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.
Next up we caught some of the local street art
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!