A week in Medellín
A stressful September full of classes and cultural adjustment found me with no plans for my October break. I went against my nature and purposely left the week blank on my calendar, unwilling to commit to any place or itinerary. But it took only a weekend at the Boca Grande beach and then a lonely monday morning in my hammock before the itch to leave became too much and I booked an impulsive next-day plane ticket to Medellín.
George, another volunteer, was already there and he helped me out with some of the bus details for travel after the airport. I texted another friend, Siok, and she helped me out with a bed in her hostel the night I arrived. I sighed a breath of relief and started researching all the sights to see in this city I’ve heard so much about. Netflix released a show last month set in Medellín, but I was hardly put off by the ghost Pablo Escobar. Rather, I was drawn by the promise of near-perfect weather all year round, a clean modern metro system, and the proximity of tree and flower-filled parks.
My host mother Manuela blessed me and wished me well before I set off from my house with my big blue backpack. I caught a moto taxi to the airport and within hours was delightful to be up in an airplane again; since I arrived in Cartagena three months ago I haven’t left. I left the hot humid coastal air and landed in a cool spring evening paradise. The airport in Medellín is an hour away from the city, but the bus ride was delightful. Up over a mountain and then a long descent into the bowl-like valley that cradles the city.
After the bus dropped me in the city center I had my first encounter with the Medellín metro. The entire system is above-ground and a point of pride for the Paisas (Paisa is what people from Medellín and the department of Antioquia call themselves) There is no food or drink allowed on, and the entire system is shockingly clean. Not a sticker on the windows nor graffiti on the walls. Besides the trains, there are also three cable car lines that carry passengers up the mountains. One of the metro lines connects to a considerably poorer area of the city, but the presence of the cable cars there seems to be changing their circumstances. From the air you can see thank you for the metro signs painted on the roofs of people’s homes.
Public works was the one thing that astounded me most about Medellín. Besides the metro that recently came into the poor neighborhoods, there are also brand new concrete staircases (necessary for the steep hills) with gleaming new yellow handrails, I couldn’t imagine seeing something so well-kept and designed in Cartagena. In one community they even have a few electric escalators! Then there are the beautiful free libraries all over the city. The architecture is modern and interesting and the programs offered inside are immensely popular. Free classes are given in academic subjects, career development, and culture and arts. In places that were once home to crime and illicit activities there are now huge art installations and urban nature parks.
Among the many places I went during my stay in Medelín, I visited the Jardín Botánico, Parque Arví, Plaza Bolivar, Parque Berrio, and Parque de las Luces. I took a walking tour with my friend Autumn and her mom Karen and we learned so much about the city. The tour guide told us about the politics and history of the place in a storybook style that kept me interested for the entire four hour length. One of my favorite stories was the last one she told, it highlighted a few key things I’ve noticed about my time in Colombia.
These two birds were both created by famous Paisa artist Fernando Botero. The one on the left was blown up in 1995 in an act of terror during a public music festival in the square. Twenty people died and the terrorist was never caught. The mayor at the time wished to dispose of the statue but Botero insisted that it stay. Botero said the city needed a reminder of the violence so something like this would never happen again. He then donated a second identical bird as a symbol of rebuilding and peace. Colombians love symbols more than any other people I’ve met.
Later that day, Autumn, Karen and I headed up to Parque Arví to enjoy some stuffed mushrooms and the cable car to the park. We didn’t really understand how to get to the ecological park, but we had a nice time wandering around anyway.
Getting on the plane back to Cartagena was tough. I love the freedom of travel and the break from teaching. And a week out of the heat was nice too! But school is already seeming to wrap up here and I’m looking forward to more travel and hopefully a bit more time in Medellín in the future.