SLACKPACKING: MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA
The disaster of Cuba was left behind in a plume of bitter smoke. Incessant beggars, mothers who would sell their own children for a b(f)uck, fake cigars and over-attentive guesthouse owners were left to lie as a memory on the planes of our lives, sometimes remembered, for all the wrong reasons.
Haiti was next. With its dangerous allure. The Dominican Republic showered us with the godly treats of Cabarete and most importantly, Gorditos Tex Fresh. Curacao held our attention for 4 days, the highlight being the bus ride to the top end of the island where Mort and I sat sinking accommodating beers far above the crashing waves on outstretched cliffs. Then the Insel Air flight from Curacao to Medellin, and the start of yet another adventure.
Touching down in Medellin was met with both excitement and slight anxiety. Having watched multiple documentaries about the notorious Escobar and the Medellin Cartel, it wasn’t considered a holiday destination for most, and without any experience or knowledge of the city we exited the airport, tasted our first Club Colombia, and headed into town on the airport shuttle.
The first thing that struck me was the nature.
Through the glass the trees became vapours, mist clouding the sun as afternoon came to it’s end. A few corners later we turned into the side of the valley, with Medellin stretched out like a pig-skin as far as the eye could see. Huge hills on each side protecting the city below, her lights glistening in the cool air of dusk. The driver dropped us off at a street corner where we argued for a few minutes in horrendous Spanish to negotiate a reasonable price to El Poblado. The neighbourhoods changed from industrial and scruffy to resemble a suburb of Chicago or L.A. with tree lined streets and wide roads. None of the expectations of insanity and danger were met on the first night at least.
The next couple of days were spent hanging around El Poblado, stumbling upon Berlin Bar on our first night out, discovering the amazing grocery store which was bigger than 20 Norwegian supermarkets put together, and sampling some decent and some disappointing local cuisine.
Priscilla (a metal booker from Oslo) connected us via Facebook to a friend of hers in Medellin who played drums in the legendary Witchtrap. I sent him a message and we organised to meet and head to some notorious metal bars. We met Hugo and Natalie at Berlin Bar near our guesthouse. Headed by cab over to downtown to an area described by Hugo as “safe when you are with me”, and spent the first hour at Rock Symphony where the vibe was a bit more “operatic” than “black”. I did convince the owner to put on Nekromantheon while we downed some excellent Apostol beers and mingled with the crowd. After an hour or so Hugo asked us if we wanted to move on. A couple needed some cash from the ATM so the group split and half of us walked with Natalia to Retro Rock Bar, and the other half followed Hugo closely after he instructed them to not speak out loud, walk fast and stick with him. It wasn’t exactly the safest part of town.
A bald man, adorned with decades of cheap tattoos and sniffed up with half of Colombia’s famous yearly export walks up to me wearing a Venom T-shirt and shouts “I fuckin hate Faaags”. Right then. He then proceeds to give me a hug and hands me a shot of reddish/purple liquid which I promptly shoot more out of fear than enjoyment. Seconds later a tearing burn rifles through my oesophagus, eyes begin to water at the putrid taste, to which he turns to me and shouts, “We do cocaine here, and we drink fucking gasoline”. Nice chap.
He then proceeds to explain how Gorgoroth played in Colombia a few years ago and, backstage, he walked straight up to Gaahl and gave him the same greeting he threw at me seconds earlier. I laughed. I edged towards the door suddenly occupied with my iPhone. Inside the bar the bartender had one foot up on the counter while head banging and screaming along to the lyrics of a Taake song.
Three people stood in line waiting for cold beers, but seemed rather to join in than to get annoyed by the slow service. This place ruled. Around the corner “Bob Dylan” lay splayed out suffering the misconstrued effects of excess while a tweaker rapidly spoke to him in Spanish and looked like he was going to lift his wallet, Mort, Linda and Kjetil sat at a table surrounded by the suspicious eyes of a clan of metal heads not really used to having random tourists drop in on their little haven. If it hadn’t been for Hugo chaperoning us I’m sure we would have fared differently.
The hours passed, scuffles broke out, riffs were imagined, beers became warmer the faster we drank from the one inept fridge. Suddenly it was closing time. People dragged their wasted bodies up from the tables and started stumbling home with the sounds of Sodom still ringing in their ears. Suddenly the steel shutters came crashing down and Hugo took us upstairs to the nachspiel area where we sat a further few hours consuming more beers and talking shit while Bob Dylan snoozed in the corner and the metal volume just kept rising.
There are metal bars in Europe, but this place was off the hook.
With dinosaur sized hangovers the next day we decided to betray all common sense and get up, leave the hostel, and head up to the mountains on the fabled cable-car. The cab ride to the bottom of the hill was rather foggy and unwelcome, but as soon as the cable car started climbing and the views of Medellin spread out like an ornate blanket, all was well. We sat slightly swinging, staring out of the window as the rougher parts of town lay 30 meters beneath us.
We had to change half-way up to head to the national park, so we took the opportunity to drink some cokes and chat with a local girl who was hooked up with an American dude. The second cable car lifted us high above the city, and over the peak of the hills. We then began the 15 minute journey to the national park gliding over beautiful forest and landscapes until we ended at our destination. After poking around the local market for a bit we found a hilly area with organic coffee, home made wine and cold beers. With the birds singing around us and the temperature perfect, it really was the best cure for an excessive night out.
Back in the city, an awful nights sleep was suffered through while the resident TWATS (read: horrendous dreadlocked hippies from Argentina who spent the entire night singing godawful songs at the tops of their voices and blatantly ignoring the 11pm curfew by a good 4 hours, and the guesthouse owner bladdered to death fallen asleep in half a big mac, coke stains on his upper lip, his ratty Danish girlfriend as clean as a toilet brush in the worlds shittiest house sitting there starry eyed at her flea ridden boyfriends dreads soaked in sweat and a million cigarette ashes) enjoyed their night and we awoke bleary eyed, and blood pressure rising. Check out, ran to the local supermarket, ate awesome steaks, booked flights to Cartagena to escape the hippie invasion that our guest house was turning into and basically headed straight for the airport.
Without Hugo and Natalia showing us around, perhaps Medellin would have been judged on other merits such as the fantastic Berlin Bar, the square where all the students sat and consumed enormous beer bottles, the views and the friendliest of locals. I am glad we got to see it from the inside, and it cemented itself as a city that I would love to return to. And after seeing the rest of Colombia in the following weeks, Medellin rose from the ashes and flew high against a backdrop of overhyped disappointments.
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The Bitter Man
A backpacker by default since birth, have scanned almost 100 countries in the search for perfection and imperfection in equal measure.