(April 24 – written by Dave)
One of the things you are supposed to do in Medellin is to see all of the Botero statues. Botero is arguably the most famous Colombian artist – an artist of true international standing. Born in Medellín, his signature works are large bronze sculptures that depict people and figures in large balloon-like shapes – statues that need a park or very large space to be appreciated.
I’d normally put “looking at sculptures” up there with watching paint dry in terms of exciting activities. But the thing with Botero, it almost seems like he feels the same way and thus made his sculptures intentionally whimsically and sometimes just silly. Criticise him at your peril – he is a national hero here.
We spent some time yesterday in Botero Plaza in the heart of Medellin where 23 of Botero statues can be found. They are actually pretty interesting to visit. I particularly liked the fact that they sit out in the park where people can climb on them, lean against them, rest their coffee cup on them and even pose for photos if they choose. It’s an everyday place.
Other than the park, Botero’s works dot other places in the city. There are a handful of them at San Antonio Place. It was here in 1995 that 23 people were killed at a concert when drug dealers detonated a bomb at the foot of a Botero Bird statue. The statue was heavily damaged but left in this state as a monument to the victims of the bombing. For better or worse, Botero art lives in the middle of the humanity of Colombia. If nothing else, it is refreshing to see “ordinary” internationally famous art – no red ropes or guards make Botero very accessible.
Today we went on a fruit tour. That is we took an organized tour of a famous Medellin market, where the focus of the tour was exotic Colombian fruit. The company we went with is called “Real City” and they focus on giving you a look around but also not shying away from the awkward parts. The market that we toured is called Minorista.
This market was opened in 1984 and was popular from the start. To set context however, in 1984 Medellin was one of the most dangerous cities in the world and was under huge influence from the drug cartels, including Pablo Escobar himself. The Minorista market was rife with gangs and protection money. And the protection money didn’t always work. A number of people died in violence and the market lost the shine.
Over time, the authorities got on top of the drug gangs and both Medellin and Colombia in general became much safer places. The market stall owners formed a co-op, got a police station installed in the market, hired guards and installed safety cameras. Today the market is very safe but the locals still don’t go there as the first choice. The folks at Real City like to go there because they feel that bringing “gringos” in helps slowly change the perception of the market.
All of the stall owners were very friendly to us and the market had a nice feel. I completely understand the locals and their reluctance to return to the market however. Once a place gets a bad reputation it takes time to recover. And in this case, the bad reputation included people dying so it really makes sense. For us, without being overly smug, it feels good spending tourist dollars in a way that also contribute to positive local impacts.
We got to try 14 different fruits on the tour. Some we’ve tried before, some were new to us. Most of them were worth a second go – some, not so much. Nancy’s favourite was the maracujá, one of four different passion fruits that we got to try. Mine was probably the lulo, which is called little orange but inside is nothing like an orange. Overall, I’d give the tour four stars – educational, delicious and impactful on the local community – what more could we hope for?
Tonight we are having a mini Alaska to Argentina dinner party. We are meeting Manja and Martin, along with Malaika (a gal we’ve corresponded with but not yet met), at a local Italian restaurant. All 5 of us are on the end-to-end journey so we should have some good yarns to tell, and hear.
Tomorrow we are staying one more night here in Medellin. We’ve run out of time and still want to take one of the cable cars to the city overlooks. We moving as our AirBnB is not available but we are only moving 100 meters down the street to a hotel where we will use the last of our credit card points, and perhaps get a fancy room. Our AirBnB is nice but the shower leaks, the fridge died and the clothes drier has also now died. There just something about us and/or Colombian accommodation. We would certainly recommend this neighbourhood, El Poblado, for people who might be considering a trip to Medellin. There are lots of great restaurants, coffee shops, and hotels and a metro station within easy walking distance. There is a Spanish school here as well – Toucan Spanish – that is supposed to be good. So it would be a great spot to come learn Spanish for a week or two (or more) if you are so inclined.