In Giradota It’s Lechona on Sundays

We took a trip Sunday down to Girardota and Barbosa to see what these towns have to offer. The towns themselves are not particularly interesting visually. Both have central plazas and reasonably nice churches but they have little of the charm of more traditional locations like San Pedro de Milagros, el Retiro and Helicona. Given we were using public transport we did not have time to explore their surroundings. They are known however for outdoor recreational facilities with pools, lounges, food and drink

We did make one very nice discovery in Girardota. On Sunday’s, lechona (suckling pig stuffed with rice) abounds and both restaurants and street vendors sell this delicious dish. We found it offered at both $COP 7,000 and 8,000. This comes out to about $US 4.00 and 4.50 for a generous plateful + salad, potatoes and a small arepa.

We also chatted with a man in Girardota who told us that in the San Andres neighborhood (vereda) there is a group that performs local traditional dances on demand and serves meals for tourists. We will be visiting there to see what this is all about and will report back.

If you decide to drop in for a Sunday treat you can buy an integrated ticket that includes both your Metro fare to the Niquia Station and a ticket for a connecting bus down to Girardota. These are available at the Metro ticket booth where you enter the system. The bus ride is about 15 or 20 minutes so it is close enough for a comfortable day trip.

If you go, please let us know what you think!

A Downtown Walk

Medellin’s downtown has two streets dedicated to pedestrian use.

Carabobo

Carabobo between San Juan and La Playa provides a nice corridor sheltered from the diesel exhaust of the the buses.  Lots of shops, eateries and something interesting at both ends. The portion of Carabobo south of San Juan is characterized by shops selling automotive parts. At the intersection with  San Juan you will find the Parque de la Luz and the goverenment complex called la alpujarra.

The architecture of the alpujarra  is interesting in its self. I am partial to the the sculptures of Rodrigo Arenas Betancur in any case and the work that graces the main plaza there is representative of his odes to human aspiration.

The north end of the pedestrian section of Carabobo includes both the Veracruz Church and the Museo de Antioquia. The La Inglesia de la Veracruz is, I believe the oldest church in the Medellin area and was started in 1682 by el Capitán Juan Céspedes de Hinestroza. The Museo de Antioquia houses a collection of art reflecting the cultural environment of Antioquia. They have an excellent permanent collection and host rotating shows of cultural and artistic significance. I love the place!

I also love the museums patio restaurant that overlooks the Botero Plaza.  Nubia and I often enjoy a snack or meal, just sitting watching the people in the plaza. There are lots of tourists both from other parts of Colombia and of international origin in the plaza and enjoying the restaurant. If you want to meet others visiting Medellin this is a good spot.

This entire walking route has the advantage of never being more than a few blocks from the Metro. Stations nearby include, from south to north, Alpujarra, San Antonio, and Parque Berrio.

Junín

The second pedestrian corridor is Junín. It can be accessed from the end of Carabobo by walking just two blocks to the east on La Playa. A turn to the left will take you on to Junin where you will find the original location of El Astor. This is a a great place for a snack on excellent pastries and confections. A bit further to the north on the left you will find the Versalles restaurant. Versalles has a great atmosphere typical of its heritage as a gathering place for intellectuals and artists. You never know who you may see here. The food also is good and the pastries sold at the entrance are excellent. I really like the Palitos de Guayaba (Guava Sticks). To date these are just $COP 1000 ( US$ 0.53 at today’s exchange rate) and IMHO the best treat buy in Medellin.

Just a few steps further you will find the Parque de Bolivar and Metropolitan Cathedral.  The park is a bit seedy but the cathedral is beautiful both outside and within. They have a pipe  organ well worth hearing if you get the chance.

Please take advantage of these pedestrian thoroughfares.  They will give you an insight into the vitality and commercial spirit of Medellin and introduce you  to many of the pleasures of the Center City.

Walking for Exercise and More

I have picked up my walking program again recently. While in Medellin I have been using the Metro Stations as landmarks and goals. Sometimes I jump the Metro and ride to a distant station, get off and walk back home. Other times, I walk to a station and back home. Today I walked from here in Prado Centro to the Exposiciones station and back.  This turns out to be about 5 miles given the route I took. On the return I eat at the El Palo vegetarian restaurant on El Palo just north of La Playa. This turned out to be a good move and I describe it in a comment to my previous post.

I find that walking greatly improves my knowledge of the city. It provides vital detail in the overall context of my mental map.

