Why did I decide to move to Medellin after Havana didn’t work out due to the American invasion? I had researched Plan B, C and D before I left the Kingdom.I don’t know exactly why, but it was the right choice as I immediately bonded with this city more than any other, except possibly Sydney.
Medellin is intriguing. Twenty years ago most of Columbia was run by Pablo Escobar, who organized the global drug trade. Medellin was declared the most dangerous place on the plant where something as innocuous as going for groceries could prove fatal. A contradictory character Escobar– a bit of a Robin Hood and an elected member of congress – was killed in shoot out with the police in 1993.
His death opened the situation to change. Dedication, planning and determination turned it around. The police – although I suspect there are backrooms-beating as everywhere – have a presence, stroll the streets, are approachable and helpful.
In 2012, the Washington based Urban Land Institute declared Medellin the most “innovative city of the world.” Here you find pedestrian only traffic in the city centre, a cable car service and public transport that is second to none. The cheap little taxis out-number private cars by about eight or nine to one. Why drive when you can be driven? I plan to buy a bike and peddle my way around. After two years of navigating traffic in the Kingdom, I am convinced biking is the best way to go.
Fantastic. Fernando and Wilson – both Columbians who have lived in America and speak better English than many natives – saved me weeks of trying to figure things out. Everything from where to change money to finding an apartment to getting wi-fi hooked up.
The locals are charming, helpful and tolerate of foreigners who don’t speak Spanish.
After just over two weeks of living in my apartment, I am on a first-name and nodding basis with a number of people in the local shops and restaurants.
Colombians have a serious relationship with sweets. Everywhere you look there are people licking ice-cream, slurping sugary drinks or nibbling on cookies and cakes. Size wise they are between the almost anorexic South East Asians and the obese westerners. They are sort of average for the most part. In a curious way they remind me of how people in Saskatchewan looked in the 1950 and 60s before junk food took over.
Some of the women here have a sense of style, which is refreshing after the Kingdom where polyester rules. Females also seems to have more up-front chutzpa, than their Asian counterparts. Although women have control in much of South East Asia, the game-playing and hypocrisy does wear thin.
Thanks to Fernando – who called a real estate agent he knew – I immediately rented a fourth floor one-bedroom apartment in the suburb of Boston – with the emphasis on the “ton” – four days after I landed.
But – gasp, shock horror – the apartment wasn’t furnished. That said, I bought the best desk and chair I’ve ever had for just over $100.
The separate keyboard is on a lower level, which really helps my RSI, corporal tunnel, rheumatism or whatever else it is that has been acting up. Given that I spend eight to 14 hours a day on the computer that isn’t surprising. I’ve started doing stretching exercises – including hand-squeezing weights – and that is working. Consistent with my advanced-denial medial theory, I am going to ignore the annoyance of a bit of pain and keep carrying on.
The bathroom is the size of a USB, so anyone bigger than average would have trouble squeezing in.
There is no key for the front door as there are guards on 24-hour duty. Luis from the front desk just came up to ask me if the plumber was expected to fix a tap. No getting past those boys. Fortunately, I don’t order out for pizza.
Boston is a middle to upper-class Colombian area. Translated that means there aren’t any foreigners lurking about.
After just over a week I have only noticed one seedy looking extranjero wandering around. And he looked either lost or stoned, or perhaps a combination thereof.
In the Kingdom I got in the habit of falling asleep while doing stretching exercises – rather like the days of nodding off while reading – out on the terrace. The Nurse – looking down from her fourth floor penthouse – though it was amusing. Then I would wake up when it was cold and crawl into bed.
There was a bit of a carry-on about a sofa-bed I paid to have delivered last Saturday, but that will be sorted out. Meanwhile, I’m finding the yoga mat is really good for my back.
I’ve tried to explain to Colombians that most of the people in South East Asia sleep on bamboo roll-outs, but they just don’t get it.
Alas, the local fare is too much pizza-pasta-empanada for my liking. There are vegetables everywhere in the markets, but when the Colombians eat out they are carnivores.
And the portions rival North America. It starts with a bowl of soup and follows with a plate with enough food for two. As the ultimate take-away queen, I can work with that and add my own vegetables. It also means I will revert to cooking as I did to survive in Chile and Argentina.
Besides the wonderful friends I made in Cambodia, the choice of food is the one of the things I miss about living in the Kingdom. There was just so much variety and it was so good.
The tap-water here is drinkable and a delightful change from bottled water. I question how “safe” the H2O is after being processed and sitting in plastic for who-knows-how-long. Give me the tap.
Colombians take their time seriously. Hence, rushing is not an adjective that springs to mind. They linger over drinking coffee and eating meals, which is refreshing. People take time to make time.
And rather than playing with their tablets or texting while sitting in a restaurant, Colombians actually talk with each other. What a novel concept that the device-obsessed westerners could benefit from adopting.
People walk, visit and have a sense of a barrio, aka neighbourhood. In the Kingdom, it was a good thing the French had the foresight to build wide sidewalks for promenades as otherwise there wouldn’t have been anywhere for people to park their SUVs. Even to get to the next street, Cambodians hop on a moto-dop. Short of the river front, nobody walked anywhere.
And westerners just meander off in their cars, without talking with anyone.
So being back in a walking culture – shades of Surrey Hills – is truly rejuvenating.
People in frozen Canada and those sweltering in the antipodes might want to skip this paragraph. Although Medellin is close to the equator, the elevation of 1,500m means the temperature generally ranges from 15c to a maximum of 30c with the average being 22c to 24c. This is tee-shirt wearing weather for most, except for the wimp I am, who needs a jacket for anything less than 25c.
The shops, supermarkets, convenience stores, bars, restaurants. locksmiths and florists are everywhere along the major and some of the secondary streets. There is everything within a block or two at the most from my apartment. Pet stores abound and the landmark for the corner of my street – complete with a huge sign and a distinct smell – is Dog Chow.
Just down the road is a place that sells eggs. Only eggs and you can buy one or 20,000. The amusing contradiction of this – and so many stores – is that they have grated-locked doors and serving areas. Okay, so I can understand the places that sell cigarettes, liquor, and other things that thieves might want to go after, but eggs?
I suspect the locked-door practice is a left over from the Escobar days.
There are more red-headed women per capita than I’ve even seen. My tint is almost a yawn. The contradiction is that I brought 20 applications with me from the Kingdom, so once I have worked my way through those I will start looking at the local colours. My mother will truly be horrified when I show up in August.
For the first time since 1994, I’m living with electricity is that is 110v, rather than 220. Fortunately computers and mobiles are dual voltage and I don’t have many toys. So North Americans who come to visit are fine; those from the antipodes will need a converter.
My baby Spanish has reached the point that I can carry on simple conversations and get what I want. Y todas los dias etudio espanol. The more I learn of the language, the better I like it and there is no choice as the people in this area don’t speak English. Nada.
I’ve been in Medellin for 15 days. All in all, I’d say that things are falling into place. Now I just need to get on the Internet and find some work.
I hope all goes well with you and that your life is unfolding as you want it to as we graze into the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram or whatever you want to call it.