02.07.2016 - 12.07.2016 28 °C
After Minca, Chesca was headed to Medellin (Colombians pronounce it 'Medejin') so I decided to follow her. She had been there before so I set off to explore the city on my own. Medellin is called the city of eternal spring, which felt quite true as I walked around in a nice and pleasant temperature. I had to book the famous Medellin free walking tour a couple of days in advance so I started by exploring the Botanical Garden, a beautiful relaxing place which sounded like a great way for family and friends to spend an afternoon. I then went to Nutibara Hill where I got a nice view of the whole city while enjoying an ice cream. There was also a replica of a traditional colombian village called Pueblito Paisa, with white-washed walls and colourful details.
We stayed in the very cute (yet expensive) neighbourhood of El Poblado, which looks a bit like Brooklyn with its hipster cafés and bars with brick walls and an industrial chic vibe. But to get a sense of the real Medellin, I had to head into the historic centre. We saw a few pretty churches, like the Veracruz and Candelaria churches, infamous for the "sinners" who inhabit the immediate area of the churches, the prostitutes' neighbourhood... We also enjoyed the beautiful voluptuous sculptures of Botero on the Plaza de las Esculturas. Nearby you could find the amazing Rafael Uribe Uribe Palacio de la Cultura, yet another funny story: originally designed by a Belgian architect, it was criticised for its complicated structure and design and ended up being finalised 12 years later in a completely different way haha!
It was great to get some historical background to understand what made Colombia what it is today. The history of the country has been shaken by political instability and military violence, and is still perceived today as weakened by corruption and drug trafficking. Medellin was a dangerous city, especially in the 80s but since Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993, it has been completely rehabilitated. One of the harshest reminders of what life in Medellin might have been like those few years ago was the Botero bird statue in Park Antonio. In 1995 a bomb had been planted under this bronze statue and it was detonated during a concert where families were present. Parents and children were killed and injured. When the carnage was being cleaned-up, the mayor wanted to remove the damaged statue but the artist wanted it left as a memorial to those who died. Botero donated a second, duplicate statue, to be added to the park and it now stands proudly next to the original statue. Yet contrary to others countries where you don't always feel welcome, you can see Colombians are so happy and proud to see tourists coming to visit their country, they have forgotten their dark past and want to move on and enjoy life. We met the friendliest local shoe shine man who was so happy to see us he asked for a group picture!
I also decided to go on a day trip to Guatapé, organising it on my own instead of doing an (expensive) tour, and was joined by Mike, an American guy staying at my hostel. We left early to catch a 2h bus where we had a nap before jumping off to start our ascent of the 740 steps of the famous Piedra del Peñon, a 2,135m high rock with breathtaking views over the flooded valley of the Guatapé region. It was a bank holiday so the place was crowded with Colombians but we still enjoyed the view and I tried a Cerveza Michelada, a beer with salt, lime and some mango slices - it tasted a bit like tequila haha... We climbed back down and took a tuk tuk to the little town of Guatapé where we sat down for a traditional bandeja paisa for lunch: an artery-bursting dish of chicharron, sausage, mince meat, egg, avocado, rice, beans, salad and arepa, it was delicious! We then went to buy our return bus ticket as I was told they got booked up quickly, and indeed, the earliest available bus back was at 7.45pm... So we spent our afternoon lazily exploring the pretty colourful streets with their traditional wooden bas-relief carvings, reading in the grass and walking around the lake, trying to avoid the intermittent rain. It was a great day!
I then decided to head straight to Cali with a night bus to finally get my salsa fix! I stayed in what Is probably the best hostel I've ever stayed at during my trip, which I highly recommend: El Viajero Hostel & Salsa School. With its pool, pleasant common areas, free breakfast, free salsa & yoga classes and daily (& night) activities, I met so many cool people and ended up staying there for 1 whole week! On the morning I got there I joined Jess and Hannah, 2 English girls, to a Colombian street food tour which was really nice: it was a great way to try lots of different things, from chicharron de coco (caramelized coconut), salpicon (fruit punch) and guarapo (sugar cane juice), to Colombian ceviche (with shrimps and ketchup!) and weird local dishes or fruits like mamoncillo, piñuela, turumba, lulo or pepe de pan (bread fruit).
After Jess and Hannah had left for Salento, I met some other super cool people: Zoya, from Australia, David from England, Phil, Canadian, and Garrett, American. We visited the centre of Cali where we saw a few historic buildings and cool graffitis and I also tried lulada, a delicious local drink made with lulo, lime, water and sugar. And of course I had to try bandeja paisa again... Our main concern of the day was to decide to go into town or lay by the pool and what to have for lunch haha!
We also went to try the traditional game of tejo on a Sunday afternoon, where we found older men drinking beer and playing the game very seriously haha... You have to throw a metal puck from a distance into a clay-filled box with a circular target surrounded by paper triangles filled with gunpowder. You're supposed to aim for the central target (which I did reach by some sort of miracle on my first try) but it's way more fun to try to get the little triangles to explode! We had a nice chat with the owner who seemed surprised yet happy to have some gringos in his place.
One day Zoya, David and I decided to go on a day trip to San Cipriano, with 2 other girls, Megan and Lou. We had to take a collectivo for about 2.5h to reach Buenaventura from where we walked a little, guided by some cute local kids, to get through the Brujitas... How to explain what this is? There was a railway that connected Buenaventura to San Cipriano, but trains stopped running, so instead of abandoning it locals decided to recycle it: they created the brujitas, which are wooden platforms on wheels which are powered by a motorcycle on the rail! You have to see it to believe it haha... It was so much fun! We drove quite fast along some beautiful lush green scenery to our destination. From there we walked through the little village to get to a big natural park where we decided to do some tubing down the river! Another hilarious and really fun adventure as the water flow was sometimes quite fast and we kept loosing people along the way haha... We missed the exit so we did it once again and got lost in the jungle which was super muddy. But we got there in the end and had a nice late lunch. We wanted to go for a walk to a waterfall but the overcast weather was getting worse so we decided to go back, which was a wise decision as it started pouring down soon after... By the time we were on the brujitas we were all soaked haha! Then we almost froze to death in the 2.5h collectivo journey back as the aircon was blasting in full force. That night was a quiet one and we went to bed early after an awesome day!
I was really excited about practising my salsa moves but I realised from day 1 that the salsa I knew was very different from the salsa caleña... So I spent a lot of my time in Cali doing group salsa classes in the evening, and private classes during the day with my teacher Luis who was very patient with me.
Did you know there are 4 main styles of salsa?
- Los Angeles (LA style) also called on1 = the one I've always known and danced, it's the most popular internationally
- New York also called on2 or mambo = another style of lineal salsa
- Cuban = danced in a more circular manner contrary to LA or NY style
- Caleña (Cali style) = non-lineal, it's very technical and involves a lot of footwork, it's the most famous salsa style in Colombia and in South America
We then went out almost every night to practice in the best salsa clubs: La Topa, Tin Tin Deo, Café Mi Tierra... We even did a salsa tour one evening where we had a class with some super talented teachers before going to 3 different salsa places! And we had our biggest night out on a Monday, it was so much fun...
So this is the story of all the fun adventures I had in Medellin and Cali!
Next post will be the last part of my entire South American trip through the Zona Cafetera and Bogota before flying back home to France...