Thursday, March 26, 2015

Riding the MetroCable

March 17th, 2015

For my final tourist activity in Medellin I figured I’d ride the MetroCable.  Since the city is situated in a valley that runs predominantly from north to south, the Metro train travels parallel to the river at the base of the valley.  This however doesn’t help all those who live up on the hillsides, which are predominantly poor neighborhoods.  As part of the revival of the city and to bring it out of its violent ways it was seen important to provide proper public transportation to the lower income areas of the city to show the people living there that they were important and that they were part of the city.  So how do you deal with the slopes of the city…well gondolas of course!

At the MetroCable station:

About to get on...where are my skis?

If you get on the Metro system in Medellin you can ride on the two train lines but you can also jump on one of two gondola lines…super cool.  So I had to give it a try, see the city from a different point of view.  There are also some outdoor escalators in one part of town but I didn’t check them out, their supposedly not in a great area, safety wise.

Starting up the hill:

There were three stations on the way up the J Line of the MetroCable.  Then there was another gondola line to go up to Arvi Park, a large wilderness sanctuary on the top of the mountain.  Surprisingly it was quite expensive, relatively, as it was more than twice the price of getting on the Metro and you had to pay that to get there and back.  Okay, it was a little under $5 total but that was compared to $2 on the Metro for a round trip.  Granted it was a 14 minute gondola ride to get to the park.  Unfortunately it was a hazy and cloudy day so my views of the city weren’t great, but it was still a nice ride. 

Past the first station:

Interesting little pool for the local kids...they looked like they were having a blast:

Looking towards downtown through the haze:

Getting into the greenery:

We traversed along the park a long ways:

Good thing I saw this sign in the gondola just in time...I was about to prance!

Still going...

The park was a bit odd.  A steward, a local woman in her early 50s, spoke to me in Spanish and gave me a run down on the park, most of which was lost on me.  I asked her where I could go for a short hike and she gave me a brochure with a map on the back but it had no scale on it and proved to be pretty useless.  I hike along a paved road for about 20 minutes, past numerous private properties, and couldn’t find any trailhead so I gave up and returned to the gondola.  It was probably just as well as it began to rain a bit while I was on the gondola.

On the way back down now.

Reverse'd have no idea that I was in a gondola would you?!?

The neighborhood by the top station that is part of the whole Metro system:

Not the prettiest of neighborhoods:

That evening I was hopping on an overnight but to San Gil, the “adrenaline capital” of Colombia, but I have to admit that Medellin was starting to grow on me.  I’m sure I could spend some more time there in the future.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gorgeous Guatape

March 16th, 2015

I decided to do a daytrip outside of Medellin and by chance my Saturday night partners in crime Carolina and Vanesa were planning to go as well.  We caught Medellin’s lovely Metro to the north bus station where we jumped on a bus for the hour and a half to two hour journey.  All I knew about Guatape was there that there was a massive chunk of rock that was originally formed by volcanic activity but now you could climb up to the top of it for a fantastic view of the lovely countryside of low lying hills with lakes and islands.  Sounds good to me.

In the bus:

The first view of El Penol from the bus:

The bus dropped us off near the foot of the rock, known as el Penol, and we took a rickshaw to the actual base of it (not surprisingly I always think of India when I see a tuk tuk now).  The monolithic rock was impressive indeed, rising up 200 meters it stuck out like a big sore thumb.  We bought our tickets and began the ascent of 659 stairs to the top, in fact to the very top it was 740 steps.  I was quite impressed with the staircase and kept thinking of the poor bastards who had to carry all the concrete and other necessary building material.  There wasn’t just one set of stairs but one for going up and another for descending…not sure why, perhaps they have some very busy days but it was overkill on the day we were there.

In the tuk tuk:

On the approach...note the winding staircase on the right of the rock:

Hey, there are Atletico Nacional supporters here too!

This pimped out tuk tuk was just sitting in the parking lot.

