Medellin – white knuckle bus rides and a story of hope

One of the things I try to do on these trips is to mix in with the local people as much as possible. One of the key principals of that is to travel in a pretty low budget way staying at local wild camps or locally owned campsites and trying to get by in Spanish and sign language. This often leads to normal experiences being in themselves adventures.

In the picture below Errol and I are taking the bus to Medellin mixed in with local folks, their shopping and schoolkids because we have parked the truck in a nice locally run campsite on the hills above the city. At this point my poor Spanish has been used to get directions from the owner to the city, find the right bus, check we were on the right side of the road (we were not) and check we were on the right bus (we were even though it went the wrong way at first it did a U turn eventually). My number one tip for anyone doing a trip in South America off the normal tourist trail is learn Spanish, it has been a really big benefit even after only three weeks.

In the photo above we are smiling as we have not yet started down the mountain roads, that journey was a white knuckle ride for 40 minutes I had to shake my hand to uncramp it as I had been holding on so tightly as we whizzed around blind corners at impossible speeds into the path of oncoming busses. The ride itself could be sold as an experience of terror for tourists.

Errol and I followed what turned out to be a well beaten tourist trail to the notorious Comuna Trece area which was the site of pretty bloody pitch battles in the 1980’s between guerrillas and paramilitary forces where more than a thousand people were killed in just a few weeks in a pitch battle over the territory which had become a no go area for police at that time.

Since those days the government has settled a peace deal, demilitarised the district and encouraged mural art and tourism much in the same way that my home town of Belfast has turned some of its historical hot spots and murals into significant tourist attractions now that peace has been created.

The murals all have a story in the case of the one above the tiger of the guerrillas is carrying the flower of peace

The seat above is supposed to give good luck to courting couples for a long and happy married life

However some of the older art is more striking and symbolises the pain and the suffering of the battle for district 13 and the tears of the many innocent people who died in that conflict

The biggest thing about Medellin is how it has recovered from a traumatic past and the positivity and hope that pervade the place, we felt totally safe and indulged in decent coffee and cakes before finding our bus home and heading back up the mountain after our first day

The ride back up the mountain, by now in the dark, was even more frightening than the ride down in daylight, about half the people in the bus were snoozing, clearly used to the close calls and swooping bends, we were rewarded for our bravery by lovely views over the city – difficult to photograph from a fast moving bus but perhaps the picture above can give you some idea. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees from the warmth of the city to the relative cold of the mountain which was great for sleeping!

The next day we decided to take a bus along the ridge to a cable car station at Park Avri this is a lovely trip and much calmer way to get to the city as you traverse the park for a mile or more first and then plunge down the mountain to the city below, skimming over much less touristy flavelas and getting a good idea of life in the suburbs of the city from above.

The high rise buildings of the city centre are a sharp contrast to the tin roofs of the homes of the local people in the outskirts of the city

The modern cable car network connects directly into the overground metro system, by now old hands at this we were quickly back in the city centre which has a big collection of these large bronze sculpture of slightly chubby figures in different poses.

We next went to the memorial museum which does a really good job of bringing the history of the city to life with films and full size interactive witness statements while at the same time articulating well the peace process and the hope of the people of this city for a happy and prosperous future.

I like this image as it reflects my impression of the city, lots of hustle and bustle, folks selling things on every street and shops bustling with people, food and music, a vibrant present overlooked by a darker and traumatic past reflected in the eyes of the boy in the poster.

So after two days in Medellin we are once again going to change pace and head along the tiny roads ridges of the mountains to the cloud forest and the 30m tall palm trees of the Cocora valley and the Parque National Los Nevados ……

About Gerry Mulligan

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