Back to Medellín

M and I head to Medellín Colombia today. It is the second time for me and the first for her. A couple weeks ago I spent some days leisurely around the city. I hope to see more this time around.

The flight to Medellín from Cartagena is only around an hour and ten minutes so our travel journey is not long. The flight is in the morning and I order a cheese and ham toasted sandwich to hold me over before my journey.

When we arrive we check into the same hotel I stayed in prior, Diez Hotel Categoria in El Poblado. It is a good choice. Our room has two beds and a hammock that overlooks the neighborhood.

I wasn’t sure how we would feel when we arrived so we didn’t have much booked on our first day in Medellín. Luckily we are early enough to take a free walking day tour with Real City Tours (pay guide by tips).

Fortunately I already navigated the metro during my prior visit so we took the metro to meet our tour.

We are a little early for our tour so we stop for a beer in a old charming bar called Salón Málaga. Most were not drinking, in fact we thought we were getting a sneer from the table next to us but we ended up chatting with the girl and her mother instead. They were Spanish speaking but actually live in the USA and were tourists in Medellin as well. We made plans to share a taxi with them to Guatapé the next day but plans fell through when they had to leave town early.

We meet up with our tour guide who then takes us around the city and points out different landmarks.

Plaza Cisneros
Parque de la Luz (Plaza Cisneros)

At one point we sit by an old train station (Edificio Antigua Estación del Ferrocarril de Antioquia) where our guide gives us a “real talk” about the history of Medellin – tells us the history of all the factions that caused turmoil: the government, the military, drug lords, right wing militia, left wing militia. The losers are the ordinary people who had to live through the war and terror.

We are taken to a shopping district where there are lots of pop up stands you can get cheap goods (Carabobo pedestrian street).

National Palace Mall

Sex workers hang out in front of this church.

Parroquia de la Veracruz
We are told where to go to get some great empanadas

We end up at the Botero park where we can see lots of Botero statues.

Our tour group

Our guide talks about the metro and the pride the locals have for their train.

We are told the area under the train is where people go to exchange goods. We don’t have time to watch but we go back later to see it in action. Mostly men take items to exchange (belt buckle, watch, coins or whatnot) and engage with conversations with others to see if a deal can be made. It is interesting to watch and seems to be a sport of its own in the city.

We walk by some musicians playing outside at Parque Berrío. People are dancing to the music.

Parque Berrío
Fun Jesus taxi
Church across the street from Berrio Park

Our guide talks about some local fruits. I finally get to try that weird looking fruit (guama) from my first visit to Medellín.

guama

Finally he takes us to the Parque San Antonio where he tells us the story of the bombed statue.

Parque San Antonio

At the end there is a question and answer session about the city. Some was asking about seeing a futbol (soccer) game while in town. The guide tells us about the upcoming El Clásico Paisa game. I don’t listen too carefully because at this point going to a soccer game in Medellín seems too intimidating to me. Plus I am not sure we’ll have time. M pays attention though and is able to talk me into attending the game. More on that later.

Jardín: Hike to Christ

Another day in Jardín (Antioquia, Colombia) so I decide to take another short hike but this time to a Christ statue on a hill.

The town looks beautiful this morning as I head out for my hike.

Where I am going today is up the hill to see the large statue of Jesus (Seen as the little white thing in the photo below).

See the Jesus on the middle left.

The path is straight ahead and not clearly marked. I only know it is the correct path because of website that created a great guide to the area (fortunately I found the link to their website intentional travelers – they are so helpful).

The trail begins as a steep decline downhill on a rock trail. I am glad I am wearing my hiking boots again.

A kitten comes by to greet me before I start my hike.

I don’t really see many others around once again today. Traveling in Colombia is quiet compared to visiting other countries. Normally the isolation would have me worried about my safety but for some reason I feel safe here.

I come to a large moss covered tree. The tree is beautiful and reminds me of home.

I come to a little wooden bridge and cross a stream.

The area around the stream looks like a nice place to picnic during the day.

It is not clearly marked but I notice a rough path going uphill. I am thankful that it is both dry and that I am wearing my hiking boots. The steps are challenging for my shorter legs.

Looking down below. I see other hikers!
Town off in the distance

I arrive to a gate. There is no sign but it is not locked. I open the gate and walk through, hoping I am not tresspassing.

I am at some sort of summit. I stop and take in the views. There are large beautiful black birds flying to and fro.

I walk past banana trees. The path I am on is clearly used but very rough. I see another couple hiking around so I know I am in the right place.

Eventually I arrive to the area that contains the statue. There is a restaurant or café that appears to closed but a gate is ajar. A tour guide has entered into the viewing area with some tourists; I assume since he is there then it is ok to enter. I grab a seat and enjoy the view for a while.

At some point it looks like the owner shows up. I pack up my things in anticipation of getting asked to leave but he doesn’t seem angry we are there. I don’t stay long anyway.

restaurant up top
seating with view of town below
Finally the view, from below it looks like there used to be gondola system. It doesn’t seem to be operational.
A directional sign! Don’t see many of these.

I think there are other trails up here somewhere but I end up just heading back the way I arrived.

