1 The tropical fruits in Colombia are extraordinary, plentiful, colorful, fresh, and delicious. This plate was waiting in the JW Marriott Hotel Bogota, where I stayed on the night of my arrival. This is a yellow pitahaya, or dragon fruit, a cactus fruit that tastes like a mixture of melon and kiwi.
2 One would expect a great cappuccino in Bogota, the home of fictional Juan Valdez, and I was not disappointed. A very delicious and beautiful one was delivered to my room.
3 For breakfast, there was fresh pureed papaya juice and freshly made oatmeal - a very healthy meal.
4 After a good night's rest, our group flew from Bogota to Medellín. Here I am with Felipe, the middle of three Ardila sons.
5 My friend, Patricia Ardila, is adored by her sons. She is a wonderful, intelligent, and very curious woman.
6 The metropolitan area of Medellín is a city of about 2.7 million people located along the banks of the Medellín River, and surrounded on all sides by high mountains. This is just one of many peaks around the city. The city is at an elevation of about 4,921 feet.
7 The approach by plane was spectacular with clouds, blue skies, and dark green mountains.
8 The city from above seems modern enough with tall and short buildings, a tramway, and busy streets.
9 Outside the metropolitan area, the city is sprawling, rising from a meandering riverbed in the Aburrá valley, high up into the hills. With an additional nine cities, this enormous urban agglomeration of Medellín has a population of more than 3.5 million people.
10 Industrial buildings merge with small tile roofed houses, with office buildings, and with barrios.
11 The lush green hills come right up to the city's edge.
12 At the airport, we were greeted by a group of Patricia's friends. From left: Melissa Ardila - the new daughter-in-law and wife of Felipe, Anna Maria Vacci, Patricia Ardila, Carmen Londoño, and Lina Urive.
13 Driving through Medellín we saw decrepit neighborhoods, as well as emerging industrial buildings.
14 the Medellín River runs right through the city. It is muddy from erosion and run-off from the mountains, but it's also treated badly and much garbage is dumped on its banks and in the water.
15 The Medellín Metro (subway/train) runs alongside the river.
16 Medellín was named the most innovative city in South America for 2013. There are great innovations - Metrocable, a tram, as well as an above-the-ground metro. Both afford the citizens easier access to remote parts of this mountain city.
17 The tram allows people to traverse the city in a matter of minutes, instead of hours, or even a day or two. Students can now get to school, workers can get to their factories, and the isolation created by the great distances and difficult heights are now made less difficult.
18 We rode the tram up to the highest point and then down to the train.
19 The giant satellite dishes on roof tops provide access to the internet, television, and radio.
20 Melissa Ardila married Felipe last year. She accompanied us for the weekend.
21 Most roofs are corrugated tin held in place by rocks or tiles. There's a movement to replace the tin with terra cotta tiles. I hope it happens, as it will make the city much more attractive.
22 A picturesque suspension bridge joins two sides of a deep canyon.
23 On every street corner there are fruit carts and snack carts.
24 This fruit is granadilla, in the passion fruit family. The jelly-like pulp has a sweet and sour flavor. Granadilla is the first fruit that's served to babies in Colombia.
25 Dyed hair and bizarre haircuts and hairstyles seem favored by young boys. I wonder what their mothers think?
26 Children are required to wear uniforms to school. This is a very good idea because there are vast class distinctions caused by economics and birth right.
27 Despite the tram, there are still steep hills and stairs to ascend and descend. Legs must be strong and lungs robust at this altitude.
28 One of the city's prides is the very modern and monumental library, cultural center, and public park. Designed by Colombian architect Giancarlo Mazzanti, the Parque Biblioteca España is helping to curb the city's notorious crime rate.
29 Our group was treated to a private tour of the library. On the right is my friend from NYC, Kathy Sloane, who has been going to Colombia for many years.
30 This program is run out of the library. It provides funds to impoverished families, as long as the children regularly attend school. It's part of Comfama, a huge effort that provides social, health, recreational, educational services, and much more.
31 This is one of the study rooms in the beautifully designed and appointed three-building library structures. The buildings also contain an auditorium, internet rooms, a daycare center, and an art gallery.
32 Our guide, Maribel, was well-spoken in English and very proud of her job.
33 Free internet service is available to users of the library. This is a great gift to so many students, who would be otherwise deprived.
34 There are giant playrooms available for children.
35 Second from the left is Claudia Márquez Cadavid, the wife of the mayor of Medellín, who made sure we got a lot of information about the various programs provided.
36 The architecture of the library is striking. The eight story library is divided into three monolithic, deliberately rock-like forms that impose their presence on the city below.
37 The mayor's wife is a supporter of a program that encourages work for women. Entrepreneurial ventures, like bakeries, small cafes, and restaurants are funded. We had coffee in this charming cafe, La Mesa del Barrio, across the street from the library complex.
38 I posed with the two women chefs.
39 The panadería, or bakery, offers many different kinds of breads and pastries - pan de crema, pan de yuca, pan de queso, pan de arepas, etc.
40 Staghorn ferns grow beautifully everywhere, in hanging baskets and large pots.
41 Fruit carts sell cut up mangoes, served with lime and salt.
42 One bakery offered the fried cheesy dough balls known as buñuelos, a favorite snack any time of day.
43 The buñuelos fry to golden brown perfection. These were made with flour and queso blanco, a white cheese.
44 These are very nicely made.
45 This is a rich and sweet milk cake. Condensed milk is a popular ingredient for lots of baked goods.
46 These meringue covered cakes are colorful and very pretty.
47 I cannot wait to try icing such as this!
48 The woman on the right is the owner of the bakery.
49 Good equipment allows her to do good production.
50 These are different types of flat cookies called obleas. They're eaten with other sweets - the Colombians have very 'sweet teeth'.
51 Lina Uribe is a collector of all things artisinal. As the former first lady of Colombia, Lina supports and encourages crafts, the arts, and artisinal endeavors. Her bag was made from flip-tops from soda cans.
52 Shaved ice, raspado, is a favorite hot weather snack all over Colombia. Once shaved, like sorbet, it's flavored with fresh fruit sugary syrups.
53 These fresh fruit purees called salpicon, are sweetened with condensed milk.
54 Long strips of green mango are another fresh, cooling snack.
55 The botanical gardens are extraordinary in Colombia.
56 This is the entrance to the Jardin Botanico de Medellín.
57 Every tropical plants grows to immense size and flowers luxuriously.
58 Orchideorama, the orchid pavilion, is is an innovative steel and wood building by Plan B Architects. It is quite eye-catching.
59 The Orquideorama has a metal under structure with a hexagonal head that forms the shape of a flower. There are 14 of these structures that are interconnected to give an overall honeycomb design to the roof or overhead sections.
60 We ate at the botanical garden's restaurant, In Situ, which serves excellent local cuisine.
61 My favorite drink - lemon coconut lemonade - limonada de coco.
62 The chicken soup flavored with fresh cilantro was so fresh and delicious.
63 This is a typical plate of rice, beans, pork, corn, arepas, and casuela de frijoles. It was great.
64 This is grilled meat, with a cheesy sauce, roasted tomatoes, and salad.
65 My favorite dish was the tamale con salsa, made from corn meal and shredded meat.
66 Our favorite dessert was this chocolate crusted passion fruit custard tart, topped with fresh passion fruit and whipped cream.
67 Fresh herb beds surround the restaurant and are used in the local dishes.
68 This giant eucalyptus tree is just one of many specimen trees adorning the park.
69 One of the creatures who lives in the garden is this giant iguana. He just dropped from the trees onto the pavement.