My map man was feeling jittery without some semblance of a cartographic effort in his hands. He stopped at a hostel for directions and asked for a map. They gave him something the size of a folded napkin, which will have questionable benefit in our explorations, but it keeps Ron from having withdrawals.
What he discovered on this little doodad was not far from our apartment, down the hill over a creek, there is a park. Parque Lleras is the heart of Medellin’s Zona Rosa, which is party central, referred to as the “playground for Medellin’s upper crust”. The density of clubs, bars and restaurants draws people from all over the city and beyond. During the daylight hours, it is really a dead zone with few places receiving patrons and the few mingling around the park itself are vendors.
Wandering around, we just happened to pass a small nondescript café. There were three older men sitting at a table chatting away in English. My instincts alerted me that they were not average tourists, but might just live here, so I asked. One of them does live here and the other two returns here often, so they know the territory. They invited us to join them, so we were able to get some great tips from them.
This prompted our first venture to using the transit system. What we learned from those well-seasoned gents was that there are two types of transit cards: one is renewable, the other is not. Making things difficult, the renewable one is only available at certain metro stations, none of which is near to us.
Walking down a tremendous hill for close to two miles, we still were not certain where the metro station was located. Assurances that it was at the end of the street we were traveling was not reassuring when we reached what we thought was the end. A nice young security guard gave us directions for circumventing some construction and then finally the metro station became clearly visible high up on a manmade mountain.
It is curious how handicapped people negotiate their transportation needs. To reach the station, there are multiple levels of steps that need mountaineering; each section has about 60 stairs. If it were not an issue for getting the supplies up there, one could make a fortune operating a temporary oxygen boost station at the top. By the time we reached the apex, I could have used an oxygen mask and a wheelchair.
After much ado, we discovered we both needed transport cards. Unlike other cities, we could not pass it back for the other to use. Cards sold at this station are not refillable, so if there is an insufficient balance for another ride remaining on the card, you just suck it up and kiss it good-bye.
Once through the turnstile we had to descend stairs to reach the metro. What kind of hellish planning was this? Metro cars are sleek and modern. Crushed into the car, we held our bags to our chest tightly without making eye contact with anyone else. Arriving at our stop Parque Berrío, we descended hundreds of stairs divided in multiple layers before reaching earth. This was like astronaut training going into the clouds and then returning to terra firma.
Panic set in when we reached the bottom. Tremendous crowds filled every breathable space; it was such a change from the tranquil area we left. This park is the geographical heart of Medellin; there was a steady beat and vibration apparent. Highlighting this area are the Museum of Antioquia and the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture, both often ignored due to the obvious display and perhaps more famous Botero Plaza, where 23 of his statues grace the pedestrian streets.
Locals know these statues draw tourists, so this is an area filled with vendors selling everything from hats to pieces of gum. Stories tell that there are drugs or sex vendors here also, but we were not aware of them if they were within the crowd. Residents of the area must love getting their piece of power over those who come to view Botero’s works as they sit on the platform, hang on the statues or just obstruct the view by surrounding it making an unobtrusive photograph impossible.
One statue called “The Hand” was particularly popular with one family at the precise moment I was standing in front of it with camera in hand pointing at the piece. Three adults with two babies and one toddler stepped in front of me to pose for their own picture. First, all of them, but the man posed while he shot their picture. Then one woman changed places so the man could be in the picture. Then each adult posed with each child individually for photos. Finally, the put each baby in the space between the thumb and forefinger for snaps. I thought the babies were goners. Twenty minutes later, my camera snapped into action.
To escape the crowds, we ducked into a restaurant for a snack before reconnoitering the rest of our time here. It was late in the afternoon, so we figured it would be a waste to try to see the Museum of Antioquia, but went in to check on the hours. Using basic Spanish, I asked what time the museum closed. The guard responded with a confuse look and the sentence “I do not know what you are asking.” I tried again rephrasing it. He responded, but I had no clue what his response was, so we let it go.
Thanks be to Atlas, there was a tourism kiosk in the plaza, so Ron was able to acquire a map. His hands felt useful once again. We pummeled the cute young man with questions, partially because his girlfriend who was standing next to us was waiting to regain his devotion. Quite polite, professional, and a better than average English speaker, he graciously gave us answers.
According to the newly received map, the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture was open to the public. However, when we entered, the guard babbled something in what had similarities to Spanish, but nothing was stimulating our language memories, so we just walked out. We will investigate it further and return armed with knowledge.
These six hours felt like forty and we still had to climb the staircases to heaven to get back on the metro.
At the base of our stop on the return, there is a large Exito supermarket. Being perceptive about taking the lazy way out, we did a large food shopping; we are going to be here the rest of January. Now that we were laden with a dozen grocery bags, it was only feasible to get a taxi to bring us to the door. Even the car had to putt-putt up the hill and we were all holding our breath when it was time to pull into the driveway. Being intuitive, the guard of duty automatically opened the garage door, allowing us to make a smooth entry into the lobby rather than having to climb the stairs from the street to the front door.
This apartment is going to be exhausting!