After a whirlwind trip through Bogota and Cartagena, we arrived in Medellin, our last city of Colombia — and South America — a few days ago. We were so excited to check out the city that just 15 years ago was dominated by drug wars and the infamous Pablo Escobar, and has since had a miraculous turnaround. (If you haven’t seen ESPN’s 30 for 30 film The Two Escobars, do yourself a favor and watch it now. It’s incredible.)
But then we got sick.
We’re not sure where the food poisoning came from, but we have a sneaking suspicion it was from Don Salami, where we both got the same plate of chicken, chorizo (I barely ate mine), rice, salad and plantains. Sure, it could’ve been one of the meals we had beachside in Cartagena, but that lunch in Medellin was the first time Eaman and I had eaten the same thing in a while. I’d post a picture of the meal, but I’d probably gag. But how fitting that we got sick at the very start of our time in South America and again at the very end? I suppose twice in 4.5 months ain’t half bad.
We only had 2.5 days in Medellin to begin with, so needless to say, we couldn’t do much. No Escobar walking tour (we couldn’t walk without needing to sit down every 10 minutes), no visit to Dulce Jesus Mio, a crazy nightclub, where bartenders dress up in Disney and Marvel Comics costumes, which I had read about here and no watching Super Bowl at one of the cool bars near Parque Lleras (a hip bar area sort of like Meatpacking in NYC). I didn’t care about that last one as much anyway.
Most of our time was spent writhing in our hostel beds — thank god it was just us in our four-person hostel room — or watching The Simpsons on DVD. Not that I’m complaining; it’s been a long time since I’ve seen those great episodes of seasons 5 and 6.
But when we recovered and had one day to see the city, we saw just how much the city is trying to spin its image. The center, where much of the conflict occurred in the past, is now dominated by plazas, parks and sculptures. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still an insanely busy downtown that’s not 100% safe at night, but its efforts to create beautiful public spaces is very inspiring.
Much of the center is filled with artwork by Fernando Botero Angulo, a Medellin-raised sculpture artist whose works can be seen all over Colombia. He’s famous for images of men, women and animals in exaggerated volumes.
Music video being shot in the plaza:
Medellin is set in a valley and the surrounding mountains and mist are gorgeous. It creates spring-like temperatures nearly every day:
Cool tree in Plaza Bolivar:
Police presence everywhere:
Interesting story behind this Botero sculpture, called “Bird of Peace”: The piece on the left was damaged by a guerilla bomb in 1996. Botero requested that it remain as a symbol of the futility of violence. A new one was built right next to it:
Wearing my sombrero earrings!
The best thing we did in Medellin was ride the Metrocable. It’s a funicular-like train that connects Medellin’s center to the poorer, less developed pueblos higher up the mountain. The ride is part of the city’s impressive overland train system, so you can ride the train, then hop on the metrocable for a round trip. It’s a great way to see life outside the main strip.
On our last night in the city, we went out for dessert at the popular chain Crepes y Waffles with an Argentine couple from our hostel. (We wished we could’ve had a crazier goodbye, but after getting sick, we wanted to take it easy.):
And so marks the end of our time in South America. Rather unceremoniously thanks to the food poisoning. But I do feel badly that we had to short-shrift Colombia; we both knew there was so much more to see — like Santa Marta, Tyrona, Guatape, Cali and Barranquilla, which is funnily enough home to three crossover Colombian stars (Nina Garcia, Shakira and Sofia Vergara.)
But some brief observations:
- Colombia can lay claim to the most beautiful women in South America (though we didn’t go to Brazil). The women are stunning, and all are built with Vergara’s proportions. Not fair.
- I’m assuming this is due in part to our too-short time in the country, but both Eaman and I didn’t feel what everyone had told us re: Colombia having the nicest people who will bend over backwards for you. I don’t mean to upset any Colombians, but we found them nice, but not overly so. Now Peruvians, they were the sweetest in our experience.
- That said, Colombians seem to be the proudest of their homeland. People constantly told us about how much there is to see in their country. They want to prove the press wrong, and I respect them for that.
I really can’t believe how quickly our time in South America has flew by. Memories of landing in Lima are still so fresh in my mind. It’s a little scary to think how quickly a year will go! But I’m getting ahead of myself. We’re not out of Spanish-speaking territory yet; we’re off to Panama next!