. Will be thinking carefully before I take night buses again & also next time I will make sure I have layers of clothes from my rucksack - also I'm contemplating buying a sleeping bag for South America as its going to be a lot colder from now on compared to Central America. On the bright side , the hostel I've been staying at in Medellin , "The Black Sheep" , is without doubt one of the best hostels I've experienced on my entire trip - it's modern,clean,comfortable,quiet and has just about every amenity a traveller could need , including being less than 10 minutes from Medellin's great metro train system which gets you around the city really efficiently. The Black Sheep does seem to be a bit of a "Little Britain" , with an unusually large number of Brits staying there compared to the rest of my travels . Relatively speaking I havenīt met & mingled with that many fellow travellers from Old Blighty on my trip ... generally I donīt actively seek out my fellow country-folk like some other nationalities seem to like to do as I tend to find itīs interesting to mix with a lot of different nationalities. But I have to say itīs been good to enjoy a bit of British humour for a while and plenty of English football banter in front of the Euro 2008 tournament. Having endured frequent comments & light hearted ridicule from fellow travellers of all nationalities about Englandīs dismal failure to even be there , we all rather enjoyed watching the French & Italian teams struggle . Most of the Brits , with me included , seem to have nailed their colours to the Dutch mast in Englandīs absence - Hollandīs team is really looking a class act so far and great to watch
. For me Euro 2008 is actually proving to be a bit of a double edged sword - I really love watching the football but when Iīm travelling I do feel restless & guilty when Iīm just lazing around the hostel in front of the TV. This travel time I am enjoying is such a precious opportunity for me & itīs probable I wont get the chance to visit many of these places again so I feel like I should be spending every waking moment getting out there. Some travellers do seem to be quite happy spending the majority of their time just lounging around in hostels - thatīs their choice and each to their own travel experience - but for me personally I see it as a bit of waste so I try to treat lazy days hanging around a hostel as a luxury for every now & then. Medellin was notorious in the 1980s - 1990s for being the centre of Pablo Escobar's drug empire and a really violent city with extremely high murder rates and street crime. I also remember Medellin as being the place where after the 1994 World Cup the Colombian defender Andreas Escobar was shot dead at a nightclub after he scored the own goal which knocked Colombia out of the tournament. However , today's Medellin is a very different & much safer place which is getting significant business investment and becoming more established as a travellers destination - the murder rate is now lower than big cities in the US like New York for example and the hostel owner said they have had no guests robbed around here in nearly eight years. I spent the first afternoon wandering around the centre of the city - Medellin is not a particularly pretty city with lots of great sights but rather a bustling commercial centre with lots of shops and dotted here and there with a number of plazas/parques and buildings of interest
. The highlight I would say was the Botero Plaza with it's 23 different bronze sculptures by the famous Colombian artist Botero and the huge Palacio de la Culture in the plaza. Other places I visited on the following day included Parque Berrio & La Candelaria church , Parque Bolivar with the huge Metropolitan Cathedral (a rather uninspiring red brick building) , the pleasant San Ignacio church & plaza and the Parque San Antonio. The Parque San Antonio is a mass of concrete and not particularly aesthetically pleasing but it is interesting for Botero's two "bird of peace" statues - one was severely damaged by a guerilla bomb in 1996 but the authorities left it in place and built a similar one next to it to demonstrate an anti-violence message.As part of the Medellin Metro system there is a cable car section which runs up from the city centre into the Northern "barrios" which sprawl up the hills in a mass of red brick buildings as far as the eye can see. Going up in the cable car gives some really superb views over Medellin city and also takes you up into the highest areas of the city in the hills which used to be notoriously violent & dangerous in the past but today have been under regeneration such as for example the building of the huge "Spain Library" near to the metro cable car station. Medellin has a zoological park which I decided to visit despite reservations over keeping animals in captivity - they had plenty of interesting animals to see such as bears , chimpanzees , an asian elephant , a rhino, hippos , flamengos , deer , ostriches , emus & snakes
. Once again at the zoo I encountered a party of schoolkids who seemed fascinated & excited about me the gringo tourist , staring , asking lots of questions and taking photos - I felt like I should have been on the other side of the fence in an enclosure as an exhibit like the animals. I also enjoyed a couple of nights out to get a sample of the highly regarded Medellin nightlife , with Thursday night the highlight , when I went out with some others from the hostel to a nightclub called "The Circus" which was really good fun. One side of the nightclub is a huge glass window which gives some great views looking out over the city. At risk of not winning any political correctness awards , I have to say that the scenery inside the club was no less stunning ... Thursday night is "ladies night" and I donīt think Iīve seen quite so many pretty girls in one place on my entire trip , with lots of groups of mostly female , mostly university students enjoying free alcohol and generally having a great time. Colombian people definitely know how to party and my experience so far has been that theyīre pretty much universally welcoming & friendly towards foreign travellers ! Iīve been really enjoying Medellin but on the Saturday as time is moving on I decided to drag myself away , getting up relatively early to catch the bus to the capital Bogota which is about 9 hours away by bus.
Arrived in Medellin after an endurance test of a bus ride from Santa Marta overnight. It actually took an astonishing 22 hours from me arriving at Santa Marta bus station at 3pm on Monday to arriving at a hostel in Medellin at 1pm on Tuesday so I was pretty frazzled when I arrived (it actually took less time to get from home in the UK to my first stop in Mexico). The bus seat was large & comfortable and also I had an empty seat next to me so I could spread out , so no complaints on that front . However , there were no meal stops until 13 hours into the trip at 8am for breakfast , by which time I was really hungry (18 hours with no proper food only a couple of bags of crisps) and secondly for some incomprehensible reason the bus had it's air conditioning blasting out icy cold air for half the night despite all the passengers shivering. Those in the know who'd travelled before on South American night buses had sleeping bags or warm coats , I had just my sweatshirt and I was really cold . I asked the driver to make it warmer but he just adjusted the aircon marginally until finally at about 3am the aircon was suddenly turned off for some unknown reason & it thankfully got significantly warmer