On the way to Medellin we stopped at a really cool service station for a coffee and admired 50+ portaits of great men throughout history hung up on the wall. Some of our favourites were Karl Marx, Stephen Hawking and 2 x Balzacs. Arrived at Medellin north bus terminal at 10:30am after a terrible nights sleep (thanks Aussie girl). We sat on a bench in the station and tried to suss the situation out. Alex went to get a map and was gone so long I was actually starting to consider options for securing our bags so that I could go and look for her. We then caught the only metro in Colombia to Poblado - the Zone Rosa of Medellin and the location of our pre-booked hostel. When we arrived we were immediately confronted with the sight of the same Aussie girl that made me put my seat back up on the bus. Great. The good news though, was that the dorms were full so we could have a private room for the same price... including a nice big birthday double bed for me!
We went to a sweet, family run cafe down the road for a comida corriente (set lunch), which was another bargain, and booked haircuts in the salon nextdoor for Thursday. In the afternoon we took the metro to the other side of the city, where it connects to the cable car that takes us up the mountain side to Santo Domingo - one of the poorer areas of Medellin. The view of the city was outstanding - sprawling through the valley and up mountainsides, most the same colour of cooked brick. The neighbourhood at the top was a lot of fun and full of hustle and bustle. We saw an old guy stood on some steps dancing salsa for his friends amusement. Everyone was so friendly. The area has a fantastic, fancy library that dominates the hillside and is one of the many measures the city has taken to improve the quality of life of it's residents. We wanted to stay in the neighbourhood for a while, and only decided to leave when some kids started harrassing us!
Later we caught the metro to the centre of town and to the sculpture plaza (full of curious sculptures by Colombian artist Botero). We walked along Carabobo Road that is a bustling shopping street connecting two plazas and sells absolutely everything. On the way we ticked off our shopping list with a new swimming costume for Alex, toiletries and some stationery from the papeleria, which was very fun if not a little challenging since all the goods are behind counters and you need to tell the shop assistant what you want. The plaza on the other end of the road is filled with light sculptures. Here we saw some policeman comprehensively frisk a man at random.
For dinner we went to one of the fast food joints around the corner from the hostel and had an amazing burritto with endless dips. We headed home early to catch up on sleep and on the way saw the Aussie girl, looking fresh faced and ready for a night out... she must have slept well on the bus!
Day 58 - Today is my 28th birthday. I woke up early and decided to have a nice long shower without the pressure of other people waiting. I then got back to the room to find that Alex had locked us out! So she spent the next 15 minutes poking a long piece of wood with wire on the end through our window to retrieve the keys inside. We returned to the room to find she had made me a birthday cup of tea! She had also made me a birthday card sneakily and gave me a present of a caju keyring - my least favourite fruit. I also had a birthday card from my Grandma and Bampie who had given it to me before I left in July, and had made it in one piece halfway around South America.
Birthday breakfast in the nearby cafe and then at 9:40am we met our guide Pablo for a walking tour of the city. The tour lasted until 2:30pm (!) and was excellent. Pablo is only 25 but could use his experience growing up in the once most dangerous city in the world, run by Pablo Escobar to help us understand how much the city has transformed. My favourite part of his narrative was when he was talking about how strongly paisas (Medellin residents) feel about the metro and how they owe so much to it... we should get him to do some inspirational talks to some of our clients. We covered a lot of similar ground to yesterday, but with a few extra places - one of which was a square full of inquisitive men getting stoned by a police station. Plus a birthday lunch in a really good vegetarian buffet restaurant.
Once we said goodbye to Pablo he sent us in the direction of a shopping centre full of opticians to gat my glasses fixed (one arm had fallen off mid-tour), where we were served by a giggling buy with a classic Colombian mullet. Then we went in search of a bar and finally found one overlooking a street lined with freelance type-writerists. Two birthday beers later we were feeling revived and ready to make our way back home via the pasteleria. At the hostel we sat outside and had tea and birthday cake!
