10 -17th January 2016
Why am I travelling? I’ve had a lot of time to think about this question. The bus journey to Medellin from Santa Marta was 16 bumpy, sleepless, overnight hours long, and then afterwards from Medellin to Bogota was another 10. These hours, plus plenty more in previous journeys, lying around in hostels, hiking, staring at beautiful scenery etc., all add up to a lot of introspective thinking. Of course a lot of the time you think about the world and the things you’ve seen. But people in general are self centred, and I think it’s pretty usual to spend a lot of the time as well thinking about yourself and your own life. Plus you can’t do a philosophy degree for four years and not do a lot of asking ‘why’.
I’m putting this in my Medellin post, because given we were there for a lot of time (a whole week) it’s one of those periods where I started to wonder what it was I wanted from this trip, and whether I was doing the right things to get it. When I was planning I think it felt pretty obvious – I’ve always been fascinated by the world and have always wanted to see as much of it as I can. I also wanted to go somewhere where I had a shot at learning the language, as being conversational in a few languages has always been a long term goal.
It just seemed simpler in the planning stage though. You can’t just come over here and ‘see things’ (or I suppose you can, if you have a fixed exact idea of the ‘things’ you want to see). You have to make decisions all the time about what matters to you, what kinds of things are most worth your time/money/effort, all of which are limited resources even when you are on am extended trip like this one. And you can be wrong, or not sure, and you don’t want to regret the decisions you make. This is much more of a thing now we are in South America rather than Central. Central had a pretty solid gringo trail, and was small. Bus trips were almost never long, the next stop almost never difficult to work out. Colombia is different. There can be days worth of travel between different places, and it pays to have more of an idea of your route before you head off in one direction. Yes it’s still heavily gringo trodden, but you have so many more choices and so much more difficulty and distance getting between places that the extra freedom (which is great, and I love) comes with an effort cost.
Medellin is a sprawling city crawling up the sides of the mountains which surround it, full of art, parks, and the most beautiful metro system I’ve ever been on. Twenty years ago it was an absolute no go zone, home to cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar who offered $1000 to anyone who killed a cop and had general run of the town. Since then, an enormous amount of money has been poured into the city to make it what it is today and it really is a gorgeous place. We didn’t have the greatest start to it though. Our first hostel was a bit of a shambles, and we moved on from it after a couple of nights. Added to this a general mixture of tiredness induced apathy and hostel induced restlessness, there was a frustrating feeling that I didn’t think I was making the most of a place that I was sure I would love. I suppose this is partially what got me thinking about what it was I did want to get out of it.
All these feelings pass though, and by gathering things I did enjoy, it reminds you what you are there for, and why this lifestyle is great (which it truly is, there’s no denying, and no way am I saying I’d rather go back home (although saying that, I would like it if my friends from home were here with me as I do miss you guys)). So here are some of the great things from Medellin and the surrounding area, and therefore some of the many reasons that I am travelling.
The metro cable
For the price of a metro ticket (2150 pesos, which is about 50p), you can travel up one of two metro cables in the city. These are cable cars up over some of the neighbourhoods on the mountainside, and give a pretty great view over the city. Unfortunately the one all the way to the top was closed when we tried, but it still was a fun experience. The metro itself was worth it just for the views actually.
Museo de arte moderno de Medellin
This was one of the things that picked me up from feeling down. A really awesome collection of modern artworks. Highlight was a room dedicated to sound art, full of comfy beanbags where you could sit as surrounding speakers played specially composed and recorded soundscapes. I loved it
Pablo Escobar’s summer house
Blown apart with dynamite by his enemies in the early 90s, this was a fascinating and weirdly beautiful place to visit. We walked through destroyed rooms which are now weirdly used for paintball tournaments, and learned some stuff about the drug lord, who now seems to be part historical nightmare and part mythical hero.
Guatape and La Piedra
A short boat ride from Escobar’s house is the tiny town of Guatape. Rebuilt after the old town was sunk in the creation of a massive reservoir, Guatape is known for its colourful ‘zocolos’ (colourful relief pictures on the sides of buildings) and was a great place to wander for a bit and have a coffee in the incredibly vivid central square.
Right by the town is ‘La Piedra’, a huge towering rock overlooking the reservoir and nearby towns. It looked pretty imposing but we got ourselves up all 740 steps right to the top, and the view was so worth it. Absolutely incredible.
Just Medellin in general
It is just nice. I wasn’t sold on the Poblado area where we were staying (nice to go out once or twice, but I’m not a party every night kind of person and there wasn’t a ton else there), but the city had a good vibe and some really beautiful areas (central churches, botanic garden, arty squares, all sorts).
So there’s plenty of positivity to go with my slightly pensive start to this post. I was expecting to love Medellin, and I did. And we spent a whole week there, which is perhaps what I needed, as I wanted to feel that feeling of itching to move on again and see more, which by the end I really did. It was a week of feeling very up and down, but overall it’s ended on an up and I’m feeling good about our next few stops. So maybe I don’t need an answer to my question about why I’m travelling. We’ve made the right decisions so far, and hopefully we will continue to do so and continue to enjoy it. There are always ups and downs, but when you think about it, the pros vastly outweigh the occasional cons of feeling down. I’m already working out where else in the world I now want to go travelling, an building up quite a list..