The Medellin Metro-cable system was something that we were told we couldn’t leave the city without riding. The beautiful and amazing thing about this metro-cable is that it’s treated as if it’s simply another metro line in the city. You don’t have to pay anything extra to hitch an aerial ride up the side of the mountain. Pablo, our Real City tour guide was beyond proud of not only the Medellin Metro-cable, but of the entire metro system. He told us that he wasn’t the only one either. Everyone in Medellin is proud of their public transport system. So proud, that he pointed out you won’t see any graffiti on the train, trash, or anyone being disrespectful. It’s true. The metro is clean. There wasn’t one scratch to be seen. The Medellin Metro-cable was installed for the main purpose of allowing the poorer population that lives high up into the mountainside an affordable, easier method of travel. In another part of the city, free escalators have been installed for the same purpose. We went for a ride in the metro-cable to not only see the city from above, but also to check out Parque Arvi. As always, we seemed to time it perfectly and got off the last metro-cable car right as it started to rain. We didn’t stay long, and instead enjoyed a peaceful and beautiful ride back down into the city below.
Real City Medellin Walking Tour is no joke. It’s four hours long, covers a LOT of history and geography of Medellin. We’re all. about. walking tours, but I had to mentally prepare myself for a four hour tour. in the rain. in Medellin. Luckily, Pablo, our guide was pretty great and it was easy to forget how long the tour was because his explanations of the past and how it has led to the present in Medellin (and Colombia) were fascinating. Sometimes a bit hard to follow, but I think that’s because I get caught up on details when normal people can get the gist through a broader explanation. The group was a little big (20+) but Pablo still managed to make sure everyone could hear and often talked to different people in between stops. This is something I always appreciate when we’re on a walking tour.
While we did walk a lot downtown, we also stopped quite often for Pablo to explain different things relating specifically to Medellin or more broadly to Colombia. When I was in college, my friends and I took a “Theater in Chicago” course where every Thursday night we would go to see a different play. It was pretty great. One of the plays we saw was a one man show that chronicled a road trip around America after 9-11. It was fabulous. I mention this now because the way Pablo talked about life in Medellin (and Colombia) reminded me of that one man show. While I loved the tour, I almost wanted to suggest Pablo turn the tour itself into his own one-man show.
It was often hard to photograph things on the tour because of the rain. We weren’t often inside, except when we walked through this old government building that has since been turned into a market. It reminded me of Dongdaemoon in Seoul. Fake Nikes, watches, sunglasses, whatever you were in the market for. It wasn’t only on sale inside this beautiful building- but the street outside was overtaken by vendors as well. I had to laugh when Pablo told us to be on the lookout for the ridiculously large busted mannequins. Perhaps it was only the day before my jaw dropped seeing one. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any inside the building, so I wasn’t able to take a picture and share with you!
This church is right down the street from Plaza Botero and the art museum we visited just the day before. Pablo didn’t hold back on the tour. He didn’t hide the less pretty parts of Medellin from us. at. all. He told us to gather close to him and then pointed out all of the girls ‘working’ outside of the church. Most congregated near some public phone booths. He explained that because of Catholicism’s heavy influence in all of Colombia, men visit the church after an encounter with a girl, and will believe that they have repented for their sins, therefore they have a clean slate after. We all chuckled, and then ducked inside the church to see what it looked like on the inside.
Quite a ways away, we visited this huge church and surrounding square. Pablo warned us not to come to this square alone, and not to wander down any of the surrounding streets and alleyways. Lots of drugs are used around this church. I’m certainly not surprised by the prostitution or drug use, but I have to admit I was somewhat amazed at how these activities seemed to always be within a few steps of a church.
We ended our tour in another square that used to be a marketplace. That is, until a bomb went off at the base of this Botero sculpture. Medellin used to be one of (if not the most) the most dangerous cities in the world. It was shocking to hear about how many were killed on a daily basis. Right now, there is more crime in Washington DC than there is in Medellin.
It was rainy. Again. So we weren’t the quickest getting out of our guesthouse. When we finally left, we headed for Plaza Botero and Museo de Antioquia in the center. The plaza was bigger than I expected it to be, and despite the number of police officers milling about, it still felt a little rough around the very polished Botero edges. We walked through Plaza Botero taking each sculpture in and even stopped to chat with a very friendly local. The Museum, Museo de Antioquia has a huge (mostly donated) collection of Botero paintings. Despite being a fan, having just gone to the Botero Museum in Bogota, I was a little excited to see there was a small wing of other artists’ works on display. My favorite was this piece by Antonio Caro:
I can’t reiterate enough that I do enjoy Botero very much. However, people watching in Plaza Botero proved to be just as enjoyable. Maybe it was because the giant sculptures made such excellent backdrops to most of the interactions between vendors and tourists or children and their parents taking the picture, or even the police officers who asked us to sign a pledge that we were not doing drugs in Medellin. At least, I think that’s what we pledged!
Inside Museo de Antioquia, we headed for the Botero wing first. There were more oversized paintings, more sculptures, and lots of early works that were interesting to see. I enjoyed this pair of paintings of Marie Antoinette and King Louis. Andrew’s favorite was the sculpture of a green violin.
In another wing of the building (a beautiful old city building I might add) was a more contemporary collection. This piece below was titled “School Bad” by Colombian artist Paulo Licona. The entire piece is made of pieces of chalk. I thought it was clever. Aside from this piece, and the few pieces (below) by Antonio Caro, I think the museum’s collection of contemporary art was a little lacking.
If you haven’t caught on yet, Andrew and I are big big fans of eating the local dishes. One of the most famous dishes of Colombia is bandeja paisa. We actually first learned about this mammoth of a meal on No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain. As soon as the dish was delivered to Bourdain onscreen, Andrew’s eyes lit up and I knew we would be trying it for ourselves on our trip. Today turned out to be that day. Bandeja paisa consists of a pile of white rice topped with chicharrón, chorizo, a fried egg, a grilled plantain, beans, avocado, and arepa (a plantain patty of sorts). Traditionally, I think it’s a lunch meal. We were advised to share one hearing about how huge (and heavy) it is. To be completely honest, I wasn’t hugely satisfied with the dish until we had it again (a few days later) and then I completely fell in love with the different flavors.
The difficult part of the bandeja paisa is mixing everything together on the one plate that’s given. It’s a challenge and we weren’t always the neatest when doing so. I also recommend adding some spice to it. It gives it even more flavor and the sweet plantain, avocado, and even beans balance the spice out whenever it hits you.
Find a friend to share this beast with. If it’s not mouthwatering the first time, try somewhere else. Out of our three tries, we only really, really loved one. But it was worth it, sampling others!