Medellin, Colombia - A Young City

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Medellin's sparkling Metro and Botero billboard behind
Medellin's sparkling Metro and Botero billboard behind (View on flickr)

Hours of walking the streets of Medellín, Colombia gives me a true sampling of the culture of this cosmopolitan city.  Medellin is the capital of Antioquia and home to 3 million people. The city is the center for culture, health, government, education and art. All of this is wrapped up together creating a diverse and interesting experience.  Situated in the middle of the Columbian Andes, the city has grown out of the valleys and up the steep slopes. I am in awe to see houses so high up the mountain, I wonder how they built the houses up there and why they don't just tumble down off the mountain side.

Weaving and crisscrossing through this pulsing city are pedestrian walkways, many of them.  This is where the true culture of this grand city can be found. Vendors hawking their wares are everywhere.  Most curious are the converted baby carriers which are now used as vendor carts.  You will find many things being sold from baby carriages such as thermoses full of freshly brewed Columbian coffee, wooded cartoon full of cigarettes, gum and sweets, roasting beef, fruits, vegetables, clothes, batteries, etc.  Anything you might want to purchase can be bought from the ambulant street vendors.

The trash all gets a second check in Medellin
The trash all gets a second check in Medellin (View on flickr)

It is the season in which avocadoes and mangoes are being harvested. Large two- wheeled carts full of aguacates are seen on every street corner. Wooden crates of mangoes compete for a little corner of the world.  We are staying in the Hotel Latino in the downtown part of the city and also the financial district where there are stores selling consumer goods like shoes, clothing, bras, cell phones, household and hardware good. Along with all the wonderful you also find the homeless, the forgotten souls who actually work hard to survive. There is no lack of restaurants which all offer the same typical Colombian pre-prepared foods such as rotisserie chicken with potatoes, breads, pastries and strange tortilla=like flat breads called arepas, softdrinks, and the national Colombian beers: Aguila or Pilsner. The only thing I find  made fresh are the wonderful fresh squeezed juices like mandarin, pineapple, mango, papaya and many strange exotic fruits we have never seen such as guanabana, momon, mora and tomato trees.  

Fruit-drink stand in Medellin
Fruit-drink stand in Medellin (View on flickr)

Wikipedia has some wonderful photos and further descriptions of these fruits virtually unknown outside the tropics but are enjoyed in Colombia, such as the zapote, lulo, curuba (banana passion fruit), mamoncillo, uchuva (gooseberry), feijoa, sweet granadilla, mamey, guama, tree tomato, borojó, arasá (in the amazon region), pomarrosa, anón, chirimoya, guanábana, maracuyá (passion fruit), chontaduro, mora (plant) (similar to blackberries), cocota, carambolo, corozo, guayabamanzana (hybrid between guava and apple), sweet small bananas (called murrapos, about 8 cm), níspero and pitahaya

We have spent the last two days wandering around experiencing the major attractions of this city. On Monday we hopped on the Metro out to the University stop were we toured the gardens at the Jardin Botanico de Medellin.

World-class orchid garden near University at Medellin
World-class orchid garden near University at Medellin (View on flickr)

As I strolled the botanical gardens and vast greenhouse full of orchids, I thought of my mom and her love for plants especially orchids and prickly plants. In one of the gardens I saw a special prickly cactus with a small rose colored flower. My mom had one of these prickly plant for years and years which we all called Charlie. Charlie moved all over the country with our family. The last time I saw Charlie, he was trimmed down from 3-foot monster bush  to a reasonable size and being cared for by my dad in Boston, Massachusetts.

Since it was Monday, most of the museums were closed except for the Regional Art museum called the Museo de Antioquia. This museum holds an impressive collection of the world famous sculpture and painter Fernando Botero, donated by him. His bulbous oversized bronze sculptures of people and animals adorned the city parks and walkways. Inside the museum are hundreds of paintings and sculptures donated by the artist. I realized for the first time, that bronzes sculptures are not all the same dark color. I was bowled over with delight to discover his bronzes varied in color from browns, to blacks with green highlights, to rich iron color reds, to shiny polished gold.

Dozens of Botero sculptures in Parque Berrio, Medellin
Dozens of Botero sculptures in Parque Berrio, Medellin (View on flickr)

 The next day wasTuesday and the museums were open so we headed out to the 400,000-square-foot explorative park called the Parque Explora, which is much like the Exploratorium in San Francisco, but maybe even better! As we strolled up to the buildings which housed the two new exhibits we came to see (the digital exhibit and the terrain exhibit) we got caught up playing with the oversized interactive learning playground with the hundreds of other young people. Once inside the exhibits we tested our balance against digital games, rolled around on giant balls, tested our hearing loss, did a timed run to see how we moved compared to other animals. I ran faster then a turtle and slower than a horse and ran a little faster than an average human being.

In each exhibit area there are many young people whose purpose is to show the visitors the features of each exhibit. Our young guide Natalia got to practice her English, taught me new Spanish words and we all had a thoroughly enjoyable time. 


Nancy with friends near the top of the climb to Alto de Ventanas
Nancy with friends near the top of the climb to Alto de Ventanas (View on flickr)

We find there are not many foreigners in Colombia and we are a rarity but everyone is so friendly, wanting to know where we are from and if we like Colombia, they all want to help us know their country have an enjoyable experience in their part of this world. At one time I had 5 employees showing me how to make it through virtual digital maze and beat the clock. They rooted me on to Level 4 where the clock finally beat me and it was time to go to the exercise room and play with the mammoth exercise balls. The staff followed us into the padded room and laughed with us as we dove and rolled with laughter amongst the jungle of exercise balls.

After 4 hours of hands-on playing we exited the Parque Explora and leisurely strolled over to the famous San Pedro cemetery now converted into a museum. It holds the remains of many famous Colombians in its multiple story mausoleum laced in a unique architectural style and various sculptures gardens. We could not really figure out why it was elevated to museum status in 2000 but why they hold culture and recreation events inside the place. I did feel rather uncomfortable at the low level smells of odor of death that so told of its purpose. 

Street music in Medellin
Street music in Medellin (View on flickr)

We took the metro back to the historic center and meandered back to the hotel. Along the way we found 4 street musicians playing 3 guitars and some kind of percussion instrument which looked like a round cheese grater. We could not figure out the type of music and its origins but the strumming and vocals were pure and invited a couple of women to dance along with the foursome, right in the middle of this busy walkway/open market. Randy and I stood listening to the music, and sandwiched between the portable cart full of handbags, the vendor selling cigarettes, the lottery sellers and the old man sitting on the concrete leaning against the wall waiting for a few coins to be dropped in his hands. As I moved my foot in the rhythm of the music, several people smiled at me and encouraged me to join in on the dance. I replied in Spanish I was too shy to dance but in reality I just wanted to fully take in the experience. Being there was enough for me.