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Published: June 26th 2016
Recent history is looking up.
The 6-7 hour bus journey from Pereira to Medellin was beautiful but incredibly windy- there wasn't a single straight away until we got to the isolated valley where Medellin sprawls up the steep hillsides in a blend of traditional homes with terra cotta roofs, shelters in the poor barrios built with sheet metal, and high rise apartment buildings. It was difficult to capture it all in a photo from the valley.
Medellin, the city of eternal spring (not unlike Pereira), was a comfortable place to spend some time in a city and to use as a base to get to Peñol / Guatape (see othe blog entry). While in some ways it's just as hectic as Cartagena, it's cooler, has a clean and efficient metro, and has very few tourists, except in Poblado- and even there it's just a mix of expats and backpackers.
The first two nights we stayed at Prado 61, a suspiciously inexpensive hotel in the city center. It's quite a nice place for the price, but we didn't look up info about the neighborhood until after we arrived. Even the taxi drivers who drove us around at night were wary of the area and locked
In a park in Poblano
The security here was unbelievable. Just to our right were four policeman and one undercover guy. Earlier, all I did was sit on a park bench and four officers searchd me. All the while almost every person selling cigarettes and lollipops tried to sell me cocaine.
their doors when we drove through. It was close to the botanical gardens and city park, though.
Still, that gave us a more authentic experience, since we stayed at an airbnb place on the ninth floor of a luxury apartment in Poblado (think Beverly Hills) when we returned. Prado was within walking distance of the most lively parks and plazas, and really no one bothered us; in fact, everyone we talked to was friendly and helpful.
After a couple of failed attempts to sign up online for the Real City Walking Tour (all 50ish spots were taken those days), we finally got onto the free tour that is pretty much universally recommended by other backpackers. It was a solid 4 hours long, but it focused well on the city's bloody past and its recent transformation into somewhere worth visiting. The tour broke into two groups, but the guides still had to make good money on their tips.
Given the anecdotes about all the places we visited (grenades exploding, firefights, bombings 25 years ago), along with explanations of the fundamentalism of the groups involved, the profitability of the drugs, and the complicated relationship between the two, it was
These "out of proportion" sculptures by Botero are throughout the city.
hard to imagine how anyone living in Medellin in the '90s could ever expect things to improve.
But they did improve with time and forward thinking (the metro and cable cars, rebuilding public spaces, added (and friendly!) security), so much so that we felt safe walking anywhere during the day. So the tour gave me some hope that parts of the world today with similar problems will someday deserve a visit as well.
There are several more photos below.
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