Last week, I got back from a 10 day trip to Medellín and I’d like to share a few observations about my experience. A few weeks ago, I was reminded of a ticket I had purchased last year to Medellín but didn’t end up taking so instead I paid to keep it as credit for a future flight. Well, the time came and I went, without putting much thought into it at all.
Due to such immediacy, upon arrival I didn’t quite have a clear view of why I was there or of what I was doing, but I went with the flow. During the 10 days, I stayed with a friend in the Centro and proceeded to show myself around town in the days to come. Details such as ‘it’s not vacation for anyone else’ were quickly brought to my attention and in the end, colored my experience of Medellín as a whole. Luckily, I did meet a friend of my friend who had a more liberal schedule and so we hung out quite a bit as the days went on and at this point, I’m pretty sure I could even give walking tours of the City of Eternal Spring…minus Santa Elena, which I didn’t have time for unfortunately.
On to the observations, shall we?
You’re going to hear “pues” all the time, before sentences, after them, and in the middle of them. Sentences you didn’t think could have pues in them, do. There’s a distinct rhythym also of people from Medellín and it’s catchy, after a while you want to speak like they do. It’s kind of low-key and stressed if I had to describe it in some fashion. Another phrase you may very well hear is “que charro” which means that something is funny. Also, parce (for parcero) is used quite a bit. Yet another one is the famous Colombian phrase “que hubo?” for what’s up or what happened, although it seems like one word when pronounced.
The women in Medellín (called paisas) are said to be the most beautiful in Colombia. Perhaps I need to travel a bit more within the country to confirm or deny that but I will tell you this, they are very beautiful. Part of it comes naturally while the other part is cultural. Colombian women, for the most part, will not leave the house without looking put-together (dressed nicely, stylish, perfumed, etc). Some might say that this would mean they are into the phsyical to an extreme degree but after some thinking, I found another way to see it. Perhaps this is just normal to them and not something like “I need to place phsyical appearance above everything else”. Looking good in Colombia is just part of life, like brushing your teeth.
I’m not sure what to say about the men but I can say that there is definitely a style that almost everyone has. This includes a fitted t-shirt with stripes or a funky design on it or both, a mullet hairstyle (often with the sides buzzed) and jeans. The hairstyle is the most noticable though and I would guess that about 85% of Colombia’s male youth have it.
Cars don’t follow any rules except to follow no rules. Confusing? Let’s put it this way, if you go to Colombia and try to follow all the rules of the road, you will end up getting others and yourself in an accident. Go with the flow. Buses pretty much follow suit and if you’re lucky enough to take the Circular (I think it’s number 192) into Laureles, you’ll almost be thrown from the bus…so hold on! Also, the bus drivers leave the doors open while they drive, generally before and after stops. What I meant by buses follow suit is I witnessed about three different accidents with the buses I was riding on, where one bus would clip the other, often times taking their side view mirrors clear off. After a very quick chat between drivers, off we went. No matter if it’s a bus or a car or a motorcycle, getting the green light to cross the street doesn’t mean you should nonchalantly cross to the other side. Always be aware of where the cars are around you as a pedestrian. In practice, pedestrians don’t exactly have rights…something I actually prefer in most cases solely because it keeps the city moving as no one is waiting for anyone else.
Food & Drink
Do not miss out on the easy stuff! This includes pandebono, arepas (especially arepas de chocolo con mozzarella), and the buñuelos. They are all fantastic! In the morning, don’t forget that there is always a place on the street for mango slices (although you need to know they usually put salt and lime juice on it). As for drinks, don’t miss the jugo de lulo or the jugo de mora.
Different from the homeless in the US, who generally sit on the corner of intersections with a sign asking for change, the homeless in Medellín (and I’m guessing most of Colombia) just lie there on the sidewalk doing absolutely nothing (I noticed the same thing in Brazil). There’s a difference between homeless and poor, is what I’m getting at. The poor people on the other hand are hard-workers and will find any one of a million ways to make a little here and there.
Something I noticed in many areas of Colombian life is when it comes to purchases, single-serving is very popular. Want to make a phone call? No need to have a cell phone plan, just ask an omnipresent minutes vendor on the street to make a call. Ok, that’s just one example, but I’m blanking on the other ones at the moment. Also, things like riding the metro are simplified economically. One can take the metro from one end of the city to the next and even hop onto the metrocable line up the hillside for the US price of about 65 cents. This is very different from the metros here in the States where you pay the lower price for the lower number of stops but with each extra stop, you pay more. What else? Medellín has quite a lot of plazas and parks and things to do in general for families during leisure time. Speaking of such, museums are pretty much all free, which is great.
If I think of other observations, I’ll be sure to add them to the list. All in all though, I enjoyed my trip and I left with a new appreciation for Medellín and Colombian hospitality.