Like most people, I’d heard a lot about Medellin. If I deducted the amount relating to Pablo Escobar and organised crime, I hadn’t heard much at all.
Most of my time there was spent trying to paraglide: waiting for buses, waiting on hilltops, waiting for the weather to change. Then being told it hadn’t and taking a bus back down. Medellin’s known as the city of eternal spring. When we arrived, it was taking a short break for wintery showers.
The town centre’s scattered with beautiful museums, parks and squares, all linked together by the metro system. Money has definitely been invested there. It’s a city in sharp contrast to Cali, both in style and cleanliness. In fact it’s so cosmopolitan parts of it feel quite European.
While the centre’s clearly been developed, the rest of the city sprawls across the valley, shanty houses of its hillside barrios bustling for space.
The parts of Medellin I visited felt very safe and welcoming. People wandered around at night, friends and couples drank in the park and there was a really relaxed feel. Like all cities though, I have no doubt there are areas where none of this applies.
Our hostel was in El Poblado, a popular area with easy access to Medellin’s many neighbourhoods. A constant stream of travellers relaxed in the foyer of our building watching Netflix. Though the viewers changed, the TV show never did and episodes of Narcos played through the night, every night. The city’s complex criminal history is one of the main draws for many tourists.
Our mission to paraglide over the city failed on its first attempt. With no more information than that the paragliding companies were in the hilltop village of Bello, we made our way to the bus station and caught the first bus we could. As the road wound steeply upwards we hoped our destination would be clear when we actually got there. It was. But the sky wasn’t.
Grey clouds loomed and raindrops pelted the glass of the lookout point between the paragliding huts. According to an instructor, the only option was to try and wait out the storm that seemed to be brewing over the valley. As impatient as I can be, drinking hot chocolate on a mountain overlooking such a huge city, made it much easier.
With nervous energy and occasional squeaks of excitement, we waited for a sufficient break in the weather. Forty minutes later the news wasn’t what we’d hoped for and we returned to the city in the rain. One potential paragliding day down and out.
Our stay in Medellin was only for a few days so we met with friends who live there and went for a night out. Like many Colombian cities, Medellin has a park that serves as a meeting point for drinks before moving on to bars and clubs. It’s safe, clean and friendly; an all round classier version of Cali’s Parque San Antonio.
Tired from dancing and street food we returned to our dorm room for some much needed sleep. What I got instead was a rather unappealing offer. I awoke a few hours later to the ‘gentleman’ in the bunk opposite attempting an indecent proposal. Lying on his side, stroking the mattress like a desperate housewife, and beckoning me to join him was more laughable than alluring and I responded instinctively: ‘What the fuck?!”
Apparently it was loud enough to wake my friend. She echoed my sentiment and with amused bewilderment we went back to sleep, thankful that he was more delusional than dangerous.
A free festival was happening in Medellin’s Botanical Gardens when we visited. Theatre groups and musicians entertained families and stalls of food and juices lined the pathways. The welcoming atmosphere was interrupted by returning storm clouds and we were forced to retreat indoors again.
Our window of time to paraglide was rapidly closing so we seized the few hours before our midday flight the next day to try again. Retracing the now familiar journey we arrived at the summit and were greeted with the answer we’d hoped for. Twenty minutes were needed for the instructors to prepare so we sipped another hot chocolate before ascending the steep steps to the launch area.
My first attempt to take off was a little sketchy. As I started to run, securely strapped to my instructor, my shoe came off and we had to try again. The second time was perfect. All clothing remained intact and as soon as we left the ground my fears slipped away. I felt unbelievably calm. It was serene. Gliding on the air currents above the city below while eagles effortlessly soared around us is something I will never forget. A truly perfect experience.
Safely back on land, we hurriedly caught connecting buses to the airport and planned our new fantasy careers as paragliding instructors. In a haze of excitement, we pondered when we’d next be able to float through the sky.
A few hours later and we were most definitely in the air again, with none of the romance and all of the delays. The views over Medellin were still amazing but budget airlines have a little less magic to them than paragliding.