The bus journey had everything I hope it wouldn't have, every bus in Colombia this far had lights that weren't functional, but this time, the only time I had no book to read the lights were fully operational. Then when we found a plug socket between the seats I thought the 18 hour journey would be fine, but we found that the plug socket was not operational. Luckily I was quite tired so after one successful game of solitaire I fell asleep only waking up once when a man who looked like Andy Cole slapped my lag which was outstretched in the aisle, I had no idea why he did when he could simply and easily have stepped over the minor obstacle. It was also quite the surprise that when I did wake up we were already in Medellin. Apparently the journey only took twelve and a half hours and not the original eighteen hours that our former hostel reception told us.
I had a good first impression of Medellin; the sun was beating down, on grass hills the city looked like it would be impressive and that we had made a wise decision staying in this place longer than any other in Colombia. Our first port of call was tourist information, normally we get shrugged off in this situation or they just say get a taxi, but when we asked the lady behind the counter she was most helpful in guiding us to the metro station, about soccer games and how to get to Ecuador (Earl needed to get back there for his flight home). The hostel we based itself at was called The Pit Stop, I was drawn to this hostel from a poster I saw in Cali which said it had a swimming pool, Irish sports bar, beer pong, soccer courts, TV room and steam room we even had a sauna in our room though it didn't work. Coincidently the first people we met in Medellin were Sam, Callum and Aussie Jono. Sam and Callum we kept bumping into on the gringo trail and in the most random places supermarkets, bus stops, bars and hostels without having any contact details whatsoever. Unfortunately they were checking out to go up north but I wouldn't put it past us seeing the again somewhere. I guess it's right what they say about the gringo trail and that if you meet someone heading in the same direction as you then you are more than likely going to see them again, it may be a day later, a week later, or even a month but you're likely to bump into them again. We got settled in and headed to the supermarket to get some lunch.
After eating my spaghetti, tuna and tomato sauce combo and watching Madrid stuff Liverpool in the Champions League the plan was to go on the free city walking tour, however we encountered a problem in the case of a mad thunderstorm which lasted the rest of the afternoon and evening. I think it finally stopped around 21:00. Neither Earl or I fancied traipsing around for four hours in the rain so we decided to chill out in the hostel. I didn't mind at all it was our eighth city in Colombia, we had been travelling faster than a Concorde in order to see as much as we could and this gave us a chance to relax and for me to rattle through several episodes of the second series of Game of Thrones, though I was slightly disappointed at some of the slight alterations they made from the book series.
Seen as though we missed it the previous afternoon after we had our complimentary of two slices of bread and three eggs, which we both decided to scramble despite there being a lack of milk we opted to go on the city walking tour. We met our tour guide who we nicknamed 'Dez' at the precise time of 8.54am at the metro station. Before I get into the tour I should explain the meaning of our tour guides nickname, it wasn't because he looked like Des Lynam of ex Coronation Street favourite Des Barnes or any other famous Des or Desmond's you can think. The truth of it is that his name was Hernan, and like he explained it's like Hernandez but you stop in the middle, so Earl and I decided to only call him the last part, this being typical British and turning a two syllable name into one. Strangely enough Earl and I were the only people from an English speaking country, the rest of our tour consisted of a couple of Belgians, Dutch and heaps of Germans. I was pretty nervous about the tour is was due to last four hours and I'd been known to switch off at city turs that only lasted for two and a half hours, I felt like Earl's ears were going to be under siege of my moaning of the tour but it didn't happen. The tour flew by as we visited many areas of the down town area including the old railway station, the administrative centre, the square of lights, Veracruz Church, Botero Square, Parque Bolivar, San Antonio Park and much more. What I particularly found interesting was a lot of the illegal activities were done next to churches, for example outside the Veracruz church next to the phone booths were prostitutes, apparently next to the Metropolitan Cathedral there was lady boy alley and also crack heads, and next to a church on Parque Berrio was a street full of market stalls selling Porn. Dez gave us the explanation that it is so they can wash their sins afterwards. Another one of my favourite stories was about the Metropolitan Cathedral which is said to be the biggest church in the world, what a lot of people don't tell you though is that it is only the biggest church in the world made out of the type of material used to build it, but unfortunately for one Lonely Planet travel writer he didn't do his research properly and probably didn't even visit Colombia and an edition was printed where it claimed the church was the biggest in the world! The last thing I really appreciated on the tour was how Medellin was and is fighting crime with architecture, for example the city of lights now home to many tall concrete poles which light up like a birthday cake at night apparently use o be a hive of activity for drug users and prostitutes. There were many other areas like this, it has a fancy name which I can't remember but I found it an interesting concept.
