72 Hours in Medellin: Day 2 Comuna 13

On our second day in Medellin, L mentioned she'd always wanted to do a tour of one of the comunas so after a little googling, I found Visit Medellin Tours and booked an afternoon walking tour of Comuna 13.
Again, because we hadn't really planned much else in advance, our only goals for the morning were to head to some of the more famous sites of Medellin, like Plaza Botero, and just take it easy.

The free breakfast that was included in our hotel room rate was pretty fantastic. I ended up getting pancakes (and did so every other day we were there). However, I was still pretty full from dinner the night before so I was really only able to force down 2 out of the 3 pancakes on my plate. L ate my last one.
We decided to give the metro a spin for the first time. It was pretty cheap (something like $650 COP per ride, which is basically a quarter) and it's fantastic. It's an efficient way to get around and you get to admire a lot of the city's scenery because it's not underground.
I had mistakenly thought that this would be a bustling food market so we came here in the morning just to check it out and discovered that it's a food court. It's a really nice-looking food court with several eateries. If the timing had worked out better, I would've totally wanted to get a meal here.
I didn't actually go inside the museum. I only looked at it from the outside. However, this might've been a nice rainy day activity if we needed it since it was so close to El Poblado.
We hopped on the metro again and this time, got off at the Prado stop.
Fernando Botero is a famous Colombian artist known for his sculptures of figures with humongous butts. In the city center, there's a plaza dedicated to him featuring several of his works.
I wasn't hungry but knowing our walking tour was going to last almost three hours, I knew I needed to get a snack or I'd be hungry. I ended up getting a pineapple juice and a giant, flaky pastry filled with arequipe, which is Colombian dulce de leche.
After the snack, we hopped back on the metro to the San Javier stop.
While we were waiting for the rest of our walking tour group to show up, I got myself a yummy little mango snack.
We took a bus to the bottom of Independencia. This area was once the most dangerous place in Colombia. If you know the history of Colombia and its drug wars and Pablo Escobar, this area should ring a bell. It's an extremely low-income, poverty-stricken area that had insanely high rates of homicide. However, it's since been revamped and revitalized; at least one of the mountains has.
I don't want to give too much away. I think its worth researching for yourself (hopefully in person by visiting) but basically, the community of Independencia 1 has really turned things around. The government spent millions of pesos on an escalator project, which has not only helped bring in more tourism, but has also helped the elderly get up and down the mountain, to and from their homes more easily. There is so much beautiful and colorful "graffiti" that has injected much-needed beauty into the neighborhood. Much of the graffiti contains intense, meaningful symbolism that is also a lovely reminder to its citizens on a daily basis and teaches the tourists about how far this community has come.

Our tour guide, Esteban, is just a teenager who grew up in Comuna 13. He explained how lucky he was to have had an opportunity to learn English (someone came and hosted a free class) because there are no schools in these neighborhoods. In fact, when the government was spending so much money on the escalator project, the people of the community complained about why they didn't just give the people that money to help them with food and housing and education. Luckily, it was a sound investment that has reaped and will continue to reap reward for Comuna 13.
Part of the tour included a stop at Esteban's grandma's house where we were served a cold drink (I think it was aguapanela, a sweet drink with lemon). Esteban talked about how his grandmother lost two sons to the violence of Comuna 13. It was heartbreaking.
But ultimately, the tour was not about mourning the past. Esteban expressed that the Colombians of Medellin are resourceful and resilient and full of hope. And then he served us some delicious mango ice pops that you dip in lemon juice and salt to refresh us from the boiling heat.
It's crazy to think that even just five years ago, I wouldn't have been able to walk through this neighborhood without literally being killed dead. That's not to say the violence hasn't been completely eradicated. Esteban also explained that there's a feud with the neighboring Independencia 2 because there's jealousy and bad blood there. While the government helped Independencia 1 with the escalator, Independencia 2 didn't get anything and they're really struggling.
All that being said, I was really grateful for Esteban's time. The tour was priced at $40.000 COP ($12 USD) but I'm pretty sure everyone forked over a $50.000 bill. Esteban offered us all change but of course we were like "boy, please."
After the tour, I was hot and sticky and hungry so we headed back to El Poblado and ended up eating at this really cute restaurant near our hotel. It was inviting us in with its greenery and fairy lights. I wanted something light so I asked for the seared tuna bowl but ended up with the salmon bowl instead. I'm not the biggest fan of cooked salmon, but this was really delicious and hit the spot.
We weren't quite ready to call it a night after our meal so we ended up back at Parque Lleras and we each got a beer. I tried Club Colombia, a local beer, which was fine; nothing I'd reach for again if I saw it outside of the country though. We had a good time people watching again - that's definitely one of my favorite pastimes - and then meandered back to our hotel early-ish since we'd planned a busy final day.