6 October – Day 76
Another excellent day in Colombia, a country which continues to exceed my expectations and has been one of my favourites so far.
As we were walking around looking for a café for brekky before heading off, we for some reason decided to go up a little side street… where Juan, the helpful stranger from yesterday, was sitting at café with his wife! How he recognised us I have no idea; he’d only seen us in all our gear including helmets… but he did, and came and sat with us for quite a while. He was pretty disappointed that we were planning on leaving Medellin straight away, and said that he’d love to take us around the city if only we stayed in town for another day. Plus his favourite local soccer team was playing that afternoon, and we might want to watch it with him? It was an opportunity not to be missed – spending a day with a local, in his own city?!! Yes please!
Twenty minutes after breakfast we were at the designated meeting spot, and the tour began with a close look at the Gaudua bamboo that was growing nearby, and a discussion on how it’s used in construction. It’s apparently known as ‘nature’s steel’ because it’s so strong – and flexible, which is helpful in earthquake prone areas.
We were going to get a taxi into the town centre, but while we were waiting the bus arrived and so on we jumped. It was our first local bus ride in South or Central America. It was pretty obvious that we were tourists, so along the way almost everyone in the bus was pointing things out to us, wanting us to know which street we were on (‘the car street’, where all the car dealerships are) etc etc. They were just so friendly! I know I keep saying this, but really – it’s such a change from previous countries, where people were either not friendly, or just wanted money. Colombians are friendly for the sake of being friendly.
Anyway, we hopped off and Juan was right into the tour, taking us to San Antonio Square which is where, in 1997, the FARC set off a bomb inside a statue, killing 17 people. 1997… it’s not that long ago.
We then went to look at the second hand book sellers’ offerings… on Sundays, the streets are lined with people selling old books. It was bliss. Our tour also took in a couple of the big churches in the town centre, as well as the more famous buildings, made all the more interesting by being with a local who knew the history, including information about the architect, year of construction, any issues or scandals associated with the building, current use etc etc. I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing on a tour of Sydney; I just don’t know enough about the history of the place. So I was even more impressed, and grateful, for the tour. At one point, Juan even sweet-talked a policeman into escorting us into a restricted area so he could show us a couple of monuments and explain some more about Colombia’s history. The policeman must have walked around with us for over 10 minutes, and he got into the tour too, pointing out various things and sharing bits of information.
One of the statues in this area is of Guillermo Gaviria Correa, the former state governer and his Peace Commissioner, Gilberto Echeverri Mejía who were killed by the FARC in 2003 after being held hostage for a year. They were captured when participating in a peace march.
After a quick refreshment at a very local pub, Juan’s wife Sorel picked all of us up and took us for lunch, and then we went back to Juan’s place to watch his local soccer team’s match over a few more refreshments including a delicious traditional Colombian fried plantain and avocado dish from Calli, which is where Sorel is from.
All in all, it was an excellent day.