J buying flowers for our lovely Spanish teachers
With a last wash of our pants in our very own washing machine, we crammed our lives back into our backpacks, bought flowers for our lovely teachers (in Spanish), loaded our hire car (the collecting of which took 5 hours of our lives away…. Top Tip: do not use Expedia. They are really really shit. Cheap, but really, really shit) and waved goodbye to the wonderful city of Medellin.
Medellín is what Egypt isn’t. If you want historical marvels and desert sunsets, don’t come here. If you want your days filled with bouncing from one museum or ancient site to the next, don’t come here. If you want to be hassled by thriving tossers every time you step on the street and witness gender inequality everywhere you look, don’t come here. If you like expensive beer and shit wine, don’t come here. Well, the wine is a little expensive here, but the practically free beer compensates for that.
Medellín has been about the people and the experience of being in a different culture. In a month we felt like we were really getting to know the place....... or at least the bits we hung about in......
I’ve covered Spanish classes already, but they were a very important part of the experience as the teachers weren’t just teaching us the language, they were helping us understand the country, and the more we learnt, the more we liked it.
Outside the classes, 99% of our experiences with other people have been fantastic, 0.9% just ok and the final 0.01% was a Trump voter from the US who told everyone he had a Maserati and thought all immigrants were bad people. He was a c**t.
Colombia seems to be a kind society that looks after family, where often men stand for women on public transport, no matter if they are young or old, where people queue nicely (at least in Medellín.... we have been in a few undignified scrums since we left the city), where people go out of their way to help others. They are happy to see tourists and they are proud of their city. Pretty much everyone that we have spoken to for more than 30 minutes has given us their number and made us promise that if we had any problems or needed any help, we would contact them.
It is a clean city, not because the council employs an army of people, but because very few people drop litter and most go out each day and sweep the street outside their homes. They pick up their dog poo, they use bins, they think about their environment.
We have sat outside bars watching happy people enjoy life in any way they can and have seen lots and lots of great behaviour. In some of those bars, we have been a novelty and very much welcomed by the locals. One guide told us that Colombians have an off switch for their memories; bad memories don’t exist, so if the present is good, they are happy. The same guide asked us to consider if in our own countries we really had so much to complain about.
There is noise, colour, music and laughter everywhere. In December it is more than everywhere somehow. Everywhere plus…….not always great at 1 am…..
We loved the Museum of Antioquia, with it’s lashings of Botero. We loved the ability to get to Parque Avi so easily. We loved the other small bits of sightseeing we did. But what we really really loved was just being in the city, meeting people and living a different life. People wanted to talk to us and they are interested and interesting.
All this, plus having had a ‘routine’ for a month (i.e, not living out of a backpack and having the discipline of school) means that we leave recharged. It is sad to leave but we know we have great adventures ahead.
Some more of the wonderful Botero.
I got to know Medellín a little through the Netflix show ‘Narcos’. For me the series has a perfect balance between history, action, social commentary and boobs.
Through it I knew a bit of the history of Pablo Escobar and was happy to visit the ruins of his holiday house in Guatape. On that tour the guide said that people in Medellín were a little funny about Escobar and many tours won’t even mention his name.
A few days later, we went on the ‘Free City Tour’ in Medellín, which is exactly what it says on the tin, and only a tip is asked for (they recommend 20-40,000 COP per person, which is about AU$8-16, for a really great 4 hours tour. I strongly recommend it.) It takes you through the downtown area of the city, which is a mass of humanity and history and the guide helps you really understand the city’s past.
The pre 1970’s history is pretty simple; the conquistadors came, didn’t find gold, set up a capital 80km away in, the very hot, Santa Fe de Antioquia, and stayed there until they realised it was too bloody hot (it took us half a day to work that out). The railroad then came to Medellín, government went there and it rapidly expanded. Some of the expansion was planned (in the valley) the rest was not (the favelas in the hills).
