Friday, 30 March 2012

More from Medellin

I have been here 2 weeks now and am settling in - there are a few minor nuisances like traffic noise and random girls from downstairs wandering into our apartment to borrow stuff but I think I have to adapt to a more informal style of living. What is good is that I now have a fairly established routine based on cycling and dancing with an emerging range of other activities, mostly depending what presents itself. Somebody told me there is no easy translation of the word serendipity into Spanish - but allowing space for things to just happen and coming across stuff by virtue of walks and speculative internet searches can be good fun and has a  Colombian Latino feel of easy going acceptance.

By way of an example,yesterday, Natalia and enterprising Paisa on-line Spanish teacher whom I had contacted some time ago, posted to me meet-up of expats, a group called InterNations  - we met at the Beer Factory in Parque Lleras, a clubby zone in Poblado – there were 15 of us representing 9 nationalities; we chatted intermittently in Spanish and English- I mostly talked to a New York/Colombian architecture professor who was somewhat despairing of the Colombian free market approach and unequal trade agreements with the US. The bar sported about 50 different beers and played 80s rock a little too loudly but it wasn't too crowded and the waitress managed about 12 separate drinks bills with minimum fuss – I had 3 fancy beers and it came to around £6 with the tip. 

It is fantastic that in only one week, mainly by courtesy of Juan Carlos, I have had 3 separate and fun cycling events. At the weekend I met up with the team -  and we headed out in a North Easterly direction on 62. Everyone was friendly and, as in Peru they all have nick names – like Animal, Professor, and Sancocho which is what they call Juan Carlos.  It rained on the way out and the group fragmented somewhat, more than half of us taking shelter in a cafe in the tropical forest where I ate a welcome potato pie thing – worryingly my Garmin gave out and I only recorded half the ride, losing the climbing bit on the return – which was a pity since I now have an unrecorded 4,200 feet of ascent missing from my Strava Challenge. 

Meeting up with new cycling friends
Later in the week we went to the Velodrome – this is an excellent resource and anyone can use it to train, with or without a track bike. I tucked onto the back of some juniors being towed by a motorbike and did a few fast circuits – it was very hot and afterwards we had a great fruit breakfast near the Stadium.
Showing them how!
Fruity Breakfast

Yesterday Juan Carlos borrowed a mountain bike for me and we climbed above Envigado where he lives on a delightful and quiet lane, Camino Catederal, sometimes asphalt and other times trail we got well above the city following a fast stream and heading into the tropical forest.
Climbing along Camino Catedral

Proper Forest
So all in all I cannot complain about the cycling – this morning's effort has been cancelled or postponed due to the rain but it usually clears up so we may head out to do Las Palmas again which is probably going to become my benchmark ascent.

Apart from cycling I have visited Pueblito Paisa, a wooded knoll where there is a model colonial village and good museum depicting the planned developments for Medellin. This is based on a thorough analysis of the city's characteristics and underlying themes for the pan boil down to:

  • education
  • social urbanization and managing public space to improve life
  • Equitable conditions and inclusion
  • culture and art
  • security and cohabitation
  • competitiveness and entrepreneurship

You can also eat and relax whilst looking out over the city as it sprawls along the valley
Looking out to City Centre, Medellin
The art theme is quite prevalent in Medellin but I was somewhat disappointed by the city's museum of modern art which has very little to see except 2 visiting exhibitions one of which was OK – there is a nice shop and some up market restaurants and cafes nearby.

The Library at Santo Domingo, which you arrive at by way of a cable car, is truly impressive. A large dark obelisk attached to the side of the hill and situated in a relatively poor neighbourhood it is a good example of the city's pursuance of a cicvil society via urban planning and architecture.
Metro cable

Library at Santo Domingo
I am enjoying Medellin and as we move into Holy Week I am looking forward to a 4 day 600km cycling road trip and whatever else this interesting city throws at me.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Cycling, Salsa and First Impressions

