Week 5 in Medellin, Colombia

Week 5 in Medellin, Colombia

Medellin is a Latin American shopping mecca. A shopping lovers paradise. With literally tonnes of malls, markets and designer outlets, Medellin satisfy’s even the most ardent shop-a-holic. Being primarily an online shopper myself, as I have no desire to go trekking the streets searching clothes racks, carrying heavy shopping bags or elbowing militant grannies out of the way, seeing all of these venues for shopping enjoyment was a little overwhelming. But I had decided that I wanted to find a good pair of jeans so we planned to go to an area with lots of designer outlets to see what we could find.

First we took a taxi to Mercado Del Rio, a food market that was nearby. The market was huge, located in a warehouse like building in the middle of a busy business district. Inside the gastronomic market there were lots of restaurants and bars offering a variety of different cuisines such as Indian, Italian, Asian, Peruvian, Mexican etc.  I really fancied Greek or Lebanese food but unfortunately they didn’t have any so I settled for Indian, which I hadn’t had since I’d left England. The food was good, especially the chicken, which was tender and well seasoned and slightly blackened just how I like it, I couldn’t say that it was authentically Indian per say, however it was tasty.

After we had sufficiently stuffed ourselves, we went on to the outlet region, where an abundance of designer outlet shops such as Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel and Superdry beckoned to us to part with our hard earned cash in exchange for their wares. Eventually I came across a shop called Studio F, a Colombian womenswear brand that had lots of clothes that I quite liked. Contrary to popular belief, despite the low prices of most other things in Colombia (transportation, restaurants, accommodation etc), the clothing there wasn’t necessarily cheap. In the end I managed to find a pair of flared black jeans that fit nicely and being that Valentine’s day was coming up, Josh bought them for me as an early Valentine’s present 🙂

Afterwards we ventured towards an outlet mall where Josh picked up some clothes from one of his favourite shops Superdry and then we all went and had lunch at a steak and rib restaurant in the mall. To be honest the ribs weren’t all that great and they certainly weren’t as tasty as Bodean’s ribs which I absolutely love but we were all pretty starving at this point.

The following day we had booked another tour, our fourth one in Colombia, to Guatape.

Guatape was a popular resort town approximately 2 hours from the centre of Medellin. It was especially well known for it’s traditional Colombian feel and the brightly painted colours of the buildings. In Guatape, all of the homes, businesses and shops were painted in a variety of different colours and included hand painted emblems representing their trade or family crest.

The tour that we had booked commenced at the obscene hour of 07:00 am and we were told to meet the tour group at the front of the church in El Pablado at no later then 06:50 am. In some respects I couldn’t believe I was even contemplating doing another tour, let alone one that started so early in the morning and lasted for approximately 12 hours, but I was determined to see Guatape before I left Medellin and this tour sounded pretty good – it included breakfast and lunch aswell as a boat trip and a visit to Guatape and it was pretty reasonably priced too.

Our first stop after jumping into a big coach with a large group of mainly European tourists, was breakfast. We were taken to a local restaurant where we were served a hearty and traditionally Colombian breakfast of fried Arepa’s with locally made cheese and scrambled eggs. You could have it either with traditional hot chocolate (which I was told would be very sweet), or coffee. I opted for the coffee which was pretty good.

Afterwards, we went on a visit to Roca del Penol Church, needless to say I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing a church but I probably would have been if it were one of magnificent beauty alas this church was basically a huge rock with a few doors and windows on the side. It wasn’t exactly an architectural marvel and didn’t inspire me to leave the vehicle in order to take a picture of it.

After our horrific Americanised-Canadian encounter a few weeks ago I had made certain that I didn’t book with the same tour group that we had taken to do the Colombian Coffee Tour and thankfully the people on this trip seemed a little more self aware and kept their conversation levels to a minimum. After passing the rock church we then moved onto the Fenix Bird, a huge statue in the middle of the town which represented it’s history of arising from the ashes. As with the fenix bird, the story of the town of Penol Village consisted of it being burnt down to accomodate a new town, including a man made lake, that we would later visit. We got to walk around the village and checked out a few of the many gift shops (where my sister bought Josh a lovely Colombian pen) aswell as having some strong Colombian coffee at a twee coffee shop with the best view in the village overlooking the Penol Reservoir. Thankfully the day was overcast which worked very well since the visit to Guatape Rock aka Penol Rock required a hike to the very top of it in order to get the best views of the surrounding countryside. I really couldn’t imagine doing it in 30 degree heat!

Coffee with a view at Penol Reservoir

 

I knew that the hike up 700+ stairs would require a bit of extra energy but I figured that nothing could compare to the trek through and up the mountain in Brazil to get to the isolated beach Lagoinha do Leste, the intensity of which shocks me til this day!

Following a leisurely walk around the town we jumped back onto the bus to be taken to the reservoir for the boat trip around it. Many of the tours included a walk around the colourful town of Guatape but they did not include a boat tour so I was really looking forward to it.