After a brief stop pit stop at the hostel (excuse the pun) we decided that afternoon to take a trip on Medellin's cable cars. Des had recommended that people should visit the library at the top of one of the routes but we must have got on the wrong one as we ended up paying a bit extra and after one of the lengthiest rides I have been on ended up at Arvi Park. I was in no mood for Arvi Park, I just wanted a nice viewpoint of Medellin. To be fair the park would have been a nice visit if we had turned up in the morning to explore ecological nature reserve but we got there at just after 4pm and we were only allowed to walk down the main road to a picnic and restaurant area, so we just decided to hop back on the cable cars and back to the centre where we would go to Parque Berrio. We were back at Parque Berrio for two reasons; firstly Dez had told us that often at this particular square you could find all sorts of gambling ranging from roulette to guinea pig racing. It was the guinea pig racing that pricked our ears, we had been looking for this since Lima. It was once again bought to us from Hamish and Andy's South American Gap Year and involved a selection of numbered huts and a guinea pig. The point was to put money on which number hut you think the guinea pig would race into, but despite Dez claiming that the man with the rodents would be there after five he was nowhere to be seen, so we made our way on to the second reason we were in Parque Berrio and this was so Earl could pick up a souvenir for himself - a blue movie, after carefully studying them for a while he decided to purchase Nurses 2, personally I think there were better options but it wasn't for me. We were both pretty hungry so we decided to go to Mi Pueblo and try another one of Dez's recommendations - Bandeja. Bandeja is a typical meal popular in Colombian cuisine. The main characteristic of this dish is the generous amount and variety of food. It usually contains red beans cooked with pork, white rice, ground meat, chicharrón, fried egg, plantain, chorizo, arepa, hogao sauce, black pudding, avocado and lemon. It wasn't the healthiest of dishes and reminded me a bit like an English breakfast. I assumed it would be incredible for a hangover cure. After polishing off the Colombian delicacy we made our way through the market streets of Medellin in search of a Nacional football shirt. It was probably a good idea we decided to do this after food or I would have needed to exchange it for a larger size after eating the massive portion of Bandeja. With an extra-large Nacional shirt acquired we headed back to the hostel. We had another chilled night at the hostel; we booked onto a Pablo Escobar tour for the next day and then decided to watch a documentary on the Cocaine Drug Lord for preparation. The True Story of Killing Pablo Escobar was a decent documentary but I was hoping that the tour would be much better.
Our Pablo Escobar tour wasn't until the early afternoon, so this allowed me to have a generous lie-in and I woke up just in time to scramble some eggs. Earl had already gone out as he wanted to go to the South Bus Terminal to sort out his bus ride to Ecuador and then check out the price of some Paragliding tours at other hostels. While Earl was being productive so was I as I managed to get some laundry done, I was hoping to find a cheap laundrettes but unfortunately I had to settle for the rather expensive service offered by The Pit Stop Hostel. So it appears I wasn't being as productive as Mr Johnson, as I chilled out in the TV area for the rest of the morning.
