Before departing to Medellin, Colombia my father gave me his advice: be careful of the cartel. To be honest, I have been so removed from popular culture the past few years, that I haven’t even thought about this connection. I once associated Colombia with drugs, the FARC and perhaps coffee but one day I had the pleasure of sitting on a lecture of former president Alvaro Uribe. He told us that everything was much better in Colombia now. So I took his word. He was a nice guy.
And so I left for my trip without any expectations but with some curiosity to learn more about the story of the cartel.
I was pleasantly surprised by Medellin. It’s very clean, fairly modern and well organized city, basking in greenery. The Antioqueños, Medellin’s residents, are very proud of their metro system, the only one in Colombia, and zealously ensure its cleanliness. This is an extremely impressive cultural value that we could only wish was translated to public goods in many other countries.
We took the train to the district of Santo Domingo, which just a few years ago was one of the most dangerous parts of town but have undergone a serious development effort. It is now connected with a cable car line to the metro line and has various social initiatives that helped reduce the influence of the cartels and integrate the more vulnerable populations into the city life. Connecting to another cable car, we visited Arvi park, a beautiful natural reserve on the top of the mountain.
Another pleasant surprise in Medellin was finding out that it’s the home town of the extremely fascinating artist, Fernando Botero. We took the train once again to the Botero Park and adjacent Antioquia Museum that features his art collection. I finally found out why Botero paints his subjects so chubby. I can’t really place it but something about his art makes me really happy. I loved Botero’s piece dedicated to Pablo Escobar’s (the former head of the infamous Medellin cartel) death. Escobar is somewhat of a legend and he kept being mentioned in other situation.
After this urban adventure, it was especially pleasant to travel through the beautiful mountains to the quaint city of Guatape and climbing the El Penol rock. The region just felt like a little Colombian Switzerland. In this region, Escobar’s name popped up once again when we sailed by one of the farms that used to belong to him.
You can read about part 2 of the adventure here.
The church of old El Penol Village (underwater)