From here to God knows where.

Medellin makeover

Monday 22nd Aug 2019

I am becoming quite an expert on the Medellin metro. I am very impressed with the Metro here. It is clean and efficient, and the locals are very proud of it.

Dublin, the capital of my own country Ireland metro project has been launched and relaunched since 2001. There is still no sign of actual work on the Dublin metro. Plans are announced during good times. Plans are cancelled during economic downturns. The only constant is no metro.

The Medellin metro opened in 1995. That means it was under construction when Pablo Escobar was alive, and many lived in fear during his reign of terror. Once opened the Metro gave the local population fast access to other parts of the city for the first time.

The people of Medellin have pride that this project was planned and built during the worst time in the cities history. Dublin should take note.

I hopped on the Metro and made my way to the Estadio area of the city where the football stadium is. I had heard it is one of the more upmarket areas of Medellin. The bars and restaurants looked a bit fancier than where I am staying, but I felt where I am staying is more real Medellin.

It was the first time since I arrived in Medellin I heard North American and European accents. I am sure this area is where people from outside Medellin feel safe and want to live.

The good thing about seeing people other than Colombians is it was the first time since I arrived in South America. I have seen people fatter than me. Thanks, guys.

It is dusk. Get out of town.

Tuesday 27th Aug 2019

If I can give one piece of advice when you visit a place for the first time, it would be to take a tour first. Tours are a great way to see the most interesting places quickly. You can then go back to the places you liked.

I use city free walking tours a lot. They are not free as you are expected to tip at the end but are a great cheap way to see any city.

I decided to take the Medellín El Centro tour. The city centre. I have always loved cities. I like the countryside also but to visit. When it comes to living, I am a city man.

Medellín Centro has a bit of a reputation. Many advise not to go there.

It reminded me of the time I visited Los Angeles and wanted to visit the city centre. Don’t go there begged the manager of the small hotel I was staying. There is nothing there worth seeing, and it is dangerous. As a European, I could not understand it. Most European cities heart is at its centre.

I declined his advice and made my way to L.A downtown. He was right. When I was there, I was looking for Chinatown. I saw a policeman outside a public building. He looked like Robocop.

As I walked towards him, he stiffened up and looked at me with menace. Where is Chinatown, I asked? Looking surprised he said its down there. Is it any good I asked. I don’t know he replied. On my way back, I passed him again. It’s shit, I said. What is shit he said, looking angry? Chinatown, I replied. Yes, it is he agreed as he looked relieved I was going away.

You did what roared the hotel manager. You walked towards a policeman. Are you crazy? It was L.A that was crazy.

El Centro in Medellin is a lot more interesting than downtown L.A. People pack into the centre during the day for work, shopping or other reasons. It is a very vibrant part of the city. It is worth a visit, but you need to be alert at all times. If you are not careful, there are people more then happy to relieve you of your wallet.

One of the more interesting places in El Centro is the second oldest church in Medellin. It is unusual in that there is a lot of prostitution right outside the church. The guide told us that after conducting their business, the ladies go into the church for instant absolution.

As a European, I am used to lively nightlife in city centres. Our guide warned us not to be in Medellin El Centro after dark. Once the working day is over the people who work in the centre leave to go to their homes in other parts of the city.

El Centro was not a good place to live during the Pablo Escobar years. Anyone that could afford it moved to safer areas. Once darkness descends less fortunate people who live in El Centro become the majority, and it becomes rawer.

I liked El Centro. I liked the manic feel of it. I love city centres. I feel it is a shame when the heart of any city surrenders itself at night. Medellin has made some great changes over the recent years. The people have reclaimed their city. It would be great to see them take back El Centro at night.

Stir Crazy precautions

For ten years, I used to work for Sheraton Hotels, a 5-star high-end hotel group. I was lucky as part of my work I got to stay in some great hotels. After a while, if you stay in enough 5-star hotels for work, it becomes normal.

These days I am a lot less fussy. Mainly because I now have to pay for accommodation. I now look at cost, location and safety.

I have a few things I don’t want to sacrifice. I want my own bedroom room and bathroom. My standards have dropped, but I am not a hostel person.

The big downside about staying in a place on your own is that you can get a bit detached. To combat this, I took part in a Spanish English language on Thursday evening.

I spent a great three hours talking to local people who want to learn English. As my trip continues, I think I will look at staying in a private room sharing an AIRBNB. Meeting other travellers is a good way of picking up tips on places to see or avoid.

Comuna 13 Medellin

I thought a lot about if I would do the walking tour of Comuna 13. I knew it was on the hills and with the temperature over 30c, I thought it could be a struggle.

I decided to go and what a great decision.

This part of Medellin is new. In the 1970s many people came to the city from rural areas. They were escaping the conflict between the Colombian government and the guerrillas.

This was a popup neighbourhood. There was no planning. No water or electricity. Eventually, the guerrillas saw these neighbourhoods as a perfect location to get a foothold in a city.

Overtime power switched from the guerrillas to the Government. Then came the Government-backed paramilitaries who committed many human rights violations.

In 2012 the Government decided things needed to change, and they provided more services. There is now a cable car that makes it easier for people to come and go to other Medellin areas.

If you ever get to Medellin take time to visit this area. It has colour and energy I have not seen before.

Safety

You are going to Medellin. Are you crazy? I am sure many people who have decided to visit Medellin has heard this from family and friends. The T.V show Narcos has not helped Medellin tourism.

All I can do is tell my experience of two weeks in the city. At no time did I feel unsafe. Of course, if you act stupid anywhere, you will pay the price.

The El Poblado area was the only place where people approached me, looking for money. Some were chancers, but most I am sure do not have any choice. Some are Venezuelans who have arrived in Colombia because of the crisis in their own country.

On a more serious note the Guerrilla group FARC this week said it was ending its participation in the countries 3-year-old peace process. The peace process ended a 50-year-old conflict.

On Friday 9 members of FARC were killed in a bombing raid by Government forces. My journey south might be more interesting then I would like.

From Beer to Eternity

My mission to help people to travel to areas of the world with cheap beer continues. As my stay in Medellin comes to an end I would like to report the following.

The cheapest beer at 2,500 pesos 0.67 cent is 4 doors down from where I am staying.

The most expensive beer I had was 13,000 pesos 3.42 Euro. Where? Patricks Irish pub Medellin. While I am happy to fund research cheap beer out of my own funds, I may need sponsorship researching Irish bars.

From Beer to Eternityyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy

Next stop Bogota

On Thursday, I will leave Medellin and make my way to the Colombian capital Bogota. It is the 3rd highest Capital in the world. It looks like it will be a big change from hot Medellin. Long pants and coats may be in order.

Join me on my journey. 

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Comments (8):

  1. Richard

    September 2, 2019 at 7:06 am

    Brilliant read thanks Pat!

    Reply
  2. Robert Nordberg

    September 2, 2019 at 7:32 am

    You are painting a good picture with your writing Pat. I enjoy following your journey – Thanks!

    Reply
  3. Joe Grennell

    September 2, 2019 at 9:37 am

    Good man Pat. Love your posts. I wonder what your Colombian opposite number would have to say about Dublin.
    Maybe he would call it ‘Fear and Loathing after dark in Dublin’s not so fair city’

    Reply
    • PATRICK O Neill

      September 2, 2019 at 4:08 pm

      Thanks Joe. I have a Spanish friend who has gone to Dublin to live and work in the last month. He is shocked at the amount of drug taking going on in broad daylight.

      Reply
  4. Jean

    September 4, 2019 at 5:34 am

    Fabulous pictures and description Pat. Love the street art – keep it coming! Take care of yourself.

    Reply

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