Medellin: From Most Dangerous to Most Transformed
Medellin...You absolute stole my heart!
I know I said I could live in Lima. But, I might have to take that back...and it hasn't even been a month since I left. Because Medellin...oh my god. How do I even start on Medellin and how much I loved the month I spent here? I want to stay. I wish I could stay. I don't want to go on to Bogota after how much I loved my month here. I just want my second month in Colombia to be spent right here in this beautiful, resilient, socially inclusive, unbelievable city. I love it here! Please Remote Year Gods...don't make me leave!
Now, as I finish this post a couple weeks later, missing Medellin is real. And in my recap of the month I had the experiences that captivated me, I hope that I can demonstrate why!
But before I do, I want to talk about something else. Something that perhaps every single person who has ever watched Narcos on Netflix or who have even the slightest understanding or knowledge of Medellin, Colombia and the tumultuous history of this place is thinking about...
Being a Westerner in Colombia...is it dangerous?
Short answer? No. Absolutely not! I was talking about my coach and my family and all these friends back home about my time in Medellin. Seemingly every single one of them was asking about safety and what it was like given the country and the city's history. And repeatedly this is what I had to tell them. I have yet to be in a country or city on Remote Year where I have been as aware of the fact that I was a Westerner in a foreign country as I was in Medellin. Sometimes, especially when I was in downtown Medellin, outside of the ritzy expat-filled Poblado neighborhood where we lived, I felt like my pale skin, freckles and blue eyes made me stick out like a sore thumb. I felt like I attracted attention purely because of the fact that I didn't look Colombian. But, that being said, I never felt unsafe. That could very well be because I am very cognizant of putting myself in dangerous or even vulnerable situations. The locals have a saying - "Don't give papaya!" - which essentially means just that. Don't put yourself in a vulnerable situation. And I very much feel like that's my way-of-life when I travel. But that being said, the locals here are so committed to changing the reputation of their city that I was told repeatedly that I was safe. No one will touch me. Yes, there are bad apples in every city and if I had been one to put myself in danger, something might have happened. But I didn't. And as a result, I was able to enjoy this place completely. And it literally stole a part of my soul. There's few places on Remote Year that I plan to return to. Actually, there really haven't been any. As much as I loved Lima, I did what I wanted to do in Peru. There's no reason for me to return. But, Medellin is a different story. I want to come back. And I plan to!
Now, on the the reviews and the recap!
Amazing Restaurants & Cafes.
This month was the first month that I actually had someone visit me from back home. My old friend from college was looking for a getaway and having been to Colombia before was so excited about coming down to visit me! When she arrived, I asked her what she wanted to do. "Eat good food and drink wine!" Well, safe to say that I think we tackled that.
- Alambique. The first night that my friend was in town, we went to Alambique. I wanted to go somewhere that looked classy, but wasn't crazy expensive for the first night. So, we decided on Alambique. We almost missed it when we arrived, not anticipating the fact that the restaurant is completely open air, but hidden behind some very jungle-esque decorations, very much in line with the jungle that literally is everywhere you turn in Medellin. We split a bottle of wine and a couple of appetizers. One thing we got was very odd. It was almost like a pork pelly lasagna, and just generally not what we thought it would be (we thought it was pulled pork tacos...that was a big mis-read on the Spanish menu). But, we absolutely loved the Chichurron ceviche. Coming from the ceviche capital of the world in Lima, I was a little hesitant about this. Pork belly ceviche? Seriously? Well...it came highly recommended form our city team in Medellin, and damn. Was it amazing! Get it! The restaurant is located here. Check it out!
- OCI.mde. There was one night in Medellin that was just a recipe for a big party. It was our first Friday and it was birthday night in our Remote Year group and let's just say, this gal knows how to throw a party! Many of us wanted a proper meal (and pre-game) before the festivities started and apparently we all had the same idea. Go to OCI, one of the many restaurant recommendations made by our city team! It was amazing! The restaurant itself was full (ie. you might want to make a reservation if you plan on going on Friday), but the bar was hopping. We ate there, our bartender/server was super sweet and indulged our poor Spanish, helped us pick out a kickass bottle of Argentinian Malbec (yup, still drinking it!) and some wonderful main courses! We split the bottle of wine between the two of us and had some absolutely wonderful dishes! Just check this place out From everything I heard from the others that dined there that night, you seriously can't go wrong! Check it out here for the location and here for the menu!
