Medellin

Medellin. I have had a hard time writing this post, and I’m not entirely sure why. It could have to do with a few different factors: 1) I spent 6 days there, so there’s a lot to talk about; 2) my opinion on the city wavered, starting a little negative but improving toward the end; 3) I had two friends from San Francisco in town, and while it was awesome at the time, now at almost 3 months away from SF it does make me a little sad to think about; or 4) Medellin was my goodbye to Colombia, a country I thoroughly enjoyed, and to some extent it was also my goodbye to planned travel; I had no idea what trajectory I would take to get to Bolivia.

So having prefaced this post with all of that, I’ll try to summarize my feelings on the week as best I can.

Medellin is a metropolis. Probably the most modern city in Colombia, it has come a long way in recent years. It is loved by travelers and we are loved by it; people wanted to talk to us, take pictures with us, and welcome us to their city.

My initial impression was not positive. It was crowded, dirty, with main attractions running alongside shady areas. I witnessed fights being broken up by cops and thieves running en mass away from who knows what, all while touring the popular sites. Everything seemed further away than it initially looked on the map. It was still effing hot. Parque Lleras, the main place to go out, consisted of groups of foreigners trickling in together looking confused, eliciting the reaction: “A new hostel just got here.” Everyone wandered around looking for fun and found not much of anything. And to top it off, we were there during the Feria de las Flores (Flower Festival), supposedly the biggest cultural event of the year, and we didn’t see it anywhere or feel any sort of excited energy.

Where was the amazing city I’d heard so much about? “Medellin is the best! You’ll love it!” “It’s my favorite city, I have to go back.” “Nightlife is unreal! Medellin is so much fun!”

Maybe this was the problem. I had heard so much hype about how amazing Medellin was that I was initially disappointed. So I took a step back, got out of town for a day, and resumed my exploration of the city with Andy (when he didn’t have work anymore) and Matt (when he was awake).

Then things started to improve. We had a great weekend that balanced tourist activities and general city wandering. Friday we did the free walking tour, which was informative without being drawn out. Saturday we took the Metrocable up to Parque Arvi; the view is truly worth it, and leaves a mixed impression of awe at the scale of the city with unsettling at the conditions that people are living in. It was entirely worth seeing. Plus the market at the park was a highlight; a great place to get gifts and local treats. That afternoon we spent an hour or two just enjoying a beer in a bamboo garden, catching up. Sunday we searched for a place to play tejo, unsuccessfully (I guess I will never get to try this game, sigh), and ended up watching a local soccer game before going to the Flower Festival parade. The parade was actually really enjoyable – we finally found the festival! We watched some of the silleteros walk by carrying their impressive flower displays on their backs, and we wandered the streets with other locals enjoying this big celebration. This was my last night, so Andy, Matt and I made dinner at the hostel and just hung out, something that was so comfortably fun for me with friends from home.

The weekend was also a big improvement for the nightlife. Thursday night happy hour at the Tres Cordilleras brewery gave us a chance to taste all their beers, ones with actual flavor like wheats and IPAs (something I probably appreciated more since I’d been drinking the local watery-flavored beer of Brazil and Colombia for weeks) and Friday night out around Parque Lleras was much more what we were expecting. The only downside was the nightly rain; it would’ve been much better if everyone didn’t have to run and hide in packed bars, we still didn’t feel like we got the true Parque Lleras experience.

By the end, I did enjoy Medellin. It took me a little while to warm up to it, but the city does have a lot to offer. It took just wandering through some new neighborhoods to get there, but that’s how I have been enjoying cities anyway. The center was full of stories and interesting locations but it didn’t seem livable. Getting outside of the center helped tone down the city.

As for having Andy and Matt around, I am so happy they came while I was there. It has been great to have had friends around for parts of this journey, and I hope it continues. But leaving them I knew that I didn’t have anyone joining me again until December, so it was a strange feeling to say goodbye. It felt a lot more final than goodbyes had before. It didn’t help that this coincided with a lot of events at home that are hard to miss – Outside Lands, a close friend’s bachelorette weekend, and prep for Burning Man. All at the 2 months of travel mark, where it’s no longer a vacation and now a life.

I’ve had more time to process this and move on from Medellin and, as evidenced by a recent post from Quito, I am ok with it. Yes I am sad to miss these events, but I know that what I’m doing is right for me right now, and that these friends will be in my life for so much longer that a year away won’t make any difference in the end.

And lasty, leaving Medellin I entered a period of uncertainty: no plans to meet up with people, no planes or hostels booked, and an itinerary that was changing every day. I didn’t know what country I would be in by the end of the week, let alone what city or how I was getting there. That may sound kind of crazy, but it actually feels not just exciting, but like it’s about damn time I just wing it. For anyone who’s been reading along, this probably sounds a little bit like when I left Rio, so you’ll just have to trust me when I say that this feels bigger. But it also means that Medellin has become another marker along this year of adventure, and I’m sure it’s not the last.

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