Sunday 24 Feb 2020
Carnival again and a long bus ride.
We headed to the parade area and walked past the many gazebos whilst being constantly bombarded by hawkers selling food drinks and sitting positions, we wanted to see what the main stands looked like. It turns out that there not as expensive as we thought in fact we ended up paying less .
Ginette – I think this was because it was Sunday, the second day of the carnival. I can see why people buy their tickets on line but we paid a fraction of the cost of the three day tickets (£5 compared to £70 for a 3 day ticket).
The stand area offered a better raised view, there were sellers squeezing by the seats so you could buy your food and drink without moving but at a greater cost, we opted to walk to the entrance saving a few bob. At the entrance there were about 10 to 20 people hanging over the barrier all trying to sell food and drink.
Ginette – At one point in the afternoon, I braved a visit to the toilet, it was quite dangerous as there were bottles and cans being dropped from the stands above. When I joined the queue there were 5 people ahead of me but each woman seemed to be holding a place for her whole family. The women behind me got really angry and started banging on the toilet door to hurry up each family. It was quite intimidating, when it was my time I found myself trying to wee as fast as I could, I was grateful I didn’t have an upset tum. Although I had to wait quite a while to use the toilet the time went by fairly quickly, I think that was down to the dodging debris from above and watching people trying to sneak in over the barriers. I saw one man being chased by one of the guards with a big baton. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in his shoes.
The atmosphere in the stands was all party and loud dance music, people were spraying foam and chalk dust all over everyone, including us.
It took a few hours before the parade started and although, colourful was pretty much the same walkers and floats parading as the previous day.
Ginette couldn’t eat the eat foods so made a banana roll, you should have seen the face of the lady next to her watching in amazement at this weird food.
Ginette – I felt quite embarrassed this woman nudged her husband and other family members to look at what I was doing. The carnival was a complete meat fest. I was happy with my banana sandwich, the only thing missing was some marmite. Fortunately for this woman and her family they don’t sell it in Colombia.
We had considered moving on by bus to Medellín and seeing the same carnival made our minds up. We headed off before the carnival ended and packed away our kit and left our nice love motel. The ride to the bus terminal was 6 miles on the same main road. At first it was light on traffic but became busier as the other carnival goers came by. All along the way we passed shops and cafes playing loud music with people gathered around in party mood, some dressed in the large colourful outfits from where they had just been in the actual parade. The carnival was displayed on the TV screens, it was good to be witnessing this other side of carnival.
Ginette – we loved the party atmosphere in the stands and if we’d been with other westerners we might have been tempted to party on into the streets. However after hearing several warnings from the locals we decided it was best to leave them to party and make our way back to the room before it got dark. It was a bit like going to a huge festival in the UK, think Notting Hill or St Pauls and not knowing anyone and not being able to speak the language. It had an edgy feel to it. Great if you were with the ‘in crowd’ but potentially dangerous if you were a foreigner.
It was a bit of a hassle getting a bus ticket, the lady was trying to use a translator but instead of letting us read the text she kept putting the phone to a microphone for us to listen to the poorly worded hard to hear phone voice.
We thought we had paid well over the top but put this down to the bikes, but when it came to getting on the bus the driver wanted another 40,000 pesos (£10) we were not happy and kicked up a fuss, one of the other passengers had to come and translate along with the lady that had sold the tickets so we could be sure we weren’t being ripped off.
Ginette – I agreed to pay the additional money, I was tired and couldn’t be bothered to argue. We clearly ended up paying more than initially quoted but as the bikes were already loaded on the bus and everyone was on the bus there was not a lot we could do
Monday 25th Feb – no diary entry
The bus ride was uneventful we both managed to sleep for a few hours. The scenery was spectacular, there was a covered walk away for several miles, which left us speculating what its purpose was. The bus arrived in Medellin late morning, after assembling the bikes we booked somewhere on line to stay for a few nights. We were tired and struggled to find the accommodation, a Colombian stopped to help us, he was really friendly and although he couldn’t help he did ask some locals on our behalf. Eventually we found the hostal tucked away in a residential area. We chilled most of the afternoon only venturing out to the supermarket to buy food for dinner.
Tuesday 26th Feb – Medellín.
Ginette – Last night we spent some time with a couple from Leicester, they are doing a similar route to us but by bus. They’ve spent some of their time volunteering at various projects but were clearly tired from the travelling. It is amazing how simply moving from A to B and experiencing new things can take it out of you.
In the morning we bought the Metro system card and used the tramway to get around the city.
Medellín has a good transport system and relatively cheap to use, today we only used the one metro line but with the card we could access buses the cable cars and even the cycles.
We visited the Casa de la memoria, a museum about the conflict in Columbia. It was free and had English text, in addition I had downloaded an app on the phone which provided more information on the exhibits. However we left the museum with more questions, so did some research when we got back. It was a horrible time in Colombia’s history as all conflicts are, and although a peace deal has been agreed there is still conflict in some areas, with 40,000 recently displaced near the Venezuela border. Medellin city was once the most dangerous area in Colombia and is now reportedly one of the safest.
Ginette – it is amazing to think the peace deal was only signed in 2016, before that, the country had been at war for 50 years. It was quite disturbing listening to the locals sharing their memories of the conflicts.
We had a wander around Plaza de Botero to see the many bronze statues donated by the sculpture Botero. He makes over fat statues to show beauty is in all sizes.
We were tired so didn’t appreciate the constant attempts to entice us into each cafe we passed. When tired and hungry the search for food can be the most stressful part of the day for me, I can eat anything but Ginette has very limited choices as a vegetarian so the hunt from cafe to cafe for food does not impress me.
