From the most dangerous to the most innovative city in the world

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November 26th 2013
Published: November 30th 2013
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After another bumpy ride through the mountains we arrived to Medellin, the capital of the Antioquia departemento. Nowadays Medellin is peaceful, but it used to be the most dangerous city in the world 20 years ago, when the gangster king Pablo Escobar terrorized it. Today most of Pablo Escobars heritage has been wiped out; instead the presence of the other famous son of Medellin, Fernando Botero, is much more visible with statues in several places around the city.

We had our hostel within walking distance from the city center, so our first morning we decided to stroll there. Our initial positive impression changed once we got to the smelly river separating our peaceful neighborhood from the city center, after that we entered a shady looking part of the city that apparently acts as an open door garage, there were people fixing cars all over the place. We quickly moved forward and came into a market area, where the streets were filled with vendors trying to get us to buy their wares. Neither of the areas felt as we would like to walk around in them so we decided to take the metro in the future when we wanted to get to the city center.

Our main target for the day was to see Botero’s paintings and statues. Botero is known for his own personal style with voluminous (not fat!) people and animals. He has donated a huge amount of art to his native city, the paintings being displayed at the Museum of Antioquia, and the main part of the statues in the park outside of the museum. We started with the statues in the park, and after a lunch break we continued to the museum to see the paintings. We both especially liked the paintings, but also the statues were interesting to see.

There were also other paintings in the museum, but they weren’t that interesting. As the sunny and warm weather of the day had turned into a thunderstorm while we were enjoying the Boteros we didn’t however hurry, and looked through everything the museum had to offer. When we had looked at everything, including the museum shops, there was a break in the rain, so we went out to search for an artisan market mentioned in one of our guidebooks. The market wasn’t much to see, but as the rain returned we took cover in a nearby restaurant for a while before returning to our hostel.

For the next day we had reserved places to a free city tour (free as in you decide what you pay). This was definitely the best free city tour we had been at this far as our guide was superb. He introduced us to the city center, and also gave a background to the Colombian civil war, described how it had affected the city and turned it into the most dangerous city on earth (drugs and Escobar), and what had broken the vicious circle and turned Medellin into the most innovative city on the planet (the platform of security provided by the hard line government politics, and the pillars of education and democratic architecture). Especially the second pillar was clearly visible in the city as that meant investing in the poorest and most dangerous areas, and trying to turn the negative spaces into positive ones. The key component is the metro making it possible for people in the poorer neighborhoods to work all over the city, it also included escalators and a cable car in the slums (the slums are generally
Medellin - pillars of lightMedellin - pillars of lightMedellin - pillars of light

Before the pillars were put there this was the most dangerous place in the most dangerous city in the world
in the mountains, so this really helps the local people). Medellin was elected the most innovative city in the world in March 2013.

Inspired by the tour we decided to try our luck with the cable car up to the slums. We first loaded up on calories with a bandeja paisa (a traditional plate big enough for two, and yes, we shared it), then we took the metro to the starting point of the cable car. The ride up was together with people returning from work, and the neighborhood didn’t look like a slum anymore, on the other hand the metro was built quite a long time ago so probably the conditions had improved a lot. Half way up the mountain side we were supposed to continue with another cable car to a nature reserve, the second cable car was however being maintained at the moment so we only got into the middle of the former slum. We admired the view over the city for some time before returning to our own middle class neighborhood.

The last day we had a flight to Cartagena in the evening, so we left our stuff at the hostel and set out to explore Poplado, a neighborhood were there should be a lot of shopping centers and international restaurants. After a lot of walking we actually found a shopping center, but it was expensive so we didn’t buy anything. After lunch at the local food court we realized we were running out of time, and headed back in order to get to our flight on time.

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