The Pablo Escobar tour started just after one when they picked us up from the hostel in the sauna like mini-bus. The tour took us to three places, Monaco, a former residential area of Pablo, which was also bombed by the Cali cartel, Pablo's grave, where you can also see the prison he served in for a year in 1991 before escaping, then we went to Pablo Escobar's brother house, who we met and got to have photos with after we got to look around the house and see various things ranging from early child hood photos of Pablo to the first car he used to smuggle drugs. Although it was pricey tour at 65000Colombians I rather enjoyed it and hearing the history of the Cartel leader from his early years to his capture and death. I found myself strangely admiring the man; I thought he was clever, for example conjuring a plan where he could build his win jail and have a restraining order so the police wasn't allowed in. His hiding places were a touch of genius too. It is easy to see why some Colombians see him as a Robin Hood type figure, he did do a lot of things for the poor areas building sports facilities, hospitals and other things and also it was said people wanted to meet him and get a job with him, I mean who wouldn't working for him guarantee you a nice house, car, money and not living in a slum. Pablo was pretty much king of Medellin, even when he was in prison he could summon a car to pick up hookers for him to party with in his '5-star prison' if he fancied a game of football he could summon the Nacional team to play at his sports field. He was quite the lad. It's a shame he went off the rails a bit and killed far too many people with bomb attacks. It is said that Pablo made three big mistakes. The first trying to go into politics, he already had power and going into politics meant that the way he had earned his vast millions of cash was more thoroughly looked at, his second mistake was executing two chaps at his prison, the chaps were part of a wealthy family and this caused a lot of media interest and this allowed the public to see that Pablo was living in luxury and the authorities weren't allowed inside. His third mistake was staying on the phone to long allowing him to be traced. But anyway I could get into lengthy discussions about Pablo, one of the most interesting things is that a lot of the stories contrast each other, for example some bits of the tour were very different to the documentary we watched like the tour said Pablo shot himself whereas the documentary claims that a police official shot him. It's said that his brother who was actually once a famous cyclist before getting mixed up in the cartel world is the only person who could know the truth, but he could embellish tales, pick and choose what he wants to say. I'd recommend the tour but only if you are interested in thee goings on of Pablo, for someone not that bothered or fussed the tour would be pricey and boring.
The tour was just shy of three hours, getting us back perfectly in time to go down to Parque Berrio and see if the guinea pig racing was on. It was within this next hour I experienced both the good and the bad in Colombia. Let's start with the bad, seen as though this happened first it seems to be the most logical place to start. When getting the metro tickets, the ticket operator who I was having good banter with about Nacional noticed I had a fake 50000 Colombian note. In truth I kind of new about it before as the Pablo Escobar tour wouldn't accept the note, but they gave it me back. The ticket office gave it me back but with False written on it in black pen. I could have only got the note from the cash machine as well which makes the matter worse that they are coming from banks but with no way I could prove it I was just left at being around £12 down. The good happened shortly after we returned from Parque Berrio, where guinea pig racing was again absent from the shenanigans on the square. We had gone to the supermarket where I wanted to get some cheap meat**** for sandwiches and also needed to withdraw money. I was that paranoid about getting more fake notes, I spent more time checking these and forgot my card in the machine. It would have been long gone if it wasn't for an attractive middle aged woman chasing after us, a first I thought she must have been dazzled by good looks and had a beard fetish and then I noticed the white N&P card waving in her hands. I found it really decent of the woman to do that and wondered how many other people would do the same. I guess it was also a bit of karma too as the day before we found a bank card at the cable cards and while there was no one around so we didn't have the foggiest who it belonged to, we handed it into security, despite them thinking at first we were just retarded and didn't know how to work the machine.
