Robin & Jean's Travels travel blog


Weather was cloudy, but no rain.

We did breakfast at 6:00 today. Bags out at 6:30 and on bus at 7:00 for our ride to the airport for our flight to Medellin. Diego arranged for a group checkin, all we had to do was wait for him to return our passport with our boarding pass. We had a 9:01 flight today.

We arrived in Medellin about 10:00. Diego made sure our luggage was gathered and taken to the bus. We met Julian, who was to be our local guide for Medellin. (The "ll" usually is pronounced as a "y" sound, but when Diego & Julian pronounced Medellin, it sounded more like a "j" sound.)

The airport is outside the city, and at a higher elevation so we had a ride down to the main city. Our bus was larger and more luxurious than we had in Bogota. The roads in Medellin were well paved and smooth.

There were many beautiful, vibrant colored flowers along the way. Most of the roses we use in the USA for Valentines Day come from this region in Colombia. They are the second biggest producer of roses. The Flower Fair is happening this week culminating in a parade next Saturday. Medellin is known as the Eternal Spring City.

On the way down to Medellin, Julian talked about his life growing up and the society and problems he faced. He was born in 1986 in the hill area that surrounds Medellin.

Medellin in the 70s was controlled by El Mexicano (Jose Gonzalo Rodriquez Gacha) who began by smuggling marijuana, along with Pablo Escobar, ran the Medellin Drug Cartel.

Guerrillas got the locals in the outlying regions on their side at first by helping the people. They built roads, supplied food, electricity and water. Then later, the guerrillas got into supplying the coco to the drug lords and changed from helping the locals to acquiring more power.

El Mexicano start the AUC (or officially the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia) paramilitary units composed of mercenaries (mainly Brits & Israelis) to fight the guerrillas.

We did a 30 minute WC/supermarket stop at 10:40 to make purchases for later. (The hotel in Medellin has a kitchenette with a refrigerator.) After we had made our purchases, we tagged our bags, and there were to be delivered along with our luggage while we were walking and touring Medellin.

Back on the bus, Julian continued with his story. The drug cartels made Pablo Escobar the 3rd richest man in the world. They worked to corrupt the system from the inside. Pablo became a politician in the 90s.

Many of Julian's friends became caught up with the cartels because of the easy money. But, it comes with a price. He had friends who were 13, 14, 15 years-old who were killed.

The cartels became more bold - bombing newspapers, in 1988 1st car bomb, rewards of 2 million pesos for each police officer killed, etc. In 1988 at the Monaco building where Pablo Escobar had apartments for himself and family, two bombs exploded trying to kill Pablo.

Along the way, we encountered a street closed for a dog parade where people were walking with their dogs. Many of the dogs were dressed or in costume!

In 1991, the constitution was changed. Pablo was sent to prison, but he was able to chose which prison. He chose one he had built, and the guards were members of his bodyguard.

Julian talked about an incident in which his father was shot. His father was a taxi driver, who along with his cousin one evening, was driving a neighbor down to the city when they were ambushed. His father and father's cousin survived, but the neighbor, who was apparently the target, did not survive.

In 1993 Pablo was killed. In 1995, the Metro opened which began an era of Metro culture. People were encouraged to get out of their houses and make a community again. There were concerts, movies, and other activities. This changed the way people felt and thought about their city and neighborhoods. It began to instill pride.

In 2004, Julian attended university. He talked about at the same time, the city began building a library network that became education/cultural centers for the neighborhoods, promoting pride in their community.

In 2007, Julian completed university and went to work for the urban planning office. In 2012, Julian moved to Germany for a year to help people with special needs. He was paid a stipend and supplied housing. He would save his days off, and take three or four days off together and travel around to the neighboring countries. He could have stayed, but he wanted to return to the woman he would marry.

Julian discussed the education system. Public schools are in session from February until the end of May, then from July until November. In the morning is Primary school, and in the afternoon is the Secondary school. He was Strata 2, and his parents paid about $20.00 for him to attend school.

We stopped downtown at the Acevedo Metro Station where you can go up the hillside using a cable car, or take the train and stay at city level. We took the Metrocable car up to the Santadomingo neighborhood (2 stops). On the ride up Medellin looked a lot like La Paz with all of the brick-face third world houses.

We walked over to the Wichos Jaffee restaurant. This was a very small restaurant that was on a street that was a 45 degree slope. We sat outside and enjoyed the ambiance of the city while having a lunch of soup, either chicken cutlet or chicken stir fry entrée, and vanilla ice cream for dessert. The lunch was ok.

