Medellin

Despite the fact that we supposedly took the easier of the roads to reach the hostel, Ruby still reluctantly crawled the last few kilometres uphill to the entrance. That was something on the list for this city, a visit to Subaru. First though, we decided we would get settled in for a day or two. On our arrival, we met Catalina who gave us a choice of a couple of spots to park at in the large garden and gave us the tour of the place. I could see why people had stayed a while. There was a great view of the city below from a raised decking platform containing several hammocks. From the garden it was also possible to hike out into the woods or walk to several nearby restaurants. In terms of camping, we had hot showers, wifi and access to a huge kitchen. Not bad for £7 a day. We decided we would stay here for a few days, which would give us time to head into the city; not only to try and find ourselves a new knock sensor, but also to do some of the touristy stuff.

Despite the fact that Medellin is an hours drive away, we managed to find a Uber to take us there for about a fiver. Which is ridiculously cheap really. We got dropped off in the district of town that has all the car repair shops. There appeared to be a couple of places that specialised in Subaru parts, and we tried the first one. The mission – replace our knock sensor. After some waiting, we were told it wasn’t in stock, it would take 25 days to arrive and it would cost about $100. Double the price compared to buying on in the UK or US. We tried another two places who also couldn’t help us. Their advice; buy it on Amazon. After not such a good start for finding parts, we decided to do some sightseeing. We walked towards Plaza Botero, a tourist attraction due to its slightly oddly proportioned sculptures, as well as the beautiful building that houses Medellin’s cultural centre.

Then, it was time to jump in a taxi and head over to Comuna 13 for a free walking tour, as is common in many South American cities. These normally tours focused on the history of the place that take you around to see the sites and learn about them in more detail. At the end, you pay whatever you think it was worth. After some aimless wandering around outside the supposed meeting point, we located a tour. After some more waiting, nothing is ever on time after all, our guide took us onto the local bus which would take us up to the neighbourhood in question. Firstly, he sat us down overlooking the city and told us the history of the place.

This neighbourhood was considered one of the most dangerous in the world during the 80s and 90s. It served as a base for guerrillas and gangs who made use of recruiting its poor inhabitants into a life of drugs and violence. Eventually this was addressed by the president who launched a huge raid on the barrio in 2002, since then it has undergone major improvements and is now a place of art, music and tourism.

Now famous for its murals and graffiti we began to walk around. As you might expect, some of the murals relate directly to the places history and tell a story of how this once deadly area became a place of tourism.

We continued to climb up through the neighbourhood, which is built into the steep sides of the valley. There is one small access road to a certain point, after that its a case of using the higgledy piggledy concrete steps. The houses aren’t built in blocks or with and kind of order. They’re piled on top of each other into any free space that was available and using whatever materials were to hand.


You can see why as part of a move to improve the area, the government employed many of the locals to build sets of huge escalators, making it easier to access the area.


Soon, we were near the top and were rewarded with a fantastic view out over the city.
Our guide however, had more plans. He took us further, up through the back alleys, past the occasional police drug bust and out onto an even higher viewpoint. Now the sun had set and we watched the city come alive under its lights.


While we had climbed all the way up here, we now took the escalators back down to where we had started. It had been an interesting experience, not only to learn about the history but to appreciate the skill behind the murals and the views from the top. It had been good way to spend the day, as it was a special one. The 21st of July 2022 marked out 10 year anniversary, and after spending a nice day in town we had the perfect way to round it off.
We jumped in another Uber now, and made our way back across town. We headed to a recommendation made to us by our Indian friends, an amazing Indian restaurant. One of the main things I miss about life back home is the food. The availability, the variety. We used to love a Friday night takeaway and we both jumped at the chance of a good curry. Something that is not easy to find in Latin America. And so, we ended up at Naan.

While it may not have been quite the same as our local, it was an excellent way to round of the day and we headed back up to Santa Elena contented.

Now is the time to mention a change of plans.

