As a traveler through Latin America, you hear a lot about Colombia and how fantastic it is and how easy it is to get stuck there and how you absolutely must leave at least a month for it that’s how fantastic the cities, the nightlife, the dancing and the people (more accurately: the women) are there. Then, within Colombia, you start hearing about Medellin.
I never thought I’d see the day when I would well up in a conversation about the subway, but I could feel my eyes prickle, hearing Hernando talk so passionately about when the metro was built in Medellin. How proud and valued it was that no one would dare deface or litter on its tracks out of reverence and respect. That when Medellin was branded the Most Dangerous City in the world back in the 90’s when Pablo Escobar ruled the streets, how the metro represented a shining beacon of hope for its people; that they could still come and design and build up society together. Medellin has since gained the title of Most Innovative City due to a little trick known as “democratic architecture” or, turning negative spaces into positive ones. Brilliantly, the city created light installations and libraries in the most run-down, dangerous areas of the city, making them places of socialising and learning. They commissioned Fernando Botero to sculpt his famous bronze distorted figures and filled a crime-ridden plaza with them, transforming the square into a hub of art and tourism. They built an efficient cablecart system that allowed the favelas up in the mountains and the people who lived in them to feel a part of the city and cared for.
Now, affectionately nicknamed the City of the Eternal Spring for its cooler climate almost 1,500 meters high, Medellin is enclosed in a parade of mountains that is best captured up another 1,000 meters in the air -preferably, paragliding. Paragliding is actually a lot more peaceful than you would think; rather than the usual adrenaline rush of having your stomach sliding up your ribcage, you make the leap off the cliff gently, sitting back comfortably into your snug harness, as the wind sweeps past your ears. The city sprawls like an intricately woven carpet beneath you, with loose threads of luxury and pockets of poverty stitched side by side.
From there, you can see Park Lleras, clad with tourists, bottles and ciggies in hand. Wrapped around the park are bow-tied waiters inviting passerbys into their packed pricey restaurants and cocktail bars, accompanied by hawk-eyed bouncers, trained to pick out stragglers trying to casually sneak in to relieve their alcohol-laden bladders in their pristine bathrooms. Around the corner lies a street choked with hipster cafes, such as Pergamino and Cafe Velvet, whose wooden paneled benches and creamy coffees remind me much of Melbourne.
A short bus ride from the city is another charming town called Guatape. It’s cobblestoned streets and brightly coloured buildings are reminiscent of Antigua, but with even finer detail, as each house had its own unique little paintings, individually and lovingly laboured upon its walls. Coupled with its old-fashioned streetlights, you can point your camera anywhere and shoot a picture worthy of the album.
Known for its majestical maze of lakes, Guatape also boasts Pablo Escobar’s abandoned lakehouse, which now hosts an infamous paintballing arena. It’s guns are known to be pressurized and lethal, and will leave you with nasty scars and a great story to scare your grandkids with, about that one time you were under heavy fire at Escobar’s house. One that blossomed violet on my upper thigh, I was told by someone who trained with SWAT teams, that he had only ever seen rubber bullets leave similar marks. Even as far as Peru though, backpackers pull up their sleeves and roll up their trousers to display their perfectly round skin discolourations and compare their battle wounds.
Guatape is also home to a giant, monolithic rock formation, La Piedra, which, in just 740 steps, you are rewarded with a breathtaking (also see: stairs) view of the lake and all the islands it creates below. On a clear day, the view looks photoshopped, the lake too blue, the islands too green; a patchwork of moss among turquoise. The day we went, there was a light film of mist hanging in the air, creating a magical, mystical scene of a land far, far away.