After Christmas I repaired my smashed phone. Boxing Day evening, a few of us from the hostel got a cab to El Poblado to meet Maud, my Dutch friend from Salento. It was Maud’s 37th birthday, and we got tacos in the rain and went boozing around the town. There wasn’t much open, so we spent most of the evening in a chicken shop that served beer, as a cast of plastered Colombians stumbled in and harassed us jovially.
Next day was a write-off, pure hammock, and in the evening I changed hostels to a place called Gaston Coliving about a kilometre away. It was a weird but pleasant hostel – family owned, strange layout, no real common areas for chilling, hammocks on the roof upstairs where they hang the laundry out to dry, tables on the front porch with umbrellas to shield you from the sun. I spent six nights there, and met many nice people whose names I do not recall. There was a guy called Tefel I think.
Notable things I did in Medellin in this period:
- Communa 13
Went with a jolly French girl I met at Gaston. The tour was in Spanish so I didn’t learn much, lol, but essentially Communa 13 used to be one of the most violent and dangerous barrios in the city – which was really saying something, because Medellin was one of the most dangerous cities in the world while Pablo Escobar was around. Today Commune 13 is a colourful, vibrant place, safe for visitors (of which there are lots). The tour was run by a local youth organisation; guys from the community guide tourists around to educate them, and the money goes towards helping kids from the barrio get an education. We watched a break dancing show and did some spray painting. I can never think of what to draw when someone gives me a pen or whatever, so I just sprayed ‘Dan’.
- Parque Arvi/Cable Cars
To get up to Parque Arvi, which sits one thousand metres above the main city of Medellin, you take a series of cable cars up through the hills. The view over the city is one of those views that scrambles your brain a little bit – too much detail, too much humanity in one gigantic scene. The fact that Medellin sits in a bowl means you can see the entire city at once, and you realise just how vast 2.5 million people is.
- Pueblito Paisa
Little fake town on a hill, made as a recreation of what Medellin looked like back in the day. Cute.
Guatape is a pretty little touristy lake town a few hours out of Medellin, with a gigantic rock just outside the town that’s very famous and people go up for cool views. It looks like some weird colossal black egg standing upright, 200 metres tall with a zig-zagging staircase up the side.
Fun fact about the big rock: as you approach from the south west, you’ll see a gigantic pair of letters adorning the rock. They read: G I. They’re all in white, thirty metres tall each. Me and my hostel friends couldn’t figure this out, so one night during my stay in Guatape we researched it. Turns out, Guatape and another nearby town argued over who owned the rock for a long time – presumably because it brings a lot of tourists. One night, the residents of Guatape took it upon themselves to paint their town’s name in enormous letters right across the rock. The residents of the other town got news of this, raced over, and they had a big argument and a brawl and the painting was ceased before the U could be completed, leaving only ‘G I’ forevermore.
Anyway. I went to Guatape on the 29th and intended to stay until the 2nd and spend NYE there. I fancied a quiet one – free from the constant reggaeton of Medellin and all that boozing. My first night at my hostel (Casa Kayam, little hippy lodge far away from the town, they had a horse, why do all my hostels have horses) was a success: I made like ten friends. The next day, however, every single one checked out. Bummer. I made more friends on the 30th, and on the 31st they all checked out too, heading for Medellin.
Well, arsehole, I wanted a cosy, familial NYE, not utter isolation. I panicked, and on the 31st I took the bus back to Medellin with a bunch of affable Dutch people.
I still had my bed booked out at Gaston – I left the booking live just in case – and so I returned there to meet Maud and a few new friends: a French guy, some stoner Canadians, a pair of Greeks, a Colombian guy with thick head of hair who was very worried about going bald.
Now. Because I was feeling a little jaded, having just passed a very weird Christmas and a rough December, I decided I could do with a little pick-me-up. Many backpackers in this country talk about the cocaine here: it’s sort of par for the course. However, I never touched the stuff here for ethical reasons. I know the drugs trade has fucked up this country massively, and many places – like Medellin – are only just recovering. However, my friends convinced me it wasn’t a big deal – apparently something like 90% of the world’s cocaine is made here, and 7% of that amount is consumed here. That means many Colombians do it – often. Well then, I thought: do as the Romans do.
