Colombia has exceeded any expectations we had. Its reputation, a consequence of its troubled history, has long marked it as a dangerous, drug-producing, guerilla-filled country that is out of bounds. As you can imagine we received many warnings. Sadly, it takes a lot longer to change people’s opinions of a country than it is to change a country.
We started off in Medellin, a red bricked city that is known in everyone’s mind as the cocaine capital. At least it used to be 20 years ago. Since then, the city has made a huge effort to turn things around. In 2014, Medellin was named the most progressive city, beating Tel Aviv.
Ean and I decided to go on a walking tour of the city and we were lucky enough to get an unbiased guide who was extremely passionate about her country. As our group of Germans, Australians, Americans and Swedish walked around, we were touched to see everyone stopping to look at us and often approaching us to shake our hands, shouting out “Good Morning!” or “Welcome to my country!” or “Do you like Colombia?” Our guide told us tourists were still relatively new to Medellin and the locals were just so happy to see us and were hoping that we would see the beautiful country that is Colombia and would go home and spread the word.
She laid out the history for us and told us of the many events that Colombians had to live through. It was very moving and many of us had lumps in our throats. We finished the tour at a plaza where there were two bird sculptures. The one on the left was destroyed by a bomb that went off on June 5th 1999 while a concert was going on. The bomb left 22 people dead and hundreds injured. The culprit party was never found and the mayor was ready to remove the sculpture to erase the memory when he got a call from the sculptor himself, telling him” Don’t you dare remove that sculpture. People need to remember, so that they can never let something like this happen again.” He then donated a new bird sculpture. The bird now stands tall representing courage and fortitude, which perfectly describe the Colombian mentality. Colombians have been knocked down numerous times but they get back up on their feet and never lose their positivity and the smile on their face.
The sun set during our Metro cable car over the city. We ended the night in the trendy neighborhood surrounding Parque Llara in El Poblado. Artisanal tea houses, superfood cafes, creperies and hip coffee shops…it has it all. After a delicious organic dinner, we indulged in dessert and Chocolate Santafereno, a typical Colombian hot chocolate complete with cheese at the bottom. Though we thoroughly enjoyed the transcendent chocolate pie and molten lava cake made of pure Colombian chocolate, we did not love the cheese in our delicious hot chocolate. Those two things should be consumed separately.
On to Cartagena
We flew to Cartagena a few days before picking up our beloved car. The usually touristic city was pretty quiet as it was the low season, so we were able to enjoy a nice bike ride around the Old Town. Every house was painted a different color. Yellows, blues, pinks, reds…we saw it all. The large ancient entrance doors were adorned with lion, dragon or seahorse door knockers and flowers bloomed on the balconies.
The Street and Doorways
We spent the afternoon at Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, admiring the dark passages and the interesting shape of the castle itself, as it was built so that attackers could be seen from every angle.
While Cartagena’s Old Town is definitely worth seeing, we did prefer Medellin by far.
Let’s talk about the coffee. We started noticing people selling coffee “tinto” in little cups the size of shot glasses in carts all over Colombia. Ean was ecstatic to be able to get coffee in a small size at any hour of the day, everywhere he went. We then found out that tinto is actually coffee made from rejected beans (discolored, misshapen…generally imperfect) and that it is what Colombians mostly drink. The best quality coffee is sent internationally and is hard to find in Colombian cafes. Needless to say the coffee from the rejected beans, depending on the source, was still delicious.
Black Sheep Hostel
The Chocolate House
Cafe Lunatico (they have the “good bean” coffee, and try the eggplant fries)
Cono Gourmet (for lunch)