January 24-25, 2008
Medellin used to be the most problematic city in Colombia. Pablo Escobar's drug cartel was more powerful than the government and was constantly at war with the other cartels, paramilitaries, and the legitimate military. Bombings and shootouts often happened in the middle of Medellin, and its inhabitants were generally afraid to leave their houses because of the violence. But as soon as I stepped off the bus in Medellin, I saw that everything had changed.
Medellin has undergone an incredible recovery since the days of Escobar. I immediately had a nice conversation with a vendor as I ate breakfast, and he seemed genuinely happy that tourists were coming to his city to see what it was really like. As I rode the above-ground metro through the city, I saw that it was surrounded by green hills, had almost no garbage on the ground, was full of parks and forests, and felt safe. People were going about their daily business in the streets, and had no intentions of kidnapping the tourists. But the best part was the climate. Being about 1500 meters above sea level, it was known as the "city of eternal spring," and had Goldilocks-style perfect weather year-round much like Arequipa, Cochabamba, and Sucre. It was obvious why I had gotten so many recommendations to visit Medellin from other backpackers.
I spent my first few days CouchSurfing with a local paisa named Carlos. He was getting ready to go on vacation to Ecuador and the Galapagos, but he still had some time to host me for a bit. He had traveled extensively in Europe, a bit in northern Africa, through most of South America, and lived in the US for a year to study English. Under his advice, I went downtown to the Botero Museum and finally figured out why I had been seeing so many statues of fat people around Colombia. I also went to the botanical gardens, which were largely under construction, but still had some nice, pretty flowers to look at. I don't normally like traveling in big cities, but Medellin seemed like a fine place to spend my last days in South America.
The photo album for this entry is here.