A woman from the Netherlands was looking for someone to go to Guatape with. The main attraction there is a giant stone with steps to the top. Not only was it a Sunday, the next day was a holiday, Dia de Raza, which combines Columbus Day with a celebration of the indigenous population of Colombia. Someone suggested that the traffic might be badly impacted, but the woman was set on heading out anyway. I decided to wait a few days and go when I bought my ticket to Cartagena, since buses to both places leave from the same station. That gave me the day to mop up what I hadn’t seen of Medellin already.
There was a park close to the museum that I’d strolled through a few times. It was full of graffiti and murals, and a dirty river ran through it where young people squatted on the banks, drinking beer and smoking weed. A little further along was a museum called the Memory House. It dealt, largely in conceptual terms, with the country’s long history of armed conflict, as well as the thousands of people who simply disappeared during that time, and have continued to do so, even after the signing of the peace accord. There were glass boxes of small possessions that had been left behind, as well as a spinning wheel with the manifold consequences of having someone you love just walk out one day, never to return. In one dark room, pictures of individuals and families appeared on television screens that then went blank.
Exiting the museum on the ground floor brought me back to a trail that ran around the park. In one dark corner of it, beneath a freeway underpass, was a small homeless village, where beyond just importing easy chairs and couches, someone had scraped together the means of running an auto-repair shop. This was all done beneath a mural of a grimacing skull, decked out in a bandana and baseball hat.
Walking in the direction of Parque Berrio, which by now had become a daily routine, I happened across a standoff between a homeless man and a few attendants of a parking lot. They had evicted him from the premises, but he came back with a piece of scrap wood, threatening, perhaps, to teach them some respect. He advanced with his stick and they all stepped back, but then they surged forward as one to force him back into the street. Later I was to see the same man with some fresh scrapes, confronting another homeless man and following him down the street, recycling the same insults and challenges that hadn’t worked on the attendants.
Up until now I hadn’t gone beyond the outdoor market beneath the Berrio Transit stop as the intensity of it acted as a sort of natural border. Breaking through on this day, however, made me glad I had because it brought me to Plaza Botero, where dozens of the fat sculptures that are the artist Fernando Botero’s signature design clutter the square and create a festive environment for visitors looking for photo ops. A fat woman on the back of a fat bull, a fat angel, a fat hand, a fat cat, a fat couple facing each other, a fat dog, a fat horse, a fat mother with a fat child on her knee, any creature conceivable, made fat and thereby recognizable as a Botero.
Also on display, outside of the Museo de Antioquia, interspersed with the sculptures, were hookers of all ages and stripes, creating their own outdoor gallery. A few of them, curled up inside one of the sculptures, called to me. Others in doorways made kissing faces from a distance. One, as voluminous as a Botero, a priestess in high heels, stood in my way, determined not to let me pass. If they could’ve seen my bank account, they all would’ve scattered like flies.
On my return, the folk musicians with the amplifier were at work in front of the Metro, getting people to dance. In a corner, three guitarists stood facing each other, still working on their act. One old man with a Bible and microphone was delivering a sermon to those seated on the steps leading to the station. Another woman, perhaps a healer, had those in a circle around her with their hands raised over their heads.
That night at the hostel, I talked to the girl who’d been determined to visit Guatape. She said because of the traffic it had taken her six hours just to travel one way, and that by the time she arrived she’d needed to immediately hop on one of the last return buses, so she hadn’t even been able to make it to the top of the famous stone. That had been a bullet dodged. There are reasons to travel alone.