Well, it’s been a bit since we were in Medellin (which, by the way, the locals pronounce Me-da-jeen), but I would like go back and write some of the rest of our experiences there before they become even more distant. Let’s see how far I get before little Z wakes from her nap. (Also, if you missed it, you can find the first post in our Medellin adventures here.)
Taxi-ing Around Medellin
First, let’s talk about the taxis. They have been the main form of transportation for our adventures. We have been incredibly fortunate to have our friends who are living here (one of which is native to Medellin) guide us through most of our travels, as the taxis apparently don’t work off simple addresses as I would have assumed. Being that our Spanish is very rusty/nonexistent, and our accomodation was a tricky one to direct the drivers to, we didn’t dare attempt an outing far from there without the company of our Spanish-speaking saviours.
The taxis were something Little Miss really has been enjoying, showing her excitement and exclaiming “Taxi! Taxi! In taxi!” whenever she sees one of the yellow cars. The safety precautions, however, are much different here, so it is something to get used to, simply holding our precious cargo on our laps without any seatbelts (I have yet to be in a taxi with working, or even existing, seatbelts), and always keeping my guard up as we drive along. I look forward to car seats and safety belts when we get back home, so my nerves can calm down.
So where did we go? What did we do?
This section within the larger area of Poblado was just a short walk from our apartment. We really enjoyed the feel of this lively area, where small cafés, restaurants, hostels, hotels, and shops lined the streets. It seemed to be a place where backpackers and tourists came to enjoy the city, and it gave off somewhat of a vacationer vibe. While we generally steer toward the more local, less touristy destinations, this trip was already so far out of our element with so little English around that we were happy to come across the odd menu we could easily understand and the fact that we didn’t need to confuse our situation by taking a taxi we could only direct with few words and no sense of where we were.
We happened to be in town for the big once-a-month local artesenal market in El Centro, so we popped on down on our last day there and checked out what was laid out for sale. There were a large variety of handmade items, clothes, bags, and incense galore. There was even a large section of antiques, with many very interesting old finds that I would have loved to snap up if we didn’t have to consider the (non)space and weight available in our luggage for the remaining domestic flights and the return home at the end of the trip.
Before long, the rains came down and we quickly hailed a taxi, but I was able to pick up a couple small things before we left. One was a bag I’m excited about, which was handpainted by the lovely woman who sold it to me, who had some English to explain that she had drawn the beautiful tree design from her mind, and it held a lot of significance for the sacred feminine.
Beyond the artesian market, El Centro was a full and bustling place. The streets for many, many blocks were lined with small shops selling pretty well anything you might ever need. The shops seemed to be grouped together in categories. A cell phone district, a sandal district, a material (or “confection”) district, remotes over here, belts over there… If you needed something, there was an area where you could find all of the options (albeit overwhelmingly) together.
The Suitcase Fix
Something I find extremely admirable about Colombian culture is the dedication to fixing broken items, rather than simply disposing of them. During the voyage to get here, my large suitcase, full to the brim with clothes and necessities for Little Z and myself, had obviously been through a trauma that resulted in the zipper being damaged. After finally getting it open, there was no way of closing it up again. With a few domestic flights before our journey home, we were forced to address the damaged suitcase before leaving Medellin for the coast.
Trying to come up with a solution, it was mentioned to us that there was likely someone who would be able to fix the suitcase for much cheaper than it would be to purchase a new one. After a short walk to a business full of people working at their sewing machines (and of course accompanied by our immensely helpful Spanish-speaking companion), we found that there was a luggage repair district in El Centro (of course – a district for everything).
When we inquired about a fix, the business manager explained that it was a very good suitcase, and we would be better off to have it repaired for 60 mil (60,000 Colombian pesos – a little under $30 Canadian) than to buy one of the suitcases he had for sale (the one we were looking at was about $150). I was pleased with the honesty. Back home, not only would fixing it likely not be an option, but I’m sure even if it was that we would be encouraged to buy new luggage, which would have saved him the work to fix it and made the business a lot more money.
We dropped the case off, and when we picked it up the next day it had been through a high-quality repair, functioning beautifully and now even better with a zipper that could be used with a small lock. Fabulous.
Cheese balls of heavenly delight
So let’s talk about sweet, deep-fried gluttony for a moment. Buñuelos are a local snack of (I believe) corn flour and mozzarella, deep fried to warm, golden deliciousness. If you’re ever in Colombia, don’t pass these by without giving them a try, along with the other tasty treats you can find in the bakery shops that sell them. Yum.
