There´s a park in Medellin where Fernando Botero (Colombia´s most famous artist) installed a large sculpture of a dove, called the ¨Bird of Peace.¨ In 1996 guerrillas blew it up, killing a number of people. Botero asked that the damaged sculpture be left as it was, only inscribed with the names of those killed. Alongside it he built a new sculpture, identical to the first before the bombing. It´s Botero’s powerfully elegant demonstration of the futility of violence.
In the same park, we somehow got roped into drinking beers at about eleven AM with a group of younger local guys. One guy showed us his bullet scars and bragged to me about his hundred dollar dual time zone watch (zone two was Rome). It was fun and seemed vaguely safe, but when they started snorting coke we bought a round of beers, gave away our best pen, and pretty much ran away.
Medellin is a big city with a lot of energy and a feeling of resurgence. It sits in a narrow valley bordered by tall hills, and the uniformly brick colored skyscrapers give it a unique and attractive look. Not that long ago Pablo Escobar basically ran the place and it was supposedly the most dangerous city in the world. Now it draws in quite a few backpackers and expats and business interests, and is pretty safe as long as you don´t wander into a barrio where you have no business being. It´s still the type of place where, when walking just a few blocks downtown toward a well known park, we accidentally went down a street filled with hookers and scary looking guys giving us less than friendly stares. And then a block away we were in a park filled with frolicking children.
Medellin has a very efficient and high quality elevated metro, and a couple cable car lines for commuting to and from the convoluted and poor hillside neighborhoods. There´s even a new extension of the cable car line that takes you way up and over the hills on the side of the city, into a nature reserve that feels like a whole other world.
It rained a lot during our visit so we checked out a couple of museums for something dry to do. One of them was filled with young security guards that apparently thought we were international art thieves; each time we entered a new room they would almost sprint to a vantage point where they could stare intently at our every move. Did you know that it´s difficult to appreciate paintings while a teenager is preparing to tackle you from ten feet away if they see any funny business? After a while I started messing with them, hurrying to another room and hiding behind a pillar while they looked frantically around.
Gambling seems popular in Colombia. Most cities we´ve been to have lots of little casinos sprinkled around, and Medellin is no exception. We haven´t been enticed by any of the casinos, but did definitely catch the gambling spirit one afternoon in Parque Bolivar. A crowd of people were gathered and when we went over to see what was happening we were greeted by an unusual sight: guinea pigs. A guy had three of the little rodents, and they were trained to stay in one spot until instructed otherwise. About thirty feet away he arranged a dozen plastic salad bowls with little doors cut into them; put upside down on the ground they made little homes that appear to be irresistible to guinea pigs. People then put 200 pesos (about 12 cents) on the bowl of their choice, and at the man´s signal the pigs ran towards the bowls. The bowl that the last pig chose was the winner, and the gambler received 1000 pesos, enough for a soda. We tried it and won! If things go really wrong, at least we know we can head to Medellin and hustle the guinea pig races.