Saturday, 28 March 2015

Medellin

Medellin is a city whose reputation was one of violence, drugs, war and death. Only ten years ago, this area of Colombia was too dangerous for tourists and twenty years ago was still overrun with drug warfare and cartel rivalry. However today it Medellin, pronounced medegeen welcomes progress and tourism hand in hand. 

The Poblado barrio, or neighbourhood, is quickly becoming an area known for its chilled out, bohemian influences and is the area we chose to stay in. There are yoga studios and sushi bars which are a far cry from the barrios further out of the city which bear similarities with the favelas we saw in Brazil.

Day one and we caught the metro across Medellin. It is the only place in Colombia where there is a metro system and it doesnt end there. Their public transport extends to a cable car loop which hovers over most of the barrios which bank up the sides of the valley with which the city is located. There is a stark contrast between the modernity of the cable car stations and the barrios which surround them - sleek stations, railings and landscaping sit next to breezeblock buildings piled high on top of each other and litter collecting up along the pavements. The cable car takes us up to Parque Arvi, a chunk of mountain wilderness we never expected to find so close to a city so alive with paisa attitude (Paisa being the name for the people from the area of Antioquia with which Medellin sits). Even on a dull day so high up it is still balmy in an area nicknamed the 'City of Eternal Spring' because of its pleasant climate throughout the year. 

Next is a Pablo Escobar tour. Like the famous Fawlty Towers sketch of 'not mentioning the war' we were warned that there is still a passionate divide of opinion on the infamous drug baron within Medellin, where he ran his cartel during the 70's and 80's. A visit to his main house here showed us a home life that couldnt escape the violence with walls and windows riddled with gun shot holes. The positioning, high on a steep gradient from the centre, was so important for Escobar as it overlooks his airport, enabling him to monitor the plane activity exporting drugs. Our tour guide informed us whilst stood over his grave that people will come here bearing gifts of flowers and sprinkle cocaine over the headstone, or come to urinate on the plot - dependant on their experience of his hold on the city. Many poorer people still idolise his memory as he invested so much laundered money into building houses, football fields and schools - all with the intention of gaining their vote in his attempt to become the next Colombian prime minister. Following a shoot out in 1993, Escobar killed himself and stuck true to his famous motto 'better a grave in Colombia than a jail in America.'
 
Day two and with a terrible hangover we crossed town to the bus terminal and travelled two hours to Guatape where La Piedra del PeƱol can be found. 200 meters high, The Rock as it is known towers over the man made lake which dominates the area. 649 steps later and quite out of breath we made it to the top with vistas of the island archipeligo within the lake. Many of the islands have luxury hotels and rental homes lining the shore and there are even inflatable activity courses which attract many tourits. I for one am glad Medellin has come through its violent history to be able to welcome tourists in; my favourite place of Colombia.