05.12.2012 -25 °C
I´m still in Colombia and in the last week have travelled from Taganga on the coast back to Cartagena for a few days and then flew up to Medellin, which is where I am now. Last Wednesday I caught the 4 hour bus from Taganga on the coast to Cartgena and then spent 3 days in Cartagena with Anton and Becky. It was great to have a proper look around and you can see why it is a bit of tourist hot spot. The old town is set within 12km of ramparts which are often 12 m wide with tunnels and rooms inside them and cannons on top. As the guidebook says the centro is a labyrinth of colourful squares, churches, mansions of former nobles and pastel coloured houses along narrow cobbled streets. Caragena is where the Spanish stored their treasure before they shipped it back to Spain and it did have the feel of a something out of pirates of the Caribbean the houses all had huge beautiful old weathered wooden doors with courtyards behind them anf lots of coloured climbing plants and palm trees. Combined with the terrific heat its very atmosperic. Was v good to see Anton and Becky and share some nice fruit punches and Mojitos.
I had a good week in Taganga doing the diving course. The diving was great, heading straight down a sheer face into the blue for the first time was a real thrill. It was slightly scary being a far way under water and you feel v conscious that you would be in trouble if you ran out of air and I obviously ran out of air. I don´t think it necessary to go into the details, to go into the whys and wherefores of apportioning blame per a Jimmy Saville/BBC enquiry. Its definitely a good idea that everyone has two air supplies for this eventuality. My instructor seemed to think I was in someway at fault when I gave him the out of air signal, but I think we should both just move on. They had two small clubs in Taganga that were both mainly open air overlooking the sea. As I was only aged 6 or so in the summer of love back in 1986, I missed the open air raving back then so I enjoyed the opportunity to catch up with some open air club action, v good fun atmosphere with people from all over there in the warm breeze. Was nice to be in once place for a week as got to know a few people a bit including some of the lot who live there which made a nice change.
I´m now in Medellin having arrived on Saturday which the tourist board tell me is now renowned for fresh cut flowers and textile manufaturing and one of the safest cities in Latin America. I was going to catch the coach from Cartagena but it was 15 hours and only and hour by plane and about the same price $70, so I flew in the end. It seems that the road network is often not that developed and there aren´t good direct roads between the main cities. I gather that for many years during the horrors of the violence that large areas were effectively out of bounds and many Colombians didn´t travel widely.
I´ve been finding it difficult to get a grip of Medellin, perhaps because it has such connotations and history, and because its pretty big and there and very different parts. I´ve travelled around a fair bit by Metro and by bike in the last two days. Its quite an impressive setting running in a valley between two sets of mountains. They call it the city of eternal spring and it does feel like that, fairly warm during the day but cool at night. There is a river running through the city but it doesn´t add much, as its a concrete trough with a fast flowing brown current. I stayed for the first 2 nights in a hotel in an area called El Prolado which has become the upmarket commercial and residential area and it was full of smart restaurants and bars and cafes, felt a bit like Chiswick, and is also the new bar area with dozens and dozens of bars within half a mile or so. It seemed a bit detached though as the hostel was a 15 minute walk to the Metro. The Metro is an overground railway that has two lines from north to South and East to West. Part of the metro is a cable car which gives a stunning view of the town and takes you high up over the town to the peaks of the surrounding mountain so that you can see for several miles across the valley and the whole of the city with a backdrop of the mountains. The cable cars are small seating 8 people or so and skim the top of the buildings below so you rise up and can hear snatches of conversation and dogs barking and see people going about their business just below, then the roads peter out and its a shanty town perched on the hills then the shanty town peters out and its a few crops and then eventually trees below.
At the moment I am in a nice old charaterful hostel near the centre of town. Its near the old downtown area, and also the now popular central Carerra 70 area which feels safe and prosperous. They have a couple of bikes here which you can use, which are pretty rubbish but was great to have a ride about. I´ve really struggled with the lay out of the city as all the streets are named by number, either a Carrera or a Calle, and they will have a,b,c of the same number for each. Basically I´ve spent a couple of days getting lost. I spent an afternoon thinking north was south wondering where the Cathedral was. I´m sure there is a system but I haven´t been able to work it out, plus most of the streets are one way so on a bike you end up being swept along to somewhere you didn´t mean to go to. Plus there are lots of 3 and 4 lane roads and flyovers that caused me some stress on a wonky bike. Todo bien though. It was a good way of getting about the downtown which is fascinating area, this is the old part beaten up part that feels a million miles from Problado, a proper bustling, chaotic old area of dilapidated buildings full of colour and life, it seems like this is where the heavy dirty work is done, streets full of saw yards, truck repair shops, markets, metal bashing. I took some photos but they take forever to upload here, so will try and put them up in a bit. It often felt like being in a scene from a Shaft film, especially when you turn a corner and it isn´t full of bustling street life but suddenly all a bit derelict with smashed up cars and smashed up houses and interesting looking charaters, you wouldn´t want be wandering around the wrong part of downtown Medellin at night asking for directions. You could get in a bit of a pickle. But then 2 miles away, night time and its fine, after work crowd, salsa bars, nice Latin restaurants and people walking their labradors. I´m planning to be here til Thursday or Friday and then go to Bogota.