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!

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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.

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.

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!

Cable Arvi to Piedras Blancas

I took my first ride up to the Piedras Blancas area on the Cable Arvi this morning. I am used to traveling there on the Santa Elena buses you catch on Ayacucho. They provide good service but the cable line is much smoother and the view is spectacular.

To access this new service take the Metro to the Acevedo Station and the old cable line to the the Santa Domingo Station. There is no charge for the transfer here. When you arrive at the end of this line (Santa Domingo) go upstairs and catch the K Line to el Tambo. This will cost you COL$2,5000 or about US$ 1.30 at todays exchange rate.

´The ride up first takes you over upper Santa Domingo which is one of the less well off areas in Medellin. The housing quickly gives way to an agricultural area much of which has been invaded by bracken fern. Once you reach the ridge line the vegetation rapidly changes to a mosaic of native and plantation pine and cypress forest. Some of the patches of native forest look like they are of primary and if not are advanced secondary status. Nice diversity and an obvious epiphytic community in which bromeliads stand out.

In about 14 minutes you arrive at the el Tambo Station. Outside there are vendors selling snacks including a very good salpicon. Salpicon is a fruit cocktail with plenty of natural juices. It makes a great quick breakfast. The actual El Tambo area with its famous restaurant is about a 10 minute down hill walk. I understand there is bus service from the station down to el Tambo and on to Santa Elena but I did not wait.

The climate in the Piedras Blancas areas is much cooler than Medellin as it is locate at around 2400 meters. The mornings are fresh and the clean air is noticeable after coming up out of Medellin. Even the afternoons are relatively cool with temps in the low 70´s F being typical.

From el Tambo you can go to the nearby Piedras Blancas Ecological Park, to Guarne or to Santa Elena and the towns in between. These include Mazo, Piedra Gorda, Barro Blanco, el Placer and el Silletero. This is an important historic area and el Silletero has been declared part of Colombia´s National Patrimony.

If you wish you can make a circuit and return to Medellin via the buses or return on the Cable Arvi. Either way this is a great trip out into the countryside around Medellin. BTW the area is considered very safe and in 6 or 7 years of frequent visits we have never had a problem. There have been reports of problems towards the fringes of the area but these have been low intensity and infrequent. In addition a mounted police force which patrols the park area has recently been established and I suspect that this will eliminate any residual issues. I never feel nervous and am generally up there every weekend.

The Metro: Nice Touch

Over the past few days I have noticed that they are announcing which cars are least congested. Good move. It sure increases ones chances of getting a seat during the lead up to peak travel hours. During the peak periods at least you don’t feel like a sardine 😉

The Metro Culture

The Metro light rail system is seen by the city as more than just an effective means of transportation. It also is viewed as a means of cultural transformation. It is  set up as a model for people to emulate in the rest of their civic life. Sometimes people here have not been careful about littering, have considered the commons as their personal domain or have not taken law and rules seriously. Some of these characteristics are still prevalent in day-to-day city life but inside the Metro system people hold themselves to a higher standard. Even when the trains are full at peak travel times and a couple more need to get on, an effort is made to accommodate them politely. There is a lot of smiling and commiseration but rudeness or selfishness is rare. The elderly disabled or pregnant are generally offered seats. The stations are spotless and the service is cordial.

The following is my translation of the systems explanation of “The Metro Culture.” It reflects the social orientation which permeates much of Colombia’s efforts to move the country forward.

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The Metro Culture is understood as the compendium of the social and educational management model the Metro has built, consolidated and delivered to the city. It is deemed worthy to be adopted in its entirety or in parts by other cities and institutions which propose the development of a new civic culture including harmonious coexistence, good behavior, solidarity, respect for the basics norms of use of public goods, self respect and respect for others.  In 1994 the process of user education was officially incorporated into the mission of generating a new culture in the inhabitants of the Aburrá Valley (Translators note: the valley where Medellin is located), using the Metro system as a pretext for the community to adopt rules of behavior and coexistence.

At the same time, a Community Relations process was stipulated in order to consolidate positive relations with station neighbors and generate a sense of belonging and an attitude of care and preservation of the Metro as a natural response to the benefits obtained by the community from Metro service, improvements, urban works and improvements in the quality of life.

User education is a work based on believing in people’s goodness, in their capacity to follow rules and assume responsibilities and participate actively in the delivery of a service that is successful to the extent to which the user himself participates actively.

The Metro

I added a page on Medellin’s Metro light rail system under Day-to-Day Life (subpage Transportation). This can be accessed along the left hand margin of this page. Links on the Metro page (in orange) take you pictures of the system and more detailed information.

The Metro

I started going to and coming home from work on the Metro again. It means a bit more walking but this is good. I actually save time compared with the Circular bus. It also is much more comfortable.

The Medellin Metro is a very modern, efficient and effective means of transportation. It is a light rail line that runs along the long axis of the city and the valley within which the city lies. It also has a perpendicular lateral serving the western part of the city and connects to two cable lines (the Metro Cable)  that provide service to higher areas on both the east and west sides of the valley. For about $US 0.75 you can ride the length of the line. The ride is smooth and quick.

The Metro Cable is fun and provides fantastic views of the city. There will soon be an eastward extension providing service to within about 2 km (1.25 miles) of our country place (finca). The walk from the station is through beautiful forest and rural areas. Now that will be nice. Seventeen minutes from the el Tambo station to the main Metro line.

People here love this service and do their best to treat it well. Between 0600 and 0700 the south bound trains are loaded. Even so people do their best to be polite and let people get on and off without excessive hassle.