We adjoined to the park across the street, which was next to a building that housed what we would call the SBA (Small Business Association) for local small entrepreneurs. We talked with the delivery guy for Wichos. Orlando was a former guerrilla and AUC (or officially the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia) paramilitary recruit from 1986-1992. He was fortunate enough to be able to walk away from it all and be able to raise his family in peace.

We were then on our way to visit a friend of Diego's, Alesia, who was a like a grandmother to him. But, you can't visit without bringing gifts. So, we stopped at a store along the street, and Diego gave a list of products to go buy (soap, beans, arapa, vanilla, cheese, rice, etc.). We all rushed the store looking & asking, and within 5 minutes had all of the items. Then Diego paid the store owner for the items.

We then continued down the street to Alesia's apartment building. We entered a narrow, not very tall or well lit hallway. When we climbed the narrow stairs we had to be careful not to hit our heads. Then we went through her living room out to the fairly large balcony where we met Alesia.

Alesia was born on May 14, 1930. Approximately 54 years ago, she moved to this neighborhood. She originally was from Polema. She became a widow early with 7 children and built the house with her children. She was able to purchase the land for only the cost of the paperwork and notary fee. Her strata level is 2-3, and receives a small pension from the government. She talked and answered the questions the group had. Then it was time to go.

We returned to the park across from the restaurant, and there were older ladies dressed in dance costumes there to entertain us. These ladies were the Golden Footprint dancers. The restaurant had run electricity and large speakers across the street above the park to supply the music to which the ladies danced. After a few dances, it was audience participation time. They came and got us, and we danced with them. First individually, then we started to make a larger group. It was fun, and exhausting at the same time.

After thanking the ladies, we returned to the Metrocable station and headed back down to the city. Once back at the Acevedo station, we descended down to the tracks for the Medellin Metro. There are two lines A (North/South) & B (East & West). We hopped the A line train (sounds Canadian, eh?) and rode for 11 stops to the Poblado station. We disembarked the train and walked out of the station to meet our bus.

Our next stop was the Du Parc Royal Hotel. On the way, Diego said if we put together a laundry bag, he would take them to a local laundry place that was much cheaper than the hotel prices. Score! We needed to do laundry badly.

We went to our room to wait for our luggage. The room was huge with the kitchenette. It was a nice hotel. Unfortunately, it was freezing in the room! They had the A/C on 16 degrees Celsius! I put it up to 23 immediately. Later that night I just had it on fan only for when we slept. The luggage arrived and we immediately put together two bags of laundry.

At 5:00 we met in the lobby with our laundry bags. Diego collected them from everyone who brought one down. We then did an orientation walking tour of Medellin. Diego pointed out during the walk a store for groceries, ATMs and several restaurants that he recommended. He told us tomorrow's schedule - breakfast begins at 6:30, and 8:00 on the bus for our boat ride.

After the orientation, Jean, Pam and I walked to the Hard Rock Cafe. It was about 8 blocks up the main drag. Along the way we saw many franchises: Crepes & Waffles, McDonalds, Star Bucks, Dunkin Donuts, Burger King and Krispy Kreme. At no time in the walk did we feel unsafe in this busy urban setting. But, you know how it seems forever getting to a place that you have never been? It seemed we walked forever, but it was only 15 minutes.

At the Hard Rock, they were watching football (soccer) competitions, and also playing on X-box and other gaming systems. The computer screens were set up with 6 seats. It took up the whole room in front of the stage, so we sat in the bar area with a few other patrons. Unfortunately, there were no music videos as all TVs were on football games.

Our waitress spoke no English, so we did the point to the menu item game. She was good. She kept an eye on us, wrapped Jean's and Pam's leftovers (we had a kitchenette with a refrigerator back in the rooms so these would be tomorrow's dinners), and split the bill for us.

Afterwards, I bought a hat and a pin in the Rock Shop, and Pam bought several t-shirts for her kids and grandkids. We stopped at the Krispy Kreme to see what was available, but unfortunately they were not making any fresh donuts. And you know how delicious they are when hot off the conveyor belt! The walk back was quicker since we knew where we were going.

Back at the room, we put the leftovers in the refrigerator and tried to find something on TV, but alas not much was in English or with English subtitles. I really felt like doing nothing, so I did.

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