I had imagined that the boat trip would be on a small boat and that we might do it in little groups but when we got there we were piled onto a huge double decked boat along with a number of other tour groups and then “party music” was cranked at its highest volume so that we could get the party started right. It was still horrendously early and I was in no mood to party. The weather was overcast making the skies look a little dull, but it was still a beautiful sight as we cruised past luxurious looking villa’s and mansions built on either side of the lake with dramatic green hills and mountains in the background looking like it was straight out of a travel magazine ad.

One of the tour guides decided to take this time to use the extremely poor quality tanoy, to talk about what we were looking at but the sound was so muffled that we could hardly hear him. After awhile of hearing him bleat on incessantly I really wished that he would just shut up and let us enjoy the views. Soon we came to a sprawling windowless property on the banks of the lake which looked as if it had been set fire to or something. I could see that the building was blackened, with smudges of black smeared onto the stone work. We were soon told by the guide that this property was an iconic property in Colombia, as it was the former hideout of the infamous criminal Pablo Escobar, the lavish estate covering 20 acres of land in this idyllic location, was named La Manuela Hacienda, after his daughter. One of Pablo’s favourite properties (who at one point was the richest man in the world), it featured a heli-pad aswell as pools, stables, a seaplane dock, tennis courts and even a disco tech. This was a place where Pablo stashed his ill-gotten gains such as cocaine and cash. Eventually, at the height of the drug wars with the Cali Cartel, it was bombed by Las Pepes where it has remained derelict and empty ever since.

I’d never wanted to do a Pablo Escobar tour whilst in Colombia as I knew how much the locals detested the mere mention of the man, and also I had no real interest. To me it was bordering on tacky to take the experiences for which we outside Colombia have no real knowledge about (and even less if you’re going by what’s portrayed in Narco’s on Netflix), to make light of it and find some kind of entertainment value in seeing the places for where tens of thousand’s of people died and many more were displaced. And I had no idea that on this boat tour we were going to sail by one of his prized venues, the place where he done alot of his criminal activity’s and no doubt the scene of many a murder but I was glad that I had seen it nontheless. It showcased Colombia’s willingness to leave their questionable past in the past. They didn’t even wish to honour the building with a regeneration, they just wanted to leave it just how it was: empty.

Pablo Escobar’s Residence La Manuela Hacienda

 

 

I’m sure the boat tour would have been slightly better if the weather was sunnier but I thought the fact that we were on such a big boat which surely must have had about 300 people on it was a bit of a let down. I would have much preferred a smaller boat with less people and less of the tanoy-action. After exiting the boat we then went on to the main event: Penol Rock.

 

Penol Rock, Guatape’s Giant

 

Ten million tonnes, this goliath was a granite rock remnant that jutted up from the earth with an unbelievable view from it’s summit. To get to the top though it first required a bit of a climb. The first climbers of this giant monolith, climbed it in 5 days but it has since been made into somewhat of a tourist attraction with the addition of a 700 + stone staircase built into the side of it. To climb it you have to pay, and the climb was knackering, but the views at the top was well worth the inconvenience and the price.

Astoundingly beautiful, all around we saw a view of the surrounding countryside, and the lakes that surround them as far as the eye could see. It was such an incredible sight that I hardly wanted to leave at all but it being a popular tourist attraction meant that everyone else and their dog was there too: No thanks.

 

We made it to the top of Penol Rock!

 

After descending from Penol Rock we then went onto lunch at a restaurant nearby for a really good (and neccessary!) lunch of avocado, chicken breast, rice, beans and eggs all washed down with a local drink that reminded me a little of Starburst. It was really good and just what I needed after that exhausting trek to the top of Penol Rock.

After lunch we were then taken to the last point in our tour which despite it’s long length was actually going pretty quickly now that we’d done the climb: Guatape Town.

Guatape was Colombia’s most colourful town, possibly even in the world! Every house, building and shop in the town had been painted in all the colours of the rainbow and then some! and featured hand painted emblems (also called zocolo’s) to represent them.

Cobbled, windy streets with everything from the local bakers, to restaurants, coffee shops, jewellers, gift shops, shoe menders and florists, each with their own rainbow coloured zocolo’s to announce what they were shouted out at you in the most adorable of ways. Meandering through these streets, even when full of tourists and whilst the strength of the summer sun was beating down on you was possibly one of the most enjoyable activities to do outside of Medellin. Seeing the painted butterflies, flowers and sunflowers on the sides of the buildings just makes you smile. You can’t possibly be miserable in Guatape and it’s clear why:

After ending our tour back at the starting point, and being given a lovely little gift from our tour guide: a hand made yellow, blue and red bracelet to represent Colombia, and not feeling at all like we had just spent 12 hours with her, I could say that we had definitely had a most wonderful day. From seeing Pablo Escobar’s Hideaway La Manuela Hacienda, to the view at the top of the reservoir, to climbing to the top of Penol Rock to have my breath taken away by the most astounding natural beauty of the landscape, to the simple but tasty traditional meals we ate, to the unforgettable town of Guatape, which was possibly the most colourful town in the world, I could say without hesitation that we’d had the most amazing time.

 

Tuk Tuk Time!

The beautiful painted buildings of Guatape

It’s true 🙂

It’s a hard life: Josh contemplating the hard question of whether or not he should eat this ice-cream

Going in for the kill!

