Medellín wasn't originally on our must visit list for Colombia. It'll be just another city, we thought. Let's visit some more regional areas instead. However, a lot of people said it's really worth going to and we were able to get a cheap flight from Cartagena, avoiding the reportedly hellish bus ride, so we booked for 2 nights.
The airport is a while out from the city so we jumped on a bus that took us down into the valley where Medellín lies, and what a spectacular looking city it is from the mountain tops surrounding it. Wow, perhaps this place isn't a regular city after all.
We stayed in the popular backpacker area called El Poblado, in a really nice hostel right in the thick of the trendy bar and restaurant area. For the afternoon we wandered around the area, had some nice sushi for lunch, checked out some market stalls. The whole area is choc-a-block with bars, restaurants and clothing stores. We felt like it was way too trendy for us.
We planned to visit a well recommended burger place for dinner that night. It took us ages to find, as Google maps lead us astray (again!), and when we did there was a huge queue, being something like valentines day in Colombia. We ended up at a cool little veggie burger place instead which was completely unromantic but delicious and decidedly healthier anyway.
On Sunday morning we were all set to venture into the downtown area, but the owner of the hostel advised us that all the weirdo's are out on Sunday's and suggested we go to a park at the top of a cable car instead, so we did that.
We caught the train to the north of the city (Medellín is the only Colombian city with a rail system), where we continued on one cable car over one of the poorer neighbourhoods, similar to the favela's in Brazil. A second cable car started at the top of the first, taking us over the top of the hillside and along the top for about 15 minutes, dropping you in the park.
When we spoke to the information lady, we realised that this park was massive, and we had been dressed for a day in downtown, not bushwalking! There was a guided walk available, 3 hours return, but with a poor shoe choice and rain looming we decided to just go on a shorter stroll ourselves.
We followed the road a while then found a nice path leading off, along which we found some picnic tables to stop for lunch in a lovely pine forest area, then returned to make our way back down the hill. Though not before a coffee made from the back of a kitted out, reconditioned Willys!
The rest of the day was spent purchasing some new shoes for Fergus. With some hiking plans approaching we thought holes in his soles were not ideal. Being a rainy afternoon this was a good choice of activity.
On the Monday we did a Pablo Escobar tour. Medellín was where Escobar lived, where the Medellín Cartel was based, and the scene of a time in history many Colombians would like to forget. There are two tours, one run by Pablo's brother that is said to be rather biased and focused on the philanthropic Escobar who built schools, and the other unbiased tour which we did. The tour was by minivan and visited some of the key sites in the Escobar story.
First was his house, where he lived with his wife and children. The multi-storey building was fairly non-descript and is still unoccupied since the group Los Pepes let off a car bomb outside. Pablo wasn't home but his family were, and his daughter has damaged hearing as a result. Among other sites we were taken to the house where he was eventually shot and killed (a regular suburban house where regular people lived today), and his grave.
Throughout the tour, given by a young woman who was a child in Medellín at the time of Escobar's reign, we were told stories about Escobar's parties, the cartel under which teenage boys would fight against teenage boys in rival cartels, how Escobar would pay anyone who killed a cop US$1000 (resulting in some cops killing their partners), and the horror on the streets while gun battles would take place and innocent people were killed.
The tour really focussed on the huge ramifications on the Colombian community caused by the demands of an international society that wants to party, and the legacy that has been left for the Colombian people, who would you believe it, are not all cocaine taking, marijuana smoking, gun totalling lunatics! It certainly was an eye opening perspective.
After the tour we had to change to another hostel, since we had decided to stay longer in Medellín and the first hostel was booked. Our plan was to visit the downtown that afternoon since we skipped it on the Sunday, but by the time we had finished moving to the new hostel it was late afternoon and it start to rain, so decided not to bother.
As luck would have it, this hostel was advertising a day trip on the Tuesday to Guatapé, just the place we wanted to visit!