Medellin: exploring neighborhoods
Our first day started with a 3.5/4 hour walking tour with Real City Tours Medellin, which I mentioned in a previous post. The tour was fantastic and I highly recommend doing a walking tour with that company. Our guide, Juan, was knowledgeable, friendly, humorous, and inserted his opinions about policy and politics every now and then and it really made the tour and the information he shared about his city and country that much more interesting. On this tour, I learned virtually all I know about Medellin and Colombia and I am looking for good books to learn more. South America, in general, is a place I know little about and I want to educate myself.
After our walking tour, my friends and I road the Metro and the Cables to the Santo Domingo neighborhood. We tagged along with some nice Germans who were in our tour group. One of them, Joanna, was a student and had been studying in Ecuador for a year so her Spanish was impeccable. Since there were a lot of instructions to deal with, I asked her if we could go with her group of friends - other Germans she had just met in her hostel - and they said yes.
The cables are part of the public transportation system of Medellin and were originally built to link the poorer neighborhoods at the top of the hills to the city center and drastically cut down on travel time. They are safe, monitored by public transit officials, and very clean. They are extremely proud of their public transit and it shows. Once we got to the top of the “cable mountain” we took some photos and then rode them back down. We were going to walk around but were told that there isn’t that much to see. What was amazing to me, and is something I’ve not really seen a lot of since my previous travel was in Europe, was the level of poverty that was obvious from some of the housing structures.
The houses are just built on the sides of the mountains and seemingly one on top of the other and with very simple materials. I don’t know how much rain Medellin gets - as mentioned - it hailed our first afternoon there, but I can’t imagine some of those homes are very protected from the rain. The roofs are corrugated metal. It was just such a contrast from where we were staying, in a pretty fancy and modern 3 bed, 3 bath apartment complex.
After heading back down the mountain on the cables (not slow, but not fast) we found the tiny bus from the San Javier Metro station that went in the direction of the escaleras mecanicas (the outdoor escalators). Just like the cables, the escalators are meant to connect a poorer neighborhood to the main part of the city by allowing shorter travel times.The streets of Medellin are winding and hilly (think Lombard Street in San Francisco). In this case, the neighborhood is Comuna 13, here’s another link if you’re interested in the history. If you have watched Narcos, you may have seen some of this neighborhood, since it was once the center of violence and drug wars. In addition to the escalators, there are some amazing and beautiful public murals that adorn the walls of Comuna 13. When I go back, I’d do the walking tour that I linked above of just that neighborhood.
After our afternoon wandering the interesting neighborhoods, taking photos, and kind of getting lost for a bit. I asked, in Spanish, what the name of a street was in Comuna 13 as we were trying to get an Uber. HAHAHAHAHA. Let’s just say Uber’s don’t go to that neighborhood. Also, street signs were non-existent. I asked a man in my terrible Spanish, “que es el nombre de este calle?” (what is the name of this street?). The man looked at me bewildered and told me the street didn’t have a name. Oh really? I was thinking. The next day when we were walking around I had a midday epiphany that even though I’d ask that question that way in English, the streets in the neighborhood we were in were numbered and thus I should have asked what street we were on, or what was the number of the street, etc. I was excited that I realized my mistake later because at first, I thought the man was trying to fool me.
Instead of getting a taxi or an Uber, we whipped out our phones and mapped our route and then started walking back to the train station with plans to get an Uber from there. We were hungry and needed to rest up for what was going to be our night out in Medellin.
This day reminds me that two women at different points in the day told me to put my phone away because they were worried for my safety. I really appreciated how friendly the locals were about this because it makes me think “hey, women are looking out for one another!” and they must obviously not think tourists are terrible and want us to come back and encourage other people to go to Medellin. I had my phone out two times while we were waiting for our Uber, both in busy places, and both women came up and told me, in Spanish and in English, to be careful and put it away. I never felt unsafe or threatened in Medellin. Would I go there alone? Probably not until I am fluent in Spanish speaking. Even then, I am not sure. I will repeat myself and say that I never felt unsafe, but I stand out more there as a pale, dark blonde woman who is a bit taller than most of the locals than I do when I travel Europe alone and am often approached and spoken to in the local language. Standing out makes me uncomfortable and leaves me feeling like I am a target. So, being with two friends, I felt comfortable and did feel a little silly and like a dumb tourist for being told by the locals to put my phone away, but I needed to keep track of our ride’s arrival.
Anyway, cool story bro, I’m sure you’re thinking, you’re just some white lady who has never felt like a target and now you know how a lot of people feel. That is not the idea I was trying to convey, but more of understanding and thinking that no one should ever have to feel that way.
Anyway, more on Medellin on Wednesday, our last day and my crazy story. Then I will wrap up the restaurants the following week.