Summing up first impressions of a city can be unwise as one tends to concentrate on the 'wow' factors and some of the minor annoyances and I have definitely noted a few of each. A week in and I find myself living fairly luxuriously and contentedly with some agreeable and helpful apartment sharers; I have identified a timetable of regular activities punctuated by exploration of some of the city's main attractions.
Apartment in Belen, Medellin
Cycling is a pretty substantial focus and you can see the rides I have completed on the Blog's Strava feed. When cycling in Medellin extra care is needed – drivers seem fairly forgiving but eager to get where they are going – there is a lot of traffic and the fumes are horrible. Thus far my new friend Juan Carlos has shepherded me through the streets and we have set off for 3 mountain climbs, Las Palmas, Altos de Minas and Alto Sierra. The climbs were long, each more than 15km and offered great views of the city below, and in the case Altos de Minas of a dense and stunningly green forest.
having climbed Alto de Minas
On one day we went to a cycle track and had a training ride on the flat with 26 circuits of a 0.9 mile race track – the other rides were short but hard and I am feeling some of the effects of the altitude leaving me somewhat breathless on the steeper sections. I am pretty pleased with the cycling here and we have a long group ride planned for Sunday, leaving around 6am with the team and a 4 day road trip planned over Easter weekend. My aim is to drive up my fitness and if possible lose a little weight.
At the practise track
My other focus to date is salsa. I am enrolled at a dance school in a group salsa/rueda/casino class and am taking individual lessons in Cali style salsa. The lessons offered are of good standard and very economical by comparison to London. I will probably take a block of individual cross-body lessons as well and there is a free lesson offered on Tuesdays at the Wandering Paisa Hostel. There are also some social dancing options offered by the salsa school. Unfortunately these venues are somewhat distant but I can walk in one direction and the taxi fare back is about £2.50 – not a problem!
Salsa Casino
The other night I found a more local dance school, 'Swing' and dropped in to check it out. They were running a social dancing session and the instructors, all but one of them young men invited the mainly much older women to dance. I danced a little with the manager and a few others and she was quite encouraging but the dance repertoire was so wide-ranging as to confound me completely. During the time there they danced merengue, cumbia, cumbia electronica, cha cha, porro, tango, milonga and bolero. I didn't recognise one salsa tune and so I ditched it and came home.

In terms of being a tourist, most notably I have visited some very lovely botanical gardens and viewed the Botero sculptures in the centre of the city – they were both fantastic visits and you can check my Flikr feed for more photos.

Botanical Gardens

Botero Sculpture
Aside from all this, minor annoyances include heavy traffic, its fumes and motor bikes – impenetrable street numbering and occasional biblical rainfall; but on the plus side, there is good infrastructure, particularly the Metro, Cable Car and Metro Plus, the friendliness of the Paisas themselves as the People of Antioquia are known and, the almost ideal climate. I am pretty sure I am going to love it here and I am looking forward to all the great things I might do.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

From Medellin, Colombia

It has always been the case, at least since 911 that transiting via US has meant picking your case off the conveyor - for me in Miami - and passing it through physically to the onward flight. Well, seemingly not anymore, at least for UK to South America routes, and thankfully so considering other problems with my connection through to Medellin Colombia.

Yes, not Peru this year - Colombia, off to the city of eternal spring, set in a deep valley and the country's second city - a bustling modern metropolis, where currently it is raining! 'Pues nada' .

Due to fog at Heathrow I sat nervously but comfortably in my upgraded club class seat doing the maths on my 100 minute connection window fast dwindling due to 'delayed slots' – I pondered if this technical term had medical connotations whilst soothing my brow with the hot towel offered me by one of BA's female flight attendants as they are now known, plausibly a late 70s debutant with a plummy voice.

We arrived late and with 60 minutes to spare for my connection and I headed off through immigration feeling some salvation at being passed on to the express queue which was anything but, and then dashing for the Sky Train heading for gate D41, 2 stations down the line and quite a hike! When I arrived the plane was still there but frustratingly all other passengers were boarded and entrances were locked down with apparently no staff to let me through. Well finally I found someone and was boarded as the last passenger. Well maybe not such a drama as all was well with my arrival and collection from the airport where Juan Carlos my new cycling buddy was patiently and kindly awaiting my arrival.

My first days here in Medellin have been dominated by bike building, apartment hunting and cycling. It feels as if I have been lucky in all departments:

On the bike front, my friend Juan Carlos has facilitated the construction of my Trek and bits and pieces bike, me having carried the pieces in my almost 23Kg case. Additionally he has kindly shepherded me up some stonking great hills and has shown me much kindness.

climbing Alto de Minas

Juan Carlos on the descent from Las Palmas
Apartment hunting was hard graft but having had romantic ideas about living among Colombians I now find myself in a 5 bed 2 bathroom apartment with 4 other men, 2 English, one German and the other from the USA – but all is well and I am situated close to a huge sports complex with reasonable access to the city and elsewhere. The cost is around £200/month.

So all in all a good start. I will leave my early impressions of Medellin to subsequent postings but suffice to say so far I am agreeably happy.

Comment is free and appreciated.