The hills and the valleys
By the 70s there were millions of people, most of whom were living in poverty with no government support………… and the world (and in particular the good old US of A) discovered cocaine. In the background, left wing organisations were fighting for the rights of the poor, right wing organisations were fighting to stop communism and the government were fighting the left, right and narcos.
The 70s to the late 90s were really horrible for Medellín and mostly civilians suffered. At its peak, Medellin had a murder rate more than 3 times higher than the most dangerous city on earth right now. Can you imagine that? I am sure no one would dream of going to any of the top 10 in the world right now and this place was 4 times worse.
Medellín was particularly bad because of one person; Pablo Escobar, so you can see why they are not so keen on him. One of our teachers’ brothers was killed when serving his national service in the army, another person we met lost her uncle. You do not have to look far to find someone affected by the conflict. Some are angry about shows like Narcos. They feel that the young don’t understand the reality and now aspire to the narco lifestyle. Others feel that whilst he was a bad man, he built some houses for the poor, so that’s ok…… “How many houses make up for killing your family?” was the question posed by our guide. Most hate him.
Botera’s take on Escobar’s death
After his death in 1992, things began to improve, but it took a while. Successive hard arsed governments and some genuinely inspiring government investments have turned Medellín into a lovely city, though one still with challenges.
The metro, mentioned earlier, is a huge deal. It really does break down the invisible barriers between rich and poor areas and provides an affordable lifeline to a better future. The locals love it and respect it. You will not see a cleaner metro system outside Japan.
In the centre, they are cleaning the place up. The old market area, once only used by prostitutes, criminals and the homeless is now a lovely public space. There are public libraries with computers for all to use and free classes. There are shared bikes that are free for an hour and that people use to get from A to B on cycle routes. These bikes do not end up in rivers or get trashed at the bike racks.
It is not finished yet though and outside one of the old churches is the area the prostitutes now hang out. Why outside a church? Well, as the guide said, a man can come along, take a women to a local ‘love hotel’, then confess his sins all in one very convenient location, then start again. The joys of being a Catholic……
We got up close to the favelas on a tour of the area known as Comuna 13. This was, until quite recently, the most dangerous part of the worlds most dangerous city and was ruled by the drug gangs. In the late 90s, two large scale military operations tried to take control of the area. Both failed and many civilians died or disappeared. Then the government tried something new. They invested in the community. We are not talking huge bucks; building a library and a school, putting in escalators so that people can get up the hills more easily (there are no roads after a point), building a reasonable footpath etc. The residents did the rest and now it is safe enough for it to be a significant tourist attraction and people come there to learn about the history, see how 60% of the cities population live and look at the rather great street graffiti.
Seeing how a city can turn itself around really is inspiring. It is not perfect. I think there is still corruption, narcos still exist, crime is high compared to the places most of us were lucky enough to be born in and many still don’t have the basics, but it is changing rapidly and with the support of the majority. If you live in a nice area with all the amenities you need, you pay extra to subsidise investment in the areas that have nothing and as far as we can see, people understand the need for this.
I can’t help but contrast this approach to the austerity of the UK, that is causing the gap between rich and poor to widen, that sees library’s, public toilets and parks shut in the most needy areas and sees crime rates rising. Do we need to hit rock bottom before we understand a different approach may be better? I am not being a foaming at the mouth commie here. I am not suggesting that Buckingham Palace should become a hostel for the homeless and it’s gardens allotments, only that in a society that has some of the richest people in the world, that could ensure that the richest were bailed out in the banking crisis and has so much spare money that we can decide to have a poorer UK for the next fifteen (to fifty years) as long as it means we ‘take back control’ (whatever the fuck that means), can probably afford to not have increasingly large amounts of people going to food banks, can probably afford to have fewer homeless and should be ashamed that there is an increase of children below the poverty line. (I know I live in Oz now (which is not far off the UK in its approach to those less well off) so shouldn’t go on, but I love the best of the UK and am sad to se it destroy itself).
Some of the reward of travelling is not just seeing the lovely stuff but learning about how others live, how a good society can develop for all and just how lucky we are to have been born in developed countries.
