Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Colombia - Medellin - 'The City of Eternal Spring'

We're in Medellin at the moment - 'the city of eternal spring', and the former home of Pablo Escobar.  In the 80's and 90's it was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world but has undergone a huge transformation in recent years and is a really interesting place to visit.  The weather is pretty perfect here, during the day it's warm and sunny and at night it's cool.  Regular rainfall keeps everything green and it is sheltered on all sides by Andean mountains.
It's a relatively new and modern city, there's nothing particularly amazing to see in terms of tourist sights but since it's such a pleasant city to be in, we've decided to stay for a while and do Spanish lessons.  We have our own teacher for two hours a day in a language school across the road from our hostel and it's going really well and has been a massive help to us.
We're staying in the wealthy enclave of El Poblado, which is where most of the hostels seem to be.  It's a world away from some of the poor areas we've seen; there's a Porsche dealership down the road, lots of casinos, bars, restaurants and shopping centres nearby.  Though just past our stop on the metro, which runs alongside a river, we've seen people living in the storm drains.

The Metro system here is amazing, absolutely pristine, really spacious and all of it seems to be above ground so it's a good way to see the city too.  Three metrocable lines have been added in the last few years and have made a huge difference to the city.  Since Medellin is in a valley a lot of the poorer barrios stretch up the sides of the mountains, they were extremely difficult to get to before the arrival of the cable cars.
We went to a salsa bar last night. It was in another part of town where more students go out, not as expensive as El Poblado and a bit 'cooler'.  The band were brilliant and there were so many amazing dancers, we loved it.

Some random scenes around the city...
Parque de los Pies Descalzos (Barefoot park): Designed as a kind of zen experience for workers on their lunch break.  There is a bamboo forest, a sand garden and pools of water for you to take off your shoes and enjoy barefoot...
Fernando Botero is Colombia's most celebrated artist.  His stuff is everywhere.  Basically he just does fat versions of stuff, like a fat version of the Mona Lisa etc.  Here are some fat birds or 'Birds of Peace'.  The one on the left was the original, and having been damaged by a bomb in 1986, it was left un-repaired and the names of the people killed by the bomb were added to the base. The second bird, a copy of the original was later added for impact.
Last weekend Medellin's two rival football teams, Atletico Nacional and Independiente Medellin, were playing each other in a local derby so we decided to head along. Neither club are doing particularly well in the league and both are in need of wins so we were hoping for a decent game. The stadium is close to the city centre so we got there easily on the metro and bought tickets off a tout outside for a couple of dollars over the face value. The two teams share the stadium so the crowd seemed fairly evenly split and the atmosphere before the game was pretty good, and the food stalls outside the ground were selling grub that would easily put Croke Park to shame.
Things were going swimmingly until we actually tried to make our way into the ground. Understandably, security is very tight and everyone gets a thorough pat down from police on the way in. But when there are tens of thousands of people involved the process is seriously slow. We were stuck in a queue for about an hour or so and ended up missing the first ten minutes of the match while we waited to be groped at the security gates. It turns out that no belts are allowed in the stadium in case rowdy fans try to use them as weapons so all the gates had big piles of belts next to them (after the match we saw guys going around collecting them to sell).

We finally got in and had to search around for seats for a while. The ticket has a seat number on it but in reality it's a free for all once you're inside. Because we were so late getting in the seats we got weren't great but in the end it didn't really matter because the match itself was a mostly dull affair and the real entertainment came from watching the hardcore Independiete Medellin fans behind the goal not far from where we were sitting. They had a big drum section set up right in the middle and the songs they got going sounded amazing. We had no idea what the words meant but they were infectious all the same and barely stopped for breath during the entire game. The Atlectico Nacional fans behind the other goal were giving it loads too, but they didn't seem as impressive as their rivals, from where we were sitting anyway. There was a huge police presence in the ground and at one stage the riot police had to set up a protective shield around an Atletico player to guard against a barrage of missiles when he was taking a corner right in front of the Independiente fans. Later, some guy was being brought out by medics with blood gushing from his head but he still found the strength to taunt the rival fans he passed en route.
The game finished 1-0 to Atletico, who also had a man sent off for two yellow cards, but the result flattered them. Independiente were the better side, they just didn't take their chances, and the winner was an own goal. We would love to make it to a few more games while we're over here, preferably in Argentina and Brazil and ideally more local derbies.

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