When I told an Ecuadorian friend that I was going to Medellín, Colombia for a week, she told me that she would never go to Medellín, because, “I'm afraid.”
Well, the news here is that there's a lot more to be afraid of in Quito than in Medellín. The reputation of Medellín, of course, is permanently that of the capital of the Pablo Escobar cocaine cartel. Escobar was hunted down and finally killed by a combo of Colombian and US police in 1993. That's 18 years ago, gang. And, a lot can change in 18 years. (For example, I am wiser but fatter. But not as fat as the people in Fernando Botero's paintings.)
According to at least two people we talked to about the quality of life in Medellín, told us the livability of the city has improved remarkably in the years since the Colombian soccer player Andrés Escobar (no relation) was murdered there for scoring an own goal for the United States in the 1994 World Cup. The cartels have been moved out–some say to Ecuador–and, while there are some obvious junkies in some parts of the city, mostly we saw modern clean wide streets, mass transit that works, a plethora of nice al fresco restaurants, and beautiful people walking around enjoying the beautiful weather.
No shootings, robberies, or dog shit in the street anyway…which is a lot more than you can say for Quito.
We arrived in Medellín early afternoon Saturday. Our friend Duane, who spends most of his time in Santa Fe, a small town an hour out of Medellín, arranged for his friend Nicolas to pick us up at the airport and take us to the hotel. The airport is about an hour outside of central Medellín, which is common for Andean cities where a large plot of flat land is at a premium. Nicolas piled us all, and all Duane's luggage, into his small car and gave us a running travelogue of all the things we had to see while we made our way along the new, winding road, into central Medellín. Nicolas charged us $25. I'm trying to remember what an hour cab ride in the U.S. costs, but I lost count when I got to $200.
We stayed at the Estelar Blue Hotel in the Poblado neighborhood, which we sort of figured out is a nice upper middle class neighborhood full of shopping, nice apartments, and very good restaurants. The hotel was modern, and fully up to U.S. chain standards. (The rate, including high speed internet, full breakfast, light supper, and really good service, was $91 a night. I recommend it.)
The hotel was about a 10-block walk from Parque Lleras, which is a small park two blocks long and less than a block wide. It's attraction, other than being a nice little spot of green where lots of young lovers meet to smooch before curfew, is that it's surrounded by lots of excellent restaurants, and we tried several.
Saturday night, we poked around most of the offerings until we decided on a street side table at Basilica, which provided both cool breezes and great people watching. (Ok, the food was good, too. Kris had a Peruvian style fish and pea dish and I had sushi. I mentioned a while back that the sushi in South America is great. I stick to that.)
But, back to the people watching. Some say it's a leftover from the Cocaine Cowboy days, but, for whatever the reason, a surprising number of young Colombian women find it necessary to, shall we say, invest in their appearance.
This manifests itself in stylish dress, of course, but that doesn't necessarily distinguish the Colombianas from women in any other high fashion city. What does distinguish is that Medellín consciously promotes itself as a center for “medical tourism.” Do I have to be any clearer? If I'm not clear, let me also mention that it's warm year round in Medellín, so the above mentioned stylish attire's signature characteristic is absolute abhorrence of excess material.
Anyway, it wasn't long before Kris and I started a people watching game between ourselves. We called it “Real or Holy Fucking Shit!” and it spurred several spirited debates about the definition of the Spanish word “demasiado,” which can be translated as “too much” or, alternatively, “Holy Fucking Shit!”
Of course, there are lots of other reasons for visiting Medellín, although I can't remember any of them right now.