Friday, November 15, 2013

Colombia: Voy a Volver

Nearly all of the travelers I met while working at Community Hostel in Quito said that Colombia was home to the friendliest people and the most beautiful city of South America (Medellín). Naturally, I had to know for myself. I've been trying to be a tough customer, but almost everything I've experienced in this country so far makes me think they're right. I've spent nearly a week in each of the two largest cities of the country--Bogotá and Medellín--and am now in a smaller city called Bucaramanga before heading up to the Caribbean coast and then back to the cold northland. 
I wasn't expecting much from Bogotá as it is a large South American city of around 10 million people. However, the area I stayed in, called Candeleria, had an incredibly bohemian feel to it, boasting tons of cute cafes and bars, lots of beautiful murals, parks, a well-known university, etc. We have artsy neighborhoods in Quito, of course, but this one was the biggest I've seen in South America. Also in Bogotá, I couchsurfed--I can't remember if I've written about couchsurfing before, but if you don't know what it is, you should definitely check it out: couchsurfing.org and watch this inspirational video

So, I couchsurfed for a few days with a girl from Bogotá named Emily. Emily took me all around the center, to museums and parks, to her university, and to a mirador of the city with some of her friends. We drank countless cups of real coffee (another reason to love Colombia) and she treated me to some local food, in addition to explaining all sorts of Colombian history and culture to me. (And her friends taught me the local (inappropriate) slang). Of course Bogotá has slums and sketchy neighborhoods and lots of pollution--in short, it's a large South American city--but it was actually much nicer than I expected. Definitely better than Lima and possibly better than Quito. 
If Bogotá surprised me, Medellín blew me out of the water. In the last couple of decades, it has gone from one of the most dangerous cities in the world (in the 1980s/1990s) and home to the notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar, to being voted the world's most innovative city this year. I traveled there with a New Zealander I met in Bogotá and we both fell in love.  When considering moves within the US, I like to think of the bike-ability of the city, the green spaces, public transportation, access to outdoorsy things, beer and coffee, cultural activities/the music scene, etc. Since living in South America, however, I don't think I've ever actually considered making a serious move to anywhere except for Cuenca, Ecuador, but I think it'd get too small for me. However, I now want to live in Medellín someday. It ranks super high in all of my city-ranking categories. 
First off, it has a spotless, beautiful metro system that costs $1 to get anywhere on it. Plus, the metro connects to two difference cable cars--the first cable cars to be used for public transportation rather than just for sightseeing. They connect people out in the poorer areas to the metro (and the cost is all included). In addition to this, when the mayor was turning the city around, one of his ideas was building some beautiful, covered escalators in the middle of a slum. It was symbolic as well as useful as escalators are generally in large shopping malls. This slum is on a long hill, so now the poorer people don't have to climb wayyy up this hill on their way home from work everyday. Another thing they've done is build libraries all over the city and especially in the poorer areas. Huuuge public libraries for everyone. One part of downtown, where it used to be fatal to go to has now become a park of lights, and next to it, where Escobar and others had their centers of crime, is the ministry of education. 
Also, Medellín is super green. High rise brick buildings jump out of the huge, forested mountains and hills--which is another reason that the public transportation is so important, the landscape. Because of the sheer number of trees and parks and green spaces, the city seems much less polluted than most in South America. I suppose along the biggest streets there might be a tad bit of smog, maybe a little litter, but it's mostly not noticeable. There are great bike paths and a long of cyclists, as the climate is like late spring/early summer all year long.  It's like 80 degrees (F) all year long, with some rain now and again. There's a huge, free, public pool center, with maybe 4 or 5 different pools, open to the public for free as long as you wear a little cap. There's also a large, free, botanical garden with iguanas and things. Not to mention the hip, artsy neighborhoods full of good coffee, beer, and even frozen yogurt, in addition to some of the most delicious street food. Needless to say, I loved Medellín and promise to return someday. Here's an article about the metamorphosis that's happened there, in case you're interested:
http://www.occupy.com/article/metamorphosis-medellin-once-most-dangerous-now-most-innovative-city
*Of course, Medellin still has lots of poverty, drug trafficking, and prostitution. But, the city's violence has decreased by something like 80 percent in the last 20 years. 
And here are some pictures stolen from my Kiwi friend. 
Taking the escalators. 

View from the top of the escalators. 

Cute.

In the cable car. 

2 comments:

  1. Lots of neat things I could comment on from this post but I really just want to say you look beautiful! Your skin in that last photo is flawlessly glowing. Just gorgeous. Miss you, fwisto.

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  2. Well thanks, although the glow you see is just a nice layer of sweat, due to the slightly humid climate and having to take a few steps on the escalators. I suppose I DO have a nice tan though, after a year on the equator.

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