Week three: aptly split between three cities

Other than wandering around Medellin, between churches and their adjacent prostitutes (pragmatic for confessing sins I suppose), I started the week with a couple of day trips out of the hustle bustle of the city.

First stop: Guatapé and Piedra del Peñol. Guatapé itself is an idyllically colourful, lakeside town. Vibrant murals transform each street into a storyboard of the area’s history. Spectacularly fresh fish, tuktuks and boats pretty much sum up what we gleaned from wandering around. The big draw however is the inexplicably enormous, imposing rock at the top of the hill. Perhaps a meteorite (I’m suspicious) or maybe just a happy coincidence, of course the challenge is to climb the damn thing. 659 steps to the top to be exact. But of course the view gets better with every pit stop; there’s even a shrine halfway up, presumably to beg Mother Mary for the strength to get there! From the top, despite the spectacular view of the sprawling lake punctuated with verdant islands, of course myself and my tall, exotically Arian Dutch friend, Delia, were the main photo opportunity! I personally thought the view bore an uncanny resemblance to a Sim village, all a little too perfect; and upon arriving back down, I discovered it was in fact a man-made vista, thus my cynicism was verified!

Our perfectly healthy, active day out declined somewhat when we were spontaneously drawn into a brewery tour. Well, less of a tour, more just a well organised piss up in a brewery! (Turns out, it is possible!) This of course escalated into a full blown night out, Medellin style. Unfortunately, whilst my bravery with learning and speaking Spanish escalates with each drink, perhaps the heavy bass, techno surroundings of the party district isn’t the place to practice! Lots of mindless nodding ensued.

Of course, the perfect cure for a vivid hangover the following day: paragliding! At first somewhat concerned about my ability to run full pelt off the edge of the hill, my fears were allayed when my feet left the ground after two steps (well, it was more of a waddle; paragliding gear isn’t particularly fetching!) Of course my camera died the moment we took off, and after all the idle conversation I could face with my ‘pilot’, I relaxed into the peacefulness of the sprawling valley view and total weightlessness. Foolishly, my penchant for adrenaline led me to agree to gaining height and speed and tackling some horizontal, high-speed spinning; severely ill advised on a hangover, I warn you.

My next adrenaline sport was a trip on the Medellin metro, at rush hour, with my rucksack! No matter what I do, my bag seems to grow every time I pack up to move on; I’m severely starting to resent it, rather than feeling that ‘backpacker kinship’ I was hoping for. But needs must, as I was off to Bogota!

Staying in La Candelaria, i.e. the old town, Bogota felt much more like Cartagena, or any other small town, where the most exciting and enriching activity can be going for a wander. The main square, edged by some supremely grand buildings, is also home to more pigeons than Trafalgar Square, following a breadcrumb hurricane! Not the place for a quite sit with some lunch after all.

On a Sunday, the streets become a bustling hub of activity; a real family fun day! Piles and piles of crap for sale (if you’re in the market for some old clothes, creepy dolls or possibly functioning remote controls and other such dismantled electronics), a plethora of street food delights (I felt somewhat safer in knowing I wasn’t just eating ‘mystery meat’ when I saw it carved from an entire pig- we requested ‘no face meat’ though!) and some unrivalled people watching. As with cosmopolitan centres worldwide, you’ll find your fair share of goths, punks, skaters and hobos. However, marking it out as Colombia in particular, the busking isn’t solely musical: it also takes the form of human statues who haven’t quite understand the ‘statue’ brief, karaoke (sober?!), virtual reality gaming and a lot of Guinea pig gambling!

Other than wandering and partying with locals wherever possible, Bogota sated my cultural appetite with the famous Museo del Oro (because I’m a magpie who likes shiny things) and the, probably less famous, Salt Cathedral in the commuter town of Zipaquira (because I’m ginger so I like being deep underground when it’s sunny.)

Too impatient to wait for an English speaking tour of the Catedral de Sal, my travel buddy, Joseph, and I chanced our luck on the Spanish one. As far as I’m aware, the salt mine is 180m deep and 250,000 tons were excavated to make the cathedral… the guide said some other stuff too, probably. All we really needed to know was that the fourteen mini chapels on the way down represented stages on Jesus’ crucifixion journey, they all presented fantastic (potentially sacrilege, think ‘Life of Brian’) photo opportunities and that you could buy salty popcorn at the very depth of the mine! I’m not entirely certain of the economics of it, but if salt is cheaper than marble, it became apparent that it could make a similarly glamorous end result! It was all a little surreal, but certainly impressive.

All too little time spent in the capital, with some fabulous new friends, but I was forced to readjust to flying solo and head to Cali. Jumpers shoved back in the bottom of the rucksack, I write this poolside. Will reveal Cali adventures as they continue to unfold…


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