Trail goes on? Who knows?
The Moss tree again

It doesn’t take me long to arrive back in town. It is still early so I take the time to visit the inside of the beautiful town church.

I love the tiles and the ceiling colors.

I head back to my hotel to freshen up and rest. I’ll head out later to see some birds at dusk. More on that later.

Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá

Earlier today I visited a market and a nature preserve near Bogota. Now I am heading to a salt cathedral. The Catedral de Sal in Zipaquirá near Bogota is a marvel to see. The cathedral is built on a site that was once a salt mine. Building a church there wasn’t so far fetched since the original mine did have a sanctuary where miners would go for their prayers before work. Eventually the mine was turned into a church. Structural problems led it to close for many years. After being rebuilt the church opened again in 1995. As of the time of my visit it is said it is having structural problems once more and will close again within 5 years. I feel lucky I am able to visit when I did.

After my tour guide provides me my audio tour and entrance pass I walk inside, 180 meters underground.

I head into tunnels that are lit with colorful lights. One tunnel projects flags of different countries on the ceiling.

After the tunnels I reach a series of nooks that represent the different stations of the cross. Some are accompanied by beautiful lights and music.

I reach an overhang that overlooks the main cathedral below.

I head down the stairs and around the corner to access the church.

Baptism Nave

There is a corridor that connects the three main parts of the church. It has artwork and beautiful chandeliers.

Little lighted nook off to the side
Main Church

As I walk into the church Ave Maria plays and the colors change. I feel like I am witnessing magic happen. I am not spiritual at all but I feel like I am having a spiritual experience.

Down the hall from the church there are a couple other exhibits. Since I am there almost at closing time I end up missing out on the movie presentation but I do walk through a mining exhibit where they talk about emerald mining.

Exhibit of native peoples

Some more beautiful lights.

The park closes so I head back out to find my driver.

He takes me through the nearby town but it is after dark so we do not stop.

As we head back to my hotel in Bogota my driver tries to sell me another tour for tomorrow since it is no car day in the city (tourist drivers have an exception). Wanting to explore the city on my own I turn down his offer. I am impressed that an international city like Bogota can organize a car free day to help the environment.

Today’s tour is expensive but I feel like it was money well spent. Loving Colombia already!

Ho Chi Minh City Day tour

I book a couple of day tours in Saigon. Logistically it just seemed easier to do so then plan my own transportation to all the different sites. There is a travel agency in the lobby of my hotel’s sister hotel. I book my tours through them. The first tour I book is a Ho Chi Minh City day tour. It is a 1/2 day tour with an optional Cu Chi tunnels afternoon tour (another post about that).

Not loving my tour companions for today’s day tour. They show up 30 min late because their breakfast is more important than the rest of the tour and now we are still waiting to leave for them to finish their cigarettes. Eventually they get in the van and we head to our first destination.

Independence Palace, or Reunification Palace

First stop is the Independence Palace. This headquarters of the South Vietnamese almost seems frozen in time.

We are given a tour of the underground bunker. The original maps and charts are still in place from the war. You can see how they kept track of troops and casualties.

After the reunification palace we stopped by an old temple Taoist temple

Jade Emperor Pagoda (Ngoc Hoang Pagoda)

Temple for a Taoist god built in early 1900’s.

War Remnants museum

Next we stop at the very powerful War Remnants Museum.

A thorough museum on the vietnam war but from a south vietnamese perspective.

*TRIGGER WARNING* There is a very hard to see photo exhibit on the affects of agent orange on the population. One would have to be a monster to come out of there without tears in their eyes. Out of respect I did not take photos of that section. Only the piece of art below.

We complete the morning tour with a visit to the historic post office and the Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Notre Dame Cathedral

Historic Central Post Office

Part two of my day tour includes a visit to the Cu chi tunnels. I’ll post about that later.

Cappadocia Red Tour

A couple days after my not so great green tour I take the Cappadocia Red Tour. I thought I may have overreacted a couple days ago but after taking the red tour with a different vendor I know I am correct in my opinion. The red tour is well organized and the guide is very personable. His name is Sonny and he made our day sunny.

First stop is a view of Uchisar Castle.

Next is Goreme Open Air Museum

A favorite of mine in the Open Air Museum is the Dark Church. It is a separate ticketed option but well worth it in my opinion. The artwork inside is very nice (no photos allowed).

Love Valley

I have no idea why they call it that. <sarcasm>

Avanos pottery demonstration

The pottery is nice but it is way too early to start weighing my backpack down so I forgo any purchases.

Then we stopped at lunch. I don’t remember what I ate but I had to try all the desserts on the buffet.

Before we went back out sightseeing we stopped for a silk demonstration. It is interesting to learn how silk items are made.

Aaaannd the demonstration of the rugs. Some are nice enough to tempt me but they are so expensive. I just can’t purchase one….especially with no job and no permanent place to stay.

After the tough sell we stopped at Devrent Valley where there are a bunch of rocks that look like things.

A snail?

A hand

On the left it is supposed to be two people dancing

Finally we finish out the day at Paşabağ

Great day, great tour guide. All the magic of Cappadocia in one day.