The back side:

The ladies beginning the ascent:

Look at the plants eking out a life on this near vertical rock:

On my way up:

At step 250...and already Carolina's giving me some grief with an obscene gesture:

We're getting higher:

Stair selfie:

I call this one "The Three Virgins":

What a gorgeous area:

The view got better and better, the higher up we went.  At the top there was a little restaurant, and of course the mandatory gift shop.  We snapped many pics and hung out for a while before climbing down.  Just the day before I had been watching some videos of an American named Alex Honnold who is surely the best free climber in the world.  He climbs massive stone faces in places like El Capitan in the States and does it with just climbing shoes and a bag of chalk, no ropes or security equipment like a parachute, so if he messes up and falls, he dies.  I kept wondering if he would be able to free climb this rock.  The first time it was climbed was back in 1954.

The lovely views:

Even Flat Stanley enjoyed them:

Kind of a strange structure at the top.  We climbed up the spiral staircase on the left and the gift shop was on the last floor before the rooftop:

Looking down at the parking lot:

At the very, very top:

Carolina happy that it's all downhill from here:

The ladies going, um, I mean descending:

The stairs we conquered:

Back in the parking lot we grabbed a taxi into the quaint little town of Guatape.  The word that best describes this village is colour.  The buildings were painted in a rainbow of colours.  Many had little pictures of sheep or people running along the bottom third of the wall.  It was just a happy place to be.  I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

Entering the village...I waited for this old man on a bike to pass by for more effect:

A colourful park:

Vanesa posing in the park:

How much is that doggie in the window?

What a colourful place.

Even the bicycles were colourful!

Hmm...I dream of sheep.

This one is inspired by my niece Emma...she loves to pose next to a painting or statue and mimic them...this was my best attempt.

I liked this painting,even though it had no relevance to Guatape:

Walking around in the town square:

Afterwards we sat down in the nice town square for a drink.  It was a nice way to finish the afternoon before heading back to Medellin.

We ran into some traffic coming back into the city, caused by some protest.  I thought this cyclist was crazy holding on to the back of this bus for a free ride...but wait...

This was the crazy guy.  Note the speedometer display at the top right...we're going 60 km/hr!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Football Frenzy Colombian Style

March 15th, 2015

An activity offered by the hostel was to attend a local football match (yes my North American friends, I mean soccer but after enough time abroad, I call it football now, as it rightly should be).  Fortunately the Sunday that I was in Medellin the two local teams in Colombia’s top league were playing each other.  One team is known as Medellin Indepente (DIM) and the other is Atletico Nacional.  Both teams share the use of the same stadium which seats 45,000 fans.  On this day however Atletico was the home team and I later learned just how much that meant.  DIM’s uniforms are red while Atletico sport the green and white colours of the region, Antioquia, so it was not recommended to wear a red shirt of any kind.  Atletico has the dubious honour of having been majorly supported by Pablo Escobar at the height of his criminal career and they won South America’s most prestigious tournament, the Copa Libertadores.

Although the match didn’t start until 5 pm a mini-van picked a few of us up from the hostel at 2 pm and then we did a circuitous route through the city stopping at other hostels until we had a couple of vans full of gringos.  We stopped at a convenience store with a few tables out front and next door was a small restaurant selling fried chicken, a hot commodity in Colombia.  We quickly gathered that this was where we were having our “tailgate” party.  Everyone purchased some beer in the store and we just lingered outside having our drinks.  I sat at one of the little tables as it was in the shade from the sun which had just poked out for the first time in a few days and I figured I was probably going to get plenty of rays at the stadium.  However this meant that I had to sit down with a couple of old men, the local drunks.  They were harmless and in the end quite entertaining.  One guy, Hernan, was a fanatical Medellin Indepente supporter, showing me pictures on his cellphone of the DIM paraphernalia adorning his walls at home and he kept mumbling “Med-eh-jean…Med-eh-jean”.

The tailgate party:

It was walking distance from the store to the stadium and security was fairly tight in the neighbourhood with guardrails blocking off certain streets and groups of policemen about.  I wasn’t too impressed with our guide as he led the way but didn’t ensure that everyone was together.  Two women, an Aussie and a Brit, were slow finishing their beer and didn’t seem to care that they were being left behind but it caused some consternation for a few of us (there are some considerate men out there!).  As we neared the gate I realized that the other tourists had proper game tickets but I was only in possession of a voucher from the hostel.  I raced ahead to try and locate the guide and luckily I was able to yell at him even though he had already passed through the gate and he came back to give me my ticket.  Whew.

