Ask something original!
The two main questions always asked before a trip to Colombia are…. Is it safe? are you going to take drugs? Before even entering Colombia these stereotypical questions drove me nuts. Now on my return I can confirm Colombiano’s and this wonderful Country are worth SO much more.
From murder Capital of the world less than 20 years ago, to most innovative City (voted in 2013), Medellin is the true example of every Colombian I met. Don’t look to the past, look to create a positive future.
Through the 1980’s and early 1990’s Medellin was ruled by the worlds most infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. With a net worth of US$3 Billon this vile man paid young poor children a million Pesos to kill police. Comunas were torn apart.
Pain and suffering of innocent people should have ended with his death in 1994, instead Guerrilla groups such as the F.A.R.C (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), started a war with Paramilitary groups (I won’t claim to understand about the workings of either side). This is where I wish I understood more before I stepped into the Casa De La Memoria museum . Having read about it in the Lonely Planet we headed over. I would highly recommend visiting, however bring headphones (I had none) so that you can download their app and understand the testimonials of people who even in recent years lost their family members to these groups. Never to find the body!
Speaking no Spanish and only having a limited knowledge of the F.A.R.C walking around this museum I felt lost and wanted to understand what this City has been through. The way it is laid out is incredible and even with out translating what was written on the walls, You realise that Pablo was just a pyscho drop in the ocean of Colombia’s problems!
Comuna 13 walking tour
We booked online with Freetour.com meeting at San Javier station at 10am. Our guide was the beautiful Laura.
Guided from the station, we sat at our first point and she explained that Comuna 13 was once the most dangerous. Having grown up there, she would never reveal this to people, as she was ashamed.
Laura learn’t English 3 years ago and its perfect. Her new found proudness in her home was also obvious and I can see why.
At the start of this tour me and my friend felt weird ( not scared)! I felt like a white middle class come to stare at people less fortunate! but the more you walk around and Laura explains the amazing art everywhere you fall in love with this Comuna and find it hard to leave. I also came away feeling they were far more fortunate. The sense of community and courage puts Westerners to shame.
The meaning behind the art..
Orange bricks - The houses of the Comuna.
Grey face - Womans struggle
Dove - Peace
Light bulb - Produce
Shoe - Make your way
Chess piece - Innocent people through war and violence.
Bird - Flora & Fauna
Yellow, Blue & Red - The Colombian flag
Open your mind - Everybody is equal
Laura talked us through the meaning of every piece of Graffiti. It was so moving and powerful
Woman - inspiration
Most important - sexy lips
The tour takes approximately 3 hours, with the last part spent looking out at the view from Laura’s home where her equally beautiful sisters make drinks. I would highly recommend the Avocado michelada. I’ve been craving it ever since. You are also given some Empanadas. This was the moment Laura explained how many friends she has lost in the guerilla warfare.
Living in London you spend your days travelling up and down escalators without giving them a second thought. For Medellin these, along with the cable cars bought peace. Neighbourhoods such as Comuna 13 had limited access to the City below. The walk to and from work was the equivalent of walking up a 28 story building. That can now be done in 6 minutes. Also riding the cable car united people from different zones.
At the end of the tour If your lucky, you will see the incredible Black & White dance group, perform amazing break dancing. I could have watched them all day. Another example of art bringing peace.
Pulling ourselves reluctantly away from Comuna 13 we boarded the cable car at San Javier station. We went to the end of the line giving you a birds eye view of the city below, and there are some great food stalls just outside the station.
El Pablado vs San Antonio
If you’ve read any travel books, then you will have heard that El Pablado is the place to stay. Personally we opted for San Antonio, which at night does look extremely rough, but by day its alive with locals living their daily lives. We headed to El Pablado for nights out and its fun, its also a glossy bubble that is full of gringo’s. If you want to feel what Medellin is then stay outside of the bubble.
Weather you want to dance or not, no trip to Colombia should be taken without at least one salsa lesson. My friend was very nervous and did not want to take part, but after a few tequila’s we headed to DanceFree in El Pablado.
The two girls that walked out over an hour later were hyped and beaming. It’s just so much fun, neither one of us could stop smiling, even when we got back to our hotel we tried to recreate those steps. On Thursday nights it’s free but so packed that you can’t really see anything. A normal night is 15,000 COP and you will meet lots of fun people as you swap partners. Don’t be shy…Give it a try!
Pueblito Paisa (Little Town)
Located at the top of Nutibarro Hill. A pleasant but steep walk will bring you this quaint replica of a turn of the century Antioquia Town. You will find a church, one room school along with souvenir shops and restaurants. There’s also a museum that explains how this replica town was created in 1976 from salvaged homes that were knocked down in El Penol. Its a lovely afternoon
Like many others I have watched and loved Narcos on Netflix. This was not my reason for visiting Colombia. I had wanted to visit way before I even knew of the show. Having been to Medellin and meeting the people who have been through so much, it angers me how these series have glamourised the drug trade. This is real peoples lives that have been turned into fiction! Yes, parts of it are based on facts, but many others are not.
As you walk around you can feel the past and the effects it has had, but thats what makes this City all the more amazing. They are always looking forward.
Don’t do a Narcos tour! support the people who live here and survived. Don’t throw more money at those still living off Escobar.
Grey face is the past. The escalator is the future.