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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Medellin - el Peñol, Guatape

An hour and a half bus ride east from Medellin is the resort town of Guatape situated on a man made lake, The Guatape Dam built in the lare 60s as a hydroelectric project.

Once off the main highway that links Bogota and Medellin and on to a smaller road the landscape was lovely, lush and green agricultural land, quite a stunningly beautiful area and Guatape itself is major tourist destination. One of the biggest draws there is La Piedra de Peñol, Peñol Rock, formed some 70 million years ago rising 200 meters high.

There's a stairway built into the rock providing access to the top.

Those 734 stairs are a killer but the view from the top is magnificent.

There were actually nine more

This was a recommendation from Sebastian and a very good one. Funny, as I was slogging my up the the stairs I had a recollection of seeing this place on the internet and making a mental note to go there. Like so many mental notes, it got lost but now, here I was.

After taking my fill of the view, I made my way down and caught the bus to Guatape despite the best efforts of a moto taxi driver to intimidate me into using his services. Man, are those guys aggressive, almost threatening: "nah, the bus won't be here for a long time, get in, get in, you'll be there much faster, c'mon, c'mon, get in!" And then the bus pulled up.

Guatape was a cutesy little tourist hole, a painted up whore sort of place, the lakeside lined with restaurants touting identical dishes, tour boats lined up blaring their attractions on loudspeakers, a very typical tourist resort scene. Glad I wasn't there on a weekend. I wandered around a bit, took a few pictures and went in search of lunch.

Church of Our Lady of Carmen

After pursuing this and that restaurant, I chose a place with a set lunch menu where there seemed to be mostly locals, usually a good sign. Not this time. I'd be challenged to find worse food anywhere. I was hungry but this was just not doable. Took a few bites of some nasty ground meat, ate the hard boiled egg (can't screw that up too badly) drank a beer and that was it. Blaghhh! And so, with a bad taste in my mouth, literally and figuratively, I caught the next bus out of there.

View from my room at Sebastian's:



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Medellin 3 - transportation

By now I'd gotten more confident with the transit system in Medellin so, with Sebastian's tutoring, I went to the bus stop nearby, took the bus to the terminal, walked a few meters to the train station, took the train to the other end of the city, got off, walked another few meters to the MetroCable station where I caught the arial tram up the mountainside to the end of the line.

A fellow passenger I chatted with

This is not a tourist tram but part of the transit system and another piece in the strategy to bring services to poor communities. There are several stops along the way and the final destination is in the heart of what was a very marginal and violent barrio. Now there is a big library complex (unfortunately under wraps for construction) where kids can use computers and study and there are playgrounds and sports facilities. It's still edgy but a far cry from what it was. From there, another tram goes way up into a big national park, the 1750 acre Parque Arvi, that was once part of the vast highland tropical forest that flanked the eastern slopes of the Aburra Valley.

Over the park

Relatively new, Parque Arvi is another piece in the revitalization of Medellin. My companions for the ride were two young folks, a guy and a gal, who worked for MetroCable who were on their way to start their work shift at the top. They spoke enthusiastically about the park and the tram and the changes in Medellin. Nice kids. As we ascended, the air became cooler and under us was dense, lush forest interspersed with agricultural land. I walked a little in the park but it was getting toward the end of the day so I didn't stay too long. I did notice a bike station there, part of the bike share program. On the way down where one has to transfer to the other MetroCable, I wandered around the crazily steep streets of this Santo Domingo neighbourhood a bit, a suicidal act not too many years ago, now a place to be aware and cautious, but not deadly.


Then all the way down, caught the train and the bus home, easy, cheap, quick and relatively comfortable.

One day Sebastian and I went to lunch by bike and I got to try out the bike share system. Right now it's still rather clumsy, using staff people that man the stations and sign the bikes out. That's changing and new self operated stations are almost ready to go.

The new docking stations awaiting bicycles

The bikes also have no lights so are only available during the day presently and I don't know if there are plans to equip the bikes with lights. (By the way, the lunch was terrific. A vegan restaurant with their version of the set menu lunch. Truly excellent!). I saw another demonstration of Medellin's bike culture one evening as Diana, Sebastian and I were walking home from a very nice Mexican dinner. Suddenly along came a huge crowd of cyclists occupying the whole street. And they kept coming and coming. Must have been hundreds of them, many costumed up, many with pro-bike banners. Sebastian explained that this event, called SiClas, happens every Wednesday evening in a different location and the intention is to heighten awareness of bicycling and rights of cyclists. The group wheels through the streets of Medellin blowing whistles, ringing bells, and chanting cheers like "Mas amor! Menos motor! Por la carreterra!" (More love! Less cars! Take to the streets!) A sort of more benign Critical Mass type of thing. And me without my camera. You'll have to use your imagination.



Friday, January 23, 2015

Medellin 2 - Botero

Most prominently featured are works by Fernando Botero whose home was Medellin. Outside are his sculptures and inside, many of his paintings as well as works by other artists and some historical stuff.

Pablo Escobar gets his comeuppance