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We were driving fast to get to Medellin by a deadline. The past few blog posts have shared information with you about the villages, cities and sights we explored on our way here. But we were in a hurry to get to the biggest Medellin event of the year, the annual Flower Festival!
Although we missed the first 5 days of the event, we made it for the huge, closing parade. And it was really an incredible event!
In this parade there are hundreds of participants carrying huge flower displays. These flower displays are assembled on a few different types of structures and carried by farmers, businesses and families from all around the region. One of the structures is a chair-like frame with has cascading flowers attached to it. Another structure is a large, round wooden disk, which has flower designs arranged upon it. These flower arrangements have been on display in various locations over the past few days. The floral displays have been categorized and judged for critical attributes. When it is time for the parade the floral artists attach straps to and they are carried on their back for several miles. Thousands of fans show up to enjoy the event. We joined the crowd. Here are a few images from the parade. The parade also included other elements. We saw firefighters in full regalia, mounted military patrols and a group of military dog handlers, who were walking their dogs and carrying adorable, adoptable puppies! It was exciting to see so many different elements of the Colombia culture on display in one afternoon. And of course, we enjoyed watching and interacting with the crowds of people who were in attendance. We were in the “standing room only” area which was free. But the stands contained thousands of people who paid between $20.00 use and $150.00 use to watch the parade and receive free gift bags, refreshments and entertainment during the breaks. We could watch them from where we stood, for free!
After the parade ended we moved on to find a parking place that could hold us for a few days while we explored the city. We ended up in the driveway of Hostel Macondo. It was a suitable location and in a nice neighborhood. We had grass for walking the dog nearby and all around the nearby blocks. Quickly we discovered that Medellin is a big, bustling city with a lot of traffic, humans, smog and fantastic weather. But this is also a city that is recovering from internal strife and struggle. Medellin, and specifically an area known as Communa 13 was really impacted by the drug cartels of the 1990’s and wrapped up in the guerrilla and military and FARC fighting. We were fortunate to go on a tour of the Communa 13 neighborhood with a young woman who has lived there all her life. She knew stories, realities and areas that brought the past issues to life during our tour.
The Communa 13 neighborhood is located far up on the hillsides of the city, and it borders the forest, the fields and the path of importation of drugs. The city was a dangerous place to live, and this particular neighborhood had become a war zone. The infamous Pablo Escobar empire was recruiting young men and women into their service. They were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars for taking the life of a military or police patrolman. Families were in fear for their lives and for the loss of their young teens. However, after the death of Pablo Escobar there was an air of victory among the residents. They worked with the police and military to return Communa 13 to a place of safety for families.
The city funded an extensive transportation network that included a citywide Metro train system and street buses. They built an incredible set of escalators that climbed up the hillside, through Communa 13. This allowed the residents to access city services, commute to new job opportunities and feel freedom from being trapped in their hillside neighborhood. Even the street dogs have learned to use the escalators to get to various parts of the neighborhood.
And along with the transportation of humans (and dogs), came a social program focused on art. Street art became an acceptable expression of past fears and future hopes. And the art reflects the transition that everyone has participated in. Now the escalators are filled with tourists and even city officials from all around the world. They come to see how this area recovered from a past of terror to become a hub of joy and financial rebuilding. These photos illustrate just a small portion of what we saw during our rainy tour of Communa 13, Medellin, Colombia.
There were many shops in the Communa that were selling the work of local artists on canvas, magnets, t-shirts and poster-prints. It was great to see the commerce being generated by this rebirth of a neighborhood. We stopped in a coffee shop for a taste of their specialty, black coffee with lemonade and ice. It wasn’t too bad, actually! And they were selling these interesting recycled paint cans. A large part of the day was rainy, but it was still a fun tour. Mike and I enjoyed ourselves and we love hanging out with our friends Kid and Gypsy!
Walking around the city was fun. On one outing we went to a huge hardware store called HomeCenter. Even Nica was allowed to walk around the store and shop with us. But she was not thrilled with the escalator. While we were in the parking lot we spotted this really cool miniature transportation. Just a two-seater, with room for a few packages in the back. And protection from the rain!
Our next stop that day was a strange little science museum on a college campus. Once we got through multiple security stops and checkpoints we were admitted to an interesting set of exhibitions. It was not a large museum, but clearly assembled and maintained with loving care. The staff was thrilled to see us there and were very friendly!
There was a large mural on one wall. And an extensive collection of old, poorly stuffed animals of various origins. While we enjoyed exploring, it was a little bizarre. But we really liked the little , tiny bat skull!
Back in the neighborhood we had fun with Nica playing in the grass near the hostel. This video shows her entertaining herself with a rock. Yes, a rock. Everywhere we go she seems to select a special rock. She rolls on it, carries it, tosses it and treasures it. This can go on for several days with the same rock. Then in a new location, she selects a new rock and the love affair begins again! Strange little dog……
We had a few amazing meals in Medellin. Near our hostel parking area was a coffee shop, which Nica was allowed to visit. They served some of the best Eggs Benedict that we have eaten in several months. It was so good, I took a photo. As I mentioned, we walked to most of the places we visited while in the city. We walked to grocery stores, electronics repair shops, veterinarians offices, hardware stores and restaurants. But while we thought we were walking a lot, this woman made us look bad! She clearly walks and carries a load effectively! Walking around the city is a chance to see a lot of interesting things. Here is a DHL delivery guy taking a break between zipping around the city streets on his motorcycle. And another type of delivery, this truck is delivering eggs to many small tiendas around the city. This truck clearly contains hundreds of eggs. The driver must be quite skilled to jump over the huge “resaltos” (speed bumps) and potholes that make the city streets memorable. And on the topic of groceries, we found this interesting scene in a major grocery store. It seems that the butcher shop area is actually a spectator zone. This row of chairs is set up, and occupied, facing the butchers. Once we noticed this, we saw this in most of the large grocery stores. Always nice to sit down and watch some meat get chopped up and packaged! Our walks also included the beautiful Botero Museum and Botero Plaza. You may be familiar with Botero as the artist who makes everything look obese and swollen. The art in the plaza is some of his finest work, in larger than life sizes! And the setting is the beautiful, tiled cultural center of Medellin.
Medellin was a fantastic city with a wide range of activities and opportunities. We felt safe, welcomed and hesitant to leave. We may return to this wonderful city again as we drive around exploring Colombia. Thanks for reading and hopefully watching the movies and enjoying the photos. As always, we welcome your comments and feedback either here or privately. You can contact us here or through Facebook (@itsnotaslowcaritsafasthouse) or Instagram ( #itsnotaslowcaritsafasthouse ) We love hearing from you.