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Published: December 13th 2010
Once the headquarters and principal killing grounds for Colombia's cocaine cartels, as Medellin was Escobar’s hometown, this city has done a remarkable turnaround. Today, it shines only one of Colombia’s safest city, but of Latin America as well. It is also one of the most pleasant and developed.
The trip from Bogota didn’t start so well, as the 30 minute flight was delayed by 4 hours. Add the bad traffic to the airport and the 1 hour trip into Medellin, and we wasted a whole day, literally.
But, by the next day we started to enjoy the delightful city surrounded on all four sides by rugged peaks. It’s very lush here, with green brushing the landscape and flower stands popping along roads. A river runs through the city furiously and the rain, the worst in 3 decades, comes and goes.
Sonia and Alvaro came with us, and now they are joined by the Gabriel Garcez family members going out of their ways to make our stay very pleasant, in true “paisa” style. Paisas are how people from Antioquia are called. They are famous for their hospitality and warmth. They are also very proud of their city, and
rightly so, I may add.
Our hosts booked a city tour for Amanda, Yannick and I, so we could get a glimpse of the city. This is definitely not the way I typically like to get to know a city and its people, if you know me. It doesn’t appeal to be timed by a tour guide, but to go on my own pace, and to select my own itinerary. But since the time is limited, our hosts picked for us to get a superficial taste of everything, and here are some of we got to see:
PLAZOLETA DE LAS ESCULTURAS: this was the highlight of the tour, where we could see over 20 sculptures by Fernando Botero
. Unfortunately the tour didn’t include the Antioquia Museum where 92 of his paintings are. At the square, however, I got to do a little people watching, one of my favorites hobbies (see picture of the old man seating on the bench with flowers on the background).
CATEDRAL METROPOLITANA: A massive structure made of 1.2 million bricks with stained-glass windows. Ok, but not impressive.
Instead of taking us to the interesting “San Pedro Cemetery”, with its collection of ornate tombstones, many
displaying paraphernalia related to the passions of the deceased, or the Botanical Garden, the tour took us to:
PUEBLITO PAISA: A kitschy replica of a typical Antioquian township, on top of a small hill.
PARK PIES DESCALSOS: barefoot park, where you are supposed to walk without shoes on gravel, grass, and then wash your feet on 2 types of water. But the process takes 1.2 hours, and the tour gives us 20 minutes. So, what was the point??? By the park was a building called “intelligent”….
PLANETARIUM: Another wasteful stop, since we were not allowed enough time to go inside the building. Interesting aspects of the 20 minute-stop, however, were the following:
-I observed many combat police around the street next to park, and in front of the building adjacent to it. I asked the guide which building that was, thinking it was a government one, and she said it was a public university! I than asked why all the police armed like ready for combat, and she said it was because of student protests, and when I asked why, she went around and around without giving me an answer. I later asked someone else if it was
because the students protested because of lack of funds at the school, and was told “no, it’s because our government is from the right, and the leftist try to covert some students, and then there is protest…”
-We had a delicious ice cream. Mine was made from a bunch of berries I had never tasted before…Yummy!
GETTING TO SEE THE 2 SIDES OF MEDELLIN IN ONE AFTERNOON: off the tour bus, and back with our friends
SIDE ONE: In the afternoon, we drove around the high end suburb
called EL POBLADO
, encrusted on a hill and with a lot of vegetation among the residential and commercial buildings. Nightlife is famous around here, as it is plastic surgeries. Women seem to love to dress in tight pants, tiny dresses, and high heels. There are a lot of swim suit and lingerie stores around!
After a delicious meal of arepas with a bunch of topping and a passion fruit smoothie with our hosts, at a shopping mall in El Poblado, Jaime and Ana Luisa took us for a ride on the impeccable METRO. This is one of the accomplishments the Paisas are very proud of, and they keep it truly
very clean, and safe. Our destination was the other side of town.
THE OTHER SIDE: The slopes around the city are crowded with SLUMS
, a constant reminder of the inequality that plagues not just Medellín, but all of Latin America, and other parts of the world. From the metro, I could see many tiny homes made from scraps of metal and wood built on the very edge of the river. The further we got from the affluent center of the city, the more slums appeared, and the tall high risers disappeared.
The nice surprise came, however, when we got off at a station which linked to a cable car (metrocable) that took us to the top of the hill area called Santo Domingo Savio. This area benefited greatly, not only by the lift all the way to the top, but also by the gigantic library built on top of the hill 3 years ago, donated by Spain to Medellin. A great social iniciative. See photos of the beautiful modern building, which contrasts, but complements the small simple houses of the Santo Domingo.
I left Medellin with a very good impression, but like Bogota and Colombia as a whole,
I am very aware that I only scratched the surface. Hope to return.
Patricia (Patti: like I'm called here)
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