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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Medellin, Colombia

On Tuesday, June 10, I left Atlanta heading for Colombia. Flying to Bogota, on a late night flight with my friend Cal, I connected on Lan Airlines to Medellin to celebrate my friend Karol's birthday. She had grown up in Medellin as a child of missionaries, and this was the first time she had returned to Colombia in over thirty years.

I arrived in Medellin early on Wednesday morning and took the hour long cab ride into the city, checking in at the Casa Hotel Asturias, which was located in the Laureles barrio, a clean, quiet part of the city with lots of nice restaurants. Cal and I joined Karol and Donna, who were already in Medellin. We walked around town that day, taking the metro (the only one in Colombia) and doing some shopping.
Seen on our walk

We ended up making our way to the Parque Lleras, a busy park surrounded by lots of restaurants and bars. We went to Al Rojo and ordered a pitcher of delicious rose sangria, which had fresh strawberries, grapes, and pineapples. (It was so good we came back later in the week for more.)

Me and Cal and Sangria
The next morning, the four of us went into downtown to Hotel Nutibara meet up with a tour to go outside of Medellin to surrounding cities. Unfortunately, the tour was in Spanish, but Karol made sure we at least got the gist of what was going on.

Hotel Nutibara 
On the way, we stopped here for a traditional breakfast of arepas (a flatbread made of ground corn) with cheese and coffee.

Arepa with cheese and coffee

Outside the breakfast restaurant

After breakfast, we rode into Marinilla where we walked around the square.

After leaving Marinilla, we went to Peñol where we saw the "La Fénixe" - symbolizing how Peñol rose from the ashes after the city was flooded.

The church in Peñol had a very interesting Jesus -- instead of being on the cross, it was Jesus ascending into Heaven. The Church was very cave-like, built from a rock where a priest fell asleep and dreamed that a dragon was devouring the city. The city would later be flooded when a dam was constructed.

The church at Peñol

Leaving Peñol, we saw a glimpse of La Piedra Del Peñol -- one of the highlights of the day. It's a huge rock, millions of years old, that stands alone outside of Guatapé. Below, we are approaching it. You can see the "G" and part of the incomplete "U" on the side of it.

Getting closer, I saw the steps leading up to the top. I knew right away that I would be climbing those steps! 

On the way up

Looking down on the way up

A shrine to the Virgin about halfway up

Step #425

Finally the top of the tower on the rock 

It took me 13 minutes to get to the top. The tour guide said it would take 45. The view:

After climbing down and having a nice cold cerveza, we went on a boat ride in the lake below. 

After the boat ride, we had lunch in Guatapé at a restaurant called Navegar. It was a typical meal of the Antioquia region, consisting of ground beef, rice, an arepa, fried egg, beans, plantain, and chicharrón (deep fried pork skin with pork). 

Afterwards, we walked around the cute, colorful town. 

The church in Guatapé, Our Lady of Carmen.
The symbols at the base represent Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Interior of the church

That night, we went back out to the Parque Lleras where we ended up at a "licoretta" -- a liquor store that also serves as a bar. I ordered a Colombian aguardiente ("firewater"), a local liquor I had ordered a shot of earlier in the week. It is made from sugar cane and tastes a bit like sambuca with a licorice or anise flavor. What I didn't realize was that instead of ordering a shot, I had ordered a whole bottle. The bartender poured me the shot and left me with the bottle.  When we left there to go to a club, I handed the bottle to Karol to put in her purse. Of course, they searched the purse before we could get in the club, so Karol handed the bottle over to me. The door man took the bottle from me, put it over the door jamb, and told me I could get it when I left! The club was really cool, with parts of it opening up to the sky where we could see the full moon.

Inside the Club -- photo courtesy of Karol

The next morning (Friday), we did the "Real City Walking Tour" of Medellin. It's a great concept -- basically free and working for tips - but they go into the history and psychology of the city as well as show the sites. (There are also Real City Walking Tours of Bogota and Cartagena -- see here.)

One of the highlights of the tour were the many sculptures in Botero Plaza, featuring sculptures of Fernando Botero, a famous artist from Medellin now living in Paris.

Parque Bolívar

Statue of Simón Bolívar in Parque Bolívar
At one point in the tour, we stopped to get some food. One of the things I got was called "un buñuelo," which in Colombia is like a fried cheese-dough ball.

One of the most touching parts of the tour was at the very end. In June of 1995, during a music festival held in a park in downtown Medellin, a bomb of dynamite and shrapnel hidden in the Botero sculpture "The Bird" exploded, killing 30 people and injuring more than 200. Botero insisted that the sculpture remain as a reminder of the violence that happened there, while donating a new one that now sits beside the original.

"The Bird" 

The new sculpture

At the end of the tour, we took a group shot of our tour. In addition to those of us from the USA, there were people from Ireland, UK, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland and Czech Republic on our tour.

When we got back to the hotel, we met up with two more from our party who had joined us, Karla and Valencia. We left with them to have dinner at Restaurante Mondongos. In addition to the traditional Mondongo soup, made from tripe, pork, and chorizo,  I also had the typical Antioquian meal again with the very finely ground beef, plantains, chicharrones potato, rice, and fried egg.

That night, we went back out to the Parque Llerras and back to Al Rojo for more of that great sangria, before taking the newcomers back out to the same club the rest of us had been to the night before.

The next morning we gathered at a restaurant (Restaurant Siroka) near our hotel to watch the Colombia vs. Greece game, Colombia's first game in the World Cup. I had bought a Colombia jersey, so I was all ready for the big game. We won!

After the game, Karla, Valencia and I made our way to the Metrocable, a gondola system that is part of the city's metro system. After the Santa Domingo station, we transferred to the touristic Metrocable, which took us to Arví Park.

The Metrocable leading up to the Santo Domingo Barrio

Riding over the barrio

On the way back down into Medellin
In the cable car
On the way back from Arví Park, we stopped in at the Santo Domingo station to explore the area.

When we got back to our place, our friends Lauren and Bobby had arrived. Later, Amy and Will got there. We had to prepare for their arrival as the Colombian presidential elections were the next day (Sunday), and beer and liquor could not be sold after 6:00 pm on Saturday until Monday morning. That evening, we had our own little 'house party' in the hotel. Good times! It was a great way to end my time in Medellin before heading to Jardin the next morning. 

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