean and easy place to live and visit. The mayor's latest project is to make Medellin a bi-lingual city so millions of pesos are being spent on teaching english. So with all that said Medellin seemed like it was going to be an interesting place to visit and along with it's recent history regarding one of the most famous Colombians, Escobar, it was all a little exciting to be arriving in a new place.
The city firstly seemed like just another large Sth American city with lots of traffic and hard to navigate roads, but once we had convinced a taxi driver to drive us to our hostel we found ourselves in a very nice neighbourhood. We had issues at the bus station in getting a taxi and we couldn't really work out exactly why, but after spending around 20 minutes driving around the neighbourhood not being able to find our street we realised that all the other drivers who had refused to take us had
Sharyn and me with our Halloween masks
been through this already. Our taxi driver in true Colombian form was not fussed or getting annoyed and once we found the hostel he was quite interested in us and wanted us to call him anytime if we needed a taxi. We were arriving in Medellin on a Friday with plans of hitting the town and living it up for a few nights, until now we had been really quite tame with the nightlife. Firstly priorities were food, booze and a shower and pretty much in that order to start our time off here. We were a little blown away by the size of the supermarket and after not having much choice for a while had to give ourselves a list and a time limit so we wouldn't get stuck in there for hours just wandering up and down the isles aimlessly. We were suprised to find that friday night is a great time to visit this supermarket because there was quite a few tastings going on. We were able to indulge on beer, rum, salami, cheese, pasta, fruit juice and a whole range of other items. Finally we made it back to the hostel to sit back and chill
El Peñol, which literally means stone, and the dodgy staircase we had to walk up to get to the top
while we worked out where to go that night. There was talk around the hostel of going to a big club that night that had dancing midgets amongst other performances. Along with that came a pretty high entrance charge which was higher than normal because it was Halloween celebrations........so we thought at this stage that we might have to find somewhere else to go but the idea of seeing dancing midgets did seem entertaining. We had met an Israeli guy, Yiftah, who had travelled with us from Salento so we decided to go on an adventure to an Israeli hostel with him. For those of you that don't know there is tonnes of Israeli's in Sth America, the locals actually think that Israel is a huge country because there are so many Israeli's visiting. They also tend to hang in their own hostels, restuarants, tour groups etc and everything is much easier for them there because things are written and spoken in Hebrew. They pretty much have their own little community everywhere that you go and so Sharyn and I decided to step into that world and see what it was all about. Yiftah was looking for a friend there
Views from the top of El Peñol
but along the way we also had the idea that maybe we might be able to get some hummous, something that I had been craving for a long time, knew that the Israeli's were good for something!!!! When we arrived we found a hostel full of Israeli men, not one female was staying there, we thought that to be a little funny but it didn't really bother us because they were all very welcoming and thought it was entertaining that we were actually there. They had picked that we were Australian and their reasoning for this was that no Europeans came to the Israeli hostels because they were scared to do so, where Australians were more than happy to. Not much was going on other than the guys hanging out with lots of trance music playing loudy, very involved games of Play Station on a large television and lots of hebrew being spoken. For me the most exciting thing of the whole experience was getting to have some hummous that was served from the restaurant in the hostel that had all the treats from home that the Israeli's love. My experience of going to one of these Israeli hostels, which
Views from the top of El Peñol looking over the lake
are all over Sth America, was a good one with lots of very friendly people and things really aren't any different except for the fact that everyone is Israeli - hard to think about staying in hostels that are always full of only Australians, something that I wouldn't personally do but then again the Israeli's are definately different and like to hang in big groups. By the time we had made it back to our hostel that night we had missed everyone who was going off to Mangoes, the club with the dancing midgets, so we headed up the road to see what nightlife we could find. There was plenty of salsa clubs to choose from which none of us were really into, you kind of need to dance and if you are not you are more than likely to get dragged onto the dance floor and made to dance which oftens ends up with you looking like a tool and feeling very uncomfortable. Finally we found a little club that was playing music that we all thought was a little more our style and which we had more chance to dance to. Other than one other large group we
Views out from the top of El Peñol over the lake
were the only people in the bar and was a good indication that salsa is by far the most popular style of music in Colombia as all the other clubs were packed but no one wanted to listen to a DJ play some dance music. Was a good laugh there as we joined up with the other group and danced around and had a good laugh. Most of them spoke a little english so was much easier for me to communicate with them. We did realise though that the Colombians are not really that comfortable dancing to dance music, they seemed a little unsure of what to actually do and looked a little awkward, just as we do when we are attempting to salsa. Finally we headed off and after a fun night that unfortunately didn't involve dancing midgets we made it back to the hostel for a well deserved sleep.
