Sunday, January 21, 2018

Our Tale of Two Cities: Bogota and Medellin, Colombia

During our trip to Colombia, we were fortunate to be able to spend time in two of the country's largest cities, Bogota and Medellin.

From our first encounter with the narrow roads, Spanish road signs, metric speed limits, and numerous bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians weaving in and out of the traffic,

Yes, that is a dog wagging his tail nervously
as he sits between his owners!

... we were very grateful to have Luis as our expert driver and Piedad as our tour director extraordinaire. Together they gave us an "insider's view" of the beauty of their country.

The resulting "tale of two cities" reveal how Bogota and Medellin worked to repair the "worst of times" in their past to achieve the "best of times" for their citizens today.


We flew into Colombia's capital city of Bogota where Luis and Piedad spend a lot of their time. Located at about 8,500 feet above sea level, Bogota has a subtropical highland climate with an average year round temperature of 57 during the day and 41 at night.

A city has seen tremendous growth in recent years with a current population of almost 10 million people. Unfortunately, housing, streets, and transportation systems have not kept up with the rapid growth. 

We found it interesting that in order to try to alleviate traffic jams and air pollution, the government has enacted laws to decrease the number of cars on the roads. Cars with license plates ending in an even number can only be on the roads during the morning and afternoon rush hours on even days ... and vice versa. It is hard for me to imagine not being able to drive my car on certain days of the week. Possibly because of this law, there are LOTS of motorcycles and bicycles alongside the cars on the roads. Thank God that it is also a law that motorcyclists have to wear helmets. But, as I watched one young lady get on her motorcycle for the commute home, a quick "sign of the cross" is probably also a good thing to do!

Colorful art and quaint shops lie alongside
modern buildings and shopping centers on the Bogota roads.

In Bogota, we visited Museo del Oro (Gold Museum). For an admission price of about $5, we were surrounded with the rich history and relics of Colombia's golden past.

I wouldn't mind a pair of those earrings ...

... or maybe a gold ring?

Afterwards, we hired an Uber driver who was well-skilled in handling Bogota's narrow and crowded streets to show us a portion of La Candelaria, the historical district of the city.

Colorful buildings and a majestic 17th century church lined the narrow cobblestone streets and are still used today for business and worship.

Luis and Piedad's home is located about 20 miles northwest of Bogota in the village of Tenjo. With no high speed roads like we are used to, and numerous speed bumps, potholes, slow moving vehicles,

... and an occasional goat in the road, the trip would take about an hour.

But what an amazing hour long ride it was! Artwork, architecture, and people-watching kept us very entertained during the journey. I was also able to work on my Spanish skills (and realize my serious lack of skills) by trying to translate the billboards and business signs along the way.

When we approached the open fields with mountain views,

... we knew that our garden retreat was not far away.

There we relaxed as Piedad planned the explorations of our next city ...


Medellin is Luis and Piedad's hometown. While its past was marred with the violence Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel, Medellin has worked hard to improve the safety and living conditions for its citizens in recent years.

"Pablo Escobar Muerto" by Fernando Botero

We have heard a lot about its beauty through the years and wanted to visit it. It is often called "the city of eternal spring" due to its average year round temperature of 72 degrees. That seems more like summer to us former Minnesotans!

As we planned our trip, we were presented with this choice ... an 8 hour car ride from Bogota over narrow, twisty mountain roads or a 45 minute plane ride. What would you choose??!! We enjoyed a smooth flight from Bogota to Medellin and embarked on a four day visit.

Situated in a valley between two mountain ranges, Medellin faces some of the same challenges as Bogota. But, for us, it was obvious that the planning that went into the building of roads and mass transit system has paid off for the city and its 3.5 million people.

The city's Metro train lines, built in 1995, run the length of the city and efficiently connects the northern part of the city with the southern neighborhoods. We found it an easy and pleasant way to get to museums, restaurants and other points of interest in Medellin.

The gondola-like Metrocable is also a part of the Metro system. It runs up the eastern mountains to reach underdeveloped neighborhoods. The building of the first Metrocable line in 2004 was a big boost for the poor people living on the mountainside. Because of the cable cars passing through their neighborhoods, they are now able to travel into the city for jobs, food and healthcare. This has resulted in improvements in the living conditions of their neighborhoods.

What were once slums, are now vibrant neighborhoods where people take pride in their surroundings.

Luis' company also has a branch office in Medellin, so he travels back here often. Thus he keeps a small apartment that served as our resting spot after full days of sightseeing. Located a few blocks from the Metro train station, we were able to hop on and visit the museum of "hometown" artist Fernando Botero.

Botero's sculptures and paintings are very unique as you too will quickly realize. Many of his extravagant sculptures line the City Plaza just outside of the Museo de AntioquiaAs we walked around the museum, we saw many more of his paintings and sculptures including an "interesting" portrayal of Mary and Jesus.

We also enjoyed the collections of other talented Colombian artists in the museum.

Pedro Nel Gomez'
Madonna is more to my liking

Being an artist, Piedad is a great art museum tour guide.
I enjoyed seeing the works and learning about
one of her favorite local artists, Ana Fonnegra de Isaza

Another day we took the Metrocable all the way to the top of the mountain to Arvi Parque, a huge nature preserve and favorite picnic destination for the people of Medellin.

View from the Metrocable car
as the city gives way to undeveloped beauty

Our fun and free bus transportation to
various parts of Arvi Parque

We enjoyed brunch at a hotel restaurant located in the
quiet beauty overlooking Arvi Parque. For $50/person/day
we could stay overnight and enjoy three restaurant meals.
I may have to bring Doug back sometime.

Time for a hike around beautiful mountain lake
in Arvi Parque

On a Sunday morning we took a walk around Luis' Medellin neighborhood and found many delightful surprises including:

A beautiful open-air shopping center

A 12 mile stretch of road that is
CLOSED OFF to car traffic every Sunday morning
and filled with bicyclists, runners, and walkers

A beautiful neighborhood church
welcoming us to worship

In our "tale of two cities" we found ourselves in a country that has experienced the "worst of times" and are working together to bring out the "best of times" for their citizens. 

During our visit to Medellin, we found a city with beautiful people to meet and places to explore. We found a city where the cost of housing, food and entertainment is very reasonable. We found a city where a easy walk or a Metro train ride can get us anywhere we want to go. We found a city with a year round climate as beautiful as those four or five days of summer in Minnesota.

We also found that although we have been studying Spanish with the help of Duolingo for two years, we can't profess to being even a little bit fluent.

But we also found dear friends who are willing help us with our Spanish and share their love of their hometown with us. 

We found a new RVenture (minus the RV).

We will be telling more tales of Medellin next year as we plan to return and spend January-April 2019 in the "city of eternal spring" soaking up not only sunshine, but also the Spanish language and culture.

Until next time ... take that giant leap ... do something crazy ... and enjoy the adventures in your life!

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