Medellin

You join me at the end of a long bus journey from Manizales to Medellin, Colombia’s second city, capital of the Antioquia region, and the place we chose to call home for a month while taking a long-overdue break after nine months in the saddle.

It was an obvious choice: Medellin is a city with a fascinating very-recent history – it was only 22 years ago that the cocaine kingpin and one of the world’s richest men, Pablo Escobar, was killed  in a shootout in the center of the city – and an equally fascinating present, with recent attempts to improve integration and spur the city’s development, including a huge shiny-new mass transit system, earning it the title of ‘the world’s most innovative city’. The city is also famous for its food – in particular the gut-busting Bandeja Paisa, with an ingredients list that would make man versus food proud – and its all-hours partying, centered around Parque Lleras in the upmarket Poblado neighbourhood.

But with all that said, Medellin is mostly a big, polluted, concrete jungle in the classic South American style. And it must surely be the largest city in the world without a park. There were also heavy thunderstorms almost every day of the four weeks we were there – although perhaps we were lucky that we spent almost none of Colombia’s wettest month for more than six years on the bikes!

Anyway, it wasn’t all doom and gloom. Mostly because for the first time in nine months we actually had friends! Well, for two days – when my buddy Gabriel and his mate Will popped by during their 10-day holiday in Colombia. We definitely did more in those two days than in the rest of the month combined, packing in a city walking tour, the obligatory Pablo Escobar tour, a visit to Comuna 13 – one of the city’s most violent neighbourhoods but recently transformed by none other than a huge set of escalators –  a game of Tejo, a ride on some of the city’s new cable cars, a Bandeja Paisa, and of course a night on the tiles of Parque Lleras, box of rum in hands.

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My buddies Gabe and Will joined us in Medellin for a couple of days. Exciting!

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We first visited Comuna 13, a formerly (and probably still) very dangerous neighborhood high in the hills above Medellin, that has been transformed by a set of bright-orange escalators providing significantly improved access to the city center for the local residents

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They were also very fun to ride down

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Even more fun was riding on one of the bizarre new slides. Presumably they weren’t also built to improve access to the city, although that would be a great idea.

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The view over the barrio and into Medellin was pretty special

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We managed to fit in a Bandeja Paisa lunch – that’s fried pork belly, chorizo, fried plantain, fried egg, beans, rice, beef, salad and an arepa. And you wonder why there are so many bellies in Colombia

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We burned off some of those calories over a late-night game of Tejo

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I even caused an explosion! (That’s a good thing)

Next up we caught some of the local street art

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Before taking a walking tour of the city. This is the Parque de las luces (park of lights) – a huge installation in the old town built on the site of a former giant homeless/drug addict hangout

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Gabe also managed to try out our bikes. #whathappenednext?

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But before we knew it they were gone, leaving us (well, Charlie) with just the gifts they kindly brought over for us!

After Gabe and Will’s flying visit we slowed things down more than a little, first moving into our exciting apartment – which had its very own pool of course! – before settling down to a bit of normality and routine: we both signed up for regular Spanish lessons, I joined the local gym to battle the exercise withdrawal symptoms, we cooked most nights in an actual kitchen and I worked on my new and exciting route map among other things (map.longwayup.org – check it out!).

But truth be told, when the day finally came we were both ready to begin cycling again…oh no hang on, actually we decided to have a Breaking Bad marathon and leave the day after!

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Our Medellin apartment block, set above the city in the Industriales neighbourhood.

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It had its own pool!

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And a great little balcony that was perfect for the bikes

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On our first night we warmed the new flat in style…with a Domino’s!

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On a rare foray into the city, we checked out some of the great Fernando Botero sculptures that have been gifted to the city by the great artist

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They are sculpted deliberately disproportionally. Some leave little to the imagination!

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Me enjoying a classic Raspado (ice with fruit squash and a lot of condensed milk) on one of the main plazas

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We also went to the football, where Medellin thrashed Pasto, the very first city we visited in Colombia

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Alcohol is banned at the matches, but in all honesty I’d probably have had a tinto anyway!

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And then, just like that, a month had flown by and it was time to load up the bikes once again

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  1. Pingback: Colombia | Long Way Up

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