 

Transition to the Wet Season: Staring the Wicked Witch in the Face Again

In late-September and early-October we are in the transition to the wet season. We have had a nice “mid-year summer” and sure won’t complain. Between now and December we are looking at increasing amounts of rain and a lot of cool, cloudy weather. The reappearance of la niña (the wicked witch) and its expected residence through the upcoming rains indicates they are likely to be heavier than “normal.” But then again what is normal after nearly 3 la niña episodes in a row. BTW the wicked witch brings excessive rains to Colombia and is not a welcomed guest in most quarters.

New at Piedras Blancas

A few observation on new recreational opportunities at Piedras Blancas. If you are unfamiliar with this area it is a must visit when you are in Medellin. It is easily accessed via the Metro to the Acevedo Station, there you take the Metro Cable to Santa Domingo and transfer to the Cable Arvi which rises above the Medellin Valley and crosses several kilometers of the highland forests,  including some very nice patches of native high elevation woods.

At the Arvi Station you can get guided tours along some very nice trails. There is currently no charge for this service. These give you a chance to see the native vegetation at close hand. When you arrive be sure to take a look at the folios in the shelter just in front of the station exit. They provide photos and information (in Spanish) on the local flora and fauna.

If you chose to walk down to el Tambo (less than a kilometer) there is a very well designed sidewalk with kiosks where the locals sell all manner of snacks  and some fairly nice folk art. This is all monitired by the development agency and I think the food is quite safe. Near the station there is a restaurant called el Punto de Rojas. It is very typical and the food is good. The Rojas family have been in the area for a long time and form a colony not far from el Tambo.

Down the hill in el Tambo will find a very good restaurant and store run by Mariano. He is a local fixture and his meals are excellent, quite large and reasonably priced.

Recently I have see a horse and carriage taking people on rides along the road from el Tambo to Chorro Clarin. I talked with the driver this morning and he offers the service at 6,000 pesos (about $US 3.33) for a half hour and 10,000 pesos ($US 5.55) per hour. I am pretty sure that he will take you where you wish to go and this would be a great way to see the sights if you don’t wish to walk. The local roads a lined with beautiful forests and are well worth seeing.

If you decide to go to Chorro Clarin you will find very nice picnic facilities with roofed kiosks which have fireplaces for barbecues and such. There are vendors who also are monitored by the the development group. They sell typical snacks like empanadas, and tortas de chocolo (corn fritters) that are delicious. These people are our neighbors and are very attentive to tourists. The area is named for a water fall that is very popular with people for wading. It spills in to Piedras Blancas Creek near the vendors kiosks.

Further down the road you will find the new Comfama facility. It features picnicking, and various recreational opportunities including a suspended exercise “trial” up into the the trees. I have not tried it yet but it looks like fun.

A visit to San Pedro de Milagros

Yesterday we took a day trip to San Pedro de Milagros, a small town on the altiplano north of the Medellin area.  San Pedro is embedded in a large agricultural area primarily dedicated to dairy production. The countryside is GREEN, colored by extensive pastures of kikuyu grass. Scattered among the pastures are homes of various descriptions but mostly built using traditional rammed earth walls and tile roofs.  There is a nice video showing many aspects of the area at the towns website.  It is in Spanish but provides a nice visual, if a bit frantic tour illustrating many of the things I cover below. On the San Pedro website, scroll down a bit to find it.

The importance of the dairy industry is emphasized by the large, modern milk processing plant on the east side of town. A multitude of dairy cows graze in well managed pastures. The near by Via Lacteca (Milky Way) theme park also provides a clue.

The town itself is small and retains a lot of typical architecture. It is friendly and relaxed with an energetic feel which complements its relatively slow pace. As it is a regional economic center there are a lot of people who come in from the surrounding area to do business and buy supplies. Some of them maintain very typical dress with ruanas and traditional hats. The majority dress in “city” cloths, especially the young folks. The contrast is interesting and speaks to the rapid changes that the Colombian countryside is experiencing.

The traditional stands next to the modern. Walking along the streets you will find very narrow sidewalks, people on horseback, and beautiful old homes with hanging baskets of geraniums and other well tended flowers. Next door you may find an Internet salon and shops sell the the latest electronic gadgets.

The basilica is beautiful and well worth a visit. The massive wooden doors are weathered and carved. The ceiling is decorated with many good paintings along both sides of the sanctuary and stained glass windows glow in the long walls. There is fairly good reproduction of Michaelangelo’s Pietà near the alter.

The short walk up to the Calvario provides the best view of the area. It is located on the east side of town several blocks up from the plaza. The entry passes through a garden with Dahlias, Agapanthus, and other flowering shrubs and perennials.

