Medellin and Medellout

Friday, February 19, 2010

We landed in Medellin at about 4:30, half an hour ahead of schedule. I don’t generally like to fly as I feel like I’m missing out on countryside and adventures in between hubs, but in this case it was not much more than the bus and much faster (two 1 hour flights vs 13 hours) and we were in a bit of a time squeeze with Phil’s last days looming and attempting to meet up with Maria and Anabella in Bogota before the 23rd. And anyway, I don’t feel so guilty flying within a country especially when the flight is not much more money than the bus. It’s interesting here as both of our flights took off well before the scheduled departure times although the second one was stuck in traffic in Medellin for some time. But finally we were in Medellin, or at least an hour from Medellin on the other side of the mountains. The city lies in the heart of a cauldron of green hills, towering on all sides, and we got our first view of it as the bus came over the ridge and around, looking like a crumpled piece of lettuce drizzled in Thousand Islands dressing (from the Mediterranean tiles) with most along the valley floor and splashing up the mountainsides in places. Or maybe it looked like a giant Petri dish with pink mold eating away at it. I guess it depends on what you want to see. Either way, we were on our way down to find out.

I was immediately impressed. Admittedly, we came down into the more wealthy area of the city, near Zona Rosa (or the pink zone) but the streetscaping was some of the nicest I’ve seen anywhere. Parks are all over, trees line boulevards and everything flowed really organically along the hillside with sophistication that I, in all honesty, wasn’t expecting to find. We had a card for Tiger Paw hostel and made our way there with a taxi as we had neither map nor inclination to haul Phil’s surf board on a bus. The taxis here are metered for a change which definitely helps when you don’t know how far away your destination is. Tiger Paw was a really nice hostel: the beds are incredibly comfortable, it’s clean, and it’s located in a perfect area. Drawbacks, as we would discover, were that the clientele was largely middle-aged Americans perhaps because the owner himself is an American. We didn’t find much of a social scene here which is probably the most crucial ingredient in a hostel. They had a pretty awesome looking party for Saturday where they take you out to a lake with giant karst pillars sticking out of it, put you on a boat, and you cruise around enjoying the scenery and some drinks. But not only would we not be there, the question again is who else would be on this boat.

We really didn’t have a lot of time allocated here, so the next day, tired as we were from our post-Carnaval syndrome, we set out on foot to find the metro station. We took a turn on a road we thought was a different road and wound up walking a long way towards downtown (buying a strange fruit called Grenadilla, some yogurt, and some plums from the grocery store for breakfast) before finally hopping on a bus heading in that general direction. We passed the metro station and hopped off, ironically exactly where we’d hopped off the airport shuttle though we didn’t realize it at the time. The metro system here is great, another point towards Medellin as a well-planned city. It could be more extensive but at the same time it ran along the main corridors. Additionally, because of the hills, part of the metro system is a cable car running up into the mountains which you ride at no additional cost. I think this is an ingenious way to get around, and probably a LOT cheaper than trying to lay rail and clear strips of land below or digging up the earth to put in subway.

We got off at the central square which was teeming with life and interesting buildings. We walked around the square and I decided it was finally time... for a haircut. I picked a place and they took me upstairs and for 7000 ($3.50) they cut my hair (pretty short), washed it (afterwards to clean all the little scraps), styled it, and gave me a straight razor shave. I have done a lot of crazy adventure sports in my travels, but I can’t recall many that filled me with as much fear as a sharp straight razor scraping along my adams apple. Phil, meanwhile, went hunting for a washroom, and I was finished and discovered he went to the very small “casino” (named Casino Athenas, incidentally) next door. So I went in and took out a 2000 note and a few spins later, hit three out of five of the big ticket item on the slot machine. So Phil found me sitting at a machine that was first of all giving free spins and then hitting this jackpot, taking my money from 2000 to 9000. I was excited – after all it paid for my haircut. And then I thought about it in dollars and realized I had just won $3.50 but strangely this didn’t dampen my spirits.

We walked the downtown area and along the markets and when I took out my camera to snap a photo of some teenagers hanging out on a small balcony a scraggly guy stared as though I had just pulled out a solid brick of gold bullion from my camera bag. So I put it back promptly and we walked back to the more solid center and took the metro to the cable car and then took the cable car up into the mountains. The views of the poorer areas spread along the mountains and the city below were sweeping and this really gave us some energy again as spirits were flagging a little before that. We had gone to the centre to explore the city and had failed, leaving us without a plan. After our cable car ride we returned to the hostel via metro and bus and got ready for the evening. Medellin, aside from its history as home to drug cartels, was famed for its nightlife and friendly girls, many of whom were daughters of the drug cartels and surgically enhanced for your viewing pleasure. We would see about that. As you probably didn’t note, we never actually had any lunch so we were pretty hungry and went for some Mexican food in zona rosa then found a cool little bar in the park (seats and tables were tree stumps) to have a couple beer. From there back to the hostel to hopefully meet others to hit the town with but in the end, all we got was a tip that a club called Babylon was the place to be.

Naturally, we investigated. It cost 30000 to get in ($15) which included drinks until 1:30... that is, assuming you could get the bartender’s attention. It didn’t include all drinks, but you could get mickeys of terrible Medellin Rum or Aguardiente (ouzo mixed with moonshine) as part of the package and we opted for the rum. Want mix? Well that you have to pay for. We found a seat next to a group of older people celebrating a birthday and as the night progressed found them to be among the most friendly in the room. The girls here were not all that remarkable, at least not compared to Cartagena. And then club, though filled with cartoon beings of yore, was decent but nothing incredible. They did have a big Star Wars banner however, which I took a photo of. This brought me a tap on the shoulder about twenty minutes later and a man scolding me not to take pictures of girls which I hadn’t been and as much as told him so. He then pointed to a grumpy looking trouble-maker whom nobody in their right mind would photograph in this bar full of much better looking girls and said (this was all in Spanish) that she was his girlfriend. Ah. Right under the Star Wars banner. So I took out my camera and showed him the photo and explained that I was a fan and she was hardly in the photo and he laughed, apologized, and walked off. I saw him go and explain to his girlfriend that no, there was still nobody else interested in her as she looked annoyed that there hadn’t been some altercation she could tell her friends about.

We did dance with several groups of girls throughout the night and it was fun, but I guess our expectations had become a little too high. We took a taxi detour to a grocery store on the way home and called it a night pretty early by Colombian standards. Morning came and it was time to finally get on the bus to Bogota which was easily reached by the metro. Another point for Medellin city planners. The fare was 65000 but we managed to get it down to 40000 which is something we had no success at in Cartagena and it left in just enough time for us to grab a quick snack from a nearby cafe. Then we were on our way, winding along the beautiful mountainous countryside to Bogota and our friends there, Maria and Anabella. The trip takes about 8-9 hours even though it’s only 450 km because of these winding roads and single lane highways choked with trucks, curves, and hills. I finished my book, Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, which was a very imaginative form of social commentary on pretty much everything. It is dark, disturbing, compelling, and a master work that I know you’ll love. After all, this blog shares at least those first two characteristics.

Medellin Photos

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