We wanted to go ride the other cable car yesterday, just as something to do. When we told Luz (the hostel cleaning lady and probably the sweetest person on the planet) our plans, she suggested that we grab a bus while we were in the area and check out the escaleras eléctricas. These outdoor escalators were installed in 2012 in a neighborhood called Las Independencias, which is part of the Community 13, one of the poorest areas in Medellín.
I have to say, I was at least a tiny bit nervous going on this excursion. I mean, if it’s one of the poorest places in the city, it could be dangerous, right? But Luz insisted that the people were super nice, and since she lived nearby, I wanted to trust her. I was also extremely interested to see them (the escalators), and of course, everything turned out fine. In fact, we had a really amazing experience. The neighborhood had the look and feel of Valparaíso, Chile, which was totally unexpected. Our bus driver dropped us off near the top of the escalators, and we admired the beautiful murals and colorful buildings while walking along a nice balcony (balcón in Spanish, which doesn’t feel as right in English) overlooking the city.
As we descended the series of escalators, we ran into a group of children and some volunteers looking after them. They had a space just next to the escalators which was dedicated to arts and crafts – kind of an after school activity center. I chatted away with Joao Bryan (a volunteer with a fantastic, if uncommon name) while Ahmed and Sheena fielded a barrage of questions from the kids. We learned that in this neighborhood there were Colombians from all over the country, not just paisa. I felt that our mixed-ethnic representation of the USA might be confusing here, but Joao pointed out kids from the Colombian Caribbean islands, the coast and other parts of the country, proudly stating that they too are a mixed-ethnic country.
The public spaces around the escalators created an environment where it was easy for the residents to mix and chat, and hang out – a successful urban design. There was an easy feel to the place, which we really enjoyed, especially since our presence was greeted with so much attention. On the way out we saw a sign that advertised crema con mango for $500 pesos. Having no idea what this could be, we wanted to try it. One of the kids started calling his neighbor by name to come down because we were interested. It was clear that this was a tight-knit community, and somehow we had infiltrated it, if only for 30 minutes.