Seven pm marked happy hour and I was there on the dot. We wanted to make the most of the night as it would be our last night together in South America and for the foreseeable future as my close amigo Earl Alexander Johnson was leaving the next day. Happy hour was eventful. As we supped the two for four thousand Colombiano Pilsen beverages, we rode the bus several times, played pairs and several other drinking games. We'd had about fiver beers each by the time the sixty minutes were over and were well and truly on our way to Drunkenville. The actin then moved inside as we played drinking game darts, we each had a dart and the loser had drink the difference between the two numbers we hit, this didn't go to well for me as my first shot hit the board and fell to the ground an my second didn't hit the target and instead nestling itself in the black area of the outer board. What made matters worse was Earl was hitting high numbers leaving me with the likes of 17 drinks and 20. I managed to get a slice of revenge as I nailed a bulls-eye, unfortunately it came as we just made the rule that you had to drink only half of the difference. The pool table offered a place of refuge from the drinking, although it was here I noticed how pissed I was, not getting my bearings and angles right. It was our first games in Colombia and Earl beat me two to one, the one victory I had was the last when an Irish guy challenged the winner. It turned out the Irish guy worked at the bar and was pretty nifty with the cue in his hand, considering how drunk I was as well I was pretty happy to get to a point where I only had a couple of my own balls left on the table. Earl's win meant we had both had a taste of victory in two countries Earl in Uruguay and Colombia, where as I won in Brazil and Bolivia, the others were tied. Though I claim victory over Earl by virtue of overall score which finished 30 - 22. With the pool table no occupied by more players we reverted to the foosball table which Earl was very good at and gave me a battering, I think I only scored on but it was an outrageous goal from the goalkeeper. A few ore Pilsner later it was time to head out, we had bumped into two guys who also wanted to go to Parque Lleras. One was an American fella, the other from Lithuania and that definitely took me back, I was expecting Germany and it rendered me speechless until Earl managed to save me. Parque Lleras is an area of Medellin where people congregate get some cheap booze from the store sit around and then after a few beers decide what place to go and dance. It's pretty similar to back in the day when you were twelve and would go to a local park in my case Sutton lawn and get s*** faced on some cider. However, tonight we couldn't really sit around the park as the heavens opened and when I say opened I mean it was like someone had turned on all the taps in the world above Colombia full blast. So we tried a few of the busiest bars one was a bit small and a little like cheeky monkeys with various amounts of different shots advertised, so after a photo with some bull horns on we scarpered and ended up in an Irish bar, it wasn't the cheapest of places but I was thirsty and wanted to be out of the rain so got myself a rum and coke. Earl got a beer and the other two ventured off in search of one of their friends, we thought that might be the last we would see of them but as we were coming to the end of our drinks they reappeared. The rain had now stopped so we made our way through the park where we were reacquainted with our good friend Charlie Sheen again who we last met in Mancora. We then went to a store to grab a beer, but in truth I wanted a bit more entertainment, see some girls and maybe if I was drunk enough get my dancing shoes on. My wish looked like it was about to come true as we bumped into some other travellers, I'm not sure if the American guy knew them but we went them with them to a bar around the corner but despite me having over three months' worth of beard they would not let me in because I had a lack of identification. With that plan down the swanny Earl, Charlie Sheen and I wondered off to another bar. I could not tell you the name of the place all I can tell you is that people were doing Salsa all over the place, I think Lou Bega's Mambo Number five played at least once and there was a singer not so dissimilar to Cee Lo Green rocking the house. After a few rum and cokes we thought we would try and find somewhere else, we never found anywhere so decided to walk home and hope to come across food on the way, we didn't and I had to settle for a pack of Lime flavoured crisps.
