Colombia 2014 Post 2 – Feb 2 – 7 , 2014
Monday, Feb 2
The bus trip from Barichara to Medellin was uneventful but long. We left Barichara on the 5 a.m. bus. After two transfers and a taxi ride, we arrived at the hotel in Medellin at 7 in time for dinner. Again, the transport system works very well. Here in Medellin thay have four elevated rail lines that serve most of the city. And of course there are buses whizzing everywhere with taxis swooping in among them.
Medellin is situated in a narrow valley surrounded by fairly tall mountains. So the city is more compact than Bogota. We’re in the central area of the city. On our foray today we experienced streets full of vehicles and sidewalks jammed with pedestrians. The plazas are full of people. As in Bogota, there is a walking street that fans out from the central plaza and main museum. The plaza is full of Fernando Botero sculptures. And the top floor of the museum is dedicated to the works of Botero that he donated to the museum.
There are some amazingly decorated cathedrals here in town. We’ve included pictures of a couple of them. There’s clearly a lot of art in this city, which is known for its European influence. In the plaza next to one of the downtown metro stations, there was a crowd gathered to listen to a four-person band playing ranchera music. It could have been a plaza in Mexico. I’ve also picked up a few CDs of vallenato music, which is accordion based and quite popular here. After one fo the group’s songs, I handed in my tip and made a comment that I also play accordion. Afterwards a couple of people nearby welcomed me to Colombia and hoped I’d have a good visit. We’ll keep saying it – people here are very friendly, more so than in any other South or Central American country in which we’ve traveled.
We’ve got to make a comment on dress here. First, this ain’t Bangladesh. Here in the big city, there are a lot of people that are well fed. We just have to shake our heads or catch the other’s eye when variously dressed people pass us buy. There are way too many men who are not looking at their big bellies before they put on their tight tee shirts in the morning. And there are a lot of women with muffin tops spilling over their pants, big butts sticking out, and their augmented breasts spilling out of their tops. We have to wonder what the thoughts are of some of the nuns we’ve seen in full habit as they pass by.
In the afternoon we went to the botanical garden. We always like displays of indigenous plants and a patch of green in the city. The garden itself was fairly basic. But the butterfly house was great. The had only a few species, but they are all ones we haven’t yet seen. It’s amazing they can keep a butterly house stocked with different species year around. That’s certainly something we’re not used to at home.
Tuesday, Feb 4
(Deni) What an incredible day. One of the folks in our hostel strongly recommended the Real City Tour of the major sites in central Medellin. The tour guide, Hernan, is a former college professor of bio-statistics who decided he had too many numbers in his life. He quit his job and went to New York to study screen writing!!! He’s back home now and is writing, but also guiding tours. The company was formed in March and makes an effort to really tell it like it is. His passion for his home is palpable. He had me almost in tears several times. We saw interesting things, but the most important part of the tour was the history lesson he gave us about this beautiful but tragic country. Things were going along here pretty much as in most South American countires, and, in fact, as in the rest of Colombia until the 1850s when coffee became popular throughout the the world. Medellin built a railroad to get the coffee to market. Suddenly, it was a major center of manufacturing anf commerce. All was going along fairly well until 1948 when a very popular national politician who was expected to become the country’s next president was assinated. The country aligned itself into two camps, the left and the right, and they proceded to spend decades trying to kill each other. Then the drug cartels moved in and co-opted both the left and right – so now they had the FARC and others in cahoots with the cartels killing everone who got in their way. What a terrible thing. Escobar, the major drug lord in Medellin was killed in the 90s and the governments of Colombia and the US have been trying to stamp out the drug trade without a lot of success. The growing operations have moved to Peru, but the processing and distribution remains in Colombia. Medallin has been the center of that industry for some time. Our guide said something very revealing: The Colombian people are very happy because they try to only remember the good things. They try to bury the bad. And, when things are OK, they live in the moment. He said, “If a man is in water and it keeps getting higher and higher until it is almost over his nose, and he grabs a branch and pulls his nose and mouth above the water so he can breath, then he says, “It’s so good to be alive. I am so happy. Life is good.” He said that is the way Colombians look at the world. That really made an impression on both of us.
(Bob) We won’t bore you with details of the tour. We’ll show some of it in the pictures.
Oh, I forgot yesterday to mention the country we passed through on our bus trip to Medellin. After crossing a mountain range we came out into the Magdalena River valley. This is the main river that drains central Colombia, emptying out in the Caribbean. The valley is mostly flat. We saw almost no cultivated crops. It’s all pasture land and a major beef industry. We passed many livestock trucks packed with cattle going to slaughter in Medellin. At one point we saw cowboys on horses herding cattle. The animals are mainly a brahma type with the hump above their forelegs. We think of Argentina as being a big cattle producer. But there’s certainly a lot coming out of Colombia as well.
Deni again. Two words – boobs and butts. Medellin is the place to go for plastic surgery in Columbia. All the young women want to have big boobs and ginormous butts. It’s fun to sit and watch people and mutter – “real, fake, fake, fake, real.” Even the mannequins in the stores reflect this preoccupation. Hernan told us that girls ask for boob and butt sugeries for their 15th birthdays – and they get them!
Wednesday, Feb 5
(Deni) The Metro here is a wonder. You can go as far as the system goes in one direction for about $1.00. Today we went north to a station where you climb on a cable car that takes you up, up, up to another station. There you can pay a little more and go on further to Parque Arvi, a mountain reserve with trails, zip lines, and lakes. It’s not the Pacific Northwest, but it’s impressive nevertheless. In the afternoon we took the Metro south and explored the expensive part of town – El Poblado. There are lots of good restaurants there – we had a great paella – and many hostels and expensive hotels.
Thursday, Feb 6
(Still Deni) A travel day. We went to the south bus station – another wonderfully organized station – and got the 8:30 a.m bus to Pereira. Although the distance was not far, it took until 2:45 to get there, not becasue the roads are bad like in Africa. In fact, the issue is the opposite. the roads are good and they are working to keep them that way. So there are long waits for construction. Fortunatley, we were in a beautiful, modern bus, so we were very comfortable. After a wait until 4:30 in the station in Pereira, we took the short bus ride to Salento, a town of 4,000 (not including tourists) at about 6,000 feet that relies on coffee production, trout farming, and tourism. The ride from Medellin to Salento took us through pretty spectacular mountainous areas and coffee growing country. They’re planting coffee bushes all over the hillsides where they have sufficient rainfall.
(Bob) More later after we explore the Salento area. Regrettably I left the camera battery charger plugged into the wall at the guest house in Medellin. I’m working with our host here in Salento to find a way to get that to us. So the pictures for the next couple of days may not be quite the quality we’re used to. Oh, well. This keeping track of stuff while travelling is difficult.
Bob and Deni