Thursday, August 30, 2012

Malls, Museums and Rock’s. Really, Really Big Rocks

Greetings from the wonderfully quaint, oh so quiet (sometimes) lakeside village of Guatape Colombia!
It’s been a great couple of days. We continued our exploration of a Medellin by visiting what turned out to be quite a high-end mall. Our plan was to look around and see where the locals hung out but it didn’t work out that way for two reasons. First, nothing gets going here until well after 10:00 and truth be told, not much before noon. So arriving at the mall at 9:30 and expecting it to be a hustle bustle of local activity we found instead a VERY large, VERY clean, ultra modern multi-story affair around the size of two metro-towns except most stores were still closed and the place was pretty much deserted. It was almost like wandering around a movie set. We wandered around for an hour or so - and by the time we left there was some activity - but for the most part it was a little weird. The other shock was it was where the locals hung out for sure, that is if you’re one of the ultra rich locals living in the luxury high rises surrounding the area. The stores obviously catered to a local demographic that was well beyond our means. Prices were high and the scrutiny was intense when we actually had the audacity to enter a store to look around. We stuck around for a bit but in the end it wasn’t anymore exciting than hanging around a mall in Canada - something we hardly ever do anymore so we beat feet and decided to try something else.

This lead us back to the Metro and downtown where it turns out the square we visited really was the dodgy area. And just like cities here, just four blocks over we found the actual main city plaza, complete with Botero sculptures, the second oldest museum in Medellin and lots of hustle and bustle, none of which felt in the least bit sketchy.

I have to say though, that visiting Medellin isn’t what like I expected. It’s more like a visit to New York than a visit to South America. The city has numerous “must see” sights, good areas and bad, and a real urban vibe unlike anything we’ve experienced in our other travels south. Take Tuesday for instance. We got up, had a great breakfast on the patio and then took a taxi to the airline office (more on that to follow) and then wandered through a modern business district that rivaled anything in Vancouver except nicer. This eventually lead us to another downtown square where we planned on catching a city tour. Unfortunately the timing wasn’t right so, being the old hands that we are with the Medellin metro, we hopped on the train again and rode out to visit two of the most popular sights in the city; the Botanical Gardens and the Science Museum. The former was fantastic, a real oasis in the heart of the city. The science museum was just like home, except larger, and catering to a broader age than just kids and young families, as evidenced by the numerous tour busses full of giggling Colombian grannies that were in awe of the 3D movie. It was seniors day at the science museum and we fit right in.

The highlight of the day had to be VERY nice lunch we had in the restaurant in the heart of the garden but memo to self; when ordering a Sangria in Colombia make sure they understand you only want one glass, not one pitcher. It was a very loooong afternoon after we finished lunch.

Now for an observation. I’m not sure how you define Backpacker but in our case it was how we approached travel throughout most of our trips to Mexico and Central America. We were never part of the hippy crowd but we definitely traveled light, had no set itinerary and our accommodation leaned heavily to the budget side of the equation. For us it was born of necessity - it’s the only way we could go each year for a month at a time - but it was more than that. We actually preferred this approach. We met great people along the way and saw incredible sights in our overland bus journeys. Given a choice of flying or riding the bus we always chose the bus. And what the hell, our luggage of choice was a backpack so I guess that made us backpackers.

But it’s been four years since we traveled this way and we’ve both discovered that that was then and this is now. Our accommodation choice now leans more to an RCI timeshare than a budget hotel and flying definitely has more appeal than a lengthy bus ride. It’s not right or wrong it just is (how’s that for Zen?) but I’m glad we did what we did when we were younger because it was a fantastic experience but we’ll be approaching things a little different going forward.

Case in point, our visit to the airline office. It turns out the buses here are excellent; full on executive class busses just like Mexico, but it’s the road system that is the problem. It’s only 650 klm from Medellin to Cartagena, a trip of 7 - 8 hours in Mexico, but here it’s 13 - 14 hours over poor roads. A little investigation on the internet however, revealed that it’s approx $65 for the bus but only $10 more to fly. Even with a cab ride to the airport it won’t cost us much more than $50 more to fly in an hour what would take us all day by bus. This is where I hang up my backpack, pick up my rolling duffle and say adios amigos to overland travel. I still think we can lay claim to traveler vs. tourist, for now, but I make no claims going forward.

With our flights booked out of Medeliin on Saturday we decided to get out of Dodge for a few days so we hopped on a small bus (I still make concessions when necessary - we‘re staying in a $15 hotel with a suicide shower for instance) and we traveled to the very pretty mountain town of Guatape. A small colonial town on the shore of a large lake, surrounded by vacation homes for the elite of Medellin. It’s a little surreal. I’m typing this at a sidewalk café overlooking a very typical Latin American town square. There’s a dog sleeping at my feet, three guys on horseback just rode by and this afternoon a donkey wandered through the square. But on the outskirts of town there are several large marina’s with boats stacked three high in storage, waiting for their absentee owners to cruise the lake in speed boats, party boats and everything in between. Such is life in Colombia!

But, here’s the best news of the day. Just out of town is El Penol, a 200 foot high granite monolith left over from the last ice age. It’s a huge landmark and quite a site - and stuck precariously to the outside is a staircase to the top that can only be found in countries with little in the way of zoning or building spec’s. That’s not to say it’s not safe - it is - just that there’s little in the way of safety rails and the stairs themselves range from OK to very very narrow. All 740 of them! But this morning, slowly but surely, with stops along the way and sometimes a death grip on the rail, we both made it to the top! That my friends, is truly life in Colombia.

Safe and sound in Guatape Colombia

Dale and Rosi

No comments:

Post a Comment