At Gaston, almost every backpacker was planning to order something in for the big night. Maud and I agreed to split a gram, because although neither of us wanted to go hogwild, we still wanted to try it. I just wanted the energy, to be honest. Travelling knackers you. Anyway, in London it costs around £80 for a gram: in Colombia it’s £2. Just wild.
Alas. It was very bad stuff. I don’t know what it was cut with – rat poison or something – but when I tried it at Gaston, it emptied my stomach immediately. I was back and forth to the toilet for two hours, and aside from this it only made me feel tired and made me gurn. Dumbly, I thought maybe if I had some more it might get good. I had a little more, and a little more, but then it gave me acid reflux and a dry mouth and still no positive side effects. Well, that’s the chance you take. I’d not done any drug in almost a year by this point, and I doubt I’ll be having anymore any time soon.
The night itself was pretty soggy. This Colombian woman decided that we’d all have a family dinner at the hostel, and took 20,000 pesos (£3) from everybody for food. She cooked with a few others from the hostel. It was meant to be ready at 8pm, but by 10.30pm we were still waiting, drinking on the patio. I’d wanted to get out and enjoy the city lights and street parties, but sadly at 11.30pm I was washing dishes (while gurning) and at midnight we had no choice but to go into the quiet street and do a flaccid countdown and hug each other a little bit. It wasn’t the eruption I’d hoped for, but oh well – that’s NYE for, like, billions of people.
In the night we went to a reggaeton bar that an Italian girl dragged us to, but I don’t really like reggaeton unless I’m with close friends. It’s the sort of music you want to be silly to – dance madly and dumbly and wave your bum around like a flag – and with strangers it felt a little off. I just bobbed around a bit and didn’t know who to dance with because I didn’t feel properly comfortable with anyone except Maud. She was busy chatting to the Canadians, so I passed most of the evening sitting on the pavement outside, smoking angstily and gurning and retching because of the acid reflux. Should old acquaintance be forgot…
We went to a techno party after. Our group had thinned out by this point – me, the Canadians, Maud, the French guy whose name I forget – and it was very dark and Berlin-y and everybody had not many clothes on and dyed hair. I bobbed from side to side for a bit, jaw grinding, then I said fuck it and said bye to whoever was beside me and got a taxi home all grumpy and sighing.
On the 1st of January I awoke with a horrid comedown which I really didn’t deserve because I never had a blood come up. I didn’t feel particularly good about life, after spending New Year’s Eve voluntarily poisoning myself and then shuffling around a sequence of dark rooms blasting music I hate.
I checked Instagram and saw a video of the Dutchies (who I’d promised to meet in Poblado and then had to bail on because of the bloody Colombian woman’s promise of a family dinner at EIGHT) having the time of their lives laughing and smiling and dancing in the street with fireworks overhead at the pass of midnight. Well, arse. My original plan had been to eat the family dinner at EIGHT PM then whiz off to meet them for 9pm, but alas. I always try to make good decisions, but sometimes you work with the information you have and make sensible choices based on that info, and then fate just knobs you.
Anyway, while I was sat outside on the 1st day of the year feeling like an idiot bastard, I met a very nice person: Fatima. She was 34, from Paris, and she chatted to me while she told me about her wonderful exciting passionate authentic New Year’s Eve experience as she ate a healthy salad and sat there glowing with joy. Beside her I was an empty snail shell, snail within long gone, pecked out by a bird, remains blackened in the sun into an unintelligible stain on the pavement.
Some people are sunshine: Fatima was sunshine. She talked to me about health and yoga and travel, and later on when I was laid on my bed wracked with comedown anxiety, she popped her head into the dorm and invited me to join her on the hostel’s little-used terrace, where two hammocks are slung side by side, surrounded by fairy lights. We lay there in the hammocks for two hours, talking about everything – family, dreams – and in the end, despite everything, I felt warm.
I had a few more mini-adventures in Medellin over the next week, but I’ll leave it there: me, feeling a little broken and confused and bullied by Colombia, wondering what the next few days and weeks would bring. I wish I knew then that the answer to this was: incredible things.