Medellin

We arrived in Medellin in the late afternoon on Thursday, sad that this was our final destination in Colombia and aware that our trip was coming to a close.

We stayed at Su Casa Colombia, a B&B run by a young American couple.  It was located in a residential area near Estadio, the main stadium and sports complex in the city.  On our ride from the airport to the city, we were instantly struck by, yet again, how different Medellin seemed from every other place we’d been to in Colombia so far.  With 3.3 million people, it is the second-largest city in the country, but Bogota this was not.  This was a city of wealth; the transportation infrastructure was new, the housing stock was solid, construction was everywhere.  It felt like the most modern place we visited, and perhaps the most livable city we spent time in.

Our hosts at the B&B met us; they were very warm and friendly and it felt odd to chat with Americans.  They gave us a tour of the neighborhood, led us to the metro, and we were on our way.  The metro was so clean and easy to navigate; it felt like being back in DC.

Our first night we went to the Poblado neighborhood, a hip trendy area.  This group of shops and restaurants is housed in a complex of re-purposed shipping containers; it was really cool.  We ate dinner at a hip little vegetarian restaurant with craft beers; definitely felt at home there.

From Medellin – July 2011

The next day we set off to see downtown and visit some parks, museums, and neighborhoods.

A shot from the metro of the downtown:

From Medellin – July 2011

Plaza Botero, with a ton of Botero sculptures:

From Medellin – July 2011
From Medellin – July 2011

The plaza/park was really nicely done, and was set before the Museo de Antioquia, probably my favorite museum on this trip.  It is housed in an Art Deco building, a former government center, and had a really well-curated collection of eclectic art: a good mix of modern stuff, political stuff, and classics.

We also checked out a number of other parks and public plazas.  We were amazed at the excellent urban design, contemporary architecture, and fantastic use of public space.  Literally it felt like every time we turned a corner we were exclaiming over a new park or cool building.  Urban planners at their geekiest.

From Medellin – July 2011
From Medellin – July 2011

That afternoon, we got to see a futbol match.  Colombia was hosting the Under-20 World Cup, and we went to a first round match between England and North Korea.  Security was intense; we got searched three times and there were police with rifles everywhere.

From Medellin – July 2011
From Medellin – July 2011

Great views of the city in the background.  Medellin is situated in a valley, surrounded by hills on all sides.

The coolest part of Medellin’s public transport system is the cable car, which connects to the regular metro.

The cable car goes to the historically poorest parts of the city, up in the hills.  The city’s decision to extend public transport to these neighborhoods was controversial and progressive.  We rode up the cable car to check out the Biblioteca de Espana (Spanish library), built high up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood.  The Biblioteca was designed to be a community center and offer resources to the neighborhood’s children and families.

From Medellin – July 2011
From Medellin – July 2011

View from the libary entrance up to the neighborhood behind it

It looks like three boulders, set into the hill.  The fact that the city made this investment in public facilities in a poor neighborhood says a lot about what is important here…in the 1980s, Pablo Escobar, cocaine druglord, reigned supreme, and the city was rife with violence and corruption.  Escobar was killed in 1993, and since then the city has embarked on a remarkable transformation.  There is still plenty of poverty and plenty of problems, but recent mayors have invested in improvements, such as the metro and the library, to emphasize civic improvement and urban redevelopment.  It was really interesting to check out the building and the neighborhood and think about how much the city has changed/is changing.

Later that night we returned to Poblado, where the cool thing to do is buy beer from this hole in the wall and drink it in the street in packs while catching up on gossip with all your friends.  We  were drinking beers for a dollar apiece, with empanadas for twenty cents apiece!

From Medellin – July 2011

On our last day we went to the Jardin Botanical: beautiful gardens and, of course, amazing architecture.

Our last day in Medellin was the first day of the Feria de las Flores (festival of flowers), a big event in the city. It kicks off with the Desfiles Caballos (horse parade). Lots of people turn out and it’s a big street party.

You can get all sorts of food, drink, gum (lots of Chicklets), candy, cigarettes, sunglasses, bags, hats, DVDs, CDs, and more from a vendor.  One guy tried to sell us a giant felt painting; another, a giant model ship.  Really!  Colombia is such an entrepreneurial country; there is always someone finding a way to make money.  The culture was so unlike what we see in the U.S., with our intense regulation of everything.

Medellin was fabulous and it was sad to leave.  It was also sad that by the time we got there, we were pretty worn out and couldn’t quite take advantage of everything there was to offer.
If you are at all considering going to Colombia, all I can say is GO.  Go, go, don’t think twice.  Yes, everyone warned us about the dangers.  No, we never got mugged, or even looked at the wrong way.  One night in Medellin we got off the metro downtown and that was a mistake; downtown Medellin, it turns out, is pretty sketchy.  We were nervous, but fine.  Just keep your wits about you, learn some Spanish, don’t flash around your money or belongings, be streetsmart.
And have fun!  There is so much to see, so much to do.  The internet and global communications has made our world seem much smaller than it used to seem.  But there is no substitute for going to a new place, turning off your cell phone, and becoming immersed in a new world.  It makes you realize how much there is out there in the world, how much you really don’t know.  How small your world really is, how little your problems are in the broader context.  Travel offers so much perspective, gives so much to see.

I’m sad my recaps have come to an end, and there are plenty more details I couldn’t fit in.  More Medellin photos are here.  Any questions, just ask.

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One thought on “Medellin

  1. Pingback: Mexico: Public Life and Neighborhoods | Kathy Q. Runs

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