“You have got to get out of Poblado!”
Hadeley was right. We’d met our new friend and her daughter at El Tesoro, the most fancy local mall, for an afternoon playdate at Afterland kid’s center followed by dinner. We told her about our time in Medellin, so far only spent in one part of town to interview at the kids’ new school and find and move in to an acceptable apartment. We were mildly fascinated by the fact that Hadeley had just moved to Medellin from the United States to live with her mom in a more local part of town, and had tons of questions about the surrounding area.
For the first time in over a year of traveling to new countries we were those Americans: the ones who seek out the upscale, safe, clean parts of town and stay planted.
It hadn’t happened on purpose. We were just so exhausted from the mental and physical toll of traveling through the U.S. for family vacations, followed by 2 weeks in Montreal seeing, doing, and eating as many favorite things as possible, and then 2 weeks spent exploring every inch of Panama considering it a place to live. We were then so busy with endless visits interviewing at Whit’s new school and appointments to find and eventually move in to a suitable apartment.
We, the people who always hit the ground running, making plans to eat at certain spots and visit specific places the day we arrive in a new town, had fallen into a rut.
What can I say? It takes more time than we remembered to settle in to a new home.
While it was nice to just relax in one spot without the pressure of experiencing the whole country right away, after two weeks in cushy Poblado things were finally starting to settle down and we were ready to get back to our exploring ways. I can proudly say that we’ve seen more in the last two weeks than others do in months.
That’s more like it.
We spent our mornings working while Whit is in school (which he LOVES, by the way!). With a solid amount of work time under our belts, we’re happy to spend the afternoon at local attractions with Whit and our weekends visiting neighboring pueblos.
La Ceja & Carmen Pueblos
Our first major outing was a Saturday spent in La Ceja. It seems as if all of the small mountain pueblos surrounding Medellin have an identity, and that of La Ceja is of a flower bundling town. Colombia is one of the main flower exporters in the world, with a majority of the flowers they sell being grown in the fields outside of Bogota and in the Medellin hills. The flowers are transported by refrigerated trucks to a warehouse in La Ceja, where they are trimmed, checked, organized, bundled, and packaged according to specific bouquet blueprints for grocery store chains all across America. This painstaking work is done completely by hand in a warehouse that smells exactly like heaven. I’m guessing.
It was thanks to Ben that we got this exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of a flower bouquet. See, Ben is incredibly social. He has met really interesting people, instantly connects with them over social media, keeps up with them, remembers them, and then contacts them when we’re nearby. Me? I hide for cover if I see someone I spent 10 years in school with round the corner of Target.
Ben knows someone who works for one of the top Colombia flower exporters. He reached out for tips on things to do while we’re here, and this guy put him in touch with his colleague who goes between one of their flower farms and this bundling warehouse outside of Medellin.
Did we want a tour? Yes!!!!
To get to La Ceja, a mere 45 minute drive up the hills past Medellin, we first took a taxi 10 minutes into town for the bus depot. From there we bought tickets for the bus leaving for La Ceja, and joined a handful of other people on a 2-hour ride up the windy mountain roads. Everyone was so helpful when we needed to find the right bus, we bought snacks from vendors who wandered on and off the bus, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery flowing past our window as we listened to scratchy Colombia pop music. It felt so great to finally do something fun and local after our weeks in Expat Land! And the cost? Around $8. Total.
After our incredible warehouse visit (more on that later after we visit the flower growing fields for a complete picture of the flower export business) we drove another 20 minutes to the pueblo Carmen, another charming town with it’s own personality.
The main pride for Carmen is handmade pottery. The town is full of private pottery warehouses and display centers where visitors can outfit an entire kitchen with one-of-a-kind, hand made and hand painted useful pieces of art. The center of town is a wide souvenir and shopping road, with each adjoining storefront decorated with pieces of pottery and intricate mosaics.
I was in heaven.
I eventually convinced Ben to let me buy a giant statement bowl for $14, even though it might only last for the 4 months we live in Medellin. Thanks, honey!
Our second big trip was a Saturday spent at Parque Arvi, one of the most popular outings from Medellin.
The park is a massive hilltop recreational area barely outside of town. It features trail hikes, a butterfly farm, a lake with rowboats, a small farmers market, souvenir stands, museum, play grounds, a resort, and many more things. We had a great day tramping around the area, but our favorite part of the day? Getting there!
You know how Venice is built on a canal, so the main source of transportation is taking gondolas down the water? Well, Medellin is built up the sides of a mountain, so one form of transportation to the upper hills is by cable car! Honestly, I had no idea. Isn’t that amazing? We paid around $.60 each to ride the modern, clean subway across town and then for the cable car ride up the mountain to the park.
Once we arrived at the park we were met with a temporary fresh market. What? Why is there a fresh market at this hilltop park? We ate a great lunch from different delicious vendors, then headed into the park for some walking and boating. It was more boring than we expected, but still a fun Saturday activity.
This city just amazes me!
Whit is off of school at 1:00 on Fridays, so we’ve decided to make Fridays our museum day. We had already been to the popular Botanical Garden and Astronomical museum downtown, and decided to head to the more popular Parque Explora science museum in the same area downtown. This time, however, we weren’t just seeing a new museum.
A large festival had overtaken the public park in from of the science museum, which we excitedly made our way through on our way in. The impromptu festival was to unify all forms of transportation, and full of games and vendors talking about the subway, motorcycles, etc. Ben was excited to see some slack lines set up and a gang of BMX riders, whom he ran up to and asked for advice without a second thought! Before I knew what was happening he had jumped off a slack line and onto someone’s BMX bike, trying to do the same tricks and eventually exchanging WhatsApp contacts to get together for more practice later. That guy. He’s amazing.
Explora Park was pretty much just as unexpectedly fun as the festival we walked through to get there. It includes an aquarium of 3 floors of recreated Amazon animals and habitat, and 4 separate interactive buildings dedicated to different senses and culture. We only got through the aquarium, a building on how we hear music and it’s affect on culture, and a building on how our brains work to interpret stimuli before the museum closed.
The museum is drop dead gorgeous and incredibly fun, so for $8/ person I’m pretty sure we’ll be back every week!
Our church schedule is from 9-11 am, so we changed clothes at church for a Sunday afternoon self-guided walking tour of downtown. Medellin is a very artistic city with a rich history, and a dense few blocks downtown are full of statues, historic buildings, and museums.
We spent around 4 hours walking every inch of the place as Ben read interesting facts to us from online. The tour weaved in and out of unsavory corners. We passed homeless people, a street of knock-off vendors, street artists asking for change, and some incredible statues and architecture. The stories this city has to tell… amazing.
Like the black and white checkered building in two different distinct architecture styles because it was begun by one person and finished by another. Or the gorgeous, short, old hotel that used to be famous for ill-fated suicides and is now full of boutiques. Or the plaza full of shoe shiners. Or the oldest cathedral in Medellin, a beautiful building with special classes for the children of criminals and bandits.
Our favorite spot, though, was Botera Plaza. The plaza is named after Colombia’s most famous artist known for his bulbous statues. He donated 22 of them to the city of Medellin, worth around $2mill each. They are so fun and interesting, and I loved each and every one. Whit’s favorite was Perro, a dog, and I was happy to buy him a tiny souvenir of the statue to remember how much he can love art.
We are loving this city more and more, especially since we have the blessing of time. We’re able to relax in our new, comfortable home within walking distance to delicious restaurants, international grocery stores, and fancy malls as often as we want, and then explore the culture and history this vibrant area has to offer in the afternoons and weekends.
I honestly don’t want to leave.