Medellin: Two Weeks Deep
Medellin: Two Weeks Deep
Medellin: ‘The city of Eternal Spring’, or as I was exhaustively informed by a bunch of people who’ve never travelled anywhere: Medellin: ‘The city where I better watch the fuck out.’
It’s true that Colombia has a lingering reputation for danger. Escobar’s ruthless Medellin Cartel and an ongoing 50 year civil war with the FARC rebels have helped considerably in this department. But the Cartels have been dead for decades and the fledging FARC is now isolated to only the deepest and most obscure corners of the rainforest. I’d by lying if I denied that the cities dangerous past didn’t give it a strangely sexy edge, but even if none of this had ever occurred, the girls here would ensure that it’s sexiness factor was still smashing through the roof.
To me, this all made for an exciting backdrop to learn Spanish in – something which I decided about seven months ago. I could barely call myself a traveller without exploring Latin America, and I’d only be doing so as a lost idiot without getting a decent grounding in the worlds second most spoken language, first.
I suck at languages by the way. I’m always slightly embarrassed to admit the full extent of my tenure in Italy – so freaking bad is my Italian. Fortunately, my modus operandi for self-improvement is largely based around forging a pressure point of frustration at some deficiency in my life – and then bludgeoning away at it like a psychopath. Ergo, This is my itinerary for the next two to three months:
From Monday to Friday I have 4 hours of intensive language classes at the private Universidad de EAFIT, followed by a good hour and a half of homework. On top of that I’m forced to put my fledging language skills into action just about every time I leave my apartment, and am spending at least an hour a day on Duolingo.com (which is amazing value given it’s free). Finally, for good measure, I’m practicing as much as I can with some very cute Colombianas, even if it constantly involves me pulling black stares while sheepishly reaching for the Google translate on my Xperia. Sometime amongst all this, I manage my little online business.
Despite my brain always been on the precipice of melting, I really like the place. Medellin is set in a deep valley surrounded by hills, providing an amazing view of the city set far below as you drive into it from the international airport, set beyond the hills. While the city has little in terms of the colonial architecture that has made Cartegena a superstar, the uniform terracotta brick towers that rise up from its tropical forest base lend it a truly unique style. The moniker of ‘eternal spring’ owes to the palatability of its year round temperature.
El Poblado is known as the wealthier part of town and also serves as the location of my apartment (above), a place encroaching on Cartel luxury and conveniently placed amongst the trendy and secure Parque Lleras district, the hub of Medellin’s top restaurants, bars and clubs (some of them positively looney). It’s also within walking distance to my language school, though I personally choose to cash in the 35 minute walk for an extra 35 minutes of sleep in the morning, and catch a taxi for the harrowing sum of 5000 pesos ($US2.50)
Furthermore the people are all very, very nice. Everyone gives their best effort in attempting to comprehend me, while doing so with a genuine smile. Those who do understand English get very chatty, often casually revealing all sorts of eyebrow raising insights into Medellin’s past and people.
Despite the relative safety of the city now, men in the 35+ age group are far outweighed by women – a direct correlation to the Cartel violence of the 80’s and 90’s. Just about everyone has lost someone via some absurdly violent means. One local I was talking to, Mauricio, mentioned that his uncle had just being shot 22 times, but while also conceding ‘he was a dick to people’. While most people are simply nice for nice sake, there in some cases lies a darker motive for it – you can’t afford to be a dick here. With most rebel and paramilitary units now disbanded, the country has an excess of unemployed professional killers. Mauricio and others told me that they all had the number of someone in ‘waste disposal’, happy to do a hit for $300. He gave me a perky nod and handed me a blank card with a number on it. It’d sure be handy if these guys could work out of Kings Cross back in Sydney. That place is overdue for a dickhead cleanup.
Now this is Colombia, so we’re going to talk about drugs now. And the biggest takeaway I’ve gotten so far is that it’s nothing like you might think: it’s actually much, much more ridiculous. If you’re walking around with a gram of cocaine and 20 grams of marijuana, and the police catch you, you’ve got no worries – since carrying said quantity for personal use is permitted by Colombian law. Despite the long time disbandment of the Cartels and America’s fruitless ‘War on Drugs’, acquiring cocaine is often no harder than turning to the person nearest to you and asking ‘Tienes Cocaine?” It sells for $5 a gram or less, with ‘premium product’ rarely going for more than $10. And it’s largely uncut, ergo strong.
The knock on effects of the drugs proliferance can be seen in the nightlife. In a few clubs I’ve been too, the line to the mens cubicle has been abnormally long, and I knew something was up when every guy who came out looked far more pleased with himself than say the average guy who just took a shit.
Beyond the shady cultivation of cocoa leaves, Colombia does tropical fruits and coffee very well. I kid you not, the mangos I’ve eaten in South East Asia were pond scum compared to the ones I’ve gotten here, and for the first time in my life, I’ve been smashing the filter coffee.
Probably the most overwhelming factor to grasp is the fact that Medellin is the only place I’ve been to in Colombia thus far, never mind Latin America. Over the Easter period my language school takes a break so I’ll be up in Cartagena on the Colombian-Caribbean Coast. I have an ungodly amount of things I want to do on this continent, which is all the more motivation for me to getting this language thing handled so I can do them at full throttle. Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Mexico, and Cuba: You’re next after Colombia. But for now, I’m enjoying Medellin.