Once in the stadium grounds we joined another line for a security check.  The line wasn’t super long but for some reason our group of gringos was called up to the front.  We didn’t actually feel too comfortable with this.  We were probably only 5-10 minutes from getting in anyways, why did we need to cut in front of the patiently waiting locals?  A few of us tried to smile, shrug our shoulders and give our apologies to them in our broken Spanglish.

The enemy bus arrives:

Inside the stadium I headed to the bathroom and proceeded to lose the other backpackers.  I figured I’d catch up with them, or some of them, at our seats.  I started to walk along the inside thoroughfare towards my section but then ran into a wall barring further access.  I backtracked the other way and ran into the same issue so I asked one of the stewards and they explained to me that it was open seating, there were no assigned seats, except I was stuck in the end zone part of the field, the cheap seats, which turned out to be the most enthusiastic part of the stadium (that and the other end zone).  I walked out to the bleachers and was easily able to spot the other tourists and proceeded to go and sit with them.  Our view was pretty good for being behind the goal, off to one side.

The pitch:

The line-up to get in...kinda glad we got there early, even if it meant the beer buzz was wearing off...

There was still an hour to kill before the game started so I walked up the stairs to the top of the stadium.  It was lined with men in their twenties, most of whom were wearing the green and white striped jersey of Atletico Nacional.  The smell of marijuana wafted around as the guys peered over the back of the bleachers to the people lining up to get in and those walking around the grounds.  Occasionally some whistling and jeering broke out as the occasional supporter of DIM was found out and was quickly escorted to the exit while being pelted by bags of water or plastic bottles.  In Canada it’s totally normal to have someone supporting the visiting team show up in their jersey and sit wherever they want.  With football in Europe they have a section dedicated to the away team supporters but it seems that here they are not even allowed in the stadium…crazy.  As the game progressed the occasional ruckus broke out as another DIM supported would be identified and the water bottles would fly and even a few punches thrown…no wonder they don’t sell alcohol at these events!

Not a great pic, but behind that tree is the truck with the 20 some supporters for DIM being shown the exit:

I got a kick out of the referees' warm-up:

The pre-game atmosphere:

Just before the game began we noticed a number of guys walk out towards the back of the nearby goal and then spread themselves along the end zone line.  They were holding what looked like old school fire extinguishers but they definitely didn’t look like emergency personnel and many of them were shirtless and all of them were wearing blue jeans.  A few minutes later the home team emerged onto the field and a sea of green and white smoke shot up…ah, that’s what was in those canisters.  I think that they were just lucky fans who were picked to go out onto the field and shoot up the smoke as they all looked pretty excited afterwards.

The opening smoke:

Soakin' it up:

And the game begins:

An early free kick for the home team...if you look closely the guy is just in mid swing:

The first goal celebration:

The first half was pretty entertaining with the home team scoring just five minutes into the game with a lovely header.  DIM evened it up close to half time with a penalty awarded by the referee.  It was way down at the other end of the field so I didn’t really see what happened.  

The penalty kick for the bad guys:

In the second half Atletico scored to lead 2-1 and the stadium went nuts.  Everyone was jumping around, dancing, clapping and hugging each other.  I could feel the concrete stadium bounce up and down and couldn’t help but wonder about the structural integrity of the structure, but that didn’t stop me from joining in the celebrations.  Later on Atletico sealed the deal with another goal and won the game 3-1 which left the crowd in a euphoric state.  We gringos were much happier to be surrounded by these elated fans while leaving the game than a bunch of upset and pissed off ones.

The third goal celebrations:

Game Over!

Not too surprisingly we returned to the same convenience store for another beer and some post game chat before hopping back in the vans to head back to our respective hostels.  What a game...but maybe even the bigger aspect was what an atmosphere!