Medellin...like a drug addiction

Trip Start Nov 29, 2010
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Trip End Ongoing


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Where I stayed

Flag of Colombia  ,
Saturday, January 15, 2011

Medellin was hard to get to and hard to leave.  Hard to get to because from Santa Marta it was a 14 hour bus ride and the thermostat was set to 61 degrees.  EVERYBODY had heavy blankets, and I was smart enough to at least bring a light hooded sweater and light pants, but never imagined that it would be so cold.  Despite my pleading, the driver would not turn off the A/C.  The driver had a separate cabin that stayed at outside temperature...a pleasant mid-70s.  A friend of mine coming from Santa Marta had shorts and short sleeves on and spent 1hr in the bathroom, which had an open window, until someone started banging on the door.

The bus got in at around 8am on Jan. 9.  I spent the morning looking for a hostel, the afternoon hanging out and resting, and the night dancing with a group of Paisas (from Medellin) that I met in Santa Marta just days before.  I got some great salsas in and had a good time at a little hole in the wall (the first of several such cool spots in Medellin).  I had a bit of a cold after the bus ride and relaxed & played some pool at the hostel on Monday.  The next day I went for a walk all day long.  I first passed the zoo and decided to check it out...lots of cool animals but sad because most were either alone, were in too small of a space, or both.  Pueblito Paisa (see photos & desc.) had great views of the city and overly expensive food which I opted out of.  I ate had a typical meal at the restaurant named after the hospital across the street for about $2.50 US.  I'm always a fan of cheap, local meals as you've probably already noted.  I worked my way to Parque Berrio & the Antioquia Museum also in the city center.  Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist famous for his self-described "voluminous" paintings and sculptures, has great exhibits in both the park and the museum.  I took the metro back to the hostel, stopping for a papa relleņa (fried ball a bit smaller than a baseball filled with potato & ground meat) and an empanada (fried half-round envelope of ground meat and spices).  I started asking a couple of people if they wanted to go to this salsa bar that I had heard about from the Paisas, Eslabon Prendido, which has live music every Tuesday & Thursday.  We got there in 3 taxis with about 12 international guests from the hostel.  Great music but a very small place with too many tables and not enough dance floor.  Stepping on feet and bumping into other couples was inevitable, but the night was still fun and I stayed until closing time at 1:30am with enough others to fill a taxi back to Casa Kiwi.
 
Again a day of mostly rest before the next morning´s activity, a tour of sites around Medellin related to Pablo Escobar & the cartel wars between the mid 1980's and 1993 (when Escobar was finally found and killed).  The very enthusiastic guide was very informative about the topic and also about Medellin's past and present politics, drug trade, & related activities.  Nicolas mentioned that his translator moved to Brazil and he needed someone to fill the position.  I thought about it and told him I'd do it while I was in Medellin.  The gig pays about $16 and a beer for 3 hours of work.  I translated 4 times over the next week, learning a lot and getting good translating experience as well.  For me, well worth the time and effort. 

Nicolas, whose best childhood friend was killed in the bombing of adjacent fire, military, and police stations while riding his bike, recalls a joke that kids used to tell in school, "Hey, you know what Pablo Escobar is going to give your daughter for Christmas?**What?**A Barbie car bomb."  He recounts that although Medellin was for a time (1989-91) the most dangerous city in the world, people still had to go about their daily activities aware of the serious threat of being killed in a bombing.  In I think 1990, Escobar offered his thugs between $1M and $5M Colombian pesos for every policeman killed depending on rank.  This at a time when a decent apartment cost $20M COP.  In the first month 120 policeman were killed & over 800 were killed in the year.  80% of police stations were bombed and people abandoned their houses near police stations.  Approximately 25 people were being killed each day in Medellin during the worst years.  Escobar & the Medellin Cartel killed 3 presidential candidates & countless judges that were meant to try drug cases.  In an attempt to kill another presidential candidate Escobar detonated a bomb on a commercial domestic flight with 107 people on it, none of which was the indicated candidate, all killed.  Escobar was the most wanted man in the world until he was killed.  During earlier years, he was named one of the 5 richest men in the world for 5 straight years by Forbes Magazine.  He was a businessman with a clean reputation until he became a congressman and made some powerful enemies (such as the Minister of Justice) while trying to legalize the drug trade.  He was ratted out to the public for who he was and everybody involved in telling the story was killed and the newspaper burned down.

Other activites after work involved more salsa dancing, a few $10 entry poker tournaments (the first of which I won $160 in), and a trip to a real Pueblito Paisa, Santa Fe de Antioquia.  It was the capital of the Department of Antioquia until 1826 and still has its old cobblestone streets and colorful colonial houses and buildings with ceramic tile roofs.  It was a nice day except the scorching hot weather which limited my desire to walk around and explore for more than a couple of hours.  On the morning of Jan. 20, some guys that were on one of my Pablo tours told me they were going paragliding; $40 for a 30 minute flight.  With taxi rides it ended up being $65, but was well worth the expense.  My first experience paragliding was a good one.  Clean take off and landing, and mostly smooth flying up to over 1,000 meters above ground.  Great views and lots of fun.  The "pilot" Alejandro asked me if I wanted to do some acrobatics before we went down, and I said, "Of course."  That was a serious adrenaline rush.  For about 30 seconds we spun around doing tricks in the air and at one point I was able to see both the top of the parachute and the ground at the same time.  I expected a hard landing, but it was surprisingly comfortable (see video).

On my last night at Casa Kiwi, Friday, Jan. 21, the hostel had a party with a great band (the band that plays at Eslabon Prendido) playing all types of latin music, most of which was salsa.  I danced a lot, but the best was when I got a tip that a salsa teacher was there.  I asked her to dance and I swear it was the fastest and longest salsa of the night.  She was a fantastic dancer and I managed to keep up alright, showing off to the best of my abilities.  I literally dropped to the ground a sweaty mess after what seemed like 10 minutes of dancing, taking the next 5 songs, a new shirt, and 1.5 liters of water to recover a normal heart rate and stop sweating.  Certainly the best salsa of my life!  A perfect send off party from Medellin.

Next stops...Manizales with Parque Los Nevados, Salento with Cocora Valley, and my current paradero Armenia.
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