Advertisement of a recent local ‘artsy’ event pasted on a wall on the main street in the Poblado district
Medellin is the city where my flight arrived in S. America in November 2013. My impending flight back to the states departs from Medellin. Therefore, my return to Medellin marks the completion of this, my latest of South American adventures. I am aware of having experienced a gradual, minutely increasing level of ‘civilization’ the past month. I call this process ‘recompression’. Leaving environs where the People/culture is more agriculture based, and where the primary focus is on ‘the family’. Have gone from Amazon river towns, and gradually progressed to arriving in Cartagena, the Colombian Caribbean coast, Valledupar, Barranquilla, Mompox, Bucamaranga, P. Berrio. I have thus returned to more ‘civilized’ environs. I am feeling the normal sadness intermingled with the joy and anticipation of returning to friends and family that comes at the end of an epic journey.
The bus ride from Puerto Berrio to Medellin takes 4 to 5 hours depending on time/day of travel and traffic/road conditions. The bus was another very modern, new, air conditioned vehicle. This trip the driver and crew did not play any videos in the drop down screens which is common practice. The bus was half full (half empty for you with a pessimistic slant) upon departing Puerto Berrio at 10AM on Saturday.
The route is through verdant green pasture land. Cows and horses and even a few water buffalo. The dirt where exposed is a reddish brown between Puerto Berrio and Cisnero. Between Cisnero and Medellin the terrain gets gradually higher in altitude and you can see the ground gets more yellow/sandy and there are large granite rocks intermixed with the soil. The Cisnero/Medellin stretch runs parallel to the Rio Medellin for a distance.
Medellin has a North and a South bus terminal. My bus ride ended at the North terminal. Had no difficulty negotiating my way to a taxi. Showed the taxi driver the address of the hostel. 15 minutes later I arrived in front of the Arcadia hostel in the Poblado district. The entrance is a small door at the sidewalk. After ringing the bell you can hear a ‘click’ at the lock. This indicates that the lock is now disengaged and you can open the door. There are steep stairs that lead up to the reception desk. Was shown to my dorm room within five minutes of arrival. Luck would have it that my dorm room (another level up) has five bunks… but is vacant except for me. There is a bathroom inside the room.
I checked my pockets. I have only a very few Colombian pesos left, just enough to get me to the airport. Organized my gear, reviewed the maps and literature of the town in the hostel and went outside to experience this part of town. Went to the local ‘Exito’ which is a large city style supermarket chain, further exposure to more ‘civilized’ environs. Bought some peanuts which are a good item to have because they are good nutrition, inexpensive, not messy and easy to carry.
On my way back to the hostel, several blocks away. I saw an older gent sitting on a sidewalk bench on Calle 10, the main street of the Poblado district. I casually asked if he spoke English. Turns out he was from Connecticut but had traveled extensively for an number of years, much of it solo. A bird of a feather. I shared some of my peanuts as we shared travel… and other LIFE experience highlights with one another. I retrieved a digital recording device from one of my pockets and turned it on, and conducted an impromptu sidewalk bench interview with the 74 year old Paul.
If you met Paul, you might guess him to be ten years younger. He had traveled with his wife and subsequently with a few foreign girl friends. He described having been to India and Irian Jaya which is part of the island New Guinea. He spoke fondly of Ladakh, India as one of his favorite places. He had been to Taiwan and mainland China. He recited an Aldous Huxley quote from memory regarding the experience of travel. He is a film/cinema fan, glowingly describing some scenes from various films. He described sleeping on cardboard during some parts of previous journeys. He had been a Veterans Administration psychiatric assistant as part of his working life.
While we were engaged in our animated sidewalk exchange a 23 year old young man approached us oldsters to join the conversation. Jesus (his name) grew up in part of the states but was clearly a South American. I forget to ask which country he claimed as his residence. When Paul mentioned that he worked with psychiatrists in the VA Jesus immediately responded with: “Dude, a psychiatrist really fucked up my life”. I recorded some of the ensuing conversation between the three of us. They both leaned into the microphone when speaking.
Jesus went on to describe parts of his life as a teen. He admitted to having used many drugs. I asked what kind. Weed, and psychedelics. He described having been a young man who fasted and ate only weed for a period of a year or two. He was on a ‘ascetic’ trip after the fashion of Gautama Buddha. His father interpreted his gaunt/thin appearance as him being a junkie. Jesus then described that his father arranged for him to go to an expensive rehab place on the Island of Margurita, Venezuela. He rambled on as I occasionally interrupted him to ask Paul to respond with his views about Jesus’ experiences.
We wrapped up our conversation, exchanged email addresses and continued on our separate ways. Another of the amazing things that happen and the amazing people that you encounter when you are a traveler without a rigid agenda.
Returned to the hostel. Saturday night, There was a large group 20 to 30 something people there. Medellin is a cultural mecca and university town. They were having ‘karaoke night’. I got the same impression as I did at the hostel in Bucamaranga, that many of the attendees were locals and knew each other. Others were European and American hostel residents, one of whom had been there for over a month. As the ‘older fellow’ and the newest arrival I did not feel particularly invited to mingle with them. They were not unfriendly… but merely rather aloof, and into their own group. I returned to my room and happily listened to the party downstairs.
Gone are the dark days when Medellin was widely known as one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The cartels conducted open warfare on the streets. The murder rate was in the stratosphere. That all changed when Pablo Escobar was killed… and then more and more pressure was placed on the people who were responsible for all the violence. Residents of the city are very happy for the decrease in violence. That is the perception of the people I have spoken with.
Medellin is now a city that is attractive to all kinds of people. It is considered to be as a ‘safe’ as any other modern city in the world. It was voted as the world’s ‘most innovative city’ (by someone who rates/ranks these sorts of things.
Next post will be from Cambridge, Ma, USA