On War and Death (It's Not What You Think)
From the moment we arrived in Columbia, we were told that Medellin was a very beautiful city and a great place to live. With these glowing reviews, Omar and I had high expectations for the next stop on our journeys south.
As we approached on a road overlooking Medellin it was obvious the city was located in a spectacular setting. It is in a lush green valley surrounded by forested mountains. For the most part the final miles to our Airbnb residence we had reserved were uneventful. The road into the heart of the city was wide and easy to follow. Finding the precise location of the Airbnb residence, however was a different story. There is something about the way Columbian street addresses are posted in Airbnb that prevents Google Maps from translating them correctly. After two failed attempts to find the address on our own, Omar had a fantastic idea. We would give the address to an UBER driver and then follow him. That worked great.
The other thing that was difficult for us was the steepness of the streets in many sections of Medellin. They were the steepest we had encountered so far. Having to make sharp turns and stops/starts on steep inclines were very difficult on our big, fully-loaded BMW’s. Once we safely parked our bikes, we didn’t ride them again until we left town. Uber became our sole means of transportation while in Medellin.
Astrid, our Airbnb hostess, lives on the 23rd floor of a condo/apartment tower on a mountain side. From her balcony, Medellin spreads out below with spectacular views of the city day or night. According to Astrid, city planners have for many years pushed the construction of high density condo/apartment towers like the one she lives due to the scarcity of land. You see in the following video clip that there are hundreds of condo/apartment towers all around the city.
Another observation is that Medellin is very prosperous with a large middle class. There are no signs of poverty or slums, many buildings are newly constructed, the streets are clean and well maintained, and the city is very safe. One shopping district we visited was certainly on par with high end shopping areas like those in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The most impressive thing we did while in Medellin was an evening we spent with Astrid on the University of Antioquia campus where she is a professor. The university is on a large modern campus next to a light rail station in the heart of the city. As soon as you enter the grounds your attention is drawn to street art, murals and graffiti that cover many of the walls. You immediately get the feeling that Antioquia has a very engaged and passionate student body.
During the first two hours on campus, I had a one-on-one Spanish class with Larua who is a student at the university. The session with her was terrific and I learned a lot in a short period of time. We arranged to do some additional classes using Skype.
Next, Omar and I attended a special anthropology class Astrid teaches, where all of the students major in various fine arts disciplines. That evening their assignment was to present the results of research they had done on war and death, expressing the results in an art form associated with their major. Their presentations included reading a modified version of Snow White, singing, playing instruments, and conducting an interactive play. To get everyone in the proper mood, Astrid arranged to have her friend Isabella paint the faces of the students. Of course, I volunteered to have mine painted too. Due to my lack of Spanish proficiency, I am sure I missed some subtle points of their presentations, but I certainly felt their energy and passion.
Later that evening we used our face paintings to demand exceptional service and generally freak out the staff at a local restaurant.
We really appreciated the extra effort our host Astrid made to show us her beautiful city. Medellin is a very livable, and I can see myself possibly living there one day. I would just need to figure out how to safely maneuver my motorcycle through those steep and winding streets.