Friday, June 26, 2015

Moving thru Medellin and Cali--6/21-25

Before coming to Colombia, I shared the worries about narco-terrorism, the Medellin and Cali drug cartels, FARC and their kidnapping for monetary and political purposes. The Fuerazs Armadas Revolucionaries de Colombia began in 1964 and continue today, but are in current peace talks with the government in Havana, Cuba. They number about 10,000 or so and have reduced their terrorists activities to the more remote locations of Colombia. Their stated objectives are agrarism and anti-imperialism. Now that I am completing my visits to both Medellin and Cali, I have not experienced any travel problems. I have also seen a very heavy and visible police prescence by their wearing of the luminescent green vests practically on every street and public transportation.

Fernando Botero's painting of Pablo Escobar's assassination by government forces in 1993, portrays the loosening of controls the narco-terrorists had on major areas of Colombia, especially Medellin and Cali.


Early morning found me on the bus to Medellin just as the sun was coming up. After a stop for a breakfast of a pollo empanada and two coffee con leches, our bus continued up the mountain pass that we topped at about 2700 meters. Lots of steep hills and valleys dotted with lots of cow rancheros. The grass was so lush everywhere, I kept wondering why all of the cows were clustered by the fences looking at the grass is greener on the other side of the fence when behind them it was even lusher. No marks for intelligence for these cow


As we entered the suburbs of Medellin, the outgoing two lanes of the freeway were blocked off for thousands of bicyclists, rollerbladers, and runners. Apparently it was Olympics day from the jerseys I saw as I disembarked from the north bus terminal and walked over to the commuter rail into town. Lots of Sunday family crowds joined me on the train to downtown. It was about a 5km ride for just about 75 cents to my hotel 61 Prado at the Prado train stop. This was in the central part of Medellin where all of the tourist attractions were.


The hotel was a newly renovated mansion with several rooms including a small restaurant that served breakfast lunch and dinner surrounded by beautiful artwork. The cost per night was just 55,000 COP---$22 USD. I finally got my fill of CNN international as well as wonderful breakfasts at the same cost as those found along the street at 8,000 COP. Scrambled eggs with onion and tomatoes, toast and jam or arepas--corn patties, sausage of mixed fruit and bottomless cup of coffee con leche.

My favorite place in all of Medellin was the Museo de Antioquia because it was chuck full of the artwork of Fernando Botero. In the plaza outside there were several of his voluminous brass sculptures.




I especially liked his two paintings of Pablo Escobar, the Medellin drug czar that controlled Medellin thru bombings, shootouts, and assassinations---e.g. he offered $2000 per police his henchmen killed. His reign ran from 1980 to 1993 when he was killed. Botero has two paintings, one shows him large above the Medellin rooftops being shot through and through in a fusilade of bullets and the other shows him lying dead on the rooftop---his brutal reign over.


I think some of his inspiration to portray everything in such a voluminous way was from the pre-Colombian art work that shows sculptures of people in a big chunky way.

Pre-Colombian art images.


The city runs along the Rio Medellin and has orange-red brick color that is prominent in all of the buildings that run up and down the hillsides that go along this river valley. The train routes get me to all of the tourist places I had planned to visit, including museums, plazas, churches, and restaurant rows.

View of Medellin from Cerro Nutibara.

After dropping off my stuff, I headed to the neighborhood of Poblado by train. It was a ten minute walk up to the Poblado neighborhood where it is chuck full of restaurants and bars. I had a delicious seafood dinner at Bahia Mar where everyone was riveted on the Colombia vs Peru Copa America football game which ended up in a 0-0 tie. Afterwards I walked up to the Parque Lleras where there were hundreds of Colombia football fans wearing their yellow sports jerseys celebrating this tied game. Imagine how this celebration would have been if Colombia had won.

Throughout my time in Medellin, I would see groups of policia in their kakhi unforms with the bright yellow vests. Other than my walk down Cerro Nutibara I never lost eyesight from a polica or two. Even on the trains and buses. It made me feel a lot safer walking about.

Here is one of the many train stations I used while in Medellin along with some of the walking streets that run throughout the central area.
This street area concentrates selling shoes both in the street and the shops along this area.
Along all of these streets were these cheap restaurants that served up complete meals for under 10,000 COP ---about $4USD. This was pork with fried banana, beans, salad, arepa-cornmeal pattie and rice.
Like in Seattle, Medellin has racks of bicycles for rent which people use to get from one place to another or tourists use to tour the city.

