Friends! I promised a return to regular programming and then I disappeared to a remote Caribbean island with no wifi! Forgive me?
Unpredictably I have a little catching up to do. For this post we are going to have to cast our minds back, two to three weeks, to when we first landed in Colombia. In the city that, thanks to a certain famous drug lord, was once the most dangerous in the world. Medellin.
Medellin is NOTHING like it was in the two decades when the cartel was thriving. It is a charming place filled with art, delicious food and locals so happy to see visitors they actually approach tour groups to thank them. So sweet!
According to our walking tour guide (the walking tour is a must, by the way. There is only one, book ahead online) Medellin is super safe because it is a ‘house’ upon two pillars; democratic architecture (more on this later) and education, upon a platform of strong police presence and zero tolerance for trouble makers. Our guide explained everything in this manner and kept getting us to visualise things…
My favourite thing about Medellin was the abundance of Botero’s art. Botero is Colombia’s most famous artist and he likes to play with proportion. That’s the nice way of putting it.
Have a look:
See what I mean? He makes people wonderfully chubby. No one is safe.
Plaza Botero is where many of his famous statues hang out, but they can be found all over the city. On one side of the plaza is Museo de Antioquia, where many famous Botero paintings hang.
And some more sculptures.
This is a particularly famous image:
That’s Pablo Escobar dead on the roof.
On the other side of the plaza is a striking black and white building called the Palacio de la Cultura.
It was designed by a Belgian architect.
Another of my favourite things about Medellin was the abundance of fresh fruit carts, selling cups of mango and the like for $1 or less.
The Provenza neighbourhood in Medellin reminded me a lot of Melbourne, with its cafes, restaurants and a delightful boutique brewery where we stopped for lunch. It was called Brew House.
The place is run by a lovely American/Colombian family from New Jersey. They do great craft beers and delicious pizza. What more could you want?
Apart from ice cream. Obviously.
Another thing that helped transform Medellin was the introduction of a metro train system, which includes cable cars. The cable cars meant the underprivileged neighbourhoods and favelas in the hills could easily access jobs and life in the city. As a result the people of Medellin deeply love their metro.
We took a spin on one of the cable cars.
The bottom of the cable car line links directly to the train line, so you just have to switch platforms to get on.
The metro system is celebrating 20 years of being in operation. People clearly still love and respect their efficient train system; you never see anyone graffiti-ing, littering or putting their feet on seats. It’s definitely one of the cleanest metro trains I’ve been on
We checked out the botanical gardens too.
Which for us means getting a plate of three meats at the cafe.
We also walked around the gardens, I swear.
Out the front of the gardens was a well placed mini churro (donut) stand. The woman did all the work cooking and taking the money, the man sitting behind Andrew did the heckling. Classic.
The walking tour took us to downtown Medellin. There our excellent guide pointed out examples of the democratic architecture I mentioned earlier.
This square used to be a dark, dangerous marketplace. When it burnt down the rubble was left for a while. Now it is called the square of lights thanks to the white poles that light up at magically at night. Everyone is welcome in this bright space. They also restored these two beautiful old buildings and one now houses an education centre.
We wandered back to Botero square.
We were taken to another large square on our tour. In the 1990s someone placed a bomb in a backpack under the bird statue on the left. The explosion killed and injured many. They never found out who did it or why. Apparently Botero rang the mayor and told him not to remove the damaged bird statue. He said he would provide another one, but the old one had to remain so that people never forgot what happened and never repeated the same violent actions. Clever guy that Botero.
Throughout the tour our guide referred to Pablo Escobar only as ‘the famous criminal’. This was so locals who don’t speak English didn’t hear his name being spoken without context to a big group of gringos. They don’t like Escobar. They don’t want to hear his name and think a tour guide is glorifying a man who killed so many to visitors.
During the tour people would come and stand with our group or approach our guide and ask him to tell us “Welcome to Medellin, thank you for coming”. For so many years people avoided Medellin and its horrible reputation, so locals are glad to see you.
There are definitely still drugs and cartels around. If you head to the touristy neighbourhood El Poblado you will be offered cocaine or marijuana by people selling chewing gum. But Medellin is a safe and fun place. You should go.