In Cali right now, but going to be catching up fast next few days on the report. Enjoy Medellin, I sure did!
For those of you who have not taveled to Medellin, you absolutely should. Getting into Medellin gives you some spectacular views. The geography is fantastically broken with deep ravines, cliffs that drop off three thousands feet at nearly 90 degrees, and water falls that gush out of the mountain and disappear into the mist below. The land is incredibly fertile and farmers with the most ingenious techniques plow the land at a gradient in small plots or using step farming. This patchwork of plots with all sorts of crops makes up an amazing quilt of colors and textures as you twist back and forth up and down the steep edges of the mountains. For a motorcycle rider, this has been hands down the most spectacular rides I've taken thus far.
Medellin is a city that sits snuggled between two high peaks. As the city has grown, construction and housing has started to inch up from the base of the valley towards the cliffs that surround it. The people, known as "Paisas", are incredibly warm, inviting, charming, and known for being industrious and phenomenal talkers and sellers.
One of the first things that struck me is how much they go out of their way to help tourists. I stopped at a light to ask a pedestrian for directions, and as the person was starting to point and explain the route, a person in a car pulled over next to me, stopping traffic, rolled down their window, and had me follow them to where I needed to go. That I have simply not seen anywhere else - a busy person taking the time to go out of their way to help a traveler.
I've been to Medellin before, but only for short day or two business trips, usually with a very full agenda. I hadn't had the chance to play tourist and see much of the city. As I got into Medellin that afternoon, I headed towards Casa Kiwi, one of the hostels that was listed back in Cartagena on a poster. Several other travelers had made mention of it and it sounded quite nice. It is also near one of the main hot spots of the city called Parque Lleras (pronounced Yeras). I parked, walked up to the front desk only to find out that there was no room at the inn. Like many hostels, they don't take reservations because often times the people don't actually show up and they only take payment with cash, so there is no way to make a reservation off of a credit card. Fortunately, there was another hostel a few doors down called Tamarindo - this would be my home for the next few days.
The next morning I got a hold of Mauricio, a friend who is the commercial director at one of the largest garment factories in Medellin. We met up for lunch at my absolute favorite hamburger restaurant ANYWHERE. I don't have any particular preference for hamburgers in general, though from time to time I do get a craving. However, the Todoterreno from EL CORRAL is hands down the absolute best burger I have ever had. Anytime I'm in Colombia, I never miss a chance to have one. A traveled to Colombia last year for business with a friend and colleague who was doing some market research to introduce a makeup and hair treatment line of products and took him to El Corral. *He immediately became a bigger fan than I am. In the span of five days we were in Bogota, he devised three trips to the place to devour this amazing burger. Here is a picture of the culprit.
That afternoon I needed to get some work done. Yes, I am actually needing to work as I travel, and for this stint in Medellin it was going to require a couple intense days. Notwithstanding, I did have plans to do some touristy things.
As luck would have it, Medellin was hosting one of the largest motorcycle fairs in South America that week and there was no way I was going to miss it. They had more than 600 exhibitors on all kinds of accessories, bikes, equipment, and gear - wall to wall motorcycle-related stuff. Feria de las 2 Ruedas - as in 2 Wheel... well, I couldn't very well miss that, could I?
My friend Mauricio dropped me off at the conference center entrance as he had other family obligations for that day. The fair takes up the entire space of the convention center with all sorts and sizes of displays. Here is a small showing of what was exhibited.
I of course had to take at least one picture with a couple of the models as otherwise people would say that I wasn't really there and that I got the pictures from the Internet. Fortunately a kind passerby was kind enough to snap this picture.
The next day, Sunday, I decided to go for a walk and see the town. As I was walking out of the hostel, I met Gabriel and his girlfriend Diana who were traveling for the weekend from Quito. They came to do some shopping. Apparently, it is markedly less expensive to do shopping in Medellin, even with the whopping 16% VAT, than it is in Ecuador. The were headed out for a walk and to have some breakfast.
On this Sunday, as they do in other main cities in Colombia, they close down one of the main roads and set it up as a road for riding bikes, walking and running. The idea being that people have an open space to do exercise and get out a bit.
We went for a bite to eat at the Oviedo shopping center and then walked up to Santa Fe to check things out. As we went on to the second story in this very large mall, I kept hearing the familiar sounds of church music, which I found odd at a shopping center.
As we swung the next corner the sound became louder and as I looked down I notice a priest standing at the front of the long*corridor*at an alter holding mass. Wow! This was something I had not seen before - mass in a mall. If Mohamed won't go to the mountain... well, you know the rest. All said, I think it is a very progressive and innovative idea and something that at least in Colombia is bring the church closer to the people. Might be an interesting practice to replicate elsewhere.
The following day I had booked a spot on the Pablo Escobar tour. I had read a number of *books and TV shows about the drug trafficking trade as well as viewed some documentaries. Now I had a chance to view a little piece of history myself. What I didn't know until they picked me up is that this particular tour, there are several in Medellin, is managed and sponsored by Roberto Escobar, Pablo's brother. It was not until recently, 2008, that he completed his jail sentence and after his release he setup this tour to fund an NGO he now runs that does medical research.
The tour first takes you to the building where Pablo lived with is family. This building was bombed by the Cali Cartel in an assassination attempt on Pablo's life. For those who don't know much about Pablo Escobar, it is a subject you ought to learn a little something about, not just for general knowledge, but also because it relates to one of the more challenging periods in Colombia's recent history. Drug*traffickers*were integrated into society's every fabric - business, charity, sports, and politics.
The drug trade was so profitable that at one point, in order to negotiate that all charges against him be dropped, Pablo Escobar offered to pay Colombia's foreign debt. It takes some serious wealth for an individual to have the capacity to pay a country's entire foreign debt. Prior to this Pablo also held public office, being a congressman for the Department of Antioquia, where Medellin is.
Drug traffickers, and specifically Pablo, came from relatively poor families and always remembered their roots. He provided food, housing, and low cost medication for some of the more marginalized communities in Medellin. In contrast. he's also responsible for tens of thousands of deaths, bombing, and for creating a general culture of violence. At least in Medellin there are those who love him and those who hate him. Regardless what side you come down on, there is no running away from the damage he did to the country, a price that is still being paid out in spades today.
The end of the tour takes you to Roberto's house, one of the few properties that was not seized by the government as it was in Pablo's mother's name.
Here is the car that was used in the early days to transport processed cocaine from Ecuador to Colombia for re-export, before Pablo had the money to build his own labs.
This is a religious image important to Pablo's mother and to him - said to have protected him throughout his life.
Some of the hiding places within the house... furniture walls, and maybe there are some undiscovered.
The dinning room where Pablo celebrated his last birthday with his family.
Getting to meet and ask questions of Roberto along with get your picture with him.
Unfortunately, he can hardly see ever since he opened a letter bomb he received six weeks after Pablo died.