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Published: June 26th 2015
If You Like It, Put A Ring On It
"Matrimonio Gay" was one of the exhibits at the Museo de Antioquia. Perfect opportunity for us to show off our rings!
Let's Start Off With Some Good News...
Jeff and I got married on June 14th! Jeff was planning to be in Medellin for the Pan American Master's Diving Championship, so I decided to tag along and extend our trip to Cartagena and make a honeymoon out of it. I actually kind of cringe at the "honeymoon" moniker as we have been together for almost 15 years and it wasn't as if we were embarking on a new life together, but regardless it feels good to have our relationship legally recognized now that Hawaii has passed marriage equality.
Botero: The Noncriminal Son
A visit to Medellin is not complete without viewing Fernando Botero's art and sculptures. On my first full day in Medellin, after Jeff established a new world record in master's 3M springboard, we trooped out to the Museo de Antioquia, where many works of Medellin's most famous (noncriminal) son are exhibited. We took the Metro from Estadio, where the competition was held, to Parque Berria and walked one block to the museum. This museum is excellent and it is the most fun museum I've been to. It shows many Botero's works as well as interactive exhibits:
Museo de Antioquia
A Botero painting. Botero makes his subjects "voluminous" (his own words) to give them texture.
one exhibit allowed you to make your own Botero-inspired selfie and another featured animations of Botero paintings. Outside the museum is a public space called Plazoleto de las Esculturas with a number of Botero statues on display. It was really nice to see people hanging around the sculptures and enjoying them. I've attached a whole bunch of photos and labeled them.
As it was a Sunday, we enjoyed people watching while walking around the park and around the Estadio area where we stayed as many people were out and about watching the Colombia-Chile football match in the bars and restaurants.
Escobar: The Criminal Son
On my second day, I learned about a darker period in Medellin's history when I took a Pablo Escobar tour offered by Paisa Road. This tour was quite an eye opener. The guide, Paula, grew up in Medellin when the cartel was at its most active. Some Trip Advisor ratings of Paula weren't too positive, with people calling her cranky and opinionated. I definitely saw that in her, but what I also saw was a young woman who was robbed of a normal childhood. I think she can best be described as cynical
Museo de Antioquia
Botero's rendition of Escobar's death. Botero was no fan of Escobar's.
but also committed to making a difference. Having been through a terrorist bombing myself, I cannot imagine what it was like to live through years of this violence and, as a child, being able to tell the difference between pistol and rifle fire.
Anyway, back to the tour itself. Paula showed us buildings that Escobar occupied, sites that his forces attacked, the building where he was killed, his grave and various other sites. Along the way, we got insights into Escobar himself as well as life during the cartel days and its lingering effects. For example, in the past motorcycle helmets were banned as the police wanted to be able to recognize riders, and even today it is illegal for two males to be on a motorbike because in the past the pillion riders would fire weapons from their motorbikes (I guess the assumption is that women cannot shoot!).
How Does A City With Such A History Of Violence Heal Itself?
Escobar was not universally hated, though. Many poorer people considered him to be a modern day Robin Hood because he did things that benefitted them. In the aftermath of his death, city officials realized that one
Parques San Antonio
The ironically named Pajaro de Paz (Bird of Peace). In 1995, a bomb was detonated here during an outdoor concert, killing 23 people. Botero built an identical statue next to it but the original was left in place as a reminder of past events.
of the key reasons why poorer communities (many of which were built into steep hillsides fringing the city) supported Escobar was because they were physically isolated from the city and its economic and educational opportunities. For this and other reasons, the city built a metro to connect the people, and for the poorer communities who lived on the steep hillsides, they built cable cars that connected with the rest of the metro network. I also understand that several long escalators were built into the hillsides.
On my third day, we took the metro to Acevedo station where we connected to the Line K cable car. The first section of the cable car, which has four stops from Acevedo to Santa Domingo station, is included in the single trip metro fare of COP 2,000. Along the way, we passed over the communities built into the hillside and saw glimpses of life there. I was impressed by how many public spaces there were. There was also a large library and community space.