- Carmen. When we were in Lima, we were in walking distance to 2 of the best restaurants in the world. And I opted not to indulge. Why? Not because I dislike good food. I love good food! But, sorry, I'm not willing to pay $100-200 for a meal. That's just not how I roll. But, periodically, multi-course, delicious meals are a treat that should be experienced. So, on my friend's last night in Medellin, we headed to Carmen and enjoyed an amazing 5+ course meal with wine pairing for $60! If you're in Medellin and you're looking for a special, fancy meal...I highly recommend this place! Check it out here!
- Crepes + Waffles. Last but not least! Literally, I'm only including this place because we lived right next door and we went here multiple times! Probably 4 or so! And the food was wonderful. Not the best food ever, but for the price, it was fantastic! Also, ice cream! Yummmm. Check it out here! There's also another location off of Calle 10.
- Some great cafes to check out - Cafe Velvet, which has wonderful desserts, other food and a great ambience! Also, Pergamino Cafe, which was my personal favorite and a favorite of remote for a great working spot away from our workspace! There coffee is amazing!
Rappelling down a Waterfall for the first time in my life!
One of our track events this month was to go rappelling down a waterfall. I was excited, but super nervous, mostly because our event description definitely played up the intensity of the experience. The hike up there was meant to be "intense", a 4/5 in difficult. The rappell? They said that we were going to get soaked. I doubted all of it...and then I saw the set up. We were literally rappelling right next to a waterfall, and at one point we had to duck underneath the waterfall. We would get soaked, but more so it looked so intense! I was nervous as all hell. When the first group went, I satisfied myself by just being the designated picture taker for everyone else...and it was a blast! I love taking action photos of people doing cool stuff, like sports! I'll add waterfall rappelling to that list too, because taking photos of my friends rappelling was a blast!
And then it was my turn to go, and all I can say is that I was nervous as all hell. I asked to go first so my nerves wouldn't get the better of me! And it was awesome! I tried to navigate around the section that involved going directly underneath the waterfall. But, my legs were too damn short to push around the rock that was in the way. So, I ended up taking a deep breath and just going for it, ducking into the water and getting absolutely hammered as the water thundered down on top of my head. It was intense and my heart started racing. I thought I was going to start hyperventilating. But I just took a deep breath and leaned back into my harness as much as I could to get enough momentum to get through the squeeze where I was stuck.
Moral of the story - rappelling was AWESOME! I loved the tour group that I went with too! They were so friendly, so supportive, but you definitely need a spanish speaker with you to help you translate their instructions! If you have the opportunity to do something like this, oh my god, go for it!
All the museums and the quaint downtown area.
This is going to be short and sweet and to the point. We went to a handful of the big museums in downtown Medellin one Sunday. First stop was the Museum of Modern Art - or MOMA for short. It was okay. I'm not hugely into modern art, but the views from the top floor of Medellin were absolutely incredible and they had this very unique piano performer who literally stood inside of a piano with a huge whole in the middle - and that was fascinating! My favorite museum though was the Museum of Antioquia. It was amazing and across the street from this incredible courtyard with all of these statues by...Bolero I believe it was! But it was awesome! The building itself was absolutely incredible! Highly recommend you check it out!
Parque de Arvi, The Metro, & The Cable Cars.
Another one of my track events was to head to the Parque de Arvi. But, I actually think the park and the hike itself wasn't necessarily my favorite part. No, my favorite part was the public transportation to get there. Why? Because it puts into perspective the kind of respect that the locals have for this city. We started by meeting at the Metro station in Poblado. I'd heard about the Metro previously, but hadn't had the opportunity to ride it. I'd heard about the respect that the locals have for their Metro, but you don't come to appreciate it until you see it. This Metro is probably about a decade old, older than our local public transit Link Light Rail in Seattle. But you wouldn't know it's older. It's immaculate! These people don't eat or drink on it. They keep it pristine. Then, we got to the Cable Cars. The Cable cars are a means for the locals from some of the more remote parts of the cities up in the hills to be able to easily get down into the city to work.