The bird on the left had a bomb put in it, which killed 30. The artist Botero insisted it stayed in place and he donated a new one. He wanted to acknowledge the past and show the future was better.
When you arrive in a country and, on day one of a three month stay realise that pretty much no one speaks your language, you know that you have a problem………. The solution? Stay in Medellin for a month to learn more Spanish.
After 4 months on the road, concentrating on anything grown-up was going to be a challenge and as I share many of the characteristics of Joey from friends when it comes to learning a language, this was going to be special.
Due to a small lack of organisation, week one was a bit of a slow start and we only managed to book 3 one hour sessions with the wonderful Diego and Angela from the ABC Spanish School, who were incredibly patient with us as we stumbled our way through the basics. After 3 hours, despite their best efforts, I could only focus on what I didn’t know or understand and felt incredibly stupid. Besides being patient teachers, it turns out that Diego is a rather gifted guitarist and we spent our second Saturday night in the rather nice Café Cliché listening to a fantastic live performance.
Week two saw us start lessons in the Elefun Spanish School, which has structured learning and other activities to help budding students. We signed up to 4 hours a day for three weeks, and for weeks 2&3, for an additional hour of one on one coaching each day. 5 hours a day……… Our heads really, really hurt.
The teachers are great. Young, bright, with a great sense of humour and a teaching style that we could work with. Even with all that, I did at times find myself having flashbacks to French lessons at school when I was completely and utterly lost and just wanted the lesson to end as quickly as possible. I was very low at times and by Friday of week one needed to find solace in 2 for 1 Mojitos. That happened on week 2 as well. Week three had a party at school. Maybe it is just a Friday thing.
J and I were in a class together and only on week two did we have another student in class. He was a charming and patient Swiss who endured the J & J ‘banter’ that our friends will know well with good grace. For the other two weeks it was just us and Jennifer, our teacher, who without doubt understands the English language better than I do and helped us understand Spanish as much as helping us to speak it.
Mostly J & I played nicely in class. Mostly.
Much fun in Elefun
What happens when you forget that there is a masculine and feminine version of the Spanish for teacher
Elefun also offered various classes and experiences. We went along to a ‘understanding chocolate’ class where we learned about good and bad chocolate and the negative effect the big companies (Nestle etc) have on poor farmers of developing countries, got to eat local food and had a free dancing class. Just so you know, I already understand chocolate pretty well......hence the running,,,,,,
The dancing lesson was hilarious. J and I have all the coordination of a Conservative government negotiating a Brexit deal and I think we found the experience far funnier than we ought to have. The best thing is that the man is most definitely the lead…… and J loves that. At times it was less dancing, more wrestling….
Our final ‘event’ was a fiesta to celebrate the immaculate conception and in Colombia, this means people coming out on to the street, lighting candles, drinking, dancing and cooking traditional food. We did a fair amount of drinking, I did a little dancing, we mostly missed out on the eating and those who have seen my Facebook photo will have seen it got a little messy for me. It was a lot of fun.
So, at the end of 70 hours of Spanish lessons, at least 15 minutes of Duolingo a day (it’s a rather fantastic language training app) and listening to bi-lingual podcasts on my runs, how are we doing? Whilst the fact that we still don’t know lots and lots and lots is undeniable, we have to admit we have come along way. We can express ourselves in most scenarios and even managed to get a little irate in Spanish with a mobile phone provider that was being less than helpful. The challenge remains listening. The locals speak Spanish in the same way a Scottish man on speed speaks English. The words can spew out into the air around us and we grapple to make sense, sometimes managing to give a coherent reply, and at other times say things we know how to say, regardless of the question asked………
Buses in all developing countries are a wonderful and sometimes challenging way to get amongst the population. Colombia is no different and is a mixture of the organised and the strange.
Medellin is lovely but everybody told us that there are some lovely places to visit outside the city at a weekend, so we drew up a list of places we wanted to visit. So far we have visited Guatape, a small town on a huge reservoir about 2 hours east of the city, and Jardin (pronounced Harden) allegedly 3 hours to the south (on a Fri afternoon it took us 4.5).
