As we continued downward, I thought for sure I was going to throw up. My mouth was watering, and I could feel my stomach churning to make its move. Any minute disaster was going to strike all over my lap, and I was powerless to stop it. I couldn’t believe that a simple ride from Medellin airport into the downtown core consisted of driving down what felt like a spiral staircase at record speeds. For an hour.
I’ve actually never been good in cars or buses or trains or planes for that matter. I sometimes get vertigo just lying stationary. Yup, motion sickness has afflicted me since I can remember, and I’ve had many an embarrassing vomit sesh. And this was going to be no exception if I didn’t get off this frickin’ roller coaster toute suite. My brother once told me that mint helps cure nausea; so there I was sticking piece after piece of gum in my mouth, picturing myself drinking mint tea and eating minty food. Hell, by the time we stopped spiralling downward, I was envisioning myself chewing on mint leaves.
Once the madness stopped without incident, I was finally at my hostel; however, it was dizzying in a different way…it was a shithole. The staff and owner were extremely nice, and sure, it had its quirky charm, but this was exactly like the hostel of my 20s, and I didn’t care for it much then, let alone now. I don’t mind the semi-hostel experience though, but at my age I generally opt for a private room so I can do my socializing when I want and retreat to my room when I’ve had enough. This, however, was not going to be possible because the whole place was on buuuh-ust till all hours of the morning, and staying in my room meant I had to hang out with a few unwelcome roommates…the cockroaches.
However, I decided to stick it out because the place was great for my budget and well, who cares really? I was FINALLY in Medellin!
Thankfully, the city more than made up for its bumpy introduction. My first day out, I was immediately struck by how clean and modern it was. However, there was still so much character and art sandwiched in between the innovative and pristine infrastructure. Even the graffiti (which I love) was well done and hardly ever tagged over by garbage work.
And it has an amazing metro system worth mentioning, the only one of its kind in Colombia. It is extremely clean and safe and you can’t find one homeless person using it as a bathroom. Ever. There were a few police officers at each station regardless of the time of day, and they were friendly and helpful and always got quite the kick out of my inability to know where to insert the card thingie to get through the gate. Its whole transport system was state of the art actually. The buses, cable cars, bike paths and rental bikes – all brand new, well functioning and easy enough for a gringa to master the first day.
I read somewhere that the cable car system which brings you up to the top of the city was built purposely to offer service to some of the poorest barrios up on the mountain. And a stipulation when it was built was that all necessary amenities such as schools, daycares, parks and shops be built along the route so that the poorest of Medellin would have the same access to vital services as everyone else. Now I’m sure the government there has its share of problems and douchebaggery, but this is incredible if it’s true. A government designing its city in part for the people, especially those less fortunate?! Hmmm…
Aside from an amazing day trip out of town to nearby Guatapé I walked and metro-ed the hell out of the city – the highlight for me being Botero Park. It’s right in El Centro and boasts a few dozen famous Fernando Botero statues. I had only heard of him before but am now a big fan. He famously paints and sculpts really fat and disproportionately-sized people and his work is both unique and kind of hilarious. In the adjacent Antioquia museum a great number of his works are displayed and is worth a few hours of your time.
I also loved this park for the people-watching and action. It drew every type of Medellin-er around and a nearby cafe gave me the best people watching/writing/drinking spot imaginable, so I returned a few times over the course of my stay to indulge in all three.
I even went up to the big mall in town, not to shop or walk around, but its got some of the best views of the city, so I cabbed it to the top and then walked the whole way down and into El Poblado, which is an area chalked full of bars and restaurants. It’s also gringa-central, so if you try to avoid those areas as I usually do, it’s perfect for a few drinks or to walk around for an afternoon.
I have to mention the people, as I usually do in my blog since it’s what interests me most when travelling. I couldn’t believe how friendly everyone was and on the whole, happy. And everyone was so willing to help me find my way, point me here, tell me not to go there etc. In the Botero Park area, which some people may consider rough, there was a brotherhood and sense of community that you could feel instantaneously, which I am always drawn to. And other than one mob and subsequent police beat down I witnessed of a guy who tried to steal something from a vendor, the place was rather peaceful.
Medellin for me was such a breath of fresh air, literally after the heat of Cartagena, but in so many other ways. The weather, the people, and everything the city seemed to stand for were incredible. And as if I couldn’t love it more, on my last day, I was at the local bus terminal that connects to the metro and when I went through the turnstile I didn’t need a policeman to show me where to swipe my transport pass. After I went through and turned around a few of the officers I had seen over the past few days, who obviously recognized me, were all standing together and did a little dance and cheer as if they were proud I’d finally got it. I actually think they meant it. Only in Medellin.