Bienvenido a MedellĂ­n

As I sit here on the terrace of my hotel with my small bottle of Ron Medellin Anejo, over looking the the sprawling metropolis of Medellin, I think of only a few places that can match the anticipation of arrival than here. Chiang Mai, Thailand and Hong Kong are two that come to mind. I had heard so much about Medellin before arriving. Whether it was how wonderful it is by Colombian-Americans or how bad it is by mainstream media. I remember in 2005 reading an article in National Geographic about how utterly hopeless the city was and how crime was rampant and the era of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartels were still having it’s toll. Now, I’m not saying Medellin is Pleasantville, but sometimes it takes a little effort to see the good in a place that for a long time earned its image.

The trip from Bogota was about 10 hours. We stopped once for a break and a couple times to let people on and off, but for the most part it was a pretty straight forward journey. It was a gorgeous drive passing through some really stunning scenery. At some points we were eye level with clouds.

I arrived in Medellin at sunset. I never like arriving in a new city at night but it tends to happen more often than not because I prefer taking long bus rides during the day. You see the outskirts of Medellin for about 30 minutes upon arriving because you’re winding down the mountain side. I was completely grin faced the entire time because I felt Bogota was a bit of a let down and the way Medellin is situated in between the mountains is exactly the type of city I liked. Bogota is higher in elevation but Medellin is tucked away more so the mountains envelop the city. Again, coming from Florida, mountains are such eye candy.

I’m staying at Tiger Paw Hostel which is located in El Poblado. Within El Poblado is Parque Lleras which is more specific to my location. The guide book wasn’t lying when it said this was an upscale trendy spot with nightclubs and bars spread throughout a 3×3 block. I think since the time of the writing in Lonely Planet there have been about 3 or 4 more blocks added. Tiger Paw is owned by an American ex-pat and there are a few home comforts here that I’m excited to be able to use. He has a sports bar with about 5 flat screen high definition tv’s with NFL Sunday Ticket and College Gameday. Before I even showed up I had a hunch that this guy was a Clemson alum because of the name “Tiger Paw,” and hilariously enough the place is painted in orange and purple, the school colors of the Clemson Tigers. I know some of you reading this might be thinking, why travel to a new continent to get so comfortable? I have no answer to that, it’s just how I do things.

Parque Lleras… what can I say. It’s not exactly “Colombia” as you might imagine it but it is part of the scene here in Medellin. It’s where the youth come in droves to party late into the night. There are a ton of restaurants and clubs. You can get all kinds of food, Thai, Lebonese, Mexican… and wait for it. There is a Hooters. There are also a bunch of other American themed restaurants, but I can assure you I will not be going to any of them.

The Search for El Museo

I had a slow start to my morning but after breakfast and photo uploading I headed to centro Medellin. The metro station (yes METRO station) is about a 15 minute walk and a 1800 peso trip to Parque Berrios. I’m loving the money in Colombia, it has gotten very easy to use and my ability to count in Spanish now is helping A LOT. I wandered around a bit and was met with a more authentic Medellin. Much like any city it is busy and full of shops, restaurants and street stalls. I sat down to lunch and had Trucha a La Milanes (trout) and then headed off in search of El Museo de Antioquia. (museum of antiques)

My search for the museum was quite interesting. As I was crossing Parque Berrios a Colombian woman in her 40’s or 50’s approached me and said, “De donde eres?” (where are you from?) to which I replied, “Estados Unidos.” (You can figure that one out) She started to tell me in Spanish about how she had a husband in California, she asked me what part of the U.S. and if I was single. I started getting a little sketched out by her so I grabbed my bag and pulled it to the front of me and held the opening closed. I have read about scams where one person distracts you and another lifts your possessions. Maybe she was just being friendly but a little extra procaution on my first day in Medellin couldn’t hurt.

I politely said goodbye to the lady and headed off in the direction that I thought the museum was. Unfortunately, I read the map wrong and thought I was looking for Calle 57 for awhile but the museum was actually on Calle 52.. I headed north along the rail tracks and started noticing the business district was giving way to a more, how should I say… unappealing neighborhood. I thought to myself, this can’t be right and like the good traveler I am I stopped to make sure I was heading in the right direction. Unfortunately, my bad decision was reinforced when a shop owner said I was going the right way and that I had to continue a few more blocks. I eventually made it to Calle 57 where I was met with local seedy bars and beer kiosks under the rail tracks. I figured I should probably take a break from walking and sat down at one of the bars and had a beer. I asked the girl working if I was close to it and where I had to go and she directed me back to the way I came… that was when I looked at my map and realized my mistake.

I noticed the activity of the area I was in became less active and a bit more sketchy. I can’t believe it took only 4 blocks to go from one extreme to the other. As beautiful as Medellin had been so far, it’s dark side emerged pretty quickly. There were a couple of cracked out homeless people, which I expect anywhere I go but sadly I also saw two very provocatively dressed young girls huffing glue and twitching as they walk aimlessly around.. I don’t even want to think about how the young girls get their money to support the addiction. They couldn’t have been over 16 years old. Every city has a dark side though, so I was not completely surprised and I had heard of the problem well before arrival. It was just a bit surprising to hit me so fast.

I finally made it to the art museum that houses a ton of Fernando Botero paintings and sculptures. He is Colombia’s most famous artist and if you GIS him you will see some of his work and probably recognize it. It is downright ridiculous and pretty entertaining for a late afternoon. I headed back to my hostel where I am writing now. Not sure what’s going on tonight.