Medellin in four days
Our four days in Medellin started on a Monday, we landed at 6:30pm in the further international airport. We took an uber to get to our hotel, and tried a new uber which we never saw before called Uber English with drivers that can speak English. Brucey absolutely loves to speak with the drivers and he was really suffering when they only speak Spanish so he was very happy with this new option. Our driver was a very young guy, he looked 14, and his dream is to become an actor and doing commercials which he is already doing after studying at the New York Academy in Broadway. Good luck to Nicholas! He immediately told us that Medellin is different, the people from here are called Paisa and he implied without really saying it that they feel like they are better than everyone else in Colombia.
We arrived at our small hotel called La Campana which is in a good location in El Poblado (the main touristy and safe area) and has nice clean rooms and good wifi, and good breakfast included in the patio. We just had time to go for dinner and went to the number 2 rated on Trip Advisor called Toscano, Italian restaurant to celebrate Italy’s victory in the EU cup. The starter mixed seafood was very good but the mains pasta and pizza were very disappointing. When we got back we tried to book some tours for the coming days, Pablo Escobar tomorrow afternoon and a city walking tour on Wednesday morning.
Ready to explore the once most dangerous city in the world! One thing we already love here, the temperature. It’s a perfect 25 constant with no humidity, apparently all year around – not bad at all. On the way back home we met a huge caterpillar.
We woke up early since our breakfast is only until 9am. After breakfast we decided to go to the botanical gardens and visit the Parque explora before heading back to El Poblado to start our Pablo Escobar tour at 2pm.
We arrived to the botanical garden with another Uber English, another nice guy called Camillo who Brucey bored by discussing Eu/Brexit issues.
The botanical gardens were free to visit, not too big but very pretty. The main highlight are the HUGE iguanas running around the pond, they look like dragons and they stare at you in quite a scary way. At some point the alpha male wanted to kick away another male (or this is our interpretation anyway) and Bruce happened to be in the middle of the row. He started running away and for a split second he stopped with his hands up as if the iguanas were police officers trying to arrest him. It was so funny I really wish I had a video of it all. To be fair I was also screaming like a child.
After we survived the iguanas we went to Parque Explora which is next to the botanical gardens, we visited the aquarium and the reptiles and played a bit with some experiential games on the ground floor. It was very busy with locals and kids, because it’s summer holidays here.
We didn’t see many tourists at all, and we noticed that here in Medellin we are getting a lot more stares from people than in Cartagena, Santa Marta and Bogota where probably people are more used to tourism. It’s interesting with the Colombians, they are either super friendly lively and nice or they stare at you as if to say “what the hell are you doing in my country gringo?”. Another thing we noticed is that they never say thank you if you let them pass in the road, which is a real slap to the English politeness we are used to.
We had a quick lunch at the Parque Explora restaurant, fish and chips for £3 in two, and then got picked up by our guide Wilson for the Pablo Escobar tour with Medellin City Services.
We liked Wilson straight away, with his low voice probably due to the too many Marlboro red and his movie like American accent. Wilson has lived in the US for most of his life, but he is now back in his hometown and not planning to leave at any point soon. We first picked up the second guest in the tour, a nice lady called Eliza who is a journalist from Washington DC, and then we moved on to the first stop: the house where Pablo Escobar was shot on the roof on December 2nd 1993, the day after his 44th birthday. We saw the real house first which is located in the rich neighbourhood of Los Olivos, and then the one that has been used to shoot Narcos the TV show on Netflix, which is the one next to it, since the owner of the real house gave a ridiculous price to allow the producers to use his home. As we drove to the next stop, the cemetery, Wilson told us more of the story of the narco king.
I am not going to re-write the story of his entire life which you can read here, but some of the facts that I didn’t know and most shocked me: he killed over 5000 people with his own hands, and over 20,000 were killed because of his orders, in the peak of his cocaine trade he was making 420 million US dollars a month, before his started with the drug dealings 1 kilogram of cocaine was worth $50,000 in the US, when he exported coke for the first time in California he made 2 millions in one day, at his funeral 25,000 people went to the cemetery to see him being buried. His tomb is still one of the most visited in the world.
When we arrived at the cemetery, which is a bit out of town since most cemetery refused to host his body, I was surprised to see some beautiful fresh red roses and other flowers on his grave. Despite everything he did, he still gets flowers. Near his tomb we saw the ones of the rest of his family, and one of his bodyguards who was very loyal to him and had the honour of being buried with the Escobar Gaviria family. Nearby there is also the grave of his beloved cousin and best friend Gustavo, which while he was in the prison that he built for himself, was looking after the coke business all by himself and it’s considered by some (including Wilson) the most clever of the two.
The last stop of the tour was at Escobar’s house, a palace of 6 floors more than a house. Unfortunately we couldn’t get in as they are doing building works to it and it will become a hotel for the police. After that Wilson dropped us at the hotel, it was great to meet him and he’s been a fantastic guide.
