Medellliiiinn, what up!?! I am literally in love with Colombia, so far. First impressions? People in this city are SUPER friendly, weather is amazing (like 80 and sunny during the day), arepas de choclo are maybe the best food invented, so. many. hills (more like mountains), and all with the constant background salsa music. After a bit of a slump in Lima, I’m back on track.
This month’s apartment is a three-bedroom on the top of a huge hill (no, but seriously so steep, my legs oy). Reward of being up so high is a stunning view of the city and sunset. And we have a hammock to take it all in. We keep the balcony doors open for tons of sunlight and fresh air. The building also has a pool/hot tub and gym so definitely worth the climb.
We are working out of Selina Coworking space. You may have heard the name before, there are Selinas all over the world. Very trendy and hip. It’s located right next to a beautiful creek/waterfall and is in the El Poblado neighborhood. The area itself has a bunch of cool cafes, boutiques, and bars. And oh by the way, it’s a literal urban jungle with all the greenery.
Where to begin…
- Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia, behind only the capital of Bogota, and is home to 2.5 million people. Our El Poblado neighborhood is the nicest of the 16 communas that make up the city.
- ‘City of Eternal Spring’. The weather is beautiful here year round (here means Medellin, Bogota is colder) and has only two seasons: summer and rainy. We are just out of rainy season and haven’t seen really any yet. It does get a bit hazy though from pollution and it does not clear from the valley easily.
- The people. I got stank eyes on day one for not saying ‘buenos dias’ to a woman, just everyone says hello to you. And most will ask how you are and genuinely seem to care. They’re also very loud, bold, and great at salsa dancing. Lots of fun to be around. They’re also the tallest of the Latin Americans we’ve seen and very curvy 😛
- Arepas. I had these corn cakes for the first time in Chile, but they are a staple here. Venezuela is really said to have made them first and their version is like a pita sandwich with fillings inside the corn patties. In the Colombian version, the extras sit on top. Arepas de choclo are made with choclo corn which is very naturally sweet. This cake served with queso fresco is perfecto. Learned how to make arepas from locals this week, too! 1 cup water, 1 cup cornmeal, ½ tsp salt, cook on griddle then in oven or over fire.
- The metro. Medellin is very proud of their metro because it transformed the city. Opened in 1995, it was a symbol of accomplishment and pride during otherwise hard times, and it encouraged tourism to new areas. The metro lines include trains, buses, and gondolas up into the high hills. Brilliant! Highly recommend riding, only $0.80 per ride.
- The currency is the Colombian peso. 1 USD is ~3,500 pesos, so divide the price of something by 3,000 and you’ll be pleasantly surprised when it’s actually cheaper than you thought.
- Spanish here is clearer than in Chile but holy moly, so fast. Common slang includes ‘eh, avemaria’ instead of oh my god, and ‘echar los perros’ which literally means ‘to send the dogs’ but is used as ‘to flirt’. But actually, I’ve heard men say this.
- The flag is yellow, blue, red horizontal stripes. The yellow is the largest to represent the natural resource of gold, the blue for the oceans/seas, and the red for the blood shed in order to gain independence as a country.
- The slang name for Medallin is Medallo. People from this Medallin/coffee region (Paisa) are called paisas.
- Uber is illegal here, but it’s still the recommended way to get around because tracking, etc. Just have to sit in the front seat.
- Venezuelan refugees. In every city we’ve been to in South America, this has been a topic but here especially because the countries are neighbors. A local I met with estimated over 1 million refugees can be found in Colombia, of the 4.5 million that have left in total. While most are here illegally, Colombia recently gave citizenship to a large set of Venezuelan refugee children that were born on Colombian soil. Such a huge crisis, I could never sum it up.
- December 8th marks the official start of Christmas in Colombia! 12/7 is the eve of the Immaculate Conception in the Catholic religion. It’s celebrated in the Paisa region with Día de las Velitas, Day of the Little Candles. People lights candles in their home, along the street, and in public parks. Fireworks have been going since the beginning of the month to also ring in the season.