At Santa Domingo station, one can connect to Line L that goes to Arvi Park for COP 4,600 each way. This was a very long line with green
Line K Cable Car
Connecting the hillside communities. This is the view from Acevedo station where Line K begins.
and scenic views with no stops along the way. Arvi Park was at the end of the line, and we stopped there to look at the shops and eat some incredibly fresh fruit. It looked as if there were other sights in the area but some members of our party were wiped out from the competition so we made our way back.
Apart from the metro system, Medellin also built a lot of public spaces. We were impressed by the many parks and public squares, and Botero himself donated many of his statues (worth millions) to those parks. On our fourth day, after our day trip to El Penol and Guatape
, we stopped at Universidad station and visited the Parque Explora. Our main goal was to visit the aquarium, which has an extensive collection of South American fish, but we also visited the reptile house and played with other exhibits. It was fun to see many children at Parque Explora interacting with the exhibits. There is also a good botanical garden nearby which we did not visit.
Medellin has also built some world class sports facilities and the city hosts international sporting meets such as the one Jeff competed in. This was, in fact, his
As seen from the cable car. We were impressed by the number of public spaces in the hillside community.
second visit to Medellin for diving.
It would be naive to say that Medellin has put its past behind it. As Paula told us on the tour, most Colombians don't want to talk about it. But all this infrastructure that has been put in place can only be a positive development to help with the healing process.
My Thoughts on Medellin
Many of my friends reacted with surprise and consternation when they learned I was coming here. Is Medellin safe? Absolutely. I felt safe in the parts of the city I visited, but I was aware how much I stood out. The people are friendly and helpful. There is police presence everywhere, and most of them were patrolling on foot instead of in cars.
I guess the people have been isolated for so long that they were genuinely pleased to see visitors. Strangers would make sure we got onto the correct platform on the metro. Service staff would try hard to communicate even if they spoke no English. A taxi driver transporting one of Jeff's diver friends spoke no English and so he called his daughter in Miami to make sure his passenger understood where she
Medellin Street Life
This guy was entertaining people hanging out at the restaurants and bars watching the Colombia vs. Chile match.
was going and what she should expect at her destination. Other visitors to the Parque Explora aquarium told us the names of the various fish species. I could go on and on. In short, my already positive impressions from our 2011 trip to Cali
Food in Medellin isn't particularly innovative or interesting but it was good because the ingredients were fresh and not too processed, unlike a lot of food in the U.S.
Public transport is good - the metro is convenient, taxis are plentiful and you don't have to remind drivers to turn on their meters.
In short, go visit. You'll find yourself welcome. I'll certainly come back in a heartbeat.
As is usual with my blogs, I have attached and labeled a lot of photos. Please read the captions to get deeper insights into what I saw and experienced.
USD1 = approximately COP 2,300 Getting To and From The Airport
: The main airport is some distance outside Medellin in a different valley. I took a Microbus from the airport to San Diego Mall for COP9,000 and then connected to one of the waiting taxis. Getting Around
: A single trip
Posing with Botero's Gato statue.
fare to anywhere on the metro is COP2,000, with the exception of the Line L cable car from Santa Domingo to Arvi Park which is COP4,600. The metro was often crowded, though. Taxis are plentiful and metered. Uber has also started service in Medellin - our ride to the airport cost COP75,000 on Uber. Accommodation
: Airbnb is the way to go. There seem to be many absentee homeowners who live in the US. We rented a two bedroom apartment for $50/day. Many other athletes attending the games also had similar luck. Where To Stay
: We stayed in the Estadio/Laureles area as it was close to the competition venue. The area appears to be gentrifying and we felt safe. Carrera 70 is the main drag from Estadio station and it is a lively entertainment district. The main tourist area is Poblado, which is also a pleasant neighborhood. The Pablo Escobar Tour
: The tour is run by Paisa Road
. To book a spot, you need to go to one of the participating hostels and ask them to reserve a spot for you. The tour is worth it for insights into a dark period of Colombia's history that shape the country
View from Suzie's airbnb apartment at dusk.
today, but take the tour with the right frame of mind and allow Paula to express herself even if you feel she is unnecessarily negative.
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