Backpacking Colombia: Part Two (Jardin to Medellin)
Thursday, July 19th
Today is the day we head to the place I've been looking forward to the most: Jardin.
I've read some amazing things about this sleepy little colorful town and I'm so excited to see what it's about.
There isn't a ton to do in Jardin, but after traveling for three weeks, doing all sorts of things, that sounds pretty nice!
Fun Fact: Jardin is about 109 miles from Salento but we have to take three separate buses and it takes all day to get there (love ya, Colombia!)
Our first bus left from Salento around 8AM and took about an hour. It dropped us at the bus station in Pereira, where we caught our second bus to Riosucio. This bus took about 3 hours. Our third bus was the most interesting. We rode three hours on a Chiva (a local, open-air bus) on a dirt road through winding mountains. Definitely a bumpy and dusty ride.
We finally made it to Jardin around 6PM, checked into our hostel (we stayed at Kantarrana Urbana Hostel). This hostel was quite expensive but there was a festival going on in town and literally ever single hostel/hotel was booked! And when you wait until the day before to book your hostel, you take what you can get!
We were pretty hungry, so we checked in, dropped our packs, and immediately went to the town square (soon to be our favorite place in Jardin) to find some food.
We decided on a restaurant that the receptionist recommended. She said it had good local dishes and she was right! I had a delicious grilled steak with french fries, an arepa (a traditional Colombian food made of ground maize), and salad. Michael had Fiambre (see below). This is a super popular traditional meal with rice, ground beef, sausages, a hard boiled egg, pork belly, potatoes, and an arepa, all wrapped in a banana leaf. Both meals were delicious!
Friday, July 20th (Colombian Independence day!)
Happy Colombian Independence Day! Today we slept in and had a delicious breakfast at our hostel. After, we wandered out into the town.
As I've mentioned before, Colombia is colorful! Jardin is probably the most colorful place we've been. Every home, restaurant, business is painted in a myriad of bright and vibrant colors.
We wandered up and down every single street (this town is pretty small) and visited a few shops including Las Dulces del Jardin, a sweet shop where we sampled jams, jellies, and different flavors of Arequipe (esentially this is Dulce de Leche and it's freaking amazing). We bought a flavor containing a starchy dried root (I promise is delicious!) and some butter cookies to enjoy later on.
We continued wandering around and then landed back in the town square. This is where we spent most of our time in Jardin. Overlooked by a beautiful church, this town square was always full of people and it was the perfect place to people watch. We loved watching families play and selfie together and street vendors try to sell food, clothing, accessories, and more. We also loved to just sit and eat the different snacks in the square.
And this is how we spent our time in Jardin. We sat, drank coffee, ate snacks, watched people and performances, and just enjoyed the time to rest and relax.
For dinner we ate at the local food stalls in the middle of the town square. I got some empandas and Michael got a meat cake with french fries and an arepa.
Saturday, July 21st
Today was basically a repeat of yesterday: breakfast at hostel, wander into town, sit in main square and people watch, drink coffee, rest, relax, and eat snacks.
I also got shat on by a bird today. I was working on my blog on my phone (trying to produce some content for you guys) and the bird above me dumped on my phone and in my hair. Lil dick.
At around 1:30, we decided to try a place for lunch suggested to us by the receptionist at our hostel. Apparently it's super popular, serving very local dishes, and it's only open for lunch. We went at the perfect time because we were able to get a table right away but as soon as we sat down, the crowds came.
This is a grill place so they specialize in, well, grilled foods. I had a delicious thick cut steak with salt crusted potatoes and salad and Michael had the most typical dish in this region: Bandeja Paisa. It's a hearty portion of beans, rice, ground beef, fried sausages, fried egg, fried pork belly, avocado, and an arepa. Both meals were amazing and we were super full for our three hour bus ride ahead!
After lunch we went back to our hostel (right up the street), grabbed our bags and headed to the bus station.
We took a three hour bus to Medellin. Though this bus was 10 times better than our last bus to Jardin, it was a windy and slightly bumpy ride. Plus is was pretty warm on the bus.
Either way, we were pleased when we rolled into Medellin around 6PM. We caught a quick taxi to the El Poblado neighborhood where our hostel was located.
We're staying in Selina Medellin hostel, another slightly expensive place but we decided to spoil ourselves and book a place that had A/C. It's in the 80's (F) in Medellin during the day so we wanted to make sure we were comfortable.
We wandered out into El Poblado for some dinner and ate at an Italian restaurant. This place is much more touristy and many of the restaurants near us are not local restaurants.
