Our time in Medellin started off fortuitously, as we were tipped off on our blog (a comment left by someone we had never met) that our friend Ahmed was in the city. We hadn’t seen him since leaving Cusco and had no idea that he was this far north already. He had found a simple and friendly hostel near the city center, so we happily checked in.
Medellin is in the province just north of Manizales and Salento, but people in both provinces are known as paisa. They are mostly decedents of Basque people and Spanish Jews who fled Europe to escape persecution. We learned on our city tour today that the paisa people believe themselves to be special, and actually superior to other Colombians. This is surely a generalization, but years of isolation in the mountains (before the railroad was built) is responsible for some believing this sentiment. Outside of this region, the paisa people have a reputation of being smooth-talkers. We have found them extremely welcoming and eager to interact with us. This is surely within their nature, but the global stigma that years of violence has brought likely has them extra motivated to change their image.
It’s hard to believe that the metro system here is 20 years old because it is spotless. No trash, no graffiti, no stickers. The people are so proud of this system, the only one in Colombia. And proud they should be, because it’s an awesome transportation system. Rail lines connect seamlessly to bus-rapid transit and cable cars (which reach high into poorer hill-side neighborhoods). Modern electronic cards are used and service is frequent, which is great because this system is also very popular.
Medellin is a city that has completely transformed itself in the last 20 years, going from one of the most dangerous places in the world, to a modern, extremely pleasant city to experience. With a near-perfect climate, it’s pretty easy to see why everyone raves about this place. Someone who gets a lot of credit for this transformation is ex-Mayor (and current governor of Antioquia province) Sergio Farjardo, who initiated a lot of the “social urbanism” changes that make this place what it is today. Areas that were inundated with drugs and crime were turned into beautiful and safe public places. Enormous and “sexy” libraries were built in the poorest neighborhoods. Cable cars and outdoor escalators now bring people into the city center easily. Medellin is an example of possible change for many cities around the world (e.g. Detriot, Rio de Janeiro).
In typical Wongenberg fashion, most of our time here has been spent just walking around, trying to soak up the vibe of this city. We really don’t do a lot in big cities, which seems to be the opposite of most other travelers we meet. I guess this is the luxury that we are afforded, since our timeline for traveling is much longer than anyone else’s (or at least our scope is smaller). It’s really what I enjoy the most about this trip – letting a planned 4 night stay drift to a week, or longer. As Ahmed says, there’s no need to get worked up about small things like schedules and being on time. We’re on vacation after all.