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Published: June 15th 2018
After getting our Lost City laundry back we took the bus down the coast to Cartagena. I thought we’d sweated a lot during The Lost City trek but I’m fairly sure it was hotter and sweatier here! There were at least a couple of occasions where we had to head back to the hostel and the safety of the fans after venturing outside to look around! The old town was really nice to walk around and very colourful. There is plenty of street art to admire, beautifully decorated balconies and the shop mannequins are also quite entertaining as well. Along with the kind you are accustomed to seeing in Marks & Spencer’s back home they also have mannequins to cater for the surgically enhanced ladies shall we say and we even saw one fuller bodied one complete with rolls and everything!
We went on a free walking tour around the old town which wasn’t great due to the fact that we couldn’t understand the guides English but you can’t really complain too much but we did really enjoy the free food tour with the same company the following day. We tried a variety of foods our favourites being the ceviche
and the chocolate museum where we could try all of the different samples they had available! Whilst we were in Cartagena there was much excitement as Will Smith, a few days before we got there had posted a video of himself in the city. He was filming his latest film Gemini there every now and then you would find a closed off street with a crowd gathered at the end of it watching the film crews and extras shooting different scenes. One evening we came across a bigger crowd than usual and with our bad Spanish and the help of a tour guide who happened to also be there it transpired that the man himself was due to be coming through at any moment! I’d never seen a frenzy like it from the two hundred or so people there, at one point they had to close the road because there was that many people there but then with the same amount of people still there they decided to reopen it which made everything even more chaotic! In the end all we saw of him after about 45 minutes of waiting was a Land Rover with blacked out windows drive off
into the night after slowly navigating its way through the mass of people.
After Cartagena we headed to Medellin where initially we stayed in an AirBnB with Leo and Claudia along with their two pet dogs Milo and Pepper. Their flat was on the 15th floor of an apartment block and the views of the city were incredible. The city is in a valley surrounded by mountains and the buildings spread across the flat and then continues up the side of the hills and at night time when everyone has their lights on it looked really cool. Leo and Claudia were really nice. They took us out for dinner one night and Claudia even spent one morning trying to teach us salsa in the front room whilst she swept the floor around us which was quite entertaining!
Over the course of our travels we’ve often tried to go on the free walking tours offered in city as a way of getting our bearings a little bit and to learn a little more about the history of the place so we signed up to Real City Free Walking
tour. The tour was really good and it was by far and away the
best one we’ve done since being away. It was really professionally organised and our guide Hernan was really knowledgeable, passionate about his home city, his English was brilliant and he also somehow unbelievably remembered all 20 first names of everyone that was in the group. Most of the very little I already knew about the city was gained from watching the Netflix series Narcos which is about the infamous Pablo Escobar and the Medellin drug cartel and its violent past. I hadn’t realised that in the 80’s Time Magazine had named it to be the most dangerous city in the world and how much of a transformation has taken place leading it to be named the world’s most innovative city in 2013. Hernan explained to us that in large part the transport system was the driving force behind the transformation as people realised what could be achieved. It has bridged the divide between rich and poor areas of the city with cable car routes going up the steep valleys allowing people in the poorer areas to get downtown to work and in one of the poorest and dangerous areas of the city they built a six storey escalator to reduce
a sweaty 30 minute climb to a 5 minute ride. And there are examples of spaces all over downtown that were once places you wouldn’t set foot in that have been transformed into areas that people now want to spend time in like the Park of Lights and the park containing a number of oddly shaped sculptures created by the artist Fernando Botero. We were also taken to areas that you might not necessarily expect to see on a walking tour showing off the city like the parks where a lot of the cities more colourful characters hang out or around the back of a church where the prostitutes and drug dealers ply their trade. It was around the back of the church where he shared with us one of his best lines saying that Colombians use religion like soap which is why you tend to find all of the bad stuff taking place around the churches. The tour in total lasted 4 hours and initially we were worried that this seemed too long and it would drag but it really didn’t. We also spoke to a number of other people who did the same tour but with other guides
and they all raved about it as much as we did so I don’t think it was a case of us getting lucky on the day either.
One of the days we took a bus 2 hours out of the city to El Penon and Guatape. At El Penon we climbed the 700 or so steps up massive granite walk to get some views of the surrounding area which had been flooded to create a hydroelectric dam which gave it a similar look and feel to the limestone islands you see in Ha Long, Vietnam, on a smaller scale. Guatape itself was a lovely and colourful little town. All of the houses and shops were painted in bright and vibrant colours making it a lovely place to sit and enjoy a coffee whilst the local street musicians performed. We were enticed into one cafe with the smell of cinnamon buns and coffee wafting down the street proving too hard to resist!
We really enjoyed Medellin and ended up staying there for over a week. Whilst the city still has a bit of an edge to it we at no point felt unsafe or worried about walking anywhere on our own during the day, although I think a lot of that had to do with getting our bearings on the walking tour which we would highly recommend to anyone visiting. We both said it was probably somewhere we could see ourselves staying for longer if we had the time and we met a lot of travellers who have been or doing just that. From here we are heading to the hills of the coffee region which we’ve been looking forward to and we are going to be catching up with some of the guys we met on the Lost City Trek which should be good fun as well.
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