On arriving in Medellin, I was excited. I had heard so many good things about this place, and I really wanted to see for myself. Turns out, they’re not wrong – Medellin is a vibrant, bright and happening city which is much more modern than I had imagined. The people are happy and will go out of their way to help you out (or point you in the direction of the best local food) and there is plenty to see and do.
The airport is an hour away in Rio Negro, and after a small glitch trying to get money out, I was on a bus on my way into town. Switching for a taxi at San Diego, soon after I arrived at Ivy hostel and was reunited with my kiwi friend Tamo who was working there (I spent the best part of six weeks travelling with her and we shared a homestay in Antigua). There was plenty to catch up on!
The neighbourhood is quiet and being tired, I didn’t venture much further than the local shopping centre, but that didn’t matter as I was able to buy a new bikini (mine were seriously on the verge of being completely see through, and trust me, no one needs to see that). Colombia is quite a well developed country, and it was a nice change to be able to get pretty much everything you can think of again – creature comforts! The shopping centre is massive and even has a massive ballpit in the middle for the kids to play in – Australia has something to learn.
While out and about exploring the neighbourhood, I happened to bump into some crew from the hostel and we took the metro out to San Javier to visit the neighbourhood of Comuna 13. These areas were once slums created when people were displaced by the civil war, and had a history of crime and violence.
Perched high on the hillside, buses and taxis are unable to make these areas accessible due to the steep ascent, and it would take the citizens up to 2 1/2 hours to make a trip down into the city centre. Effectively, they were cut off from Medellín and didnt identify as being part of the city.
The completion of public transport infrasturcture projects commenced in the 1990s has seen this cut to 45 minutes, and enabled people gain access to opportunities and feel integrated as a community.
Fun playing football with children at Comuna 13
There is an immense energy and positivity – people were smiling and greeting us, and the street art says what no words could ever express. The local boy guarding the escalator grinned proudly when he told us he was from the barrio – “just up there,” he said as he pointed. The amount of gratitude the people have for the infrastructure is evident – out of respect for what it has provided their community, there is no vandalism or graffiti, and everything is sparkling clean.
Nightlife in El Poblado
Medellín has a lively nightlife, particularly around the El Poblito area. No matter what time of night there always seemed to be plenty of people on the streets, in bars and restaurants. This led to many hungover mornings!
Embracing the local football culture, we watched the Americas cup game on Friday night from Parque Lleras, where big screens and people filled the streets. Fortunately, Colombia won against the USA – Colombians love their football, and the streets explode in celebration when they win! The atmosphere was electric. Taxis drove down the street, horns blaring, and people spill out from bars into the neighbourhood streets, filled with an energy I’ve never seen in Australia.
Vibrant atmosphere at the stadium didn’t disappoint
Cheering on the local team
Saturday was the quarter final of the national league and we took up the opportunity to head to the stadium to watch the game. Our only regret was that we wished we had managed to get seats in the southern section – which was full to the brim with energetic green team fans, drums and chanting as they cheered their team on towards a win (although not before an exciting penalty shoot out!) There is no alcohol allowed in the stadium, although one or two of the crew got fooled by the non alcoholic beer on offer. They certainly took the body search seriously with two pat downs on the way in – including a tap or two on me Julies!
To escape the madness of Medellín, I took a side trip to Guatapé, a small picturesque village only a 2 hour bus ride to the east. Arriving on a long weekend, the town was busy, with an outdoor market and plenty of activities going on. Although I expected to relax here, there was no way I was getting out of a few drinks in the hostel’s rooftop bar – completely encouraged by a few of the barmen, and a deck of Uno cards!
The boys got left behind after the first hill
Tommy, Iliya and I hired bikes one afernoon and made the trip out to San Rafael, which while mostly gentle winding downhill, there were three nasty hills to tackle first, dodgy rental bike chains in desperate need for lube refusing the help the situation. The ride down was 1,000m of descent – and so the three of us played a game of tetris to get our bikes in the bus so we didn’t have to tackle the ascent back up on the way home, it would have been a mission!
One struggles to go to Guatapé without partaking in the #1 tourist activity – a game of paintball in Pablo Escabar’s old bombed out holiday mansion.
While it was a kinda cool experince, I did take one for the team after agreeing to carry the shield for the team – shot squarely in the front of the leg from about two metres away. Luckily for me that wasn’t as bad as the injury to the hand which Kate sustained! Five games later we were all out of bullets and the red team prevailed (go us!).
Amazingly, this place has been turned around in the space of just fifteen short years. More change sure to come as the tourism industry brings more people to know about the magic of Medellín and I can’t wait to see it continue to thrive. It is probably one of the only places so far that I can see myself living – it has everything!