Finally some Colombian action, right! Guns? Hell yeah. Big boxes of scary black metal guns. Where? Under the bus! Why? I don’t know, but the police gave us an extra nine hours to think about it as we were stopped seven times, removed from the bus, body searched (quite intimately) and our possessions were thoughroughly ruffled. Seven times.
I mean, I’m not complaining, you come to expect this sort of thing in South America – especially countries like Colombia – and hey, kudos to the guy who thought smuggling illegal weapons between two of the country’s most notorious cities was a good idea.
Each police checkpoint radioed ahead with a little more information as their first suspect undoubtedly began to crack under pressure. The first couple of hour-long, sweaty roadside stops weren’t too bad but it wasn’t long before each new downward wave from a police officer brought wails of frustration from the overloaded bus. People lay strewn across the floor, tucked into corners, and were repeatedly dragged from their already cramped positions and forced to wait in the heat as the police ransacked their possessions, searching for an accomplice. Each search got more intense until eventually the entire bus was confiscated. Our bags were handed back to us and it was every man for himself.
Colombians don’t like queuing at the best of times, but after a nine hour delay it’s outright war. Buses flagged down attracted thick crowds of toddler-carrying, bundle-hauling passengers desperate to claim a space. The ones without luggage made it on the first round, next came the ones with luggage who didn’t mind elbowing the elderly to get in front, then the elderly, and finally, the polite Aussie backpacker.
Instead of arriving to grab a morning coffee as planned, I arrived racing the clock to make it to my hostel before dark. Totally aware that my backpack was essentially a big sign in Spanish reading, ‘I’M A RICH GRINGO CARRYING MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND ALL OF MY WORLDLY POSSESSIONS!’ , I wanted to make it there as quickly as possible. Thankfully, the cities’ excellent metro system took care of this and I made it to my ghost hostel, Tamarindo, in one piece.
It turned out that the real ‘place to be’ was Casa Kiwi around the corner. Draught beer, cheap dorms and of course, the nice sprites! The two Aussies from Bogotá were a day ahead of me and I bumped into Boris the Belgian, who knew how to make a big tuna sandwich.
So what was there to do in Medellin? Its place on the gringo trail seems to have been cemented by the nostalgia attached to infamous Pablo Escobar, who once controlled up to 80% of the world’s cocaine trade. Seen by some as an outright criminal and revered by others as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure, Escobar was responsible for several terrifying episodes in the city’s history, once making it one of the most dangerous places in the world as inner-city wars erupted between drug cartels.
The city now prides itself on having cleaned up its act. Although certain areas are still definitely no-go zones for tourists, the centre of the city is graced with the Plaza Botero, dedicated to arguably the country’s most famous sculptor and artist. The plaza itself is home to several of his larger-than-life sculptures and is the site of a museum containing a significant collection of his works. I was minus my camera for the day, but luckily Boris was fairly snap happy and captured some entertaining moments as we walked the city in an afternoon.
I found other significant attractions in the city to be fairly limited, but perhaps I was suffering a little traveller’s burnout and had simply visited too many cities in a row. The option to take a ‘Pablo Escobar Tour’ sounded promising. It is usually not my thing to take tours like this one and unfortunately this tour reminded me why. His brother was a cyclist though (between murdering people, setting off bombs and selling cocaine), which was pretty cool! Below are the most exciting photos from the tour (which says it all really):
However, I was itching to hit that coastline once again, Colombia’s northern coast and the impressive white sand Caribbean beaches dotted along it. They’re all to come in the next few posts.
Until then, nos vemos!