For the next few days we did a lot of nothing and I for one was excited that we had a toaster in the hostel, something not that common in Sth America, so I was happy to have a few rounds of toast and watch some DVD's. We
Places named after my family even in the middle of Colombia
did listen to many stories over the next few days about the dancing midgets and how great the night had been at this club........just something that you had to do at least once! Watching midgets dancing to Thriller on stage is something that you don't see everyday in a club, but we would just have to suffice with watching the video footage. The hostel was a great place to hang out and there was plenty of great people to spend time with. On the sunday we all managed to get out of bed early enough to head off for the day to some nearby towns. There was a group of around 10 people and after spending 2 hours on a bus we arrived at what is called El Penol. El Penol is reminiscent of the famous Sugar Loaf in Rio De Janeiro, so it's basically a really big rock that is freakishly in the middle of no where. El Penol, literally meaning The Stone, is a huge 200m high granite monolith that rises straight up from the banks of Embalse del Penol, which is an artifical lake. To get to the top there is an ascent of 649 steps. Being
This man looks like he is using his hairdryer to dry his food.....quite amusing but what I think he was doing was trying to get a flame happening
a sunday the place was packed so we started our walk up these stairs which were actually on the dodgest looking staircase I had ever seen (see photos). From the bottom of the rock I was unsure if any part of the structure would pass any kind of building regulations and then once I was actually walking on the stairs I was sure that none of it would pass. Along with being built terribly there was a heap of people walking on the stairs at the same time and because the stairs were only two feet wide in places it was causing huge traffic jams. Finally we made it to the top and all the fear of dying on the stairs was worth it for the amazing views that you got from the top. They had flooded the area to make an artifical lake and that had left many green hilly islands which had amazing houses spotted all around. The area was beautiful and again very different to what we had previously seen in Colombia. The funny thing was that when you got to the top there was salsa music blaring out of the speakers, beer was being served, there
An old man hanging in the shop
was market stalls and it seemed to be some what festive up there. Again only in Colombia would you find salsa being played loud in a place where silence might usually be found. After coming back down from the rock a few of us took the bus up to the next small town to have a look around. Being a sunday the place was packed with Colombians enjoying themselves so it was a great place to people watch. After a meal we headed down to the lake side to find many market stalls lined up along the path selling everything from hand crafts to caramalised peanuts. Sunday is by far my favourite day in this country because it is really has a festive feel about it. Unfortunately we had to go and catch our bus back to town which was perfect timing really as we were all really full now and ready to have a good sleep on the way home. To finish off a fun day we headed off to a casino that night, Sharyn and I weren't interested in playing but wanted to watch the others and see what it was all about. Once we arrived at the
Statue down by the water front
casino I was disappointed as it was very small and basic, I was hoping for a lot of glitze and glamour, and then worse still when we asked for a drink we were told that they don't serve alcohol! Sharyn and I were instantly bored and were wondering what we were thinking when we said we would come but the group of Israelis we were with were getting into playing at the tables. After a couple of hours we decided that was enough and that we had pushed the friendship too far with the hostess for sly drinks. Most of the guys had either won a little or had come out even except one guy who had lost everything.....so not such a bad result.
On my final day in Medellin I decided I should go and see part of the city. I was pretty much over big cities and was not too fussed if I only saw a snipet of what was on offer. I took the train into toward the centre and got off where I had been told to find a couple of older men playing guitar and singing. A crowd had gathered around them so I
One of many statues found in the centre of Medellin
joined in. I took one photo from a distance and after looking up from my camera I realised that most of the crowd was staring at me and even after catching some people's eyes they still stared. Don't think that there was anything wrong with taking the photos they were just interested in the only gringo in the surrounding area, but to me it was a little off putting so I had to move on. I headed towards a plaza that was full of statues made by the artist Botero who is Colombian. His artwork is very distinctive and I would be confident to say that I might actually be able to recognise his work in the future. I had a few hours in town before the rain clouds started to arrive and my time in the concrete jungle was over. That night I had decided to leave Medellin and head north to the coast to Cartagena. I had been having huge withdrawals from the ocean and I just needed to get there now to breath in the salt air. Sharyn was to stay a couple more days in Medellin and I would met her in Cartagena for the following
One of Botero´s statues in the middle of town
weekend which we had recently found out was going to be the biggest festival of the year there.......the Miss Colombia pagent.
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