There are two big bus stations in Medellin, one in the north (Teminal Del Norte) and one in the south (………………. Can you guess what it’s called…..? Teminal Del Sur). Both are in the organised department. There are various desks selling tickets for different private companies to different destinations in the large ticket hall, separated from the departure area by security gates. It is all very controlled and whilst there are a few people who may not be the best sorts, they are few and if they are not travelling, they are no where near the buses.
The busses themselves come in varied colours and sizes and are mostly designed for Colombians……… Colombians are in general rather smaller and more lithe than the average westerner, so the seats aren’t huge. The four we have been on have all been comfortable. Two had aircon and the other two plenty of windows. They all had an entertainment system you could access through mobile devices to watch stuff in Spanish.
A ticket bought in a station gets you an allocated seat (and I managed to buy some on line and chose my seat too) and there is a boot for larger items of luggage that gets locked between stops and only the driver has the key, All very secure.
The life on these buses comes once on the trip. The order of the bus station disappears and people hop on and hop off at various places; if there’s room, jump on, so if in a pair, don’t spread out to the free seats as you leave the station as you will soon have a new friend…….who may sleep on your shoulder. There are also various vendors who hop on at various points, selling crisps, fried food, cake, pop, and stuff like selfie sticks, moving down the bus, giving their sales spiel and making transactions whilst the bus is moving. They then hop off, cross to the other side of the road, wave down a bus going the other way and do the same again until they get back to where they started.
The countryside around Medellin is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Firstly, it is very, very green and I think things grow with incredible ease. There are patches of rainforest, coffee and banana plantations, flower nurseries and lush fields everywhere you look, clinging to the dramatically steep mountains and valleys. It really is very very stunning and J and I too often say ‘crikey this is gorgeous/beautiful/amazing/a great place to buy a small farm………..
We got closer to nature in Jardin, once on a horse ride to some waterfalls near town, and once on a long walk to another waterfall that, rather spectacularly, comes through a hole in the roof of a cave.
The first was less about the waterfall and more about getting up high in the hills and being amongst the farmland. We stopped once at a small swimming hole that had a bar next to it and we enjoyed a celebratory beer with the other couple on the ride to toast their recent engagement (and got to practice more Spanish). We then climbed higher above the town and stopped in a small farm to have tea and some very traditional food consisting of sugar, milk and maize (very much not to Jodies taste). Here, and on our walk, we were surrounded by bird song, we got to see some brightly coloured parrots and smaller birds and, were greeted by one beautiful view after another.
In the evening we went to a very small park at the base of a valley that is home to the rather ridiculous yet colourful looking bird called the “Andean Cock of the Rock” whose beaks are hidden by feathers so that they look just a little bit dumb.
People who know me well will know that I love being in the country and in this countryside it is impossible not to smile.
The other feature of Jardin is its horse culture. There are a lot of good looking horses about and on a Saturday night it appears that the thing to do if you have a horse is to put on your best shirt, jeans and hat, and head into the town square. There were close to a hundred there.
The riders seem to either hop off, give the horse to a small child to look after, then go for a beer in a bar, or stay on and get a shot of rum or Aguardiente to down very quickly before trotting to the next bar. J and I found a place to drink beer, and rum and had a lovely hour or so watching a very different and rather wonderful version of a Saturday night. We thought it would be wonderful for Freddie and Mr P to visit .
In Guatape, we got out on the huge lake on a tour to Pablo Escobar’s holiday house, that was bombed by his rivals in the early ‘90s. If you’ve seen Narcos you will know all about him and I have to say he picked a great spot for a house. It remains in ruins and is run by his former security chief who somehow could afford to buy it………. It is an interesting place, but I have mixed feelings about going, as Escobar was a rather ruthless man who ruined thousands, if not millions, of lives. I will talk a bit more about Escobar when I cover the free “City Tour of Medellin”.