A Day-Trip to Guatape
There were a plethora of places we wanted to check out on day trips from Medellin, but time and the desire to limit our already lengthy list of travelling this trip kept our actual adventuring down to one single journey out of town. We hummed and hawed about where the best place to check out on this day trip would be, and after a lot of debate and inquiring, we settled on taking a 2-hour drive to Guatape.
The area of Guatape features a stunning man-made lake, which was made by damning up a river and flooding the valley to create a body of water that is spread out through many different fingers of what was once dry land. The old town of Guatape was once at the bottom of this valley, so before flooding the area, they moved some of the town up the hill and started over again. You can still see the cross from the now water-logged church standing tall above the water line, an interesting feature that reminds everyone who looks down on the lake or boats over this spot that there is an entire little town resting at the bottom of the lake.
The biggest tourist attraction in this area and town is a giant rock – El Peñol – that looks different from everything around. Standing tall above the valley, there are 659 steps that one can climb their way up to take in a view that is supposedly quite breathtaking. I say supposedly because we didn’t venture this climb, since it seemed a little over-ambitious to scale these crazy stairs with a 25-lb toddler in arms (we forgot the blessed Ergo at the apartment) on an incredibly hot and sunny day. We weren’t exactly disappointed, however, since the view at the bottom of the rock was already spectacular, with the greeny-blue water surrounding the many little lumps of lush green bumps of land.
The town of Guatape that currently exists was very colourful. You can see immediately that there is a lot of pride taken in the appearance of the buildings and streets, with everything painted in different colours, flower pots hanging all over the place, and unique images painted and sculpted on the sides of the buildings and walls.
Santa Fe Mall
We wanted to check out a mall here in Medellin, not for us, but rather for little Z. Before coming here we found out about a fairly spectacular ball pit and kids playground that takes up a huge portion of the Santa Fe Mall, and being that Ziggity had never seen a ball put before, we figured she would lose her mind over something of that magnitude.
Unfortunately, we happened to be just a day or so late, as the most recent big gumball machine play set-up (they change it monthly, or every so often, we were told) was taken down and the Christmas tree wonderland was in the process of being set up. Christmas is a big deal here, you see, so November 1st all the many Christmas decorations and displays start to go up. I know, I know, “Wait ’til December!” many of you will be shrieking, but the clamor to hang wreathes and raise trees is very unlike the way we see the holiday season creep into our stores earlier and earlier in the year, with visions of greenbacks dancing in the heads of businesses, eager to kick start the season of wreck less spending. Here, the spirit of Christmas is one of excitement and eagerness to celebrate with friends and family, to have a good time dancing and making merry.
So, back to the mall. While, we missed out on the giant ball pit of craziness, there was still a kids play area that Dear Old Hubby G took Ziggity to while I popped into a store to hunt and gather myself a new swim suit and top. Turns out there was a small ball pit there, anyhow, along with some other intriguing play structures, and by the smile on my girl’s face when I found her holding her little bag of treasures she collected, and the video her pops took of her enjoying the kiddie space, I’d say our mission was still successful.
On our last day before heading home, we spent some time checking out the botanical garden of Medellin. The park itself was quite lovely, full of bushes and trees (which smartly had lables hanging from them to explain what each species was), and vendors dotting the pathways, selling churros, popcorn, chocolate covered strawberries and all sorts of yummy treats. We walked around the lagoon, where we watched large iguanas, ducks and turtles doing their thing, and even braved the butterfly enclosure (yes, I have a fear of butterflies – flapping wings just aren’t my thing).
All along the road on the outside of the gardens there were many more vendors where you could buy helium-filled balloons in all sorts of characters and shapes, more delicious treats, cane sugar ground right in front of you, and short horseback rides for children. It was an interesting place to explore, to be sure.
Kobe the Dog
Of course one of Z’s favourite parts of staying in Medellin was enjoying some quality time with her new doggie buddy, Kobe. On our last day there, little Z kept giving Kobes big, loving hugs and asked for “picture please” of her and her canine pal.
As I write this, we are back here in Medellin, on our last day before the flight home. I certainly didn’t fully write down our adventures as we went, like I did with our Thailand trip those years ago, but I have jotted down little points that I want to revisit for each of the other places we explored during our time in Colombia. If you’re interested in knowing more about what we enjoyed and discovered while we toured this beautiful and lively country, hold tight. There will be more to come when we’re all settled back into non-vacation life (boooooo).