The tale of Two Cities – Medellin and Bogota

With only 3 nights left in Colombia we had to use our remaining time up wisely! We arrived in Medellin late in the afternoon so only really went out for a brief dinner outing in the neighbourood we were staying in Pablado. The following day we had booked a spot on the Real City Tour, a tip-based walking tour of downtown Medellin. The sights that we were taken to like the Square of Lights, National Palace, Botero Square and Veracruz were all beautiful but the most interesting thing about the tour was hearing about Medellin’s history, politics, basically the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the city.

Our guide, Julianna majored in Storytelling at University – yes that’s a thing! She was an extremely passionate and proud ‘paisa’ who managed to simplify some of Medellin’s major milestones for our group. One of the common misconceptions of Medellin is that its wealth came from the infamous Pablo Escobar, the King of Cocaine in the late 1980s. However this is not the case at all, the city was infact built on gold and coffee. Julianna didn’t like to talk about Pablo, she referred to him as Paul, though admits of course he played a significant part in the history of the city. The destruction, murder, and fear he installed in the locals still has affect on the city today. Yes the stigma remains but the city is thriving and is taking huge strides forward – it was named Innovative City of the Year in 2013 and has also been awarded for its Sustainable Transport. And more importantly the locals (in the most part) are welcoming tourism and see us “gringos” as a positive sight, because only a few years ago people were too scared to visit.

After our walking tour Andrew and I took the Metrocable up to the Avri Gardens. The main section of the cable was built to connect some of Medellin’s poorest barrios (neighbourhoods) to the city – Metrocable is the first system in the world dedicated to public transport. In the evening we walked further into Pablado where all the bars and nightclubs are. We ended up buying a nice beer and drinking in the Plaza surrounded by the Christmas lights. That evening we were headed to Bogota on a overnight bus – I know, I mentioned in my previous post about the warnings of overnight bus travel in Colombia, but we had updated advise that it was completely fine! The bus trip was 10 hours and reviews we had read about the trip was that it was very windy so we finally made the smart decision and got some sleeping pills – they definitely did the trick – should’ve got some earlier!

So we arrived in Bogota about 7am after a good night sleep on the bus and had two full days up our sleeves to explore before we needed to get to the airport to fly to Barcelona. We ended up booking a hostel in La Canderlaria aka Centro Historico – the architecture has Spanish Colonial, art deco and Baroque styles and is home to many key attractions like museums, churches and plazas. As we couldn’t check in to our room until later in the day we booked a bike tour of the city with Bogota Bike Tours. It was a 5 hour trip taking us to some key places in the city, while explaining some of its history as well. Our guide, Danielle, took us to a local fruit market where we tried Maracuya and Granadilla (passionfruit varieties), Lulo (citrus flavour), Pitahaya (yellow dragonfruit), Uchuva (looks like a cherry tomato), Guayaba (like a guava-pear), Tomate de Arbol (tree tomato), Caramblo (starfruit) and probably some other I’ve forgotten about, but it was all so delicious and fresh. I wish we had the same variety of fruits back in NZ.

Another highlight of the tour was learning about the graffiti art in the city. Many major cities try to keep their streets graffiti-free though Bogota is taking a different approach. It was the death of a young artist, shot by a policeman in 2011, which sparked a new tolerance of street art that exploded into a colourful free-for-all of artistic expression. The walls of Bogota are covered in intricate tags, primitive scrawls, and elaborate murals, making this city of 8 million one of the world’s trendiest showcases of modern street art. Practically everywhere you turn there is some form of graffiti, drawing themes from social and political struggles, environmental concerns to the country’s armed conflicts. It really is a beautiful!

Our final stop of the tour was to a local cafe which had a big hall out the back where the locals go to play ‘Tejo’ – a traditional sport. The game consists of throwing a metal disc (called the tejo) into a clay backboard with a circular target in the middle. The most interesting part of the game is that they also place 4 small exploding targets that contain gunpowder on the diameter of the main target where on impact with the tejo they explode with a cracking bang similar to that of a revolver. It’s a pretty fun, lively game and is often played while enjoying a couple of beers.

The following day we stumbled upon the Botero Museum – Botero is Colombia’s most well-known artist/sculpurist. His work is playful and humourous and is often called “fat art” though the correct description is “exaggerated volume or voluminous”. His work is mainly of people, animals or fruit and its really quite extraordinary. For our last meal in South America we aimed to try something traditional, we opted for a menu del dia at a restaurant that looked respectable (but cheap!). We made a good choice as shortly after sitting down in the quiet restaurant it filled within 10 minutes with hungry locals on their weekday lunch break. We had no idea what we ordered but I was happy to end up with the national dish ‘bandeja paisa’ – consisting of red beans, white rice, fried egg, avocado, minced meat, pork fat, fried plantain, chorizo and arepa (a small corn flatbread) – phew! It was really tasty and good to finish the trip with something authentic.

Well that sums up our 9 week trip exploring just a small portion of what South America has to offer – Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia. We absolutely want to come back to see more of what this beautiful continent has to offer – but first we promised ourselves that we have to be fluent in Spanish to return! Thanks for reading our blog thus far 🙂 We will continue to update with future travel adventures…next stop Barcelona.

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