Days spent: 2
Days recommended: 2 were actually fine
Where we slept: third city in a row where we had connections! Jessica used to live in the same Milan flat I shared with two dear friends back in 2012. I guess we saw each other briefly for not more than a couple of times while we still lived in Italy. However, we both share the same passion for travels and somehow, we managed to keep up with each other lives during the years (God bless FB and IG!). Knowing that we were on the way to Colombia, Jessica wrote to us and kindly offered her couch.
What we ate: green mango with salt and lime, brownies (generously baked by our lovely host), juicy hamburgers @ the too-good-to-be-right-under-Jessica’s-flat Chef Burger Milla de Oro (would definitely be my downfall if I lived there!), Colombian appetisers to share @ the trendy 37 Park and the massive triumph of greasiness aka bandeja paisa (red beans with pork, white rice, carne molida -ground meat-, chicharron – fried pork belly-, fried egg, plantain, chorizo, arepa, hogao sauce – long green onions and tomato- , morcilla -black pudding-, avocado and lemon) @ the slightly posh, yet traditional, la Matriarca.
In Guatape we went for Indian food (I tried my first palak paneer -indian cheese in a thick gravy made of spinach, garam masala and garlic- and literally fell for it).
What we drank: probably a lot of beer, as usual. I also tried something quite disgusting: michelada aka known as beer, salt and lime juice don’t go hand in hand.
How we travelled: well, this is kinda funny. We took a jeep to get out of the zona cafetera. It was a 40 minutes ride on an unpaved road. You might be thinking: what’s so hilarious about this? Well, we were 13 people and 2 dogs on board. The jeep was meant to accommodate 3 people. At one point the little girl that was standing right next to me literally disappeared under a pile of suitcases and bags. And to make matters worse, a big dog just jumped on top of her. Nobody, except me and Isa, seemed to be too concerned… We took a bus to get to Pereira and from there another bus to Medellin. We actually spent most of the day on the road and made it to Jessica’s in time for dinner.
In Medellin we used the underground and went by foot.
Km walked: 33
How Medellin affected our wallets: not so much apart from a very overpriced graffiti tour
Issues we encountered: this is one of the few places we actually felt slightly frustrated. Nowhere in other South American cities we bumped into so many issues related to walking tours or lack of tourist facilities. We booked online a tour in the Comuna 13, we showed up at the meeting place, waited 30 minutes with fellow backpackers and then just had to cope with the fact that there was no guide to be seen. We swiftly went to the city centre to join a free walking tour however, quite absurdly, all of them were already fully booked (really? We thought “sold out” was an unknown word out of London). We then spent a whole morning trying to find an open tourist office only to give up after few hours of pointless wandering around town. Just keep in mind to plan everything meticulously if you don’t want to waste your time or if you’re planning on a short stay.
Safety-wise we got told some quite scary stories by Jessica, mostly dealing with armed robbery. Luckily we had none of that!
Would we recommend it? Mas o menos. If it hadn’t been for our host, Jessica, and her fulfilled mission to make us gain 10 kg in just two days, I guess we would have not gotten over all the annoyances we came across. However, Medellin is a must for those who are into Pablo Escobar’s and Colombia recent tumultuous history. Also day trips to Guatape can be arranged from there. And these are 100% worthy.
Analogue tips: mind your cameras guys! Medellin’s downtown is a loud and kinda overwhelming bustle and there are quite a few dodgy faces around. Also bring a wide angle lens to El Peñol. The best would be a Lomography Spinner 360 if you own it.
What to do:
- Eat, eat, eat. As serial foodies we found Medellin, in particular barrio Provenza, to be a perfect spot to explore more Colombian traditional dishes (yeah, as if Bogota and Cali hadn’t been enough…). Definitely having Jessica with us, helped us making the right choices.
- Join the multi-faceted stream of people in Medellin downtown. If you feel artsy you can walk around Plaza Botero and sneak a peak of the artist’s curvy sculptures (if those in the square are not enough for you, you can make your fat dreams come true at Museo de Antioquia), if you feel spiritual pay a visit to the cathedral La Candelaria and, last but not least, if you feel like giving in to some people-watching, find yourself a spot at Parque de Bolivar.
- Venture the Comuna 13, the neighbourhood that gave home to Pablo Escobar’s head quarters, and discover how it transformed from being one of the most dangerous areas in the whole world to a peaceful, colourful, social and accessible spot of the city. It’s a bit of a cliche but I guess it’s one of the most interesting insights on recent Colombian history you can get. You don’t necessarily need to join a tour to do so. Once there, we actually saw a lot of backpackers just exploring on their own and chatting with the friendly locals. Of course we didn’t consider this option and fell in the trap, signed up with Toucan Café graffiti tour (which collaborates with a hip hop collective, Casa Kolacho) and paid a very overpriced ticket.
- Leave the concrete behind, jump on a bus for a couple of hours and do a day trip to El Peñol, a landmark gigantic granite monolith, and Guatape, a traditional, and to be utterly honest, kinda flashy village. You can climb all the way up to the top of the former (more than 700 hundred steep steps) and marvel, while you’re catching your breath and shaking off your sweat, at the awe inspiring view of the lake and islets below. We then walked for 30 minutes to Guatape (there are several tuk-tuks if you’re not as tight as we are) and reach Guatape’s multicoloured extravaganza. We really appreciated being back in the nature for one day. And please, unless you have serious reasons to do so, don’t pay a tour to take you there.
