Medellin has a nice metro system that got me downtown to see a first round of things. I visited a couple of churches, but spent most of my time in the Museo del Antioquia, which has a wonderful collection of Botero’s works, donated by the artist. I’m glad I saw the Bogota collection first, as Medellin’s were stronger and more numerous, which figures since Botero is from Medellin. The museum also had a nice small international collection, which included Rufino Tomayo (Mexico), Frank Stella (USA), Wilfredo Lam (Cuba—I run into him all the time, now, since I saw his works in Cuba!) and Richard Estes (USA). I shall allow myself to show only one painting here (Pablo Escobar Dead) and one sculpture of Botero’s, (Woman With A Bow) although I took many pictures and I love them! (It’s hard to get the color right, though.) Outside of the Museum is a Plazoleta which has 30 sculptures by Botero.
I read a piece in the museum where Botero explained that his people are not ‘fat,’ but ‘voluminous.’ Whether it be a still life of oranges, or if his subjects were horses, or people, his emphasis on volume was the thing. Still, one of the sculptures in the Plaza was called ‘La Gorda,’ or fat lady, maybe not his name for the piece.
I was contemplating the Wilfredo Lam painting when a museum guard told me that he often painted ‘spirits’ since his grandmother was a bruja (witch). He also asked me if I knew Sophia Vari (I didn’t). He pointed out a painting of hers—she is the wife of Botero.
Pedro Nel Gomez is another of Colombia’s outstanding artists. There were murals by Gomez in the public places of the museum, but also behind glass on two outsides of the metro station. These were more in the style of the Mexican muralists.
Wednesday I took a ‘Pablo Escobar’ tour. (After all, I’m in Medellin!) The tour leader was great, with much information about Escobar, but also the history and status of the drug cartels. Escobar became a delinquent early, stealing cars and selling the parts. Eventually he got into the cocaine trade and grew his empire to 1.7 million people that directly worked in the drug trade. Additionally he owned hundreds of businesses, which were used to launder the money, and these employees amounted to millions more. He bought his way into Congress and spread his largess to the poor, many of whom still honor him. His cartel had 80% of the Colombia drug trade, while the Cali cartel had the other 20%. Eventually a war erupted between the two cartels, the ‘Pepes,’ who were a vigilante group, the army, the government forces, with some participation from the American DEA and FBI, which resulted in the fact that everybody was looking for Escobar. They finally found him hiding in plain sight in Medellin in an ordinary neighborhood, and he was shot to death at the age of 44 in 1993. Compare the photo here with the Botero painting, above.
Unfortunately, the drug traffic flourishes more robustly than ever, although the violence that used to take place in the cities is now pretty well confined to the jungle border areas. We visited his grave; there was a man there that honestly really resembled Escobar!
I again took the Metro, a little north of downtown this time to see the Museo Universario, which has a pre-Colombian collection. Getting there was a bit complicated, but finally I found the museum. Unfortunately the clerk told me that it was mostly closed, as some young students had broken some of the exhibits! I expressed dismay, as I had gone to some trouble to find the museum, but then I left. A moment later this young man ran after me and said that he was asking the guard to telephone the chief, and maybe he would let me see what there was to see. Sure enough, all that happened, and I had a private guided tour of some lovely exhibits. They were mostly funerary urns, some still having the bones inside, as well as some carved wood objects. That was so nice of him to make it available to me. Those Colombianos!
Next was the Pedro Nel Gomez museum. After inquiring about walking or taking a bus, I gave up and took a taxi. Nel Gomez is mostly a muralist, but also made paintings and sculptures. It seems he was very active in providing social commentary, perhaps much like the Mexican muralists.