The other reason to go to Guatape is to walk up the impressive Piñon, a huge rock that sticks into the air, the summit of which is reached via 750 steps. At the top you can get some great photos…….. and beer with fresh mango in it. We went up at breakfast time and to me, anything with fruit in is a health food so having a glass for breakfast is absolutely fine and normal…..
The bottom line is that getting out and about from Medellin is hugely rewarding and highly recommended. Your Spanish will be tested, as few speak English, but you will find helpful and kind people looking after you in lovely places.
Medellin is a city that has about 4m people in the metro area, some of whom are amongst the richest in the world, and others, the poorest. We are, of course, staying in a suburb nearer the former but have been keen to get out and about and explore.
It is reasonably easy to get out and about thanks to a reasonably good public transport system that combines trains, trams and three ‘metro cables’. The latter are cable cars like the ones in ski resorts that take people high above the higgeldy piggeldy streets of the favelas that climb the hills ringing the city, stopping at ‘stations’ in them. They are hugely efficient and offer great views as well as a glimpse of the favelas without going in to them. They also provide a vital link to the city for those who live in the hills and need access to the city for work, education, healthcare etc. Some of the homes are in modern apartment blocks, some are rough brick and the most basic are wooden structures on stilts, built on slopes so steep a fall from the front door would probably end in a hospital visit. We are looking forward to exploring at ground level soon.
At the top of one of the public systems is a separate cable car which stretches for a couple more Kms, over the top of the hill, across some beautiful woodland into Parque Arvi. This massive park has a visitors centre, a small market and plenty of walks. So essentially, the journey from city centre to countryside takes about 30 minutes. And costs almost nothing for locals and only a little more for tourists.
We have spent a little time in the city centre too, to visit the Plaza Boltero, home of a number of statues from our new favourite artist (the fat peoples one). Whilst our suburb is safe, it is still a little edgy, especially at night. The city centre is rather more edgy, even during the day. There is a move afoot to reclaim the centre from the homeless, the prostitutes and the many people who just seem to spend the day just sitting around looking vaguely intimidating. They have a bit of a way to go. It didn’t feel unsafe, but we were very aware of who was close to us and felt markedly more relaxed when we got back to Laureles. I wouldn’t say ‘don’t go’ in daylight, but I would advise to minimise what you take and ‘give no papayas’.
One of the joys in having our own place is that we can cook, but cooking can be hard when it involves getting ingredients in places that don’t speak English and have fruit the likes of which we have never seen before, so we hatched a plan.
On day 2 in Medellin, through an AirBnB experience, we met the lovely Nataly, a sassy local who had been a consultant, went travelling to Europe for a while and didn’t fancy the consulting lark on her return, so started a cooking experience. With her we went the the Mercado de Suramerica, a traditional market on the edge of Laureles. It has pretty much everything you can want for a good meal; loads of fruit, veggies, fish, meat…….pigs heads, tripe…. Etc (J by-passed those aisles and bought some flowers for the apartment). It also has stalls where you can sit and watch the world go by with a beer or local rum in hand, which would be useful on future visits.
Nataly cut around the place like she owned it, explained to us what everything was, helped us understand what a friendly environment it was then took us home to cook. We learned that despite the copious amounts of fruit, the Colombian diet was not healthy and the key ingredients to most things is sugar and frying stuff. Even the fruit juice has a ton of sugar added. Other fruits are fried.
We had a meal of pork belly, beans, rice, plantains (squashed and deep fried), followed by fruits stewed with sugar and cinnamon. J gave the pork a miss.
It was a lovely meal, a great experience and gave us the confidence to go and shop where the locals shop. We have been back since, but mostly sat at a bar, had a beer and watched the world go by.
Colombia is a happy place and shows that through a lot of festivals. There are festivals every month….. except November. ‘Why not November?’ I hear you cry. Coz it’s too friggin wet. It rains pretty much every day. The pattern seems to be that it rains every night and every afternoon, and that rain is very, very intense. In Bogotá, the rain is a little cold too.