More so than the park, which was neat, but I'm not going to really talk about, these two pieces of public transit were the highlight of my day. Because they represent the respect these people have for their city. They represent transformation and the effort that the city is making to make the entire city accessible to even the poorer communities. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. Whether you get to Park Arvi or not, everyone who travels to Medellin should take the opportunity to ride on the Metro and the Cable cars just to see the difference between the touristy parts of Medellin to the real parts.
Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour.
Ever since the graffiti tour I went on in Buenos Aires, I have absolutely dug graffiti tours. I feel like seeing the different parts of the city and seeing the themes in their street art is a great way to get to know the city. So, when this track included a graffiti tour as well as rappelling, I was so in!
We started in Poblado with some graffiti and street art that was right next to my house. But, then we ended up in Comuna 13. Comuna 13 is the the bad neighborhood in Medellin. The one that all the drugs, gangs, violence, etc. came out of this neighborhood. And it was this day that taught me so much about Medellin and what it represents.
Transformation. Social inclusion. Those are probably the biggest themes of Comuna 13 in Medellin. Hell of Medellin in general. Yes, this place has had a rocky past. A past that led the majority of the people in my life to say “be safe.” But don’t let Narcos fool you. To say that this city has changed would be be understatement of the century. And the imagery and analogies that best describe that transformation were echoed in the art in this graffiti tour...A Phoenix rising from the ashes for example.
This city is amazing. Awe-inspiring. These people a resilient. They’ve endured more than most of us could ever dream. Our guide for example spoke of losing more than 20 of his friends when he was young. But it’s not like that anymore. The city is investing in its poor communities in ways that American cities probably can’t even fathom. It’s unbelievable. Inspiring. And my time in Comuna 13 really solidified that.
Comuna 13 made me fall even more in love with Medellin.
Do It In a Van Tour + Guatape.
Remote Year offers what are called "Plus events". "Track events" are included in our Remote Year experience at no extra cost. But Plus events are things that we pay extra to do. And our Do It In a Van experience of Guatape was the one thing that I paid extra for.
We were picked up in the morning and we drove about an hour toward Guatape. Along the way, our guide had arranged to have a street performer hop in the van and sing for us! It was amazing! Then, we stopped for this absolutely incredible breakfast of eggs, breads, tropical fruits, mango tea, mochaccinos, etc. It was amazing!
Then it was time to actually "Do it In a Van"! What does that mean? We hopped on top of the van and bombed along the backroads of Guatape! It was so fun! It was beautiful to see the scenery in that way, but more than that, ummmm how often can you say that you went sightseeing through one of the most beautiful parts of a country while sitting on top of your tour bus?
We proceeded to spend the next couple hours swimming in a river, sipping on beers and playing with a puppy. That view in the photo to the right with the beer and the river in the background? That was our wonderful little river spot. And it was unbelievable.
Then, we headed into Guatape even further to climb La Piedra del Penol, a huge rock in the middle of the city. The rock itself isn't all that interesting, in my opinion, but it's amazing because it gives you an unbelievable view of Guatape! Guatape looks like it's an ocean with a whole bunch of little islands, but really, it's lake country! And it is unbelievably beautiful! The 675+ step climb is worth it for the view. Plus there's mango, beers, and all sorts of snacks at the top!
Then, when we got back to the bottom, our guide had an amazing meal for us. A meal which he cooked in the back of his van. It was delicious. Some of the best, if not the best meal I had in colombia! Seriously, check this company out on Instagram or check them out on TripAdvisor! It was perhaps my all-time favorite day in Colombia, and considering how much I enjoyed waterfall rappelling, Comuna 13, etc. that is really saying something!
An Attitude of Growth + Transformation.
Obviously, I'm big into personal growth. If there is one thing that I could confidently say I'm obsessed with and addicted to, it's growth. It's transformation. It's learning from our past and using those lessons to improve our future. And I've never been to a place that embodied that so completely. Maybe that's why I love Medellin so much. Because it is my values personified. It's my favorite things embodied in a city. And I loved it there!