Never did we think we would attend a flower festival before the age of 50, if ever. Colombia can do strange things to people, as we found out when we caught ourselves walking through the botanical gardens looking at competition entries into the Medellin flower show! We were on our way south through Colombia and Medellin was on the itinerary as a big city that really was worth the visit. The only problem was that on festival weekend everyone else thought it was a good idea to be there to, meaning we had to take a late flight (that was delayed) and book a hotel well out of the city centre. As in most cases, the experience of staying outside the tourist hub was a good one as we got to see the locals go about their normal life and experience their friendliness and helpfulness.
Medellin – A big city with a great vibe
We’ve grown to realise that the big cities of Latin America aren’t really the hotspots to check out, they lack a bit of charm can seem a little edgy and in most cases aren’t safe to walk around at night. Medellin was the city to buck the trend – it was welcoming, the people were really friendly and helpful, it was relatively cleaner than most other cities and it seemed to radiate a sense of pride in what it was. Our journey through the flower festival and it’s events took us through the city, mainly using the metro which was efficient, cheap ($1USD p/ride) and stopped in all the spots we wanted to go.
Medellin Feria de Las Flores
The big event that we had travelled halfway across the globe for: The Medellin Flower Festival. After an epic sleep in due to our 1am arrival from Cartagena, we were ready to hit the festival with all our floral might. We pinpointed a couple of “must do’s” and made our way to the metro station. With a bit of help from a nice local guy who practically led us to the station, we bought our tickets and were on board the mainline heading into the heart of the city.
First stop was the botanical gardens. Yep it’s probably the first time I’ve ever made my first stop, in a foreign city, the botanical gardens but it seemed like a sensible approach given it was the week of the flower. We were greeted by a mist shower to cool off, actually quite a novel idea for a city that get’s hot. After our refreshing spray we made our way to the gardens. The next bit was hard to swallow, paying around $8USD each to look at…flowers. Nonetheless we handed over our Colombian Pesos and were into the gardens. We walked around the grounds for a while, spending a bit of time under the tree canopy to cool off. It was the lagoon area where I got my return on investment, we got to see turtles and some kind of big lizard with a spikey back (clearly not the scientific name for it).
It wasn’t long before our new-found thirst for lime lemonade kicked in and we found ourselves a lady with a machine who was churning the stuff out, in we went and got some. After that it was time for the big show, making our way through the crowds we walked around the flower exhibits that had been set-up as entries into a show. This was probably the toughest bit for us both, actually spending time taking photos and talking about the exhibits – I’m sure we aged 5 years in 30 minutes.
As a reward, I got to buy a litre of Aguila, one of the local beers of choice – I think it probably helped to bring me back to my actual age and level of maturity. All said and done, the gardens were actually a pretty nice spot to go, getting close to nature in a big city is always a nice break from the bustle.
We took in lunch near the university campus, where a marching band was practicing their routine for what I can only imagine was an upcoming flower performance. A quick trip back on the metro and a tourist police escort later (they seemed to want something to do), we were hanging out at the Museo del Agua (Museum of Water). The best part of the museo was the water fountain and pool below it, giving us a chance to stand in the water and cool off a bit. Cel managed to track down one of the many ice-cream vendors and bought us a couple of ice poles to add to the experience.
The final stop of the 1-day Brendon and Celina tour of the flowers was to be a free concert in a plaza near the museo. A free concert is virtually unheard of in our world and it was going to give us the chance to see a few local performers so we were pretty happy that this was to be the final event of the day. No concert is really a concert without a few beers or wine, so we took it upon ourselves to walk 30 mins to the nearest “Exito” (the name of a supermarket chain) . At the Exito we bought a couple of Club Colombia’s (the premium local brew), a bottle or red, grapes, crackers and chocolate (Cels idea of course). On the way back stopping for what I call a ‘meat stick’ – a skewer with marinated pork on it and a whole potato stuck on top, grilled over a makeshift coal BBQ. The concert kicked off around 6:30pm , we were all set in our seats sipping beer and wine while eating crackers and grapes. The show itself was really good, we 3 different performers all with a different slant (salsa, opera and a kind of opera / funk). Although we didn’t need it, there were plenty of sub 18 year olds walking around selling beer to the punters – made me laugh at what a state there would be if that happened in NZ.
A late metro ride home and a run through the rain to our hotel and we had successfully ‘done’ Medellin and it’s festival in a day. The festival itself was carrying on for another week, with the main event being on Wednesday when locals from the surrounding hills parade through the streets with a huge wad of flowers strapped to their back. Unfortunately there was no time to stick around to see that. We were on a mission to get ourselves further south so packed up our bags the next morning and got on a bus headed for ‘Zona Cafeteria’, quite obviously somewhere that was not going to be in short supply of coffee.