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First Impressions of Medellín, Colombia

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Medellín is set in a valley with hills all around it and two actually in it. It is a sprawling city of 2.5 million people. The housing rises up every hillside, in some places all the way to the top. Like Denver, LA, or Phoenix, unfortunately the hills also trap the pollution and emissions laws seem to be non-existent here. The haze in these photos is unfortunate but a real part of the view here. Yesterday we took the metro to one of three high-speed gondolas that the transportation system has built so far to provide better access to and from the hillside barrios. They are literally part of the system and riders just seamlessly transfer to them. Of course they are also a tourist favorite. The ride up is amazing and provides interesting views of the barrios and the expanse of the city.

We then connected to a second gondola that is ticketed separately and solely for tourists, local and foreign alike, that are going up to Parque Arví. It crests the summit of the hills and crosses over a dense tropical forest that reminded me of cloud forest with bromeliads, moss, and tree ferms until it reaches the park information area.

There are three main barrios (neighborhoods) that tourists visit: Laureles, where we are staying, Centro (downtown), which is only really safe during the day, and Poblado, the rich neighborhood where I am sitting in a cafe writing this while Scott is working on taxes.

Laureles is a very quiet, largely residential neighborhood with restaurants and stores on the main boulevards. It is very green with flowering trees everywhere (I actually saw a Poinsettia tree this morning!), very pretty, and there are not many foreigners there. Few people speak English. We love it!

Poblado is the wealthy area with high-rise hotels and apartment buildings. It is up the hill from the valley on the south side of the city. It is also one of the prime night spots with bars and clubs. Parque Lleras is the center of this action. It is a really pretty park surrounded by restaurants and shops. Many people speak English here, there are many more foreigners, and consequently it is more expensive to eat and drink but still cheap by US standards. And there are chains...

If you know Scott, you know he took this picture!

Centro is the economic heart, the business, shopping, and commerce district. We toured it on a RealCity walking tour and learned a lot about the city and it's people, called Paisas. First off, Medellín is not a colonial city so most of the buildings date from the early 1900's at the earliest. The Spanish did come here but since no gold was found, moved on. It wasn't until the early 1900's that people figured out is was a perfect climate for growing coffee and with that the area took off. Train lines were built and that was pretty much it until that other product with a "C"started being produced and all of the chaos of the narco and political wars and in the 70-90's ravaged the city.

But Medellín takes its recovery from that time very seriously and have intentionally addressed it in many ways. The city is now much more safe, for everyone, it is clean as the result of cleaning crews out everywhere sweeping and cleaning, and scary places like the abandoned market in the middle of the city have been remade into a beautiful public plaza.

Here are some other images of Centro.

Medellín is the only Colombian city with a metro system and to say they are proud of it is a huge understatement. It is amazingly clean and really easy to use.

We've been taking it daily.

In many areas downtown the space underneath it is reserved as pedestrian walkways. In fact, there are pedestrian walkways all over, which is so nice.

The people of Colombia look very different from Mexico. For one thing, they are a lot better looking and a lot thinner! Exercise is a huge part of their lifestyle as is fresh fruit. They do fry just about everything but that somehow doesn't seem to affect them. As explained to us by our young tour guide who is from Medellín, they find little things to be happy about even in the face of their past and their still difficult present. They have a lot of pride in their city and its recent accomplishments. And they see foreigners as an oddity still; tourism is relatively new here and outside of Poblado there aren't many. They tend to stare. If you catch them and smile, they smile back with a look of wonderment. They often call out to us "Good Morning" in English. For whatever reason many locals know this phrase. And as I mentioned in my last post they are patient and try very hard to be helpful. They also really appreciate those who are polite to them. Some even reward it!

This picture of our tour guide in front of two sculptures by their famous home town boy Fernando Botero Angulo. (Note: the sculptures of disproportionate people above are also Boteros.) The one on the left was destroyed by a bomb during a concert and killed many people. This occurred during the narco wars. When the city was going to remove it, the sculptor asked that they keep it there and he made another one that stands on the right. It is both a reminder of history and a symbol of the transformation and rebirth of the city.

Planning some day trips in the upcoming days so stay tuned! And don't forge to follow us on Instagram @arrradventures for real-time updates.

Posted by mrb430 11:40 Archived in Colombia

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