Under his recommendation we went for dinner at a restaurant called Carmen and had a fantastic meal, steak and pork starters, pork and fish for main courses, all unbelievably good. After dinner we met for a drink with Eliza from the tour, and had a drink with a view on the rooftop of Hotel Charlee in Parque Lleras which is the main square where all the nightlife happens.
Another early start to get to the start of our walking tour by 8:45am. The start of the Real City Walking tour is at the Poblado metro station, where we met our guide Juan and the 24 other people joining the tour. We met two lovely girls from the Netherlands who were of course very tall, Wibi and Eugenie, who are in Colombia for six weeks and just started their adventure. Our guide Juan was great, we started by taking the metro to downtown Medellin, and then throughout the four hours of the tour we visited 90% of what’s worth seeing in the area. We learnt much more about the different gorilla groups, the history of the city before and after the “famous local criminal” since he never wanted to pronounce his name in public as people get angry if they hear him talking about it. Juan really made us realise how the stigma of drugs and of Colombians being drug dealers is really difficult to remove and they suffer from this all over the world. The war on drugs have brought so much violence and bad things to this country that it’s still an open wound despite how the city have flourished now. The metro actually played a big part in the renovation of the city and it was the trigger to get out of the dark days, even now you notice how clean it is and how they would never vandalise it because it was the first positive sign after years and years of violence. During the tour we tried two new things: Guarapo which is lemon and sugar cane juice, and Bunuelo which is a fried cheese ball (they love to fry everything here in Colombia!)
What we saw included: the old railway station, square of lights, palacio national (made by an architect from Belgium and where they sell fake stuff illegally), Veracruz church (we learnt that many churches here are symbol of contrasts, next to religion there are dvd porn stalls, and plenty of prostitutes selling love), Botero square, Bolivar park, Metropolitan cathedral (where more love is being sold), and San Antonio park (the real Colombia, with Papaya 4 level which means danger level 4).
The tour ended at 1pm, and we decided to go and get the cable car to the Santo Domingo neighbourhood where you get amazing views over the city. From there we couldn’t find a spot for lunch and the place looked slightly sketchy and we were both tired and grumpy by then so decided to leave and got another cable car to get even further to Parque Arvi which is a natural reserve/park a bit out of the city. On the cable car to get there we met a tiny lady from Barcelona who has been travelling Colombia on her own for three months, leaving behind her kids and husband. We had a sandwich when we arrived and then walked half an hour up and down next to the road, not a very pretty walk and we were quite disappointed. We arrived to the nice part, with a stream and small waterfalls and full of locals having a pic-nic stopped there for a short time before we had to go again. Another half an hour of walking back, mostly uphill, and then two cable cars, one metro for 11 stops and then a taxi to get back to our hotel. The queues to get back were huge, and stressful because the queuing here is not exactly as in the UK…
In the evening we were very tired, but decided to treat ourselves with a special dinner and went to a restaurant called El Cielo, there is one in Miami, one here and one in Bogota. If you ever happen to be in either of these cities you HAVE to try this restaurant. It’s a fantastic experience.
They don’t really have a menu, they only have two options, the 9 or the 13 courses meal. We went all in and tried the 13 with one wine pairing to share. The food was incredible but even more the “experience” courses, which were not to eat but to experience. To start with they gave us four small mouthfuls of different typically colombian ingredients and we had to guess what they were. Such an interesting idea. We did manage to guess some of them, but not all (sugar cane cube, dessicated onion, caramelised tomato, crisp covered with chocolate and cardomom). It was just incredible and the food was so delicious. Not cheap but worth every penny.
During breakfast we met a very interesting guy from the US called Tom who was living in Ecuador until a few weeks ago, when he decided to move here after the earthquake which destroyed his house. He mentioned there are 300 million guns in USA! and thinks there will be some kind of society meltdown there – scary thoughts. After breakfast we decided to have a lazy morning, and left the hotel at 1pm to get lunch. We went to the shopping mall Santa Fe and had a disgusting Mc Donald’s which we regretted straight away. In the afternoon the plan was a real cliche, but it made both of us happy. Bruce watched the football Poland vs Portugal, while I had an entire shopping mall to go shopping! Since we are getting to the end of the trip I am now allowed to buy stuff
We left the mall at 5pm. We need some lazy days some times, especially since we’ve seen all the top attractions in the city of Medellin we thought we could treat ourselves to a lazy day, plus Bruce had still a bad stomach and wasn’t feeling too great.
In the evening we went for a typical Colombian dinner at Mondongo, and then met up with Wilson and his lovely girlfriend Diana for a drink again at the Charlee Hotel, to give Medellin our last goodbye from above, and admire its shining paisa lights. We truly enjoyed our four days in Medellin which were made unforgettable by the lovely people we met, it’s hard to have to say goodbye to Colombia, tomorrow morning we have our long journey to get to Buenos Aires and the last leg of our trip, Argentina.
Gracias Colombia we will never forget you!