With the pandemic coming to and end and August approaching, it would soon be three years since we had seen our families. This is something of a sticking point for me. As much as I want to continue the trip, I missed my family. Lee had messaged my mum without me knowing, asking if there was any possibility of them paying for a plane ticket home for my dad’s birthday. As much as we would have loved to visit, after the third broken engine and the cost of crossing the Darrien gap it just wasn’t feasible. To my surprise, we got the go ahead to purchase a rather expensive plane ticket, as you might expect it to be in August, and all of a sudden I would be returning home. All of a sudden plans changed. That troublesome Subaru part wasn’t an issue anymore and we worked at reordering our plans to fit me flying out from Bogota on the 4th of August.

As if in protest, Ruby developed another fault. The issue of the rear camber, which has on many occasions been the fault of; a) the bolts falling out, b) the diagonal arm breaking or c) the chassis snapping, presented itself it yet another way. While I was looking at something completely different I realised that the plate we had welded on the rear axles tube back in Nicaragua was slowly peeling itself away from the chassis and taking the entire right side of the hub with it. That needed attention.

We tried a local welding place, but it was a bigger job than they wanted, the problem being that the chassis needed realigning before it could be welded. David, one of the owners of Al Bosque, had a mechanic come and look at it too. He reckoned the best bet was to buy the metal section from another bus. That’s great and I would have loved to be able to do that, but in a country where we can’t buy brake pads or even a clutch cable, I doubt there’s a spare camper lying around to cut up. We decided we would drive it down into the city and take it to a chassis shop there. They should have the appropriate tools.

We weren’t the only ones in need of welding services. Christof, a fellow overlander in a yellow German ex-military vehicle even older than us, also needed a welder. He was building a bracket for his spare tyre which the locals welders had not made the best job of. The chassis shop told us to be there for 7am and so we set off at 6am the next day, Ruby loaded not only with the bracket for repair but also the enormous spare wheel of his truck.

The welders told us it would be done by the afternoon, so after some explaining of what was needed we decided to head to the DIAN office where we would have to go to get out import permit extended. With me flying home, we would need to renew our Colombian documents. We decided to head to the office and ask about the process. They told us that first we needed to renew our personal visas, and then we could begin the vehicle documents. We figured that with two weeks to go this would be no problem.

For a reason that now escapes me, we had had rather a terrible nights sleep and that coupled with getting up at 5.30am meant we were both pretty tired. While we waited for the welding we decided we would go and hang out in the park. This turned out to be rather harder than it sounded. The park is on the other side of the river and there’s only one point to cross it. After walking for what felt like a very long time, first to a closed entrance and then to an unofficial entrance than involved scrambling up a hill, all I was interested in was napping. I found a slide in the deserted playground and decided that would have to do.

We still had got a message that the van was ready, but it was coming to the end of the afternoon so we decided to head back. They had completed the welding, if anything it looked like they had over corrected the camber angle, but at least the whole rear hub wasn’t about to fall off. Christof’s bracket too was done so we hefted it back into the van. Now we just needed to fuel up before heading back up into Santa Helena. After the first petrol station didn’t exist, the second one was out of fuel and the third was for buses only, we gave up. Medellin has some serious hills which are not fun to drive the van up with an underpowered engine, or down with a failing braking system. The stressful return back up was made worse by the fact that we were seriously low on fuel. If we went around a hairpin bend too enthusiastically the engine would momentarily cut out as the fuel slopped across the tank. We creeped back into Al Bosque on fumes. Now we just needed to sort out the brakes, but we had plan for that.

Originally we had planned that we would drive across to Bogota where I would be flying from. However, Al Bosque was a pretty great spot for Lee to wait for me. Not only was it reasonably priced but also there was never a lack of fellow travellers to make it interesting. Jason, another overlander, was in the same position as he waited for his wife to come back from a visit to Canada. So at least Lee would have a buddy. Not only that, but heading across to Bogota now would mean that we would have to seriously rush through some of the things we wanted to see on the western side of Colombia, and so we changed our plans. I bought an internal flight from Medellin and we committed to staying where we were.

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