We flew into Medellín during the afternoon rains/thunderstorms which caused our medium sized train to be tossed around like a medium sized plane in a thunderstorm. I don’t like bumpy flights but was slightly distracted by Andy, a charming Kiwi orchid grower who had recently relocated to Colombia, as he tried and failed to look calm, using an arm against the roof and the other against the seat in front to wedge himself into the seat whilst he talked rapidly about ‘afternoon rains’.
There was also rare civil disturbance occurring in town as we landed due to a public servants strike getting ugly. This caused the still slightly illegal Uber drivers to be even more paranoid than normal.
When you mentioned Medellín to anyone outside Colombia, they normally want to talk about Pablo Escobar. If you do the same to a Colombian they start to wax lyrical about what a beautiful city it is, about how much we will like it and about its great climate. In November this means the rain is much warmer than Bogotá, but cooler than the Caribbean coast.
We have a flat for a month in the Laureles area of the city, a safe, walking friendly, relatively flat and green suburb to the south west of the centre (Airbnb, 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, AU$40 per night) and are loving being able to unpack, wash pants without a kerffufle, cook for ourselves and occasionally watch Netflix with a glass of wine in hand. The travelling stuff is great, but a bit of normality is great too.
To get to know the area we went to an expats meet and greet in a local pub, called rather imaginatively ‘The Local Pub’. In my head, I had an image of a bunch of people like us, standing around chatting, swapping tips and resulting in people to stay in touch with for the next month. After a twenty something telling us we must push ourselves to get out of our comfort zones, another telling us about his failed Tinder date resulting in him waking up in hospital and an exceptionally dull retired, Trumpesq American cornering us with lines like ‘I don’t mean to name drop, but I used to work for Microsoft’ & “The poor have the Metrocable (a cable car public transport system), to get them into town so they have all the opportunity they need, we left.
AirBnB is no longer all about opportunist landlords pushing up house prices in tourist cities, turning neighbours houses and apartments into living hell as stag parties take over homes or enabling people like us to afford a second home, it is now also about experiences. The experiences enable enthusiastic amateurs to help you get to know their area through guided walks, cooking classes, wine tasting and many other things. They can be a bit hit or miss, but I think they are generally a good thing.
In Bogotá, we signed up to a horse riding experience on a small farm about 90 minutes north of the city, hosted by Danial and his family. The trip north took us out of the city and along the incredibly lush, green valley that the city sits on in the hills of the Andes. It was a holiday so there were hordes of cyclists out and a reasonable amount of police. The police are mostly there as a public relations exercise, trying to reinforce the message to locals that their country is now safe. On one bridge there is a protocol that’s the soldiers and police give you the thumbs up to say “all is ok” and you return the gesture.
The experience itself was fantastic. We took beautiful horses high into the hills for a couple of hours, accompanied by Daniel, his father, one of the stable workers and three lovely dogs.
We also got a tour of their hummingbird inhabited garden accompanied by their ancient Pug, to eat wonderful local food and play the national bar game; Tejo. This involves throwing heavy lumps of metal at a metal frame full of clay. Within the clay is a ring of metal on which a few small packages of explosives sit. If the lump of metal you throw hits the small package of explosives where it sits on the metal ring, it goes ‘bang!’and shoots out smoke and flame. All very exciting. J proved to be pretty good at this and if she wasn’t missing the target by a country mile, leading to a few prolonged searched for the projectiles, she was getting it bang on, beating everyone else hands down.
It felt like we were meeting a friends family rather than being on an experience and I genuinely had a aching face from smiling all day. Absolutely brilliant.
One of the nice things about being in a city that has important things like pavements, basic road rules and pedestrian crossings, and lacks thick smog, large piles of rubbish and baking heat is that it is easy to get out and about on foot. Our Middle East leg of the trip had made us more and more immobile and the fact that our calories in had not altered meant that this was a little worrying.
