A Travellerspoint blog

Colombia

The City of Innovation and Eternal Spring

Our time in Medellin where changes are still happening..some of them good and some of them sadly not as good


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Medellin is HUGE. That was our first thought when we flew in. The town is in a valley surrounded by hills. It is also highly diverse and there are elite neighbourhoods right next to dodgy or run down areas.

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Medellin used to be considered the most dangerous city in the world. It was full of drugs, crime and to be honest a high poverty rate. Things have changed a little in Medellin in the last 10-20 years. The government has cracked down on the drug trade and the head drug lord of Medellin was killed. Drugs are still here in abundance and easy enough to find but it seems that there is a little bit of pride coming into this city.
While here we had a few things we wanted to understand and discovered the Real City Walking Tour...the number one thing to do in Medellin. We were intrigued...either there wasn't a lot to do in this town or the tour must be really good and informative.

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We had no idea when we arrived but we were in the city for the long weekend so the place was pretty quite. We also had only just missed the famous flower festival so there were still the remnants of some of the exhibits created dotted around the city.
Over our time in Medellin we learnt a lot about Colombian history...how there are many different takes on it and how there is little written about it. The thing that surprised us the most was that it is not learnt at school at all.

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During the walking tour we discussed Paisas (Medellin born and breed) and how they feel they have a superiority and greatness about them. They feel that Medellin and the people that are from here are different to the rest of the country. Stereotypically they feel that they are better and more superior in all ways. Our guide also pressed the importance of how Paisas people will have no hesitation in ripping you off. Except to get a 1000 instead of 10000 back in change. If it is easy for them they will do it. The same goes with carrying your camera in the open, putting your wallet in your back pocket or leaving your handbag on the back of a chair. If it is sweet and easy then they will utilise that opportunity (they call it the Papaya rule).
They have a sculptures everywhere..including one showing the history of the area. The original immigrants into Medellin area were from the Basque area in Spain. The area was remote and they were generally left alone by the Spaniards as it was so difficult to get to this area due to the mountains.
Besides being patriotic at times (well quite a bit really when I think back) we learnt a lot on our walking tour. We learnt about Medellin as well as some of the Colombian history. Including about the four different sides in the Colombian Conflict and the goings on during this and how this issue is not fully resolved even today!

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Along the way we discussed "Paul" (Pablo Escobar) and how he affected the city. We discussed the good and the bad of what Paul accomplished and the effect it had on the community. We also discussed how the drug cartels and farms affected normal Colombians and the huge amount of people that have been forced off their land for drug cultivation. With understanding you can see why there is huge areas of slums on the edge of the city. A lot of these people have been forced from where they previously lived and were left with nothing.

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We continued along seeing an area full of light that used to be an burnt out mercado where a lot of illegal activity occurred and were run from. This transformation occurred due to the current mayor of the time. He was a teacher who came from an architectural family. The city has been revamped through open and new spaces, a metro that the public is so proud of and greater access to education. There are libraries and free courses all over the city to help people educate themselves and give themselves more opportunities. A lot of things have changed; for example, the old palace of justice is now a shopping mall and the centre city is full of traders.
We also saw some of the more dodgy areas too. We walked down lanes full of pirated porn movies, prostitutes outside the church, parks where the smoke was so thick you're eyes burned. The interesting part of this was it all kind of just merged together and it didn't seem to stick out that much. In the park the addicts and the homeless were around but at the same time there were families with their kids and oldies gossiping. It all seems to work and merge together. The other part that was pretty fun was all of the dodgy activities seemed to happen outside of or near churches. Apparently this is so that the sinners can repent easily and not feel bad for their sins.

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We walked through the Botero statues. There are so many! The statues have all been gifted from the artist who is originally from Colombia. They are each worth around 2 million dollars each! The tour was good for learning the odd little quirks around the centre. Things like the cathedral changes due to the architect leaving due to the abuse he was getting about he work from the Paisas.

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Along the way we also got the chance to do a little gambling local style. We bet on a guinea pig. The game worked that there were bowls with holes in them. The guinea pig was put under a closed bowl while everyone beat. The bowl was removed and then the guinea pig had to choose its new home. Whichever bowl he choose got five times there money bag. It was hilarious!

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Our final stop was a little bit different from the others. There has been a lot of problems with murders and violence. A lot of the time this is forgotten except for this one exception. There is a blown up Botero Bird statue and next to it a new one. There was a concert in a square and someone planted explosives under it. To this day they still don't know which group planted the explosives and killed 27 innocent people as all groups have claimed responsibility.

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Besides the increase in education and spaces to be proud of the reason Medellin is known as the city of innovation is due to Comuna 13. When Medellin was famed as the one of the most dangerous cities of the world Comuna 13 was one of the most dangerous districts in the city. The community has been revamped. The area is colourful and the people have more pride. They have used the locals and there talents to have create an area where these people can be proud of. The other thing, the Medellin local government put in a free escalator that goes up the equivalent of 28 floors. This is to help people get to there houses. Visiting this area was interesting we went with a European girl who had fluent Spanish and a Australian. As you can imagine we stood out. We were safe but still the oddness of people coming to see their community is new to these locals. After admiring the street art and colour.

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We headed down for Arepas. I opted for mine to be full of guacamole and salad with stewed meat. It was delicious.
We discovered while in Medellin that finding a good Colombian empanada is pretty hard thing to do, most are dry and have no flavour or they are extremely oily. It is a pretty risky thing to find one. Luckily we did. It was full of stewed beef and potatoes. Sadly they were a little oily but they tasted fantastic. To top it off the corn shell wasn't too thick. The difference between the Colombian empanada and the Argentine one is that the Argentine ones are baked while the Colombian is fried.

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We also headed out to a stunning restaurant called Ocio with Dani and Cara, a couple from our sailing trip to Colombia. It was amazing to catch up and it made up realise how much we enjoyed our time on the boat with them. Dani chose an amazing restaurant. We couldn't fault any of the menu. We started with pork belly and pate sandwiches then lewis had slow roasted lamb with seasonal veggies and I had mushrooms. We also had desert, an ice-cream sandwich and chocolate cake with yoghurt ice cream. The place was gorgeous but the food was even better. In Medellin standards it was pricey but compared to home it was a bargain.

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Our time in Medellin has highlighted to us that this is a city of contrasts you have the flash rich suburbs but the extremely poor areas where houses are made of cardboard still exist. This city is still progressing and changing and lets hope the pride they have in the changes that have happened so far will ensure they continue to occur.

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Lets hope the pride they have in their successful Metro system and the outdoor escalator expand to more projects. When I consider Medellin I feel like to see the real Medellin you need to gain more than one aspect of it...if you stay solely in El Pobelo then you aren't going to get a true reflection of the current state of the city. Medellin all awards aside still has numerous problems drugs are still nearly available on every street corner if you know who to ask, prostitution and the sex industry are on the rise in the city. The concerning part is the child sex industry is also rising significantly.
If you come to Medellin I feel you need to push yourself and you're comfort barrier. The city is a complex and create place you just need to explore it to see the real Paisas people.

Posted by chellebelle 17:24 Archived in Colombia Tagged interesting pig guinea escalator medellin botero opposites arepas oico Comments (0)

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