If you said Medellin to any American in the past ten years, they would freak out and scream about their drug infested past. Well, with Pablo Escobar out of the picture, and drug sniffing dogs taking over the airport, Columbia has taken a new identity of late. In particular, we decided to land in Medellin, upon the recommendation of many.
Medellin is the second largest city in Columbia. It is nestled in the Aburra Valley, in the northerly section of the Andes. Might you remember, that Mr. Mike and I have experienced the southern Andes, down at the southernmost city in the world, Ushuaia. With a population of 2.7 million here, I am sure we can find something to see and do.
Without reliving too much of the past, most people who see or read the news know Medellin for the famous drug cartels. Well, things have changed, and much for the better, so they say. The transformation includes a popular Metro train system, bike-share program, the new Espana Library, and a new cultural center. It is no longer the most violent city in the world. In 1991, the number of murders was 6349, a murder rate of 380 per 100,000 population. It has fallen 80% since then.
The Medellin website says to forget everything you know about it. They say the people here love to dress up and party. Sounds good to me! Zona Rosa is the place to be. It attracts the people who want to throw money around, as well as the beautiful rich, and surgically augmented. We shall see. I can’t wait.
The real question is how did they do this? According to many, they re-connected the city center with the displaced people, the poorest and toughest neighborhoods. Quite simply, they were made to feel part of the city. Key to this is a new metro system. A new network of lifts and cable cars help the locals from the mountaintop slums reach the new metro system. Importantly, industry has moved back into the city.
A word of warning in most travel books and Columbian websites. Do NOT mention drugs! It seems about a fourth of the population has been affected by the drug cartels in a negative manner, with loss of friends and family. So, we will NOT pretend to be drug lords, or even three lords a leaping! Just plain old tourists will be fine with me.
We will do our typical exploration on foot, and other means of transport deemed safe. But first, we need some pesos. The current exchange rate is around 1800 Columbian pesos per US Dollar. But the ATM at Citicorp tried to charge me about $% USD for a $108 withdrawal! Should I spend the pesos, or try to sniff them?
The hotel here is quite nice, but the other Musketeers went out last night and saw nothing but hookers, but no police. That is not a good sign, in any language! I will report back after I have seen a few different parts of this seemingly beautiful city. BTW, Medellin, is pronounced, “meta-gene” for those of you, like me, not fluent in Spanish. After walking about two miles around the El Poblado neighborhood where we are staying, we took the famous Medellin metro to the very end of the line, called Naquia, or something like that.
We must have passed every type of neighborhood, from upscale (near us), to area that qualify as nothing more than four walls, with no windows or doors. It makes Rio, Laos, and even Cape Town’s townships look good. On the plus side, we got off, and had a decent beer, the first one that tasted anything like an American beer. Then we strapped on our “what the hell” caps, and had some semi-street food at a little shack. The overly fried fish (trout) was actually pretty good, the beef, certainly better than shoe leather, but nothing as good as a proverbial 50 cent steak.
With many of these challenges, you are probably asking yourself why we do this. Mostly because it is here or there, but we also wonder sometimes too. But this makes us feel alive, and prepares us for the next trip. Anybody can walk into a 4 or 5 star restaurant and have a fairly good to great meal. We are doing something most people do not even dream of trying. It is the vast unknown.