Magnificent, Majestic, Medellin

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 a city of flowers.
Medellin is a city of flowers.

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.

The people

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.

The apartment

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.

Edificio Bachue, the 14 story apartment where I live.
Edificio Bachue, the 14 story apartment building where I live.

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.

Having a lower level makes such a difference.
Having a lower level makes such a difference.

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.

And here is a view from my window.
And here is a view from my window.
Good kitchen so I am cooking with gas.
Good kitchen so I am cooking with gas.

The bathroom is the size of a USB, so anyone bigger than average would have trouble squeezing in.

The bathroom was not made for westerners.
The bathroom was not made for westerners.

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.

Luis and the guards control the door. No key needed.
Luis and the guards control the door. No key needed.

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.

Me an' the yoga mat are getting on very well.
Me an’ the yoga mat are getting on very well.

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.

The food

Alas, the local fare is too much pizza-pasta-empanada for my liking. IMG_7288There 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.

The lifestyle

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.

Talking with Marija who runs El Restaurante Recetario
Talking with Marija who runs El Restaurante Recetario.

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.

The climate

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.

Hard to miss Dog Chow.
Hard to miss 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.

Avenue de Playa at night.
Avenue de Playa at night.

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.

Hasta luego,





Havana: I Spent a Year There One Week

The Plan

Restless, a touch bored – always dangerous – I decided to move to Havana on 10 December 2015. Cuba_rel94The hot season in the Kingdom was looming. Three months of relentless heat hovering about 40c makes you sweat from pores you didn’t even know you had – like your fingernails.

And for some reason I wanted to return to the Americas. Much as I enjoyed the people I met, the culture of Cambodia and the terrace on my apartment, the monks were starting to remind me of choir boys. It was time to go.

My only concern with Havana was the Internet. But the research confirmed that the technical whiz kids were finding ways to get around the second most unconnected country – North Korean is first – using proxy servers in neighboring countries and such.

Then on 17 December 2015, the pretend American president announced that the United States was normalizing relations with Cuba. Opening up? Who are these xenophobic idiots? People from other countries – except the Americans who think they are the only ones who count – have always been able to visit. Hells bells, I went there on a holiday in 1978.

All of a sudden things weren’t looking so good as America’s first promise was to improve the Internet and every second article focused on that topic. Translated that meant they are going to shut down the innovations and control cyber space in the land of cigars and run. Why the bastards can’t mind their own business is a topic best left for discussion at another time.


Although it is a questionable term, “quaint” is the adjective that best describes the capital.

The 1950s and 60s cars are belching and farting some of the worst pollution ever. Getting stuck behind one of them is gas-mask material. Some newer vehicles have been imported, so that is another market the Americans are going to try to weasel in on.

I stayed in a small apartment that was part of a three-generation accommodation. Lydia and Luis are in their 80s and still holding hands.IMG_7241 Jorge is 50 something; Lester is his 29-year old son who works two jobs. Lester could have found the geeks for me in about 10 minutes, but with the Americans invading, I knew it wasn’t going to work.

Spending time with the family – with all the coming and going of various friends and relatives – was the highlight of my trip. It was wonderful to be part of a functioning three-generation arrangement and Jorge told me I was most welcome early in the piece. A Hilton is a Hilton is a Hilton, but real people who include you in their lives are far more interesting.


Given my erratic lifestyle I always have Plan B, C and possibly D. Before I left the Kingdom I’d done the research and decided on Medellin, Columbia. My mother was not exactly impressed. “Isn’t it dangerous there?”

“Yes and no. Twenty years ago it was declared the most risky city on the planet. That was when Pablo Escobar was running the drug cartels. But is 2012 the Washington based Urban Land Institute named Medellin as the most innovative city in the world.”

My mother would still rather I moved to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, but that isn’t going to happen at minus 23 with a wind chill of minus 47.

Booking a ticket

Most people go to Cuba on all-inclusive tours and don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy of the country. The Spanish have a word, trametie, which describes time-consumption and inefficiently.

First of all I had to go to the government Internet shop. It costs $4.50 an hour and as there were only four computers, there was always a line-up. No, I couldn’t use my lap-top as they don’t have wi-fi and plugging into the system is not allowed. Nobody could tell me why, but it is a rule, which can neither be bent nor broken. Trametie, trametie, trametie.

After two days I finally found a one-way ticket to Medellin with Copa and booked. But the government shop couldn’t print, so I had to send it to myself as an email, lug my laptop up to the Hotel Havana Libre and pay $10 an hour to use their wi-fi.

I had the booking numbers, but they wanted a hard-copy of the ticket and the printer wasn’t working. They said it would be functioning tomorrow. At this point I was beginning to wonder if I would have to call on my friend, Leo – a security person who offered me unconditional protection when I left Sydney – to get me off the island. Getting the printer fixed could take four days and I was due to fly out in two.

Disgruntled, I went off for another feast of rice, beans, some sort of undisclosed meat and rum. The food was so-so, but the Havana Club was good. Can you ever drink too much rum in Cuba? No, it is what fortifies you for the no es facil – it is not easy – lifestyle there.

That said, the people are friendly, helpful and tolerant of those who can’t speak Spanish well. When I got lost – which happened frequently – locals would walk me to where I was going, even though it was out of their way.


Although my flight wasn’t until 15:30, I like to be at the airport early. I slept in – the apartment was so quiet and I didn’t have an alarm – but I still arrived before the gates had opened for boarding. Jorge had arranged for one of his friends to take me. He wasn’t an accredited driver so I paid cash before we left.

Insha’Allah, a puff of ju-ju smoke and a bit of my Buddah and the plane took off headed for Medellin via Bogota almost exactly one week to the hour after I had arrived.

It is unfortunate the Americans are invading Cuba in March 2015. On the one hand I will be able to say I was one of the last people to see Havana as it was. On the other, I would have liked to have found the geeks and worked from there.

But there are adventures waiting in Medellin, so stay tuned for the next blog.