Both the Inglesia de Jesus Nazareno Catholic church and the bike rack is located along the Street of the Dead where almost all of the funeral parlors are located. This church was built between 1923-39 and is of the Gothic-French design. It was my favorite church here. It must have been a busy place when Pablo Escovar cast a reign of terror over the city from 1980 to his death in 1993.

The more popular church is the Neoclassic La Candeleria built in 1649 and is located at Berrio Park in downtown Medellin.

I took a taxi to the top of Cero Nutibara which gave me a wonderful view of Medellin. I ended up walking down a trail that was filled with outdoor art sculptures. I found my way back to the Industrailes train station where I returned to the Poblado station and had dinner of a chicken cordon blue in a restaurant surrounding the Parque Lleras. It was a quiet scene compared to Sunday when folks were celebrating the tied futbol game. It was dark when I finished my dinner so I jumped in another 5,000 COP taxi for the ride to the South bus terminal where I would take the night bus to Cali for 45,000 COP---about the price of a hotel room for the night at about $19 USD.

At the top of Cerro Nutibara, they had this replica of a Antiguioa village. The buildings had shops selling souvenirs, were restaurants, or were models of a classroom, a home, and church.

Lots of cheap public transportation including the taxis. I took three taxi rides today and each cost about 5,000 to 7,000 COP ---under $3 USD---for about a 15 minute ride.

I had two seats to myself for the night journey through the mountains. They should have installed seat belts to keep us in the seats during the twisty curvy ride punctuated by sudden braking when the driver figured he could not pass the slow moving truck on some of the blind curves. Quite a ride. I managed to sleep, but had some Disney ride like dreams. I awoke just as we came into Cali.


After breakfast and a bit of freshening up in the bano, I took the Milo bus system downtown to take in the sights and sites. The Milo has limited stops on its own exclusive bus lanes. It sure speeds through some terrible traffic and only costs just under 2,000 COP---about $0.75 USD for a ride anywhere in the system.


Until I walked the streets of Cali, I thought that Bangkok took the record for sidewalk street vendors, but Cali has many, many more that even spill out on to the streets. They even had one area where these men would sit with their manual typewriters offering to type up letters for those who needed their services.

Here is the oldest church in Cali, the Spanish Colonial style Catedral San Pedro which was started in 1545 and is at the Plaza de Caycedo where the Palacio National is also located.
I continued to check out several of the churches as well on my walkabout Cali, and it seems like their services are non-stop.
You hear music every where you go. This one man band was set up in the Plaza de Caycedo to the enjoyment of many. Even on the buses, groups of guys would get on and sing for COPs. People who tried to use their cell phones were a bit irritated though. The police on board also seemed to enjoy the singing as well. I videoed one group, but my youtube link needs updating before I can post that.
Just north of here is the NeoGothic Inglesia de la Ermita. It was closed up with police barricades about it as well as protest signs.
Here is the NeoClassical Inglesia de San Francisco which is the largest in Cali and was built in the 18th Century.


I took in the Museo de Oro, but they had locked up the gold exhibit for the day so there was just some artwork on display.

The Museo Arqueologico was much more interesting because it had lots of displays of portions of the old building along with the pre-Colombian pottery. I found a lot of the pottery was voluminous, just like the Botero artwork I saw in Medellin. I am sure this kind of pre-Colombian artwork inspired Botero to do his art the way he did.

Here is the courtyard of the museum.

I stopped by a courtyard restaurant near the Museo Arqueologico for a set lunch of chicken in mushrooms, fried banana fritter, rice, spagetti, and salad with pineapple along with some mystery fruit drink along with consome soup littered with chicken legs, hearts and livers---Anthony Zimmern would have savored this soup.

It was then time to head back to the north bus station to catch my night bus to Pasto---near the Ecuador border---which should arrive in the morning about 8:30am or so. I then plan to continue to Otavalo, Ecuador to spend several days resting and relaxing from my marathon bus rides. I will also be arriving at the tail end of their Inti Raymi festival which began on June 24th and is suppose to last until the 29th. We shall see.


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