Thoughts on Medellin
The second city I visited in Columbia was Medellin, a 8 hour bus ride from Cali through the VERY winding roads in the mountains. I heard they built Medellin this location because it was hard to get to and that indeed was true.
After the gruelling 8 hour winding bus ride, I arrived at the city of Medellin.
The city was in a valley between the high green luscious mountains. Brick built houses and high rises fill up the hills with a modern metro line running through the city, a surprising change to the other S. American cities I’ve seen so far. It was far more modern and bigger than the quaint little city that I imagined.
I stayed in Medellin for 5 days and I was deeply touched by the city, the people and their tragic but strong and positive story.
It may be known to the world particularly through its infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar, aka “King of Coke” and the violent age he brought upon the city and the country through the drug war and as a result the tragic killings, bombing, corruption, kidnapping it brought. It is probably the reputation and stigma Columbia holds for most people in the world today as was apparent by the numerous concerned comments I received from friends when mentioning I would be visiting Columbia. “Isn’t it dangerous?” “Why are you going there?”. On the contrary, I had heard so many positive comments and stories from other S. Americans and other traveler of Columbia, and not one mentioning the dangers of the country and city so I knew there was a gap in the perception and reality and was curious to find out for myself.
In Medellin I decided to take two tours; the Pablo Escobar tour and a Free Real Walking Tour. Usually I’m not that into tours, but these were really good because it gave me a real understanding into the history and the now of the city as well as the real stories and the voices of the people that live there.
In the Pablo Escobar tour, we were guided through the city, shown the properties Pablo had owned, the sites of the shootings and bombings, the site where he was finally taken down and his grave.
We were guided by 2 local from Medellin who grew up in the darkest times, “La Violencia” where the city and country was a war zone, with Pablo fighting with the government, guerrilla (People killed by Escobar), other drug cartels and with addition of US after him. Pablo was not only a drug lord that built his empire in Medellin, but he had immense power extending through the country and to the authorities, the army and even secured a seat in congress at one point due to his wealth. At that time (and to an extent, today they say) anything went and anything could be bought with money. Pablo, beingthe 7th richest man in the world, he basically had Columbia in control. (he even built a jail for himself to be taken in)
The stories told by the guide growing up in the city was heartbreaking. Bombings and shootings occurring in regular instances, friends and family affected or killed and not being able to go outside to play. It’s wonder that many Columbians don’t like to talk about the time and the guides even said that they occasionally get yelled at by the locals in showing the foreigners of their dark past.
It was shocking to hear of the violent occurrences but what was interesting was how the city has rebuilt itself from those times and how people are now. Now, if you see the city, you would not imagine that only 20 years ago it was a disastrous war zone. The city is beautiful, modern, high-rise capitalism and city filled with culture and art, and its people busy but energetic and happy. But perhaps it is due to the dark ages that they experienced.
In the free walking tour, the guide warned us that locals will come up to us through the tour and welcome us or say hi and will start talking so to just smile and say thanks. No doubt, there were many instances where locals stopped to greet us with “Welcome!” “Bienvenidos””Enjoy your stay!” and that was pretty rare in even in cities around S. America.
The reason for this enthusiasm she explained is that they are aware of the stigma that Columbia and especially Medellin has and until recently, there has not been much foreigners and tourism due to the fear built by the reputation. But now, things are changing and people are coming in. Locals are curious to see foreigners and their interest in Columbia and perhaps eager to prove to them what a beautiful country Columbia really is. More than any other city I had visited, people were curious and approaching to us and this explains why.
One of my favourite instances was when I was waiting in line to take the cable car. A man started to talk to me and asked why I am here. I explained to him that I had heard great things about Columbia and Medellin and he seemed so happy and started to explain to me about the greatness of his city and why it is rated the most liveable city in S. America. (truth or not, I don’t know) Throughout the cable car ride, the rest of the 8 people in the cable car joined in to tell me the greatness of the city. The beautiful mountains and the valleys, the abundance of clean drinking water from the valleys, the advancements in infrastructure and metro, the resources (old, minerals, farming) and the efforts the city makes in building a great environment in arts and culture for people and kids. (or at least that is what I imagine they were saying..) There was such pride and enthusiasm!
(They don’t look really happy here, but really, they were super enthusiastic!)
The city had no evidence of violence or destruction, rather filled with green, art and culture.
Fernando Botero, also a Medellin native artist donated an enormous amount of works to the city for the rebuild and it is placed all over the town.
The city has made significant amounts of investment, making the aftermath and wreckage into something better.
The monument representing the history of Medellin.
The city energetic and busting with power and energy.
Markets where people gather to get a drink and chill.
A fun game of roulette with a hamster. People place bets and see where the hamster will go. x5 if you guess right!
I also had a good night out with new friends in the trendy part of town, Poblado. Salsa and regggea-ton all night long.
I really loved my stay in Medellin. but particularly because of being able to learn the history and what the city represents now. Perhaps this represent the city. From the past to now. From violence to hope.
The guide mentioned that through word of mouth, the stigma is being overturned and I hope this post could do the same.
“When you fall, you dust yourself off, and get back up again”.