As was customary when I arrived in a new city, the first night was always pretty chilled; it normally comprised of me staring at the back of my eyelids for extended periods of time… This time was a little different though. Who remembers Traci from Bogotá? Well we just happened to be in Medellín at the same time and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to participate in the activity that brought us both together in the first place: eating.
Traci and I were staying at hostels which were about 15 minutes away from each other so we decided to meet halfway and find somewhere to have dinner.
1) we were unfamiliar with the area
2) we only had wifi in our hostels
3) it was getting late
Didn’t help either that our meeting spot was on a street corner! We really didn’t think it through…
We were staying in an area called Poblado which was incredibly safe and full of tourists, but it didn’t change the fact that we were young, female, solo travellers who looked like we were either lost or waiting to be picked up by Medellín men with a taste for foreign. After walking up and down the Calle 10a and Calle 43 for about 20 minutes, I gave up. I thought I was never gonna see Traci again. I traipsed back to El Alternativo hostel, hooked up to the WIFI and waited until I heard from her.
We eventually met an hour or so later and ended up going to a restaurant in Poblado’s restaurant hub named ‘Pezetarian.’ As the name suggests, there was no meat on the menu but tons of fish and other healthy accompaniments. I ended up with sushi, surprise surprise… I’m a sucker for it.
I spent my first actual day in Medellín at my hostel chilling with some other tourists on the rooftop. They told me about some of the must-see sights and some of the places to avoid – this is some of the invaluable information you frequently get when staying in hostels. El Alternativo employed someone each morning to actually make breakfast for guests to order, which was a lovely touch, and very uncommon in hostels.
I got into the practise of rolling myself out of bed and up to the rooftop for breakfast at the eleventh hour – that way, I wouldn’t be hungry again until dinner time (tip #1). This is a classic traveller tip if you need to employ if you are on a budget.
That evening, I was met up with a friend I made when I was doing my PGCE. Sam and I trained as English teachers together back in 2012/13 but she moved to Peru a few years before I moved to Abu Dhabi. Strange how we both ended up in Colombia at the same time. Funnily enough, we chose a Peruvian-Japanese fusion restaurant where I had the pleasure of meeting her boyfriend, Esteban, who also teaches English in Peru. Sadly, the pictures we took together weren’t fantastic so I won’t post here but we had a great night catching up. We ended the night with a couple of beers in a trendy pub before sharing a taxi home.
On my second full day in Medellín, I signed up to go do the #1 thing to do in the city – the Graffiti Tour in Comuna 13. This was once the most dangerous city in the world but now is one of Colombia’s most visited tourist attractions.
I was picked up at my hostel around 2pm and driven to Comuna 13. I had an unintentional private tour as two people cancelled that morning. We picked up my tour guide, Jam Fyah, along the way who lived nearby and spent a lot of time there. He took me round the endz and introduced me to the artwork, explaining the inspiration behind the several murals.
Like the people of Comuna 13, elephants never forget.
Blue skies, colourful walls.
I lost 2 stones walking up that hill.
Even some of the poorest areas in Colombia still have a view of these gorgeous mountains.
Traditional mango ice-cream (with the collated juice at the bottom as the grand finale).
A studio with artwork for sale.
A tribute to the lives lost when the Americans dropped bombs on Comuna 13 to kill the guerillas who ‘apparently’ lived there.
The comuna built these favelas themselves, with zero investment from the government. They help each other to build them but with no regulations, you can imagine that they are incredibly unsafe.
So the artists painted a mural in appreciation of the workers who helped to build their community.
Jam Fyah with some of the young residents.
Iced Lemon Coffee. ¿Che?
Jam Fyah and one of the graffiti artists.
At the end of the tour, I got to try my hand at spray painting. Naturally, I had to leave my favourite Ghanaian symbol.
As you can see from the flyer, there is no price included. So why is it that once I got back to my hostel, these guys told me the tour had a set price of 60k COP? I was mortified as I was expecting to give a tip only. I should have known being picked up, driven to and from the location and being the only one on the tour came with a premium but as I said, the flyer mentioned nothing about the price and all the other Graffiti tours were free! I paid anyway because I didn’t want to sour my experience but I had definitely learned my lesson.
Tip 2: Never assume things are for free! Always ask for the price, especially if one is not mentioned.
The rest of my time in Medellin was spent pigging out in as many joints as I could. The picture above was taken at Tacos Criminales – on Wednesdays their tacos were 3k COP each. And they were delicious. What a bargain!
On Traci’s last night, we ended up at the incredibly popular Bao Bei Cocina. I turned up at the restaurant about 40 minutes before the shop opened and there was already a queue of about 12 people waiting! I had to go inside and add my name to an armlength-sized waiting list and went back outside to perch on a slab of stone. So I knew it had to be good. I was determined to eat there even though I ended up waiting for an hour and a half altogether…
Other than eating, I ended up getting kicked out of my hostel because Medellin became hectic towards the weekend and I failed to book my space. I moved to Arcadia hostel which was muuuuchh more social, even if it did mean I had to queue in the mornings in order to make my own pancakes. I met an interesting guy there called Ross – turns out he went to the same university as me! UoN all day every day! What a small world. We went to the Memorial Museum together and learned about the devastating history of the people of Medellin specifically, as well as Colombia as a whole. I also went on a city tour where my wonderful guide, Camilo, addressed the elephant in the room and pre-empted questions about the ‘famous criminal’ (as he liked to call him) Pablo Escobar. Both were very interesting and memorable experiences.
I spent one day in Guatapé (which will be the subject matter of my next post) with a friend I met in Cali named Joana,
I did enjoy Medellin but it didn’t live up to the expectations people had set, I’m afraid. I think this is down to two things:
- I absolutely adored Cali and it was a tough act to follow…
- There were waaaaay too many gringos there. I blame Netflix’s Narcos for that – people are obviously obsessed with Pablo Escobar and everyone wants to say they’ve been to his hometown (including moi). But it just meant so many places were overcrowded and shop owners could really bump up their prices. I literally felt like I was in London at times.
Saying that though, I would definitely return. There was so much more to Medellin that I didn’t get to witness but I think it will be best to see it all with some friends and when I’m a little more proficient in Español!
Chit Chat: Have you been to Medellin before? What did you honestly think? Would you go/go back?