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Steve and Emma's Travel Tales

Mouching around Medellin

COLOMBIA | Sunday, 11 November 2012 | Views [687]

We jumped on the 7.50am bus for the hour long journey to Pereira (P5500) where we changed onto the 9am bus for Medellin (P30 000).  We’d thoroughly enjoyed Salento and weren’t particularly looking forward to being in a big city but at least this way we wouldn’t have to go through Bogota as well.  The journey took us through the huge coffee plantations we’d heard existed somewhere in this part of Colombia before dropping down to an area dominated by orchards.  For a big chunk of the journey we followed a large river down a very picturesque valley.

Medellin itself is set in a valley and we could see the barrios stretching up the hillsides; it’s a huge city.  We were dropped at the southern terminus and from there hopped in a taxi to take us to Hotel Conquistadors in the central district of town.  It took quite a while for the taxi to crawl through the traffic and the whole area was heaving with people and market stalls.  The hotel staff gave us a warm welcome and made sure that our room was ready before handing over the key.  It all seemed a little odd until we noticed the piles of tiles and new sinks etc lying around.  The hotel is quite old but instead of allowing it to continue to decline they’re gradually improving things.  Throughout has been freshly tiled and we had a brand new bathroom suite.  Our ‘home’ for the next two nights was big enough for our needs with cable TV and wi-fi working in the room as promised.  http://www.hotel-conquistadores.com/

Until very recently Medellin was a city you wouldn’t have dreamed setting foot due in to the Medellin drug catrel wars and high street crime, but the authorities have made a huge concerted effort to clean up the place and make it safe.  It’s still basically a scruffy place with loads of graffiti about but the police and security guards patrol most areas.  We knew the area we were in wasn’t the best after dark so set off to explore – what a shock to the system that proved to be.  We’d just left quiet, peaceful, serene, picturesque Salento to find ourselves plunged into a boiling cauldron of noise and humanity.  Bus belching fumes, cars honking horns, people screaming in your ears, an obstacle course of market stalls to pick your way past and everywhere music at mega decibels – GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!!

Not a good start but we stuck with it and got our bearings i.e. found out where the metro stop was so we’d be able to get to other, hopefully more tolerable, areas of the city.  We retreated to our room determined to give the city another go in the morning.  We needed to buy tickets for our onward journey so sussed out the metro system getting to the northern bus terminal.  You simply buy a single journey ticket (P1800) that costs the same irrespective of the number of stops to your destination.  Having purchased our tickets for Bucaramunga, where we would change to reach San Gil we decided to walk back via the Botanical Gardens.  These gardens aren’t extensive but they’re free to enter and provided a much needed oasis of green and calm.  Plus we found it to be a haven for bird life and we even saw a squirrel scampering about too.

We then wandered back to the central district where we thought we might take a peek at the art museum.  Unfortunately it seemed a bit pricey at P10 000 and the paintings by the featured artist weren’t to our taste.  I’m sure I’ve already mentioned how expensive we’re finding Colombia, especially travel and to a slightly lesser extent accommodation, but food and entrance fees need to be added to that list too.  The situation is not helped by the fact that we’re finding it difficult to find cash points that are working or will accept our card.  When you do find a compatible, functioning machine it will only dispense a relatively small amount bearing in mind our daily costs.  We feel like we’re constantly thinking about cash, where we’ll be able to get some more, have we got enough and it doesn’t help you to relax.

That evening we took the metro out to El Poblado the area where most of the back packers hang out but we’d shunned it due to the high cost of staying there.  We should have guessed that in turn the bars and restaurants would be on the pricey side but we wanted somewhere to eat without having to shout at each other over the music.  We popped into the most unpretentious looking place on the main square for a drink and were stunned on being charged P4000 for a small bottle of beer.  To put this into perspective we’d only been paying around P2000 everywhere else making El Poblado’s main square is not the place for budget conscious back packers.  As the evening aged we soon realised it’s the area, all the rich, youngsters go to strut their stuff so it’s a great people watching spot.  This is made affordable on popping to the shop for a beer at P1500 and sitting under the trees along with the locals who refuse to be ripped off.

The next morning I have to confess that we got maximum value out of our room by not leaving it until 1pm.  Why?  Football of course!  Anyway we had the whole day to kill before catching our night bus up north so cheekily pushed checking out past midday.  In actual fact no one batted an eyelid and they happily stored our bags for the afternoon free of charge.  We walked back to the metro but this time stayed on until Acevedo where we changed onto the Metrocable line to Santo Domingo.  Have you ever been to a city where part of the sky train system includes a cable car because we certainly haven’t?  With it all being part of the same network you don’t pay any extra to use this section of the cable car.  We tend to think of cable cars as being purely a touristy thing where you go over valleys or up hillsides; not one that goes through the city and people use it to commute to work.

Santo Domingo is the end of the metro / metrocable system but from there you can pay P4000 a head to use the touristy extension to the cable car and go up to Parque Arvi.  This section continues over the roofs of those living in the highest and poorest suburb of the barrio.  It then passes a small agricultural area before gliding over an unspoilt forested area, over the brow of the hill and into Parque Arvi.  With being there on a Sunday afternoon the place was very busy but on walking away from the cable car station we soon lost the crowds.  We’d hoped there’d be some trails up there to nicely fill in our afternoon and give us some good views of the area but information in English was none existent.  We did eventually find a map and did a short walk through the trees and are sure there’s much more to do up there.

On nearing the cable car station we found some cafes so decided to have a brew; it took a couple of attempts.  Some gut instinct made me not order anything in the first place and it was just as well as even Steve didn’t try his so called café con leche.  We knew we were in trouble when it came in a bowl and we’ve still to work out what the white lumps were floating around – gone off powdered milk?  Cheese?!  It caused amusement with people sat on the table next to us and while we were trying to have a conversation they happily polished it off for us.  At the next place Steve’s coffee more closely resembled what you would expect but per usual it was basically just flavoured milk.  Luckily for him I didn’t like my thimble of black coffee and the two mixed gave Steve something tasty to drink.  Colombian’s pride themselves on their coffee but we’ve yet to taste the justification (apart from the coffee plantation in Salento of course).

The queues were quite long, but moving steadily, by the time we returned to the starting point – you need to pay again to go back down by-the-way.  Still it worked out at quite a cheap way to fill an afternoon and get out of the city at about $5 a head return.  By the time we’d retrieved our bags from the hotel, taxi-ed to the bus station and had something to eat we didn’t have long to wait for our bus.  Fortunately this proved to be much more comfortable than the last night bus we used (as we were leaving Ecuador) and managed to get some sleep.


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