You might be surprised to learn that Colombia gets roughly 70% of its electricity from large hydro power plants. More than 30% comes from a single dam, near Medellín. Building that dam meant flooding a valley, which created a set of newly-lakeside communities catering to tourists and weekend visitors from the city. It’s also got a really big rock. We wanted to see the rock.
We caught an early morning Uber to the bus depot (with a great, American music-loving driver), and then took the two hour bus ride out to Guatapé and La Piedra (the rock). The area is a series of small towns, islands, and narrow strips of land that were the tops of hills until the 1970s. La Piedra towers over the landscape – it’s impossible to miss.
The bus dropped us off at a nearby gas station, and we set off on the climb. It’s hard to capture in photographs, but there are actually two sets of stairs clinging to the side of the rock – one for going up, one for going down. It’s almost like a DNA double helix, as they twist and wind together. You have plenty of time to contemplate the stairs – it’s roughly 740 steps or 200 meters to the top.
When you make it to the top, you’re rewarded with 360 degree views of the area, which is absolutely gorgeous. When you make it back down, you’re rewarded with ice cream with sprinkles.
Leaving the rock, we took a tuk-tuk into Guatapé. Guatapé is a colorful town (every description of it you’ll read calls it a colorful town, and indeed it is) which caters mostly to weekend visitors from Medellín. There’s a cute town square, a waterfront lined with boats for party cruises, and small-town streets with shops and restaurants. We wandered around town, poking here and there, with no real plan.
Eventually, we got hungry enough to need to sort out lunch. After yesterday, we thought we’d be kind to our bodies, and went hunting for less fried-pork-belly-centric restaurants. Our first few choices were inexplicably closed, so we ended up at Wrapi. Or, more accurately, we got stuck at Wrapi. We ordered a salad bowl (veggies, rice, etc) and a wrap (veggies, salsa). Because we are both patient and awkward, we politely waited while the young man and his mother(?) working in the shop put together our meal. Nearly an hour later, we got … some of the things we ordered. It was a “laugh it off” type of lunch, and plenty of laughs were definitely had.
Colombia made up for it in short order though. First, we decided to grab some cheese empanadas from a vendor on the street. They were only 200 pesos, and I only had dollar bills (the smallest being 2,000). The other guy at the stall recognized us from the top of the rock (he took our photo) and bought our empanadas for us. Then, the nice ladies running the stall, wanted us to try some fresh ones, so made a few more just for us.
Wandering further, we chatted with a woman who fled Venezuela and was living out of a VW microbus, selling arepas and chocolate truffles. We had a good chat about the area and our homes, and bought some truffles. Finally, we got some fiddly hipster coffee from a cart run by a very nice lady. Then it was time for the bus home.
We got back to Medellín around 5, and hopped on the metro towards home. We decided to get off a few stops early to explore downtown. On a previous ride, we’d seen a lot of street vendors and wanted to check it out.
The downtown Medellín scene on a Friday night is … intense. Musicians, hawkers, families, beggars, all out and about in a sea of people. At one point, we wandered a little too far into the part of town populated by the less-fancy prostitutes, their clients and their assorted social networks. We were clearly not welcome and beat a hasty retreat.
We finished the night off, for the third night in a row, at Hija Mia Coffee. It’s a charming small shop run by a couple New Zealanders, serving fancy coffee, fruit drinks, beers, and cakes. And, as of tonight, selling homemade peanut butter – a crew was in applying labels to the first batch of jars. Why? “We’re just a couple Kiwis trying to make a buck.”