Standing behind me in the queue to board this morning’s flight to Medellin were three American girls I met at the beach the other day. With Cartagena and Medellin being two of the top destinations on the Colombian backpackers circuit this was perhaps not the most amazing coincidence but with eight flight each day between the cities it was still a bit funny.
Medellin Airport is a fair way out of the city, hence the £18 taxi fare, a lot of money in Colombia. A fair bit of the journey involved driving through countryside. Eventually we reached the peak of a hill and Medellin came into view, down within the valley below. For a couple of quid you can instead get a shuttle bus that will drop you off by a metro station. The overground metro rail network is seen as something to be proud of in Medellin. It was built in 1995 and has been a symbol of modernising the city. The system is on par with anything you’ll find in Europe, Asia or North America. My stop was Pablado, a 5 minute walk from the hostel.
Los Patios Hostal is an excellent establishment. It’s clean, modern, well-organised, friendly, every works and has a great rooftop bar. If it served breakfast I’d possibly go as far as crowning it the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. I know it’s a matter of luck regarding who you bump into but there did seem to be a large proportion of friendly people staying here.
With no access to a mobile phone for less than a day, I’d be lying to say that I hadn’t missed having one. Last night I was terrified about oversleeping without an alarm clock. I’ve also really missing taking photos. The time spent at the airport and during the flight dragged without the Kindle app and podcasts to listen to.
Pablado has a mall containing almost exclusively electronics shops. I wandered over for a look. There were probably hundreds of phone stores inside. Unfortunately they were all smallish outlets, rather than the Colombian equivalent of Dixons, Curry’s or Carphone Warehouse. Nothing seemed to have a marked price. While I’d learnt a couple of phrases such as “no SIM” and “no contracto”, I had the feeling that I’d be seen coming in those sort of establishments. They could likely sniff my lack of local nous as much as I could smell their bullshit. Not far from the hostel was a huge supermarket, kind of like a Tesco Extra, that sold electronics. The phones here at least had prices displayed. Here I used the tactic of writing a note and attempting to find the friendliest looking member of staff. It read something like, “Would you mind helping me please. I don’t speak Spanish. I’m looking to buy a phone that is unlocked and doesn’t involve a contract.” A lad I found actually spoke a bit of English. With it being a bank holiday weekend in Colombia there were quite a few offers on. I managed to get a half-decent phone for about £15 more than Amazon were charging in the UK. The only issue was that my old-style large SIM doesn’t fit a modern smart phone. This meant that Google Maps couldn’t get an accurate GPS location and I can’t use WhatsApp at the moment. If anyone is reading this who has sent me a WhatsApp message since 26 May, I’m not ignoring you!
I mentioned the issue of safety a fair bit during last year’s visit to Colombia. The country has greatly improved recently. I was careful and used common sense and never felt threatened. During that trip I never visited Medellin though. This was the home city of the infamous Pablo Escobar and his drug cartel. During the 1990’s Medellin was often mentioned as the world’s most dangerous city. Then the ride I took from the airport today shouldn’t have been attempted after dark due to the risk of robbery. This is certainly no longer the case today. Anecdotal evidence from people I’d met suggested that Medellin is fine to visit. Internet research backed this up. Pablado, a popular spot for tourists and the local hoy paloy, is regarded as being especially safe. When I asked the receptionist whether it was safe to walk around the area near the hostel she laughed!