While walking around we came across a beautiful old home which piqued our interest. Looking in through an open window we saw that it is a classic traditional town house. Being Antioquians, my wife and friends had no compunctions about knocking on the door and asking if we could have look inside. The lady of the house was pleased to show us around. We had a very pleasant chat and learned a lot about the town.

We also came across a school talent show in progress and stopped in to enjoy it. Although we were obviously tourists the people made us feel very welcome. The performances were charming and taught me something about life in a small Colombian town. The number we walked in on featured young ladies performing a choreography based on Middle Eastern dance with costumes of harem pants and midriff tops. This is a Catholic School. The drapery behind the stage says “Educate your children in love, respect and tolerance.” I would say they are practicing what they preach. I guess I had stereotyped these towns and did not expect to find such an open attitude. Based on the friendly, helpful manner of just about everyone we met I would say that people take these values seriously.

There are lots of restaurants in San Pedro. We found some of the best pan de queso (cheese bread) we have ever eaten at a small shop on the walk from the terminal to the plaza. It is located about 2/3 of the way along this short walk. These goodies are displayed in the door way and I would not pass them up. There also is a Bancolombia ATM on the east side of the plaza in case you need to grab some cash.

Getting there is easy. One can take the Metro to the Caribe station and walk across the pedestrian bridge to the North Bus Terminal. Go down to the bottom floor and look for the company that has routes to San Pedro, Entrerrios and Santa Rosa de Osos. The ticket is 5000 pesos or about US$2.75 (at an exchange rate of 1800 pesos per dollar). You also can go to the Niquia station and pick up the green Metro bus to San Felix. An integrated ticket is available for this carrier that includes both Metro and bus fare. Check at the Metro station where you enter the system. This costs just 2800 pesos. San Pedro is a few kilometers down the road from where you get off the bus at el Tambo.. You can take another bus from there or grab a taxi for around 6000 pesos. If there are several people in your group this is quite inexpensive.

The weather in San Pedro is cool so take a sweater or jacket and an umbrella.

When the heat and bustle of Medellin gets on your nerves, take a day and make the trip up to San Pedro. I think you you will find a cool relaxing destination with friendly people waiting to greet you. You also will see a bit of the real Colombia you may not have known.

Sasha Cagen on Experiences in Colombia

This story closely parallels many of my experiences in Colombia.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sasha-cagen/the-kindness-of-south-ame_b_683496.html

Biblioburro

What do you do when there are no roads to your village and your mission is to see that the kids have an opportunity to learn and expand their horizons. Bring in the Biblioburro. This is a very creative solution to a serious problem and to me a beautiful one. This is the bookmobile that goes where the Hummer fears to tread.

Biblioburro is the creation of of Luis Soriano, a primary school teacher at la Gloria, Colombia. Transportation is provided by Alfa y Beto, the two members of the logistics team. Biblioburrro arrives in the village on weekends when Mr. Soriano is not teaching his regular classes!

This is a classic example of development as opposed to growth. Improved quality of life without a significant increase in the the throughput of materials and energy. The growth mindset would have built a four-lane to the village. Thank you Mr. Soriano.

If you did not notice the link words above please click here to see images of Biblioburro.


Walking

I have started walking between Conquistadores and Prado Centro for exercise. The other day I did it early in the morning and went down Junin to San Juan and west across the river. This afternoon I came down San Juan to Oriental and then North to Prado Centro. This route takes one past the Alpujarra. This is the Administrate Center for both the Departmental and City governments. It is a well designed complex of buildings and public spaces. It also passes the EPM building. There are a number of potential routes to choose from so one can enjoy something a bit different most days of the week.

This walk is about 4.6 kilometers. In the cool of the morning it really is very pleasant. The exercise also helps start the day off well. Walking it in the afternoon is good as it melts the tensions that develop through the day. It is however a lot warmer.  I have said it before, Medellin is  a great city for a lot of reasons. Its compactness makes this kind of walk easy to fit into ones routine.

Cable Arvi Gets Heavy Use

  

The Cable Arvi system between Medellin and Piedras Blancas is getting heavy use during its first two weeks of commercial service. This photo was taken about 1700 on Saturday afternoon (20/02/2010). The system says it is transporting 5000 to 6000 people per day on weekends. 

Folks in this photo look less than enthused but this is due to a wait of about an hour to board the cable. Comments are all positive and people take a lot of pride in Medellin´s very modern transportation components. 

People love this system!

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