In News on Sunday 12th Jan, 2014

Colombian Travelogue Numero Tres

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The return to Medellin by plane was quick and effortless, but my passport is being continually checked by anyone carrying an official-looking nameplate.

Medellin is the second biggest city in Colombia, with a population of 3,831,000, just slightly bigger than Sydney. The entire city sits in a valley between the Andes Centrale and the Andes Occidentale, and with both fingers of the Andes almost joining at each end; Medellin appears to be sitting in a bowl.

Its climate is warm tropical but comfortable, with temperatures ranging from 24 to 28 degrees Celsius during the day and around 16 degrees Celsius at night, all year. Two things I am not missing whilst holidaying here are flies and mosquitoes.

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The mountains are far too high for them to fly over and they drop dead before they reach half way up. Which means you can sleep at night with your balcony doors wide open, admitting the evening breeze, without the fear of being bitten.

Medellin is the home of a substantial part of my family, so forgive me if I spend a few days indulging myself with mamas, sisters and brothers in law, cousins, nieces and nephews (and there are zillions of them), and one grand niece, all of nine months old.

Ok, two hundred and fifty three kisses later (Ana usually gets more than me), we are ready to travel again, this time to the El Peñol area and the pueblos of Guatapé and El Peñol about an hour away from Medellin.

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Whilst the famous rock and the huge reservoir are the main attractions, it was the small farmlets, hanging precariously from the edges of each hill, and the small pueblo (village) of Guatapé that interested me.

The reservoir covers the original township of El Peñol and it had to be rebuilt elsewhere. The result is an ugly, rambling shantytown, whose roads and streets are still incomplete, even after 38 years of construction.

Guatapé couldn’t be more different. Its streets are a blaze of colour, design, and visual pleasure. You didn’t need any signs to determine the purpose of each building; each had a colourful montage or wall painting depicting its purpose. For example, the local locksmith had painted keys and locks bordering the walls of his shop. The local rehabilitation clinic attached to the hospital had paintings of people using crutches, in wheelchairs and exercising. It was also a registry office, with a painting of a bride and groom, in full colour.

We stayed at the Hosteria Los Recuerdos in Guatapé, and whilst the rooms were basic, the breakfast next morning was as much as you could eat, except the fresh orange juice, which was an extra charge (work that one out)! We then spent four hours on a small craft touring the reservoir itself, its many islands and a tourist haven in the very middle of the reservoir, complete with its own private jetty.

Then lunch at the only building that survived the watery grave that absorbed the original pueblo of El Peñol. It is now a restaurant, serving typical Colombiano fair, fresh trout, soups and Colombian coffee. It is also the home of the history of the area, including photographs of the evacuation and the development of the reservoir as the waters gradually rose. There is a memorial to the original pueblo on 6th January each year in the rebuilt church.

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After lunch we returned to El Peñol, did the local market stroll (or crawl, take your pick), and eventually conned an ice cream (helado) out of our brother in law. Unfortunately we returned to Medellin in the evening, and missed the beauty of this area on the way back. It is lush and green with tiny farmlets everywhere, their crops of maize (corn), tomatoes, cabbage, cauliflower and beans gripping each hillside. Tiny cafes and general stores rest precariously on the edges of hilltops, beside the main roadway. And always the Andes dominate the landscape, as far as the eyes can see.

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