We went to the Zona Rosa in the evening and while walking about we happened to pass by an outdoor gym, absolutely full of topless men working out. Someone must have told them it was my birthday! We went to a bar and almost as soon as we sat down the waiter brought us a cocktail courtesy of some old dude in the corner (we think he must have ordered 3 for 1 and couldn't manage them all). We thought it prudent to eat something so ordered what we thought were bruschettas but turned out to be mixed meat kebabs... and it wasn't until midway through a piece of chicken did I realise it was raw inside. With a bit of a fight the waitress gave us some money off the food - 10%... small price for salmonella. We then headed to another party and on our way through the square a nice man played me happy birthday on his accordian. We ended up in some club (where I got in for free) that played generic dance music, and somehow managed to have a nice time!
Day 59 - Luckily a free shot of aguardiente last night must have killed off any salmonella, and it seems I got away with it! Both Alex and I had appointments to get our hair cut at the 'salon' across the road from the hostel. Alex has at least 300% more hair than I do, yet it took her 'stylist' less time to cut hers than mine. Similarly her woman took great attention to blow dry her hair with volume, whereas mine took a good half hour straightening the hell out of my curls. Still for 4 pounds it wasn't a complete disaster!
We went to Alex Carne de Res for lunch, which is located by a major road flyover, with thatched rooves and sand on the floor. We both had a steak + chips + sausage and then thought we'd walk it off to a nearby city park. We'd made a plan about what we'd do for the rest of the afternoon / evening and started heading back towards Poblado. We were having a nice, casual chat when a very irate man came up very close to my right side (putting me between a fence and him) and seemed to be trying to sell something or asking for money. I said no and as I tried to encourage him to distance himself from me I saw the knife he was holding, which was facing right at me. He said 'camara' (lucky that's the same in english and spanish) and in the split seconds it took for me to take my camera strap from around my neck and shoulder I was able to think through all my options. I had absolutely none. He took the camera and legged it across the road, leaving Alex and I stood there watching him asking each other what we should do. Obviously we couldn't do anything - in broad daylight, next to a busy road I was robbed, but at least I wasn't mugged. We just turned around and continued walking towards Poblado, just a little lighter. Now I don't use the c-word loosely, but that carrot really let the rest of the Colombians down. In the square in Poblado we got directions to the police station from some really lovely people. They were so nice it almost made me more annoyed.
At the police station we sat on some chairs in the waiting area and admired the enormous perspex box of confiscated knives that they must have there for show. One policeman came over and asked me what happened in english. I think he only followed some of what I was saying and at the end he mimicked a stabbing action towards me, which he thought was very funny. Lucky I wasn't shaken from earlier! Then another policeman called me to his desk and through the medium of google translate, he set about writing a police report. He took it fairly seriously, except when he asked my age and I said "28... ayer (yesterday)... feliz cumpleanos" which he found absolutely hilarious. In the meantime Alex was still sat by the knife box having a conversation with a lady who'd had her blender stolen from a small room that she uses to store Christmas decorations. Before we left the first policeman sat me down and made sure I was happy with the report... they may not seem too bothered about my encounter, but they are really nice!
Assessing the damage he had my debit card but it was cancelled before he could do anything with it and I could survive with my credit card until Mum comes and joins us in the end of October. We had backed our photos up in Cartagena so I'd only lost a few days photos... however, I'm relying on Alex's photo skills now, which means that the majority of our Cartagena photos are of door knockers. The camera is the biggest loss - I hate the thought of it in some grubby man's hands - but it could have been worse.
Back at the hostel I set about cancelling my debit card (that was inside my camera case). I told a few people about the incident and had some really odd responses, including "so it wasn't threatening then?" and "so did you not think to run?"! Alex and I sat on the floor of our room with a cup of tea and cake and had a good laugh about our day... how it was a wasted Crocodile Dundee opportunity... how it was only at lunchtime we were wishing for some steak knives... how perhaps our bad karma was because we'd laughed one too many time in baroque churches during our travels. Then I locked us out of our room (luckily they'd had a spare key made since yesterday). Sodding door.
For dinner we went back to the Zona Rosa and had a thai dinner overlooking the busy square. Alex's pad thai came first, but her noodles were hard so she sent it back as I got my curry... and then apparently she had to reorder and her new meal arrived just as I finished mine.
Day 60 - A well-timed morning as we arrived at the southern bus terminal (where we got directions from a man on a segway) and onto the bus to Armenia with 2 minutes to spare.
I don't like to leave places worse off than I arrived, but I would still recommend Medellin to other people.