When I took a taxi back to the metro station, the driver overcharged me, claiming there was a minimum. Since I had just taken a taxi in the other direction and was charged the meter price, obviously this was not true. Se la vie—-
I was having breakfast in a coffee shop in Tunja about two weeks ago, when I met the Valencias from Medellin, parents with two teen-age children, a boy and a girl. While the parents could not speak English, the children could, and we struck up a conversation, with my throwing in bits of Spanish, and with their children interpreting. When they heard I was coming to Medellin, they gave me their phone numbers and email, and asked me to contact them so we could get together. This I did, and one night while in Medellin, we five had dinner at the Patria Mia Restaurant in the hopping disco area of El Poblado. Bless their hearts, they even picked me up from my hostal. We had such a nice time. After dinner Conrado drove us up to a high viewpoint overlooking Medellin. Conrado has an engineering business and Marleny teaches at the university where I had just visited the museum. She has her doctorate in Microbiology. They even invited me to come and stay at their house, but with my plans to visit an out of town village the next day, and also to get to the airport on Saturday, I felt I could make better connections using the metro and a shuttle bus from my hostal. Another example of Colombian friendliness and hospitality!
The next day I did take the metro and then a ‘car’ to Guatapé, a small colorful village about two hours away. The car was a surprise, as when I went to buy my bus ticket, a man asked, in Spanish, if I wanted to go right now. I said I did, and he said some more, but I didn’t get it. He hurried me through a door to the buses, and said, “El taxi!” There was a small car parked behind the bus which looked pretty well loaded already, but I inserted myself in the back seat, and we were off! While a car is quicker (1 ½ hours) a bus is much more comfortable, I think, especially when the car is small.
Anyway, we first stopped at El Peñol, a huge rock with steps on it, which everybody climbs except me. It looks to me like a lava plug like the one I did climb in Sri Lanka. The ground around has been eroded, leaving the rock naked. Then a few km later we were in Guatapé, a really colorful town. The bottom halves of the buildings are decorated with all sorts of beautiful decorations, plus they use strong colors. I enjoyed seeing the town, looked in on the church, had an ice cream cone, and then got a bus (2 hours) back to Medellin. Actually this bus driver drove like a maniac, so it wasn’t all that comfortable, either!
On Saturday I packed up my pack, paid my bill and got the metro and then a shuttle bus to the airport for my flight to Cartagena. I had gone to some trouble to check in the day before, as my hostal does not have a printer, nor did other internet cafes that I tried. I finally found one that did, and managed to make the check-in work.
When deplaning, the temperature and humidity were noticeably different from Medellin– hot and humid was the order of the day. I took a bus to the Monumento a la India Catalina and hunted awhile to find my hostal. The problem was that the street names changed almost every block. I did find it, but unfortunately my reservation in which I had explicitly asked for a bottom bunk and was assured of one, didn’t hold. After being transferred to two rooms and three beds, finally a young woman offered to trade with me (bless her heart) and so I do now have a bottom bunk. This hostal, while well located right in the old walled area, is one of a chain of hostals, and somehow that doesn’t work as well as privately owned and hovered over.
Finally I was settled, so I went exploring. The area is really beautiful but heavily touristed. I visited the Puerta del Reloj (clock) and a couple of churches that weren’t open.
Finally the heat made me wish for a beer so I found a nice sidewalk café and ordered one. A woman came along and asked me if I were on a cruise, as she had noticed the red wristband that was put on me at check-in to my hostal. It turned out that she was Beatrice from Belgium and was staying in the same hostal. She had come to have her breast implants renewed (“every ten years it is necessary”) and so gave me a rundown on the difficulties that she had encountered in the process. She distained ordering a beer as they were cheaper in the hostal. In fact, she gave me several tips on how to save money.
Then I went to the Convent of San Pedro Claver, the first person to be canonized in
the New World. He spent his whole life ministering to the slaves, living in this little room. He was called the ‘Slave of the Slaves.’ His skull is on display in the Italian marble altar of the church.
It doesn’t take very long here to work up a sweat and head back to the hostal to cool off and rest. While in the shade, I’m not uncomfortably hot, but walking in the sun is another matter. I see that the young folks in the hostal do the same!
Cartagena has its Gold Museum, too. While the collection is much smaller than the one in Bogota, still it was thrilling to see. There’s obviously something about gold that fascinates us. The pieces on display were the work of the Zenu people who lived around here.
I spent a little time figuring out exactly what tourist attractions I want to visit while in Cartagena. These I will do during the next three days, before moving on to Cali.