Bogotá has a rather marvellous thing called the Ciclovia that involves closing down 100s of km of roads to motorists every Sunday and public holiday and opening them up to cyclists, runners, walkers, skateboarders and skaters. There are refreshment stalls, security posts and general good cheer all around, and more than one million people use it each day that it is open. It is very far from the image of the city that I had and I loved it, using it twice. The first time was to go for a run on my own. I have been trying to get back into running having had a break mostly due to environment but also missing a couple of opportunities through lack of motivation (one marathon every 10 years may well be my limit) and Bogotá was a bit of a shock to the system. I was kicking myself on my first run, finding that I had let myself go enough to find a relatively short and slow run to be a bit of a strain. It was a bit of a relief to be reminded that Bogotá is the worlds second highest capital city and has only 90% of the oxygen content that our bodies are used to. I am sure the shawarma, wine, beer, pizza etc didn’t help, but this gave me a bit of an excuse.
The second trip took J and I north to the Sunday markets in the suburb of Usequen. They are a little like a larger, more spaced out version Sydney’s Paddington markets, with loads of really interesting local crafts, entertainment and food stalls in a really nice suburb. We felt very at home, brought a hammock for the Folly, drank craft beer and smiled a lot. Well worth a visit.
Towards the end of the day, the heavens opened very seriously and we first took shelter in a boozer before realising that Cinema Paradiso across the road showed films with their original soundtrack and Spanish subtitles, let you take booze into the film and was showing Bohemian Rhapsody. The cinema is great and the film fantastic.
Bogotá is a reasonably diverse city, with different characteristics in different suburbs, although ethnic diversity seems very limited when compared with other major cities like Sydney, London or Paris. We saw some of the more ‘colourful’ areas when we visited the huge fruit and flower market on the edge of Downtown (if you like real, working markets I recommend holding out until you get to Medellin’s more manageable and friendlier Plaza De Mercado La America) and the up and coming area of Chapinero. The latter is allegedly the centre of the cities gay area and this is why we went. Generalising hugely, J and I associate the gay community with style, flair, good places to eat and drink, good music, fun and friendliness. We must have got the wrong place and I cannot imagine any of our gay friends choosing to live there. This area is ok, but a little ropey and the best place we found was a very small craft beer place where we took shelter until our Uber arrived, returning us to our local area and 3 for 1 Mojito’s. The evening got a little messy……
The other bits
Bogotá is not all posh. We concluded that we were staying in the Knightsbridge of the city after taking trips to the Swindon, Hull and Newcastle sink estate parts of town. I should have understood that we were in the posh bit when I found three different types of Fevertree tonic in the local supermarket.
In some ways we hoped that we were in a particularly posh bit as it was also a reasonably expensive bit. Not Singapore expensive but close to Sydney prices, which is fine, except that our budget assumptions were that Colombia would be relatively cheap. As we took shelter from a rain storm in a small bar in the old Downtown area, drinking Caprihinias for about AU$4 each and beers for AU$2, we realised that all was well in the world. This scenario could have gone horribly wrong, except that we knew that this part of town was unsafe after dark so had a reason to leave before it got too messy.
So is Bogoata safe? There is a great expression here; ‘Don’t give papaya’, which basically means don’t let yourself be taken advantage of. In practice this means that we do not wear our rings or watches, I carry a wallet with decoy cards and a little money to give up easily in the event we are ‘asked’ for our money and the minimal amounts of the rest of the stuff I carry is in a deeper hide. We stay aware of who is around us and we don’t go to deserted areas.
On our first night in Medellin, we went along to an expats gathering in a local boozer and met a young man who had been drugged on a Tinder date and woke up in hospital robbed of all his stuff and suffering concussion. J and I have decided not to go on any Tinder dates.
This makes it all sound very dodgy, but all these things are easy to do and we really do feel ok here, walking places at night, drinking in more local places and generally relaxing. It is pretty typical of any large South American city.
Bogotá’s ‘unsafe at night’ downtown area is home to big old buildings, narrow streets of old houses and some great museums so it is worth going there in daylight. We loved the Boltera museum. It has some great international works but is home to many works by the artist the place is named after. He paints and sculpts various normal scenes but everything is fat. The people, the dogs, the horses, the fruit; all fat. But fat in a nice way and J and I smiled all the way around.