Flowers, Friendships, and Festivity Fun

Flowers, Friendships, and Festivity Fun

After a magical time exploring Barichara in the Santander region, we began a small back-track through Chicamocha Canyon and towards the west to Medellin. The Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival) was in full swing and seeing one of the most important Colombian festivals was on our minds. On the way, our patience was tested again on the two-lane, steep, and incredibly curvy roads. We were having Guatemalan flashbacks as we ascended and promptly descended through the unrelenting topography.
The valley between the two large cordilleras (mountain ranges) is almost at sea level, so the heat was fierce with no wind. Considering it to be the halfway point to Medellin, we stayed in a hotel for the night. For just $12 we had a nice little room with cable TV, AC, wifi and a private bathroom. Not bad! Up early the next day, we began yet another large and slow ascent of the mountains encompassing Medellin and the western cordillera. Along the way, we picked up two friendly hitch-hikers trying to get to the festival as well. Normally we don’t pick up hitch-hikers, but these two, one from Venezuela and the other from Colombia were very friendly street performers and we had a good feeling about helping them out. Along the way we shared stories and listened to great music. Occasionally they even accompanied the songs with their bongos, creating a proper in-van party. After dropping off our travel companions, we headed towards the nicer neighborhood of Patio Bonito. Here we found a hostel where we could park the van out front while having access to the bathrooms, kitchen and internet. It was a perfect vanlife/city balance and we liked the location so much that we ended up staying a full week parked in the same spot. And so began the exploration of the city.After discovering a large peacock made solely of flowers in a large mall near the hostel, we were excited to see what other beautiful scenes were tucked into the city. The Medellin Botanical Gardens was our next stop and was filled with amazing flowers and more orchids than we had ever dreamed of seeing. The garden is very special and features a desert section, palm forest, tropical rain forest with a sloth, butterfly pavilion, and the very impressive orchideorama.Wowed by all the beauty and feeling good energy, we decided to stop by an evening event in a park near the hostel and it did not disappoint! There were delicious foods and drinks with art vendors everywhere and a stage with traditional live music where we danced alongside the locals. Exhausted from the previous eventful day, we planned to be mellower by walking our chairs down the street to watch the classic car parade happening for the festival. We showed up early, beers in hand and found a shady tree to hang out under. As we waited for the parade to start, a group of locals considered ‘Paisas’ in this part of Colombia joined us under the shady tree. With a cooler full of beers and snacks, it was obvious they’d been to a few parades in their day.We began chatting and quickly became friends. They were enamored by our trip and very fascinated about what we thought of Colombia before we came and what we thought now that we were here. The global image of Colombia seemed to be on their minds a lot. They were all very well traveled and after many exchanged stories, it was clear to all of us that we just clicked.After thoroughly enjoying the parade together, they invited us to lunch and then to tour a club they were members of in one of their favorite areas outside of the city. They loved that we were fascinated by the city and it’s history so they enthusiastically indulged us with stories of family and friends.  They even drove us around parts of the city we never would’ve seen otherwise.The club and landscapes outside of the city were breathtaking and we had wonderful conversations with our new friends.  Afterwards, Jairo and Tammy brought us to their home where they gifted us bracelets and an scratch-off world map. Thoroughly touched by their friendliness and kindness, we slept easy and made plans to visit again.  The following day, the finale of the festival, the ‘Desfile de Silleteros‘ was taking place. This parade was by far the most impressive either of us had ever witnessed. Despite the craziness and thousands of people, we managed to get a good view and watched the locals carry their heavy and cumbersome flower arrangements on silletas through the street. Thoroughly impressed, we lasted the entire parade with our eyes glued to the participants and their impressive arrangements.Festival concluded, we wanted to know more about the city we had enjoyed so much and signed up for the free city walking tour, which Medellin is famous for having one of the best in the world.For those who don’t know, Medellin was considered the most dangerous city in the world throughout the 90’s when Pablo Escobar and the FARQ rebels were creating havoc all over the country, especially in Medellin. Now, the city is one of the biggest reasons people visit Colombia, and tourism is sky-rocketing. Our tour guide was a nice young man who grew up in the Escobar controlled neighborhood ‘Communa 13’ during the hard times of the 80’s and 90’s and gave an impassioned tour that we will never forget.  The city is beautiful and we loved its rich history from colonial to modern times. Progressive Medellin has turned around its downtown slums to beautiful parks and its most dangerous neighborhood to a work of art. In one of the photos above, you can see two statues that look very similar.  The one on the left was blown up by a backpack bomb and the artist (Botero) refused to let it be removed. Instead, he sculpted an identical one to be placed in the park alongside the other so that the city and it’s people will never forget the tough times they survived through. After the downtown tour we visited the famed ‘Communa 13’ which is now full of artistic graffiti and escalators to help tourists explore the steep hills of the neighborhood. The scars of hard times can still be felt and the poverty is still very visible, but the people are happier, healthier and safer now.  With our eyes opened wide to the history and culture of this mountain city, we hope that many people continue to visit and feel the passion and determination of the people and place.The impressive one-of-a-kind metro system in Medellin allows easy exploration of the city and is one of the biggest sources of pride for the Paisas.  You will not see a single drop of graffiti paint or garbage anywhere near the metros. Not only is there a standard train, but metro-cables (gondolas) that provide access to the neighborhoods in the surrounding hillsides. 
We were having so much fun in the city that we decided to extend just one more night to go to a soccer game. It was a blast and we watched the game diligently while the fans in the south section sang and danced the entire game. The impassioned crowd accompanied by a full band provided a special atmosphere inside the stadium we’d never witnessed before.With our time nearing it’s end in Medellin, we visited with our friends one last time to say farewell. They even packed us a picnic lunch for our next stop which was very touching.It was bittersweet wishing them and the city goodbye. Trying to sum up the experiences and emotions we had during our time in the city is nearly impossible. Our new friends touched our hearts and the city let us see its strength in ways we will never forget.But alas, it was time to kruise on and explore the surrounding mountains and small pueblos. Guatape was our next stop, with a famous monolith towering above the town and reservoir that provides Medellin with its water. Climbing the 750 steps to the top provided the most incredible view of the area below.We had intentions to climb the rock, but the weather had other plans in mind. Instead, we spent time walking through the colorful town and took in more great views of the area.Eager to get our fingers on some rock, and with hopes of volunteering for a few weeks in town of Suesca, the climbing mecca of Colombia, we made our way towards the east and the capital city of Bogota with our hearts filled with Colombian joy.

3 thoughts on “Flowers, Friendships, and Festivity Fun

  1. You two are so friendly and outgoing and thus you meet wonderful people who in turn do such nice things for you. Good for you. These pictures are awesome–the flowers are just spectacular–Rose Bowl Parade outdone!! So are all the other pictures of Medellin! You both look great and your adventures a joy to read and you are great photographers!! Keep on enjoying!! We just returned from a fabulous bike trip from Prague to Vienna–beautiful countries and then onto Budapest–so beautiful to be along the Danube, the castles, the culture and the wonderful people. We love all about Budapest! Hugs to you both, Gail and Don

    1. Thanks Gail! Your trip sounds amazing, and we are happy to hear about your adventures while sharing ours. Here’s to meeting new people, places and smiling all the time! 🙂

  2. Great pictures indeed! The blond Sarah with the blond Colombian horse was cool. Your enthusiasm for the people and country is contagious, and a good antidote to the daily dose of rampant American nationalism that we are deluged with these days. really makes us look forward to our next rendesvous in Ecuador!

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