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.