Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012, 18th March - 12th June: Medellín, Colombia

For the full complement of photos that accompany this blog entry, use the following link to the corresponding set in my Flickr account:

Well, my time in Medellín....there is quite a story here. The overview:

~ Arrived in Medellín expecting to stay for around three days, ended up staying for nearly three months. The reason...
~ On my first day in the city I fell ill and went to hospital to have emergency surgery to remove my infected appendix.
~ Decided not to go home and to recuperate in Medellín instead.
~ Connected with a great local family and stayed with them.
~ Took Spanish classes, practiced my Spanish.
~ Met a beautiful local woman.
~ Stayed so long I went over the duration of my tourist visa and had to go begging at the DAS (immigration service) office.

Feeling Tip-Top Here (About 5 Hours After Surgery)

Medellín & The Paisas

A note on pronunciation: Medellín is in the Colombian state of Antioquia, where they have their own way of pronouncing the ll (double l). The double l is a regular inconsistency across the Spanish speaking world, with many different countries, and even regions, having their own take on it. In Antioquia they say it like a fusion of j and ch (with the j said as it is said in English - not I hasten to add how j is said in Spanish which is very different). So with the accent on the i, Medellín is pronounced ´Medajcheen´ - the best phonetics I can come up with).

Medellín is a large city (around 2.5 million inhabitants) situated in a valley between two of the cordilleras (ridges) of the Andes. With the resulting elevation (of around 1500 metres), the climate is very manageable for a Brit like me. Indeed it is this climate that earns Medellín the name ´city of the eternal spring´.

While Medellín has all the elements one would expect from a good city (businesses, shops, good transportation, arts, nightlife, etc), for the classic tourist on the South American circuit it does not have any really big draws. However, as a place to spend some time getting to know the locals (the Paisas) it is just great. Also, it is a good place to improve your Spanish as the Paisas pronounce their words well without heavy accents (such as those reportedly found on the Caribbean coast of Colombia).

A ´Paisa´ is someone from Antioquia, and the Paisas are a thoroughly nice bunch – very friendly, warm, welcoming and happy to help. From the families I knew well to taxi drivers and shop keepers I was frequently impressed. Throw into the mix a lot of mujeres bonitas (beautiful women) and the result is a rather nice place to hang out.

Around Medellín

So, what is a chevere or bacano (both mean cool) thing to do on the weekend while you´re in Medellín? Visit one of the many pueblos (small towns) in Antioquia in the countryside around Medellín. This will likely involve taking a bus which will climb over one of the two mountain ridges which frame Medellín before dropping down into another valley. Many of the towns are at a lower altitude making them hotter than Medellín, so a town with one or more rivers where you can cool off is ideal. I spent weekends in Guatapé, San Rafael, Santa Fe de Antioquia and La Pintada.

The highlights of Guatapé are the rock and the lakes. The rock (El Peñol) is a huge geological anomaly – an acorn shaped rock around 220 metres high that rises alone out of the local landscape. It is surrounded by a large lake, which due to its numerous inlets looks like many small lakes. The lake was formed as part of a hydroelectric scheme. Climbing the 649 steps to the top of the rock affords spectacular views across the many waterways.

View From El Peñol at Guatapé

The Lake at Guatapé

San Rafael (one hour further on from Guatapé) is a great town that buzzes at night and where the most common way to get around is by moto-taxi (motorised rickshaws). San Rafael is surrounded by rivers which are crystal clear and a great relief from the heat. There are many great spots for a dip, some with waterfalls and spots to jump in from a height.

Santa Fe de Antioquia dates back to the 1500´s and is very attractive with old calles (streets) and plazas (squares). The Rio Cauca races by the town – alas too powerful for swimming.

La Pintada, also on Rio Cauca but further south, is pleasant enough but is spoilt a little by the principal route from Medellín to Manizales passing through the small town.

Calle 10 (Towards Plaza de Bolivar), Santa Fe de Antioquia

Rio Cauca, La Pintada, Antioquia

My Friends in Medellín

What with the Paisas being such a nice bunch, I grew close to many people while in Medellín (one person in particular). This made it very difficult to leave and in fact once my post-surgery abdominal muscles were (more or less) sufficiently strong to start lifting heavy backpacks onto buses etc, I regretted that I had run out of medical excuses to stay in Medellín and had to admit to my friends there that I was staying to be with them.

I felt very emotional saying goodbye to all of them. My first stop after Medellín was Salento (see next blog entry). Salento, though very nice, is a tourist town with its fair share of backpackers. It came as shock to my system because there was a noticeable contrast between the ´more genuine´ experience of really connecting well with the locals and the more ´samey´ conversations that one has with fellow travellers (no disrespect to my fellow backpackers intended at all). Add to that the fact that alas often the conversations in hostels are in English which is bad for any budding Spanish speakers like me.

Anyway, I feel sure that I will be back in Medellín sometime in the near future – after all it is super chevere!

Me With Some of My Host Family

More Great Paisa Friends

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