Medellin and Guatape | Juxtaposed

Updated: Mar 11, 2019

22nd - 25th September 2018

I came to Colombia, not knowing a great deal about its history. I knew about the obvious, but it never really worried me because I was excited to explore a new country. What made me feel uneasy, was the reaction I was getting from people I told that I was coming here. It frustrated me, because they had never been themselves, and were relaying the gory stories they had heard from someone else.

Medellin from a Metro Mirador

I have found the country to be fascinating: it's biodiversity rivals Brazil's (…BRAZIL) and the landscape is breathtaking. The people are friendly, proud and generous; something I have noticed time and time again when on the public buses. A Venezuelan will hop on and ask for charity and they will leave the bus with at least 5 Colombians having given something. Buses stop for youths, who rap and sing with a boom box… they leave the bus with a round of applause and donations too. (This makes our bus journeys a lot longer than necessary, but ho hum.) Colombians help their neighbours, regardless of circumstance.

The pinnacle of my learning was during our Real City Walking Tour in Medellin. Our guide was Julio, a 36-year-old man who had given up his teaching job at the university, and had applied for the walking tour job which took him 2 years to get…

He took us round El Centro, which is, in places, overcrowded and bustling, drenched in stalls and deafening music. Julio was enthusiastic and spoke clearly to the group without being patronising. He, very impressively, kept my attention for 4 hours as he spoke of his city with passion and admiration.

What affected Sarah and I the most, was that history lessons have been completely wiped from the school syllabus. It's understandable that they want to leave the recent past well alone and focus on the future and everything positive, but the children are finding out things via Netflix and Google, where, Sarah discovered, there is not one, true telling of the past. Every story differs.

Julio grew up when the infamous criminal was at the height of power and was bombing the shit out of people. He lived through it, which is why it is no surprise that his opinion of him is that he was pure evil. However, I found it difficult to comprehend that, when Julio spoke about the evils of politics and the complexities and atrocities of the different Colombian presidents, he remained on the fence and didn't 'agree or disagree’. Again, very frustrating.

Fernando Botero statue <3

My impression is that Colombia wants to leave the past behind and forget it ever happened. The famous, Paisa artist Fernando Botero, had a different view. In the final place we visited, the eerily deserted San Antonio Park, we were shown 2 sculptures: one that had been blown up by a still-unknown source; the bomb claimed the lives of almost 30 people and many cartels and political groups tried taking responsibility for the act. The other, is a fully intact version of the same sculpture. Botero had demanded the broken sculpture to remain in the park as a symbol of the past, and donated the new one to show the future. The sight of them side by side is desperately sad.

The following day we went back to Botero Square, an incredible place filled with his huge, bronze sculptures (I adore them). We went for lunch at the Museo de Antioquia and spent a peaceful afternoon wandering round the gallery, in awe of Botero’s generosity and skill; he donated huge volumes of his work worth millions of pounds.

Interior of the Museo de Antioquia

When people ask me if I 'like’ Medellin, I find it difficult to answer. It is a vibrant metropolis that has a positive thread running through it; for example, what was once a place overrun with cartel members and criminal activity, is now the Department of Education. The social architecture is pivotal for change, but the general feel of the tour is that there is still work to be done... Medellin, and Colombia, has a reputation, and only the world can remove it by decreasing the demand for white powder. Whether this will ever happen is heartbreaking, but Colombia’s ability to find the positive in even the smallest of things is amazing; you just have to go there to see it for yourself.

San Antonio Park


As a huge contrast, Sarah and I went on a day trip to Guatape: a colourful town, very popular with Colombians. The bus journey itself was fascinating; we saw so many beautiful houses and it became increasingly obvious how wealthy this area of the countryside is… mainly due to the money coming in from the reservoir (the dam provides electricity for 35% of the country AND for neighbours like Panama. Crazy!) and the richer inhabitants of Medellin have their 'weekend getaway’ properties there too.

El Pēnón

We headed to Guatape to escape the pollution of the city and to climb the 700 steps of El Pēnón, the views of which, were spectacular. The original town of Peñól was 'sacrificed' to the reservoir in the 1970s, which meant that Guatape was closer to the rock. It was their chance to claim it as their own and end the feud over who owned the landmark! They managed to write 'GI’ before either the painters died OR the residents of Peñól gathered a mob to stop the graffiti… who knows.

View from the top.

We had a merry, speedy 1.5 hour bus journey there, a jolly rickshaw ride to the town itself 2 km away from the rock, and a devastatingly sickening 2.5 hour bus journey back in the dark (the buses filled super quick around 4ish).

By the time we got back, we were knackered and looking forward to a peaceful time in our new hostel, Yellow House. It was fantastic (apart from the missing bed sheet and loo roll… we had silk sleeping bag liners and used the other toilet. Problems solved). We got a great night sleep and our laundry done to boot. It's the little things innit?


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