The next morning we met Charlie Sheen at breakfast, Earl then shot off to do some Paragliding, whereas I spent the next couple of hours recovering from my hangover by watching the El Classico in the TV room. After Real Madrid notched a convincing 3-1 victory over Barcelona I decided to aid my hangover more by going for some greasy western fast food. I had noticed on the map provided by the hostel that there was a McDonalds within walking distance so off I went in pursuit of a Big Mac. As I was walking to the famous Golden Archers something even better reared its head and it wasn't the local food market happening in a mall car park. It was the home of the King of Burgers - Burger King. I am by far a much bigger fan of a Burger King than any other fast food, there burgers are more filling and more delicious so when I came across the fast food joint I was straight in and ordering a BK Stacker meal. The bacon, beef, and cheese burger was all I hoped for and more and I was back in the game. I returned to the hostel from my fast food outing and made friends with an Israeli guy called Yishai. It took a lot for me to get my head around his name, and maybe you will be the same so to make thing easier I will just call him Ian. Ian was a fellow Man Utd supported and supported Maccabi Haifa in his home country. He also planned to go to the Atletico Nacional football game that was happening that afternoon, so naturally we decided to go to the game together. We got to Estadio .... really early, but that was probably a good thing as it took me forever to try and explain to Ian why I had changed from my Nacional kit to my Man Utd jersey. I suppose he had a point, but when I explained to him that every other game I had been too I had worn my United top and I couldn't break that tradition he still didn't understand. I think he was just a bit peeved because me wearing red meant we couldn't sit with the mad heads. Nacional's rivals Deportivo Independiente Medellin play in red and apparently the locals don't like anything other than their green jerseys in that end. To be fair we still had decent seats and were pretty close to the crowd to get a feel of the atmosphere. During the game we also made friends with some local fans who told us the best players - the number ten apparently despite being a tad chunky, personally I think the number 7 was the best player on the park but they subbed him off with about an hour gone. The locals explained that they were probably saving him for the cup game in midweek. They also informed us that ex Aston Villa player Juan Pablo Angel was still playing and for Nacional at the age of 39! You could tell the fans loved him though as they all had shirts with his name or banners for the local hero. The South American game was the same as all the others I had been to, the atmosphere phenomenal but the football a bit of a below average standard. The first half I spent more time wondering if the storm would hit and it was quite funny to watch everyone get there poncho's out if they felt a spot of rain. Ian had pretty much insisted he buy me a poncho, but if he bought me one I would have had to wear it out of politeness and becoming a poncho ******er. I didn't want this and after about five minutes he relented in purchasing me one. The rain never really came like it threatened too and the second half picked up and led to Nacional getting a two nil victory over Aguilas Pereira thanks to goals from Peralta and the number ten Cardona.
Earl was already back from paragliding as we returned from the football. He'd had a good time and had also kindly sorted all the photos from our travels so we both had copies. He ate his dinner and then came saying goodbye. Earl was off to Quito for some weird reason it was cheaper for him to fly home from Ecuador's capital rather than any airport in Colombia even though it had a stop off in Bogota. Earl leaving had never semt real until after he left, and I got the usual feeling of emptiness but this time possibly worse. We had spent the last five or so months together pretty much joined at the hip. We had had some lows, some fall-outs, but they were massively out-weighed by all the good times. He would be missed, his directional skills, his banter and his ability to always have emergency toilet paper when I needed it the most. But it was time to fly solo again. I had a beer at the bar but I retreated to my room after only one Pilsner. There was a new girl - Becky, checked in the room so I spent a while talking to her and giving her advice about her trip which she was pretty much only starting and telling her about my adventures until it was time for bed.
I'm not sure what it was but I could not sleep at all, was I missing Earl that much? Excited for the Man Utd vs Chelsea game? Nervous for the Man Utd vs Chelsea game? Was it that there was now a reasonably hot girl in the room? Or maybe I was excited that I knew friends would be arriving the next day? More than likely it was all of the above. So I spent the night watching a Gary Barlow and James Cordon documentary and apparently I was missing English chat shows as I watched Emma Watson and David Beckham on the Jonathan Ross show and James Cordon on the Michael McIntyre chat show. It was at least 4am by the time I finally nodded off. I was up by eight and as I sleepily made my way to the kitchen I was greeted by Abbie and Izzy who had arrived on a night bus from Bogota. It was here Izzy taught me a trick to make my eggs taste a little better by adding a dollop of butter. I also learnt that probably doing them in a pan, instead of the microwave makes them look and probably taste a lot better. After a catch up over brekky, they wanted to go to the supermarket for football snacks, I wasn't to disappointed with this as if they had their mouths full they wouldn't ask stupid questions but we only had half an hour before the game kicked off and I knew what they could be like after the whole walking around for food in Quito palaver. I was assured that with the absence of Phoebe this would not be the case and true to their word they didn't fanny around too much and we made it back with five minutes to spare and with chocolate footballs and jelly snakes. I was also impressed with the lack of stupid questions girls normally asked during games and Iz impressed me by giving an odd Come on United here and there and cheering for United's late Robin Van Persie equaliser, though she was probably just after my balls, chocolate balls that is.
