Medellín, Te AmoPosted: October 25, 2012
Perhaps I’ve been venting too much. A recent concerned email from mom makes me think I’ve been too one-sided on this whole experience, conveying too much of the frustration and not enough of the joy. Have I mentioned how much we love it here? Let me count the ways. I love so many things about Medellin I can’t include them all here, so this is a partial list. More to come later.
1. The Climate
No Seasonal Affective Disorder here! The climate is so perfect, no heating or cooling is required. Patios, balconies and hammocks are ubiquitous. It’s never oppressively hot like a DC summer but on a sunny day it’s warm enough to swim. And as I write this we are in the midst of winter. Winter means it rains a lot. There have been some impressive storms, but they usually roll through at 3:00 pm and we still have days like this:
2. The City
Medellin is gorgeous. It is surrounded by lush green mountains and full of natural beauty. Tropical flowers grow by the side of the road and trees grow inside malls and restaurants. It’s not uncommon to see macaws flying by a high-rise balcony.
Medellin is renowned for its architecture and public transportation, particularly as it has increased access to the poorer areas of the city. There are cable cars that provide Metro access to residents of the mountainside slums. Several public libraries, parks and community centers have also been built in these areas of the city and have attracted international attention. The former mayor who spearheaded a lot of the recent development said “our most beautiful buildings must be in our poorest areas.” If you’re interested, you can find more on this here:
The local power and water company is owned by the city, and it reinvests its profits in the city. They fund Parque Explora, which is truly one of the best science museums I have been too. It’s free for kids and free for everyone on certain days. They also created Barefoot Park, a large park with sand and fountains where wading is required. And a local law requires all new buildings to include public art, so there are sculptures and murals throughout the city. The famous Colombian artist Botero is from Medellin and he donated a lot of his sculptures to the city, like this one:
The people of Medellin are proud of their city, and they should be. It is truly almost paradise. Pablo Escobar has been dead for 2 decades and Colombia is not the same place it was in the 80’s and 90’s. Medellin’s crime rate is the same as Washington, DC, but that news doesn’t travel as fast as news of the former Godmother of Cocaine being gunned down recently outside a butcher shop. That story was all over the US news, and apparently Jennifer Lopez is set to play her in the movie. And unfortunately that will perpetuate the image that many outside of South America have of Colombia.
The Colombian tourism board has a new slogan: the only risk is wanting to stay! It’s silly, but kind of appropriate. Apparently, while filming in Colombia Anthony Bourdain said “It’s ludicrous this place exists and everybody doesn’t want to live here.” That’s pretty much how we feel right now. Andrew’s theory is that the greatest risk to Medellin is that people will discover it and it will become overrun by gringos. Hmm, sounds like he’s trying to slam the door shut behind him. Not very Canadian of him.
3. The People
The Paisas, as the people of Medellin and the surrounding area are called, are known throughout Colombia to be industrious, hard-working, and very friendly. I have found everyone here to be friendly, whether Paisas, Costeños, or ex-pats. We have been asked by so many people (taxi drivers, random strangers, parents, teachers, real estate agents) how we like Medellin, and told that if we need anything, all we have to do is ask.
When I asked Aiden what he likes about Medellin one of the things he said was “it’s so easy to make a friend.” That may have something to do with his personality. But on his first day of school (for which he was 3 hours late, so he missed any general introductions) a boy tapped him on the shoulder at the end of the day and asked him if he wanted to be his friend. This was a seven year old whose first language is Spanish reaching out to the new kid, in another language. Aiden couldn’t even pronounce the boy’s name! Now Jeronimo (pronounced hair-ON-e-mo) is one of his five best friends. He has also made friends with the kids on the bus and taught many of them his new favorite song “Hiphopopotamous vs. Rhymenosarous” by the Flight of the Conchords.
When Andrew and I took the kids to Aiden’s school on the first day to pay the bill, which was why he was 3 hours late, I was approached by a woman who asked us where we were from and how we were settling in. She was originally from another part of Colombia and had lived in Miami for many years so she knew how difficult an international move could be. She exchanged numbers with us and then called me that weekend to invite us for lunch. The kids played (turns out her son Alejandro is in Aiden’s class, and is now one of the five besties) and they introduced us to friends of theirs from Argentina. The Argentinian woman called me the next week to pass along an invitation to a party. I met some great people there and got set up on a blind date with a vegetarian, Nicole from Brooklyn, who took me on a veggie tour of Medellin. I also met Leela, a very funny journalist from Texas who is married to Carlos, a Colombian. They both went to Columbia University in New York and she told me of their nights when they cry and reminisce about all the amazing food in New York City. They had us over for dinner and Carlos made an amazing Mexican meal. The boys fed their dogs tortilla chips and watched a movie in a hammock. Aiden loves Leela and Carlos and wants to move in with them. Leela gave me advice about where to buy furniture that’s not synthetic leather or sparkly, and introduced me to Luisa, who is going to make curtains for our big glass house. Luisa is a very sweet older woman who seemed curious about what I’m getting up to with the kids in school (Luisa, I have no problem filling those hours). I think she may have signed me up for a cooking or flower arranging class. I’m not sure, my Spanish vocabulary does not extend to arts and crafts yet. Anyway, my point is we have met a lot of people and have been invited to so many things. I don’t think any of us are feeling lonely here. Even Sam, whose friends do not speak any English, has made two best friends at school: Benjamin (pronounced Ben-ha-MEEN) and Jeronimo (you already know how to say that). Apparently he talks to them in English, they respond in Spanish, and they play with cars and do other universal boy things.
Carlos, our landlord and Andrew’s Colombian soul mate, just moved to Australia, but before he left he introduced us to some friends he knew we would like. We had them over last weekend and they have invited us to their building’s Halloween party for the kids and then for dinner at Carmen’s, the best restaurant in town (not surprisingly, run by a couple from California). We have 2 other parties we’re supposed to go to on Saturday so we might have to miss theirs. What is up with this social life?! It’s like we’re in our 20’s again. And that brings me to my next point.
4. The Child Care
We had one babysitter in Takoma Park. She was lovely and the kids adored her. She was also 14 and charged $15 an hour, and had a lot of other things going on. So we basically never went out. Now I feel bad if we don’t contact Ade at least once a week. She doesn’t have a job, aside from some hair styling she does on the side, and she takes English classes twice a week. She is happy to come over and stay overnight. I think we pay her about twice the going rate at $7 an hour. She is so great, I must prepare myself for the day she gets an au pair job and moves away. Or maybe I should just ask her to be our au pair.
Aside from the affordable child care, there is also a phenomenon here that should be immediately replicated in North America, and that is the restaurant playground. And I’m not talking McDonalds type restaurant playgrounds. I mean good restaurants, with wine and appetizