South America, Colombia, Medellín
The second stop in Colombia led us to Medellín, known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world during the reigning period of famous drug lord Pablo Escobar. I was really keen on visiting the city after watching the TV Show Entourage, and it turned out to become one of my favorite places during the two months in South America.
Getting to Medellin could have been a little bit less stressful, the language barrier caused some delay at the small airport while we had to get a stamp from another counter before we could proceed with the Check-In. Determined not to miss our flight, we started running towards the gate and eventually made it just in time for the last boarding call.
We stopped a taxi to take us into the center and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Just half an hour later, I was speechless as soon as we reached the top of the hill that surrounds the city and the full beauty of the area came into sight. Everything was full of green plants and the sun kept shining for most of the year according to our driver. It just seemed like an awesome place to be! Only a beach was missing to make it perfect.
Descending down to the city, we passed the slums and they did not strike me as a dangerous place at all – I would have had no problem stopping right here and start exploring the city. But we were in a rush and had to meet up with our couchsurfing Host Camilla at the Sandiego Shopping Centre. She picked us up and drove us to her house and for the second time, the vegetation of the city took my breath away while I was looking down to her garden.
Camilla was a great person and had a lovely cat called Darwin – that was actually funny because we would head to the Galapagos Islands soon after. She was very passionate when she told us about her city and especially when we talked about her passion – dancing Salsa. We even ended up dancing it in the night when she joined us again with some of her friends and I was able to add one more move to my Salsa repertoire of now three moves overall 😉
During the day, we explored Medellin on our own and the three of us were just totally astonished by the chilled out atmosphere. Downtown is pretty much separated from the slums; people are juggling swords in front of waiting cars at a traffic light and a lot of cool bars are lined up in the streets. A place called “Get Drunk or Tipsy trying” would certainly win a best-bar-name-in-town contest.
Guatapé was our destination for the following day and it took us about two hours to get there, using the metro from Poblado to Caribe and then boarding a bus. However, finding the right bus was a real problem as no one could really talk English and it was hard for us to even find the correct booth. Eventually we made it and had just five minutes until the bus would leave. We got the tickets and wanted to rush to the bus, just to be stopped by someone letting us know that we need yet another ticket from somewhere else! We were also out of cash and could not even buy it, but luckily another traveler helped us out and exchanged some of our dollars.
Finally on the bus, it was time to relax a bit and enjoy the two hour drive. Everyone there had the same destination: El Peñón de Guatapé – a giant rock that requires 740 steps to reach the top at 220m height. We left the bus at a small gas station and had to walk up the rest, passing cars, horses and little scooters that were stuck in the traffic. The rock, also known as just Piedra del Peñol, was always in sight and looked very interesting with all the stairs carved into it.
Once we got to the entrance, Moritz and I realized that our plan to run up the rock would not work out because all of the people blocking the way. We eventually lost each other somewhere half way up and I was suddenly on my own. Reaching the top first, I enjoyed the truly amazing panoramic view in all directions on a perfect sunny day.
There was no phone connection and I had to look for the other two guys, so I started to walk around in the tower and the rest of the area. Not being able to find them after searching every part of the area for half an hour, I decided to head back down again and see if they would wait for me. But just as I was about to walk down the stairs, I decided to turn back again to have one more look as walking the 740 steps down and up again would have been a big effort.
It turned out to be a good decision as they were still up at the tower, looking for souvenirs. We went to the top once more and then decided to get some local food. Camille told us about Bandeja paisa and it did not disappoint – the portion was actually so big I was the only one able to finish it while the other two guys just got half way through. People who know me should be surprised about that though 😉 Our restaurant had some pretty amazing views as well so it was a real treat to have lunch there.
Stuck in traffic on the way home, it was already dark and took us four instead of two hours to finally get back to Medellin. Camille was about to call the police to look out for us when we finally showed up since we could not reach her via phone to let her know that we would be late. We quickly dropped our bags and went our for drinks with her friends again.
On our last day in Medellin we were lucky to have Camille around as a local tour guide. She showed us various parts of the city driving around in her car, stopping at Parque Explora where we observed some locals playing traditional games on the street. Our main destination were the slums up in the hills though. We reached them using the Metrocable and Camille described how dangerous this place used to be in the past. Bombs were detonated within the crowds and the general crime activity was very high. Most of Medellin is a safe place now since Pablo Escobar was shot by the police in 1993 and the cartel that ruled the city was disbanded.
We enjoyed a final great local dish called Flauta before heading off to the airport and saying good bye to Camilla, who was an fantastic couchsurfing host! As usual, getting to the airport was a hassle and we had a lot of trouble getting money for the cab from the ATMs, ending up paying the driver in both colombian peso and euro.
Arriving at the airport, we purchased six bottles of rum for our next couchsurfing host in Quito, Ecuador. Nobody really cared about the alcohol we carried and it was very easy to get it over the border. The actual flight to Quito was something I was looking forward to, even though the new airport seemed to be less exciting than the old airport. However, I was still pretty excited about the fact that I got a window seat on this flight and not shy on expressing my happiness about this until the moment when I reached my row in the back of the plan and found out that my beloved seat in the window row actually had no window at all… damn! 🙂
We arrived in Quito and made our way to the local bus stop of our next host, Christian – a German guy who decided to live in this city after spending a lot of time in different places in South America. He actually built his house himself with his dad, a pretty amazing place which served us as our base for the next days. Christian had two dogs and also three other couchsurfers staying at the same time and we spent the first evening drinking 23 year old rum – a great way to kick off Ecuador!
[to be continued…]
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