- Fun fact: Instead of the tooth fairy, Colombia has El Ratón or Ratoncito Pérez, a fictional mouse that comes around and picks up the teeth children leave under their pillow. Think I’d rather not imagine a mouse coming near my bed, that’s just me.
A week in review…
- As with every country it seems that I’ve been to, by uncle connected me with a student of his here in Medellin. Jenny is from Venezuela but here as of 4 years ago due to the situation there. She lives here with her son Andres, 15, and her boyfriend Omar.
- Spend the evening with the three of them at their private club, El Rodeo, an oasis in the center of the city. Walked around the grounds, saw the horses, the pool, and watched Andres play tennis.
- Jenny is a fascinating lady. She did her doctoral work with my uncle on food insecurity in Venezuelan children. She now works as a part-time professor, part-time nutrition consultant, and part-time small business owner translating nutrition labels from country to country. I greatly enjoyed our conversation and learned a lot.
- RY Language and Culture class, one of my favorite activities every month. Great intro to the city.
- Also took a walk around the El Poblado neighborhood. Found a cool outdoor gym with a full weight set chained to the ground, and of course, an outdoor soccer court.
- Took a spin class at Cyglo….in Spanish. Didn’t quite understand it all but I knew ‘arriba!’
- Morning hike with Pareans to Cerro de Tres Cruces, ubered there and did the hike in 90 minutes. Great hike and fun because locals use it for their morning workout. Lots of company on the trail and of course, salsa music out of lots of speakers. Beautiful start to the day.
- RY event: Arepas with Cousins. We were welcomed into the home of a local family and they taught us how to make arepas. They were DELICIOUS and I ate too many. We also got to try ‘guarapo’, a yummy sugar cane juice. Was nice to be in a home and the hosts were stereotypically boisterous Colombians, in the best way.
- Parea First Friday at Panorama Rooftop Bar. First night out did not disappoint, the good weather keeps everyone out and most bars in the area are indoor/outdoor. Just walking the El Poblado streets with all the music puts you in a good mood.
- 7 hour walk about the city with Dawn for a full tour of Medellin. First stop was Plaza Botero and downtown. The artist Botero features his ‘fat’ statues in this square, next to the Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture. Hard to describe just how busy the area was this Saturday, but picture Hanoi with fewer motorbikes, the sound of salsa instead of honking, and all of the same cheap clothing vendors but way less conservative.
- For the best view, the one you see on Google, pretend like you’re a guest in the Nutibara Hotel and get yourself to the 10th Can see the metro in the foreground and park behind.
- Next we made our way to Pueblito Paisa, a tiny village on the top of a hill in the center of the city. It was a bit underwhelming because there was construction all over, but cool views.
- Made our way back through areas that are much more like what I imagined Colombia to be, bustling and not so manicured.
- Gelato at Arte Dolce before face planting into bed for a nap.
- Dinner at Mercado del Rio, the Timeout Market of Medellin, with a bunch of hip food vendors.
- Christmas festivities at a nearby park, complete with a plastic ice skating rink and a snow area with little white foam balls. Also a band playing no Christmas music I’d ever heard, Latin version.
- Annnnddd as if I didn’t love Medellin enough, started Sunday with a visit to the local farmer’s market in Presidenta park. The fresh food all looked amazing.
- Took metro out to Communa 13, once the most dangerous neighborhood in the world. Before exploring, we took a ride in the metro’s gondola, up and down into the hills, 10/10 would recommend for the views. Also cool to get a sense for just how much the metro has done to enable locals to get in and out of city center.
- Communa 13 is best known for its outdoor escalators, an initiative that has won awards, that allow people to get up and down from the hills. Although now, it’s attracted many tourists and brought money to an area that was rot with drugs and crime. It is also known for its graffiti and vibrant street art.
- You have NOT visited Medellin without a stop here. It was pumping with music, dancing, food, and fun drinks. A true revitalization of the area, and so much fun!
- Marvelous Mrs. Maisel marathon with Remotes to close out the week.
Yeah sooooooo, I’m already dreading leaving this place. But excited for what the next 3 weeks brings!