Ginette – I agree eating out can be very stressful, Gary will eat anything, anywhere whereas, if I am paying to eat out, I want to enjoy the experience, I also want to know how much the food will cost, especially when I have limited funds in my purse. We were accosted by lots of waiters, waving menus in our faces (think Ibiza or Costa del Sol) the menus had pictures so I realised with a little patience I could negotiate something to eat but the menus didn’t contain any prices and I couldn’t be bothered to go through the protracted process of finding out prices for meals that I would have to create. As Gary was getting stroppy, I sent him off to get some food while I chose not to eat. Not ideal but by this stage, I felt pressure from the restaurants and Gary and I simply lost my appetite.
We spent the afternoon resting at the hostel.
Our room was near a shared balcony and a group decided to have an in-depth conversation to well past midnight, I am afraid I was not the most eloquent when I asked them to shut up at midnight, they were a little quieter but still really annoying, this is a major disadvantage of hostels.
Ginette – the people in Medellin seem far friendlier than those we met in the north of Colombia, the city has a nice vibe. I have read several blogs where people have stayed in the city much longer than they had planned to, I can see the appeal. Gary and I are both thinking of stopping for a week and learning a bit more Spanish and perhaps some salsa dancing, but we’d prefer somewhere quieter. We will do some research at the weekend.
The ride was up a huge hill with views over the city then on the plateau the terrain was very undulating with farmed and cattle country all around, we didn’t take any photos as we plan to cycle back and we will be able to stop at our leisure to take photos, although I doubt they will do the landscape justice.
We passed Piedra del Penol a large rock with a set of steps so you can walk to the top, we plan to do this climb later.
We wandered around the town of Guatape and it is really pretty with colourful buildings and narrow streets, the place is a refreshing change from the city’s we have been in and we are feeling relaxed and hopefully we can start to chill again.
Ginette – it was the first day of lent and all around us people were walking around with small painted crucifixes on their foreheads. In the bus terminal we had a small panic, we went to the ATM (the only bank that will accept our card) and the computer said no. Just as we were considering cycling back into the city, I spotted a bank ATM we had not tried before and fortunately it dispensed money to us.
Ginette – Our room in the hostal was off the main shared chilling area, it was great that this area was used by everyone but it also meant that it was noisy until 11.30pm, way past our bedtime. Fortunately we were knackered and the ear plugs blocked out most of the noise.
A “free walking tour” of Guatape for the morning. On the way, a local german shepherd decided to adopt us as his owner. He stayed with all morning stopping to listen at the various information points. It was not until we went into a clerics garden that he wandered off to find some other tourists to adopt.
The town has many nice small streets with little cafes tucked into the back of souvenir shops. The houses have wall murals “zocalo” on them, they tend to depict something about the Casa owner. This town is sometimes called the most colourful town in the world and it is trying hard to live up to its name.
In the afternoon we walked to a nearby waterfall ”cascade”, as we got nearer, the track became less evident. We had to cross the stream several times wading through the water. The last stretch was challenging with no real path, you could either walk up the stream or up through the steep muddy jungle. We opted to do a bit of both.
Back at the hostel we found out we could of carried on and made it a circular walk but we don’t feel we have missed out as the bit we did was challenging enough.
Ginette – it was a really chilled day, probably the most relaxed we’ve had since the incident last week. It was great to be able to have a laugh with each other and simply enjoy the day without packing up and moving onto another accommodation.
El Penol large hard rock.
We moved from the hostel to another hotel/hostel near the centre of Guatape.
We did this so we could go out for a meal and see the town at night.
There is a nearby tourist attraction called Piedra de Penol, it a large rock that has a stair well built up the rock wall. We walked over to it and after paying the £5 entrance fee each we climbed the 700 steps to the top. We have noticed this before but it is clear that we are a lot fitter than most of the others puffing and panting and taking rest breaks. The views from the top show how extensive the reservoir system is and also how low the water level is, it’s hard to imagine just how much water would be needed to fill this reservoir back up again.
Ginette – Apparently a local purchased the rock back in the ’50’s everyone thought he was bonkers. What could anyone want with a big rock? However after climbing it and seeing the view the purchaser started putting steps into the rock so that others could enjoy the view. Over the years the business has grown and now in addition to charging five pound entrance fee, the family have set up shops and bars at the top and base of the rock. Who thinks he is bonkers now?
Ginette – it is not easy to see from the photo above but there are a number of lakes around Guatape and due to the season and the hydro electric plant the water is exceptionally low at the moment. I can imagine the lake is a hive of water sports during high season but other than a few crafts it was pretty empty.
As it got dark we ventured out to find drinks and food. We ended up having drinks in a plain looking locals bar and sat playing cards alongside the local men. We had tried a few of the better looking bars made pretty for us tourists but they were all charging a lot more for a bottle of beer and to us the markup, tainted the effect.
We had spotted a vegetarian restaurant but it closed at 7, we didn’t know this and felt very disappointed when we arrived, hungry for our meal at 7.15 – dam it.
We then went to the Namaste restaurants we had spotted thinking they would be Indians but both were just falafel sandwich bars. In the end we settled on a locals cafe and had a nice meal of the day of soup and a bean and rice dish, it was cheap but wasn’t quiet what we had planned.
The town looked really pretty in the night with soft street lights enhancing the colourful buildings, and it was not very busy. A lot of the tourists come just for the day, climb the rock and get the bus back to Medellin.