Hair Problems

I contacted the hairdresser about coming back to do both mine and my sisters hair and can you believe it’s been 5 days of communication just to get this booked in? – it’s bad enough that I’m having to communicate with her using Google Translate but she doesn’t seem to understand the basic questions of when are you coming and how much are you charging? – Seriously, these are basic questions. Basic! 5 days I have been back and forth with her and I am still no further forward! Hmpf.

Valentine’s Day Prostitute Watch

Though we generally do not celebrate Valentine’s Day on Valentines Day back in the UK, knowing as we do how much of a commercialised non-event it generally is, Josh had instead booked a romantic meal for us at one of the top restaurants that I had been wanting to go to: Carmen a few days AFTER Valentines Day. We did not wish to be rail roaded into having one of their “Valentine’s Day set menu’s” complete with single red rose, pathetically cheesy crooner and a fight to get the best table in the restaurant: no thank you.

Being that my sister was still staying with us, we figured that it might be a little strange for us this Valentines Day being that we were essentially operating as a three-some, but since we didn’t plan to do anything particularly special on Valentine’s Day anyway we decided that we’d all go shopping instead! We decided to go back to the area near Botero Square where all of the discount shops were. I decided that I wanted a sporty zip up top that I could wear with anything, one that wasn’t too thick, just something that I could wear if it got a little chilly.

In Medellin, people wear alot of sportswear and trainers so I figured that it wouldn’t be too hard to find what I was looking for.

Queue Colombian Harrassment: The problem is that unless you are a local I guess you don’t really venture into these sorts of shops. But we did, and we do, and thus the Colombians, probably thinking that we didn’t know what we were looking for and thus could be persuaded to purchase whatever it was they were promoting, proceeded to hound us if we got anywhere near there shop. Baring in mind the fact that that they were standing outside the shop just waiting for someone, ANYONE to walk by, and here come 3 tourists clearly looking for something, and they went in for the kill. Worse yet was when we went into the former Palace of Justice which clearly nobody whatsoever ventures into as these shop owners looked as though they hadn’t seen anyone step foot in there for years and they were literally following us around the mall as if we were their last chance at survival! It was horrible. And very aggressive.

I understood perfectly that they were not meaning to be aggressive but their style of communication came across that way and rather then make me intrigued as to see what they had in their shop (when I didn’t even glance in the direction of their shop at any point!), they just made me wish to get the hell out of there. I simply couldn’t take it. All of the yelling in our direction by multiple Colombian shop owners was too much to take and it was giving me a headache. I had absolutely no idea how they were making any money since I didn’t see anyone else going into their shop and they were basically all selling the same thing: sportswear and trainers.

After emerging from the mall out into the open air where I could finally breath we were then approached by another guy who wished to know what it was we were looking for (seems they don’t know the concept of browsing in Colombia!). Through broken Spanish and sign language we were eventually able to describe to this man what we were looking for and then he told us to follow him.

He then proceeded to take us to 3 different shops to try and see if he could find something that matched my description. I was impressed. It was like having my own personal Colombian shopper. Eventually I was able to find a pale grey Adidas tracksuit that I quite liked. It wasn’t exactly what I was looking for and the jacket was bigger then I would have liked but it was pretty close to what I was looking for and I didn’t wish to put the poor guy through any further distress as I could see that he was clearly doing the best he could to find me something I would be happy with and frankly I couldn’t bare the idea of going into anymore shops. So we bought it and then we went in search for somewhere to have a drink. All of this personal shopping lark was making me very thirsty!

In the end we decided to go back to the Hari Krishna restaurant Govinda’s that we had been to before for lunch. I had no intention of eating there since the food we’d had there last time (especially the mushrooms which tasted as though they had just been plucked from the earth, soil and all), left alot to be desired, but the restaurant had without a doubt the best people watching viewpoint in possibly the entire city.

Down the road from Botero Square and adjacent to the shops, Govinda’s was located directly opposite the church, which coincidentally was also where Medellin’s most hardworking prostitutes went to promote their bodily wares. It did seem a bit of an unbelievable contrast to see people entering and coming out of the same church where scantily clad prostitutes (one with her naked boobs blatantly on show) were negotiating their hourly fee from the questionable looking men who approached them. But try as I may, on this Valentines day, I just couldn’t look away!

The entertainment value of sitting in a religious establishment such as we were (Hari Krishna), to look upon another religious establishment which was the location of the most obvious prostitution activity I think I’ve ever seen in my life, was spell binding. It was simply too enjoyable to watch! lol

We saw women redoing their hair and makeup on the church steps, hiking up their skirts to show a bit of leg, taking pre-payment from clients, giving men they didn’t wish to “do business with” dirty looks, posing to catch the attention of potential clients, looking bored, checking the time, gossiping with the other prostitutes and even walking off with a client to get down to the business at hand.

I couldn’t believe that I was spending Valentines Day on the rooftop of a Hari Krishna restaurant in Colombia with Josh and my sister  overlooking high traffic prostitution activity besides a church, but I was and it was bloody brilliant, lol.

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