On Wednesday, I had my first chance to navigate the Colombian domestic airport system with my flight from Bogota to Medellín. I hopped in a cab with some people from my hostel to the airport and was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of the airport operation. To be honest, my surprise extends to the general efficiency and infrastructure of Colombia in general, which was not was I was expecting. It’s certainly wonderful to be able to pay for things in supermarkets with Apple Pay and fly on planes that are constantly arriving early – both novelties very different from my previous experiences of travelling in Central America.
I arrived in Medellín and took an Uber to my hostel, which was quiet and deserted when I dropped off my stuff. This hostel was recommended to me by a person I met in Bogota, but no matter how many nice things I hear about a hostel, the first hours upon arrival can be intimidating and sometimes lonely as a solo traveller. I usually take this time to explore my immediate neighbourhood by myself, so I walked around Poblado. It’s a beautiful place with many parks that have the same plants I have in my apartment growing in gardens, an abundance of coffee shops, and several locations available for remote work. I also withdrew money for the first time, which was a somewhat stressful experience as my transaction completed, but did not distribute any cash to me. After some frantic panic and a broken Spanish exchange with the Banco Colombia lady, I found a different machine in the supermarket I was in and was able to sort myself out reasonably quickly. Ironically my Duolingo prep before this trip had made a giant difference in my ability to ask for help in sorting out my finances.
After returning from my errands and walk, I decided to join a group of people from the hostel in taking the train and gondola to Arvi Park. Medellín is a unique city in that their public transport system is comprised of a remarkably clean and efficient metro, a tram system, and gondolas that aid people living in the hills up to their homes. We were able to get ourselves almost to the top of the gondola line but didn’t make it in time to get to Arvi park before the special gondola closed at 6. While that was disappointing, we were able to catch some amazing views on our way down the gondola.
On Thursday morning, some hostel friends and I booked a free tour with Guru Walk to visit Communa 13. This is the section of Medellín that was once very dangerous due to drug trafficking, but has been transformed into a beautiful neighbourhood filled with street art, galleries, shops and cafes. Our guide grew up around the neighbourhood and was able to provide some personal relevance to the tour as he showed us his grandmother’s house and talked about his experiences living in the area. It was a fantastic tour; I have really enjoyed learning about Colombian history through all of these tours in the two cities so far.
On Thursday afternoon, I joined the hostel trip to the football game. Medellin has two teams, and on Thursday we went to the blue and red team’s game. A bus picked us up and took us close to the stadium for what I can only describe as a traveller’s tailgate. I bought a jersey for $6 CAD and we hung out with friends from our hostel as well as with people from other hostels. At game time, our guide led us to our seats, which was in the general admission section of the stadium. The game started with a lot of noise and then some colour smoke bombs in red and blue, the home team’s colours. The game became quite chaotic when it immediately began to pour down rain, and resulted in the red dust setting and staining our clothing and skin. In the end it just made everything more chaotic and fun.
The atmosphere in the stadium was unlike anything I have experienced, even though the stadium was barley half full. The fans sang football songs for the full 90 minutes of the game, accompanied by horn blowing, chanting, and arm waving. It was really amazing to be a part of.
The next day, some hostel friends and I took a day trip to Guatapé. Guatapé is this little town about 2 hours from Medellín, and contains a giant monolith to climb, a beautiful town, and an artificially constructed body of water. We spent the day exploring the area, first climbing the rock, having a walking tour of the town, and then taking a scenic boat ride on the water. It was a long but fun day!
On Saturday, I signed up for a free walking tour of Medellín with a friend from my hostel. We had an awesome guide named Nicholas and were the only two people that booked the tour, so again like my bike tour in Bogota, it was nice to be able to talk to him about his life and experiences of living in the city. The highlight was waking through the market district, which was super busy with people selling every object imaginable.
In the afternoon, a group of us from the hostel decided to see if we could go to the football game without the help and organization of the hostel as it would be cheaper and take less time. We figured out how to take the metro to the stadium, found the ticket booth, and were able to purchase tickets for 35k pesos each – essentially $10 Canadian per ticket. We were sat in the fan section of the stadium, and this game was much more lively than the Thursday game! This team was bigger and had much better attendance than the last game. With the flags and banners and green and white everywhere, we were joking that it felt like we were at a quidditch game as the decorations looked the same as in Harry Potter. Unfortunately the home team lost this game, but again, it was unbelievably exciting to be in this type of atmosphere.
Medellin was an amazing place and I could have spent many more days there. I wanted to take some time to recognize my hostel where I stayed, called the Black Sheep Hostel. I can confidently say was one of the best hostels I have ever stayed in. The accommodation itself was fine, but the community atmosphere and overall loveliness of all the guests was a really special experience. There is a giant kitchen table located at the front of the hostel where people gathered at all times of day, which made my entire time in this city solo travelling feel the opposite of lonely.
On Sunday, one of my new friends and I flew from Medellín to Santa Marta, and we joined up with a friend I met at the first soccer game here. On Monday we started our four day trek to Ciudad Pérdida, the Lost City. Stay tuned for an update on this trek in the next few days as I recover from that adventure!