Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Medellín: Land of the Paisas

Medellín, the land of eternal spring
Another week, another city - this time, the sophisticated heights of Medellín. After the intense 30 degree heat of the Caribbean coast, the breezy 20 of this metropolis left me feeling a tad chilly (so not British, I know), but with a freshness that was oh-so-welcome - 80% humidity can get a bit much at times! Even aside from the weather, it felt like we were in another world: gone was the relaxed accent of the coast, gone the endless bargaining for taxi fares, gone the crazy dash across the road and praying you don't get run over (well, almost). In its place, the lilting, sing-song voice of the paisas (local residents); a taxi meter; and actual pedestrian crossings! The existence of a metro system was just the icing on the cake.

The city at night. Photo: precioyviajes

After a helter-skelter taxi ride down the mountain from the airport, we eventually found ourselves in the right hostel (second time lucky), and headed out into the unknown. Our first stop was a nearby vantage point, from which we could see the whole city in all its glory. And such glory! Vast swathes of green mountainside gave way to the varied shapes and colours of the buildings below, stretching in all directions in an undulating swell as far as the eye could see. As the dusk drew in, the mountainside neighbourhoods transformed into rivers of light, creating a terrestrial map of streets and houses that seemed to reflect the night sky above.

Improvised clothes line in a nearby village
But before you get too carried away, Medellín has a much grittier side, too. Once the most dangerous city in the world, it was more or less controlled by none other than Pablo Escobar, the drug baron with approximately 70% of the world’s cocaine trade under his belt, who would stop nothing short of murdering anyone who got in his way. After his death at the hands of the police in 1993, the city has recovered dramatically, introducing enhanced security measures and promoting (legal) international commerce. And it is also noticeably more developed than its partner cities in the rest of the country, although the source of the money for these projects is sometimes hard to pinpoint. Nevertheless, if you stray only a little from the well-trodden path, its easy to find yourself in a much less polished neighbourhood, where poverty still holds the reigns on thousands of people’s lives. The contrast is striking.

Paisas know how to relax!
However, feeling guilty is not a helpful emotion here, particularly when tourism is giving the region a whole new outlook on the world. And this is no more evident than in Guatapé, a nearby village, where up to 10 years ago tourism was basically unknown. Now, the streets are decorated with beautifully painted wall murals on every building, a testament to the hard work, resilience and ingenuity of the paisas – and their colourful Colombian spirit!

There is so much more I could say about Medellín, including the incredible peacefulness of the cable car, the ridiculously large bandeja paisa meal that is the speciality of the region; the wonderfully curvaceous statues and paintings by Medellín-born Botero; or the flocks of motorbikes that pervade the city’s traffic like birds. But I’ll leave you with a taste, in the hopes that some day you can come and experience it for yourself. In the words of the paisas:

¡Hágale pues! (Go for it!)

Some more photos from my visit:

A relaxing journey in the cable car
Botero's artwork in the city centre
Medellín at dusk
The wonderful metro system
A green, fertile land
Mototaxis: public transport for those without fear!
Street artwork in a city square

The view near Guatapé - no wonder tourism has boomed
Sunset over the mountaintop - absolutely stunning

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