The original plan for this season was to take the boat to Colombia but with all that happened at the start of the season we ran out of time and weather. There is a saying amongst sailors  “nothing goes to windward like a jet airplane” so with this in mind we decided to take a longer route back to Vancouver and go via Medellin and Cartagena Colombia.

It’s a short 1-hour flight from Panama City to Medellin. An early morning departure meant we arrived with lots of the first day left to do some walking and exploring. Purchased a new sim card for our phone and got lost trying to find the meeting place for tomorrow’s tour. We got ourselves sorted out and found the right spot. Medellin is built on both sides of a valley, and nothing is flat, You are either walking up the hill or down it. It is a bustling metropolis with a population of over 2.5 million people.

Sunday morning they close one direction of traffic for pedestrians to walk
Views from the 21st floor breakfast area of our hotel
Some interesting brick work on this church
Street vendor lemonade, sweetened with raw sugar from the cane. Very tasty
Statues like these, by artist Fernando Botero, are located throughout the downtown core

On our second day we did a day tour that took us about 2 hours out of town and into the countryside. It was interesting to see how all the farms have been built (terraced) into the hills to make usable and productive land. One of the highlights of the tour is a stop at the famous rock in Guatape. La Peidra Del Penol. It is a massive chunk of Granite stone that stands alone and at 200 meters high it, it can be seen from quite a distance.

Someone came up with the great idea to tack 708 stairs to the side of it then challenge tourists to climb them for the view. It is a pulse increasing, shortness of breath inducing climb. To make things even more interesting there are no building standards used during the construction of the stairs, so no two stairs are alike. Grab handles may or may not be present and walls may or may not be high enough to keep you from tumbling down a flight or two should you lose your footing. There is a separate set of stairs for up and down to keep the traffic moving. To boost your confidence there is a first aid station at the bottom, halfway up and at the top. We made it, and the view is spectacular .

The town of Guatape has been voted the second most colourful town in the world.  Almost every building in town has a fresco like, relief mural of some sort on the lower half of the building. Many reflect the business inside some are just for fun. This art form is called a Zocalo. Not to be confused with a Mexican Zocalo which is the town square, A walk through the town is bound to use up some digital storage space on your camera,

A tuk-tuk was a fun way to explore Guatape

Another part of the tour was a boat ride on the lake created by one of the county’s largest hydroelectric dams. In the 1970’s the Punchina dam flooded the Nare River basin creating a 25 square mile lake. It also caused the relocation of the town of El Penol 57 kilometers (35-miles) up stream. They left a concrete and rock pinnacle some 25 meters high with a steel cross on the top to mark the spot of the original church steeple. Another site on the lake shore is the abandoned and now lying in ruins, lake house that once belonged to the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar.

Once the summer residence for Pablo Escobar
Indicates the location of the original church before the valley was flooded

 The country is in the middle of a year and a half long drought, so just like the Panama Canal, the water levels are extremely low. It is hoped that the upcoming rainy season will materialize in full and refill the reservoir.

On our third day in Medellin, we took a walking tour which started at the metro station and took us for train, bus and tram rides as we made our way to the Comuna 13 District. It is hard not to connect Medellin with the drug wars of the 1970’s and 80’s and at one time this was considered the most dangerous place on the planet. The cartels of the time made this area into a virtual war zone. It has been transformed into a vibrant art district with colourful murals on many walls. While this has changed the outlook for the future of the area it is still taboo to mention the name Pablo Escobar or discuss the events of those days without asking and gaining permission from the locals. So many families were devastated by the violence and the memories are never far away. They are excavating an area of the hillside not far from here in which they believe is a mass grave that may hold as many as 20,000 missing persons.

The tram to Comuna 13 is part of the public transit system
Street art in the neighborhood
This is Anna our tour guide
Excavation in the upper center is the mass grave for as many as 20,000 people
Colombian currency all in thousands. At the time of writing $10 Canadian was worth about 28,500 Pesos

From here we head to Cartagena.

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One thought on “Slight Detour

  1. Hi guys
    What an adventure . The place looks amazing. The history , photos and commentary are wonderful. Thank you for this.
    Safe and fun travels

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