After our arrival on the 6th, we checked into a nice boutique hotel, Hotel La Martina, grabbed a few hours nap, had a light dinner and then had a great 12 hour sleep. Now we were ready to explore this “ City of Eternal Spring”.
Located in Columbia’s mountainous Antioquia province, Medellin sits in the Aburra Valley, a central region of the Andes Mountains and sits at an elevation of just under 5,000 feet.
Medellin has an excellent transit system. The main train system runs north and south with two east west extensions and also boasts 5 cable cars (gondolas) that reach high up into the barrios that line the slopes of the valley. The transit system also has an elaborate Metro Plus bus system and a Tramway that extends east from the San Antonio station to two separate cable cars at Miraflores and Oriente stops. Our hotel was only a 10 minute walk away from Poblado station so it was a no-brainer to use this very efficient system every day.
We started off our day with a down hill walk to Poblado Station. Access to most of the stations requires the climbing of may stairs and on our first ascent of these stairs we nearly passed out from lack of oxygen due to the higher elevation of the city. We’re in pretty good shape and 5,000 feet isn’t really all the high but it took several days to acclimatize.
Our first day was a bit of a whirl wind. First stop was Jardin Botanico, (the city’s botanical gardens). The gardens weren’t particularly special and the whole area was in need of some TLC.
From the gardens we walked about 500 metres through some, shall we say interesting fauna that was congregated under the elevated train tracks to the very interesting Cemetario Museo San Pedro. A cemetery of ornate tombs of notable Columbians.
After deciding that we too shall some day entomb our remains in an ornate cemetery we hiked back to the train station and continued north to Acevedo stop where we jumped into a cable car to Santo Domingo and then purchased a return ticked for a 20 minute cable car ride high into the mountains to Avri Parque, a huge ecological nature reserve with 54 km of walkable trails in 16,000 hectares of forest, plants and ecosystems. It was Saturday and it was a long weekend and the place was packed with touristas, it was cold and it started to rain so we we had a snack, looked around a little and then hopped the cable car back down to Santa Domingo, changed cable cars, rode down to the train station, jumped onto a packed train, hiked up the hill back to our hotel and collapsed at our hotel entrance after 13,500 steps and god knows how many stories of stairs climbed.
The next day, Sunday the 7th we walked back down hill to the train station and rode to SanAntonio stop, hopped onto a sleek Tram and proceeded to Placita de Flores to wander through a traditional market selling flowers, meat, produce, herbs and the usual knick knacks.
The San Antonia area is apparently a lively place but being a Sunday practically all of the businesses were closed so it was an uneventful stroll back to the train station and then onward back to our hotel.
Friday January 6th and Monday the 9th were national holidays called “Epiphany”, also called Baptism of Jesus, Three Kings Day, Denha, Little Christmas etc. What it meant for us were very packed trains and long lines to purchase train tickets so on Monday the 9th we decided to put on our Panama hats and play Juan and Juanita Valdez and visit a coffee plantation high in the mountains outside of Medellin.
It was an interesting trip but being in a tropical rain forest usually means a high of probability rain so rain it did.
We don’t mind the rain but the steep, lung bursting path up into the plantation was lined with smooth rocks implanted into mud. After three minutes and gasping for air we both started to think this wasn’t such a good idea, it was really slippery, we didn’t want to kill ourselves and end our trip that had just begun but we forged ahead anyway, me hoping not to pass out, and made it into a fertile coffee forest full of the famous Columbian Arabica bean. We actually learned alot about coffee and at the end of our session we were treated to a typical lunch of rice, plantain, chicken and arepa wrapped in a bananna leaf.
Tuesday the 10th was not a national holiday but you wouldn’t have known it if you paid a visit to Parque de Berrio, a short train ride from our area, Poblado Station.
Described as a lively gathering point it is located in the geographical centre of Medellin and has been considered for generations as the main meeting place and as the main reference for visitors and foreigners. However it is considered, it was a crazy mix of vendors, vagrants, prostitutes and a whole cornucopia of the human existence and also home to Plaza Botero, surrounded by the Museo de Antioquia and the Rafeal Uribe Palace of Culture. 23 brass sculptures donated by Columbian artist Fernando Botera are displayed in the park and an incredible selection of Botero’s art is displayed in the Museum.
Our final day in Medellin was spent exploring Communo 13, once the most violent neighbourhood in the world in the most violent city in world controlled by gangs loyal to Pablo Escobar.
Communo 13 was an illegally built barrio so it was not recognized by the government and therefore did not have any police presence so it was an ideal place to run guns and drugs as the area lead directly to the main San Juan Highway.
Everything came to a head on October 16, 2002 when the Columbian military carried out the controversial Operation Orion, an operation aimed at the overthrow of all of the gangs and rebel groups of Communa 13. Over 1,000 policemen, soldiers and a number of helicopters attacked the area. Several people died including three children. The siege made it impossible to seek medical attention for the wounded so the community took to the streets in solidarity and flew white rags and cloth. This action stopped the fighting but also led to an incredible transformation underlined by “accessibility” to the barrio ( escalators were installed to allow access to the upper areas approximately 23 stories above the lower reaches), “creativity” and “community”. There is too much to write about this amazing place but suffice to say the community has transformed into an incredible neighbourhood and is now one of the safest areas in Medellin. After a very hot tour around the area we stopped for a typical Columbia lunch.
One step ahead of the rain, it rained quite a lot in Medellin, we made our way back to our hotel and had an early night im preparation for an early flight the next morning to Cartagena.