So, all good things come to an end, and tomorrow I leave Medellín and finally set off on the bike. I’m healthily apprehensive of the challenges ahead, and more than a little nervous about those hills. The bike has been prepared; luggage reduced; everything squashed into the four panniers I’ll be carrying; and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be….
Medellín has been awesome, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better place to begin my South America travels. The Spanish that is spoken here is a ‘clean’ Spanish and the people are incredibly friendly, and patient. Whilst the climate here is perfect, it’s the people of Medellín that will stick in my mind as having made my time here so enjoyable.
Of the things that I’ve seen, the art in the city stands out. Whether it’s made out of waste, street art, or Fernando Botero’s amazing sculptures, the city is full of art. Botero was born in Medellín and is famous for his plump sculptures of people and animals.
There is a poignant reminder of the city’s past in one of the squares. It contains one of Botero’s sculptures which was blown apart in a bomb attack in 1995, towards the end of the dark days here. A bomb was placed at the base of the statue, exploding during an outdoor concert, killing 30 and injuring more than 200. Botero insisted the statue remain, but that a new one (his gift to the city) be placed alongside it as a symbol of peace. It’s a powerful sight.
Walking around the city is fascinating, and it is great to be able to have simple interactions with people in Spanish.
I came upon this band in the centre of town, blasting out tunes to the enjoyment of the those listening or dancing.
The city is also easy to navigate. It has a modern metro, which is civilized even in the rush hour. It’s also well equipped for wheelchair users.
Many of you will have read about the problems in neighbouring Venezuela, where inflation has reached epidemic proportions and hardship is affecting millions. This is spilling into Colombia, with over a million economic refugees having crossed the border. Having spoken with a number of Colombians about it, their attitude is one of sympathy and tolerance. Venezuela hosted many Colombians who fled during the difficult times here, and most people I’ve spoken to seem to think it’s only fair that they reciprocate now the tables are turned. The government also seem to be adopting that approach, as described in this article
It is a common site to see people begging, or selling little sweets and other things, and most (but not all) of the time, they’ll be Venezuelan.
There are other issues here, with a lot of concern about the direction the country’s taking following the presidential election. As with so many places at the moment, the campaign between left and right knocked out the moderates, leaving the electorate polarised. Since the election, there are reports that journalists and human rights activists are being threatened or even killed by the paramilitaries that flourished in the past. Some are linking this to the right wing, and the previous government of Ulribe, who has recently stepped down from the senate due to an investigation into his alleged links to paramilitaries. I went to a candlelit demonstration, where I learnt a whole new load of vocabulary including how to call someone a fascist or terrorist. Let’s hope I don’t need that on my travels. An article about the demonstrations and the reasons for them is here.
Religion here is very strong, with the (Catholic) churches plentiful and doing good business. There is, however, clearly a tolerance for many things which wouldn’t necessarily meet with the Pope’s approval, as well as shop displays for items that might make the odd priest blush.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in my time here in Medellín was the size of the annual ‘Pride’ march. I knew that Medellín celebrated its gay population, I just didn’t expect it to be such a big celebration. I had a great day taking pictures in the terrific atmosphere amongst the crowd of tens of thousands.
I was also lucky enough to experience an absolutely incredible fine dining restaurant here. The restaurant is ‘El Cielo’ (Heaven), by the chef Juan Manuel Barrientos. Easily comparable with the (very few) two Michelin star restaurants I’ve been to, it was indeed a foodie’s heaven. Thankfully, the price wasn’t anywhere near what it would have been in Europe though!
But it’s also possible to get a fabulous meal here for a great price. For 10 to 12,000 pesos (around €3.50) most little restaurants serve a ‘menu of the day’, which includes a soup and a juice as well as a generous portion of good simple food.
Yep, Medellín, you’ve been a blast. Perhaps the most fun in a short space of time was visiting a funfair with Omar, my friend who’s kindly put me up for the last month. He wasn’t particularly enamoured at the thought of going on the ride, but as you can see in the pic, we both had a blast!
Big hugs to everyone. The next posts should be sent from somewhere in the Colombian countryside 😉