Who deserves a big thank you: our sweetheart Jessica. For making us feel like home in every possible way and for bringing out our inner Italians. Can’t wait to return the favour someday!
Days spent: 3 (2+1 after exploring the northern coast for few days)
Days recommended: 2, unless you’re planning some excursions
Where we slept: we got to the point where it was mandatory to save some money and we opted for dorms, one night @ Be Lounge in Cartagena’s downtown, one night @ Friends to Be Hostel in Getsemani. We personally didn’t fall for any of the two, even though the second had a pretty awesome rooftop with a view on Castillo San Filipe de Barajas. Picky backpackers! To be fair, Cartagena offers a huge choice of hostels so maybe avoid making plans and juts pick the one that inspire you the most.
What we ate: ceviche mixto with lemon and tangerine juice at the quite posh but damn so-so-sooo worthy Cevicheria. A s### load of fresh fruit (I dare you not to give in to the magic of the fruit basket ladies) including green guava with salt and honey. Cheap meals based on fried steak, beans and rice at a whichever no-frills hole in downtown. A much desired caribbean meal, posta cartagenera con arroz de coco, at DF. Funny enough, the one we had in Bogota was much tastier.
What we drank: can you guess? Lemonada de coco, of course. Also fresh coconut water from street vendors and tamarindo juice.
How we travelled: after more than 100 days of everlasting bus journeys, I felt like I was about to reach the final straw (Isa, who could easily fall asleep in the eye of a hurricane, wasn’t actually very much bothered). While on the road to Medellin I absent-mindedly checked Skyscanner and found two surprisingly cheap tickets to Cartagena which would have saved me from the umpteenth sleepless ride. 3, 2, 1: all booked! From Jessica’s place in Medellin, we took an Uber to the airport. Once landed in Cartagena we shared a taxi with other backpackers. Cartagena can easily be explored on foot.
Km walked: 49
How Cartagena affected our wallets: more than any other Colombian city. It’s a very touristic place after all and I kinda felt like a big walking dollar.
Issues we encountered: none, to be honest. We had to report a small theft at the police and it was quite an experience: no computers but just typewriters and, of course, no printers.
Would we recommend it? Claro! I guess Cartagena and the northern coast were my personal Colombian highlight.
Analogue tips: this doesn’t really apply only to analogue shooters. To make the most of Cartagena’s beautiful glimpses, set the alarm at dawn, right before the streets get too hot and crowded with cars and streams of people. Bring a 50mm lens to take some candids of the palanqueras (get some coins too, if you don’t want them to get mad at you!)
What to do:
- Get yourself a new pair of flashy sunglasses. Just one thing: you must bargain hard! Of course they will try to rip you off, however, I’m sure I don’t have to explain you that paying as much as you would have paid in London is kinda wrong. If you want to succeed, keep Isa out of the business.
- In Downtown and around the major touristic attractions, try your best to steal a candid of one of the innumerable palanqueras, ladies in hyper-motley traditional dresses who are balancing heavy baskets of fruit on their head. Who cares if nowadays they’re just doing it to please us tourists, this is folklore at its best! The thing is, if you get caught red-handed, you’re gonna be yelled at and kind of publicly shamed. If the risk is too much for you to handle, just pay the small fee they ask for.
- After applying a very generous layer of sunscreen, get lost in the colonial streets of downtown, while looking for the ultimate picture perfect and maybe get to discover something about la Heroica in the making (we picked Santa Teresa free walking tour with Edgar, one of the most passionated guides we bumped into). Also, have a stroll around Downtown at night because Colombian do know how to entertain you: from playing their best Michael Jackson, to a hip-hop show, to a whichever instrument performance or latin dance… the show never really seems to stop.
- Party, dine, drink and chill in the hippie, artsy, colourful and slightly chaotic Getsemani neighbourhood. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself getting back there all the time. There’s something quite magnetic about it.
- Play the tourist and risk a heath stroke while climbing all the way up to Castillo san Filipe de Barajas and visit the allegedly gloomy museum of inquisition in Cartagena’s downtown. Since we are just half stupid, we skipped the first and went for the second. Just don’t. Really, especially if you’re European and have spent you childhood visiting medieval castles all over Germany, France and Italy.
Things we missed: playa blanca and all the other pricey day tours that can be arranged from Cartagena. We were heading to Tayrona National Park first, and then, had a boat trip to Panama planned. Felt like there was no need to waste extra money on other beaches.
Who deserves a big thank you: Lucy and Linn, our favourite wise-beyond-their years Swedes, for catching up with us and for allowing me to take few portraits.
Canon EOS 300, Fuji Superia 400 / Fuji Pro 200 (35)
Olympus OM-1, Agfa Scala 200 (35, expired)
6-7/03/2017 Medellin (Colombia)
8-9+15/03/17, Cartagena (Colombia)