Sunday, July 22nd
Today we woke up, ate breakfast at our hostel, and headed out to meet our guide for our Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour. The city of Medellin is split into different comunas (similar to districts). Comuna 13 was once considered the most dangerous neighborhood in Colombia due to the murder rate, drug and gang wars between paramilitary groups and guerrilla groups. This neighborhood has managed to transform itself from the dangerous murderous neighborhood to a place where creativity flourishes and tourists visit.
According to our guide Walter, the metro system and other modes of public transport in Medellin are fairly new (the metro was built in 1995). These modes of public transport have been extremely helping in aiding in the transformation of this city, allowing people from all parts to access it.
On our tour, we took the metro to the cable car line which we then rode all the way up to get a good view of the entirity of the Comuna 13 district.
After taking the metro back down, our group took a short public bus ride to the elescalators in Comuna 13. Built by the government, these escalators were built to help unite the people of Comuna 13 with the city of Medellin.
We rode the six sets of escalators all the way up, where our guide then continued explaining the past and the beautiful graffiti of the area.
We spent some time wandering around the comuna before heading back down and back to the metro.
Our tour was over and our guide gave a few recommendations on what to do on a Sunday in Medellin. He recommended taking the metro to University Station because it was Sunday and a lot of locals go here to be with family and to just chill.
He was right! We took the metro and got off at the station to find tons of street vendors selling foods, jewelry, knick knacks and more. We also found people out with their horses giving rides to kids. It all reminded us of being at the county fair. We walked down the main street and literally stopped and ate at many food stalls. We had meat skewers, churros, ice cream, popcorn, donuts, and Michael had a Mango Michelada (mango, salt, lime, and a little bit of beer--I thought it was so gross but he enjoyed it.)
After our eating fest, we hung around this area for awhile just people watching and then we rode the metro back to our hostel for some rest. It's much hotter here in Medellin (it's in the low 80's (F) during the day and we need to rest after being in the hot sun!)
Monday, July 23rd
Today we woke up, had breakfast and started on our way to meet with another tour group. Today we went on the Real City Free Walking Tour. This is the number 1 rated activity on TripAdvisor for Medellin, so we decided to give it a go.
Our guide was Juan and after getting us all checked in a ready to go, we set off. Juan did an amazing job informing us of the history, culture, violence and more of Medellin. He explained, in more detail, how the violence started between the paramilitary groups and guerrilla groups, he talked about the "famous criminal" from Medellin (you should know who this is) and why he couldn't say his name.
As I'm sure you probably know, Pablo Escobar, was the famous drug lord from Medellin during the 80's and 90's, trafficking and smuggling cocaine and murdering thousands of people (especially police officers) in Medellin. Our guide explained how most people in Medellin hate to even hear Escobar's name, especially when it's brought up around tourists.
What we've come to learn during our time in Colombia is this, some people love Escobar. He did build homes, neighborhoods, soccer fields, and more for certain people in the area. But most people hate him. He wreaked havoc on the lives of so many, creating terror and chaos in the community, killing thousands and aiding in developing a stigma for Colombia and it's inhabitants.
Juan did a phenomenal job answering all of our questions and explaining this famous, yet sordid, history behind cocaine in Colombia.
As we continued on with the tour, Juan took us around downtown Medellin and explained government policy and how things work in this city. He also showed us some of the seedy parts of town, places where most people say not to go while in Medellin.
Juan also took us to the site of where a bomb was detonated during a 1995 music festival, killing 30 and injuring over 200. The bomb was detonated right next to Botero's famous bird statue. Juan explained that when the mayor tried removing the ruined statue, that Botero himself said it should be kept, as a symbol of where Medellin has come from and to remind it's people to never let these things happen again.
Botero also donated a second statue of a bird, showing it's rebirth and solidarty with the victims.
This tour was so moving, so powerful, and so informative. If you're ever traveling to Medellin, it is an absolute must do!
After the tour, we stopped in a very old bar serving beer, coffee, and potato chips. This place has been around since the 1940's and it's filled with old knick knacks and cool people.
There's also a DJ spinning mad tracks on the record player.
We decided to ride the cable car up to get more views of the city after our drinks.
We finished our day by eating tacos from a place called Criminal Taqueria (you didn't think I could go a whole month without eating my favorite food, did you?) followed by an epic snack fest and Netflix watching in bed.
Tuesday, July 24th
Today we had an earlier start. We got up, ate breakfast, and took an Uber to the Museo Casa de la Memoria (Memory House Museum) which is a beautifully crafted interactive museum honoring the victims of Medellin’s violence. We only spent about an hour here, but we were moved by the museum and it’s commitment to honoring the past so the people of Medellin will do their best not to repeat it.
After spending some time at the museum we caught a taxi from our hostel to the airport so we could fly to our final destination of our month long trip: Cartagena!
Stay tuned for the final installment in the Backpacking Colombia series! You won't want to miss out on this one!