That afternoon the girls wanted to do something cultural, I would have been happy enough being lazy and sauntering about the hostel but I decided to join them on their trip to the Botanical Gardens and Parque Explora. That way I have something interesting to tell you about rather than me lying on a sofa watching TV. Getting in Parque Explora was a right effort and we pretty much walked the full perimeter of it before finding the entrance. Though on our way round we did manage to randomly come across Guinea Pig racing, we all had a little flutter on the little rodent who almost won me some money but chose the hut adjacent to my hut - number two. Parque Explora is a natural sciences centre in Medellin that recently opened to the public in 2008. With over 70,000 square feet of indoor space and 50,000 square feet of outdoor activities, this futuristic looking series of red buildings entertains thousands of people and families every week with its educational based scientific displays, aquarium, reptile and insect collection and more. There are over 300 interactive activities at Parque Explora in addition to an auditorium with 3D projection, a television studio, children centre, temporary exhibit hall as well as restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. We would not be part of the thousands who enjoy the facilities though as the 20000 ticket price put us off and instead we made our way to the Botanical Gardens. The Medellin Botanical Garden is almost 40 acres of outdoor space dedicated to orchids, plants, botany and nature in general. With an enormous wealth of flora native to Colombia, the botanical garden boasts more than 5000 individual plants with contributions from more than 1000 different species. The Medellin Botanical Garden is a greenbelt area in the heart of the city where people gather to bike, hike and engage in water related activities including canoeing and rowing and even for the local clown club to congregate. The girls, though I think it was mainly Abbie cooked up some pretty good fajitas for dinner and we spent the rest of the evening having a few beers and playing cards with an Irish guy called Mark.
The next day I was like a 50s Housewife, I got up for my scrambled eggs, then as the girls were on the Real City Walking Tour I recommended I cleaned, sorted my stuff out and prepared them lunch to come home too. Lunch was pretty easy, though it was the first time I had made Jacket Potato's in an oven and not with the aid of a Microwave and I was pretty nervous of the Romanian potatoes I was using. The filling was simple, tuna, sweetcorn and mayo though the lack of a tin opener meant that most of my morning was trying to open a tin of sweetcorn with a knife which proved to be quite difficult. Usually I would have had Earl for jobs like this, but with some persistence and brute force I got there. The potato's got a great reception from the girls too, on taste at least, the portion size was a bit on the pathetic size, they were like snack size potatoes, they weren't that big when I bought them but I didn't realise they would shrink that much in the oven.
As the girls sorted there flights out to the next destination I watched QPR vs Aston Villa with a couple of Aussie lads who were staying at the hostel. We then watched the Zac Efron and Seth Rogen film Neighbors and then the girls cooked up a Tuna, Tomato and Veg Pasta combination, again I think Abbie was the main chef. It was turning out quite alright and healthy with the girls. I had probably eaten ore vegetables in the last two days than in the past five months altogether, it even took me a while to realise the last burger I ate was the hungover Burger King I munched. The night was pretty relaxed after that, the hostel was quiet I had a beverage or two with the girls before they headed to bed, then I joined the Aussie lads for a couple more but we were the last ones up at the hostel at around half 11 so they closed the bar therefor ending our night.
I'd carefully constructed a deal for Abbie to cook me poached eggs the next morning; apparently they would be harder because we were at altitude which I didn't get at all. The eggs weren't as runny as I would have liked and I only got two of the allocated three, but I said thanks and they were better than anything I could have achieved. Thinking about it, I should really learn to cook Poached eggs seen as though they are up there with my favourite type of egg. Not long after brekky me and my Becky decided to get out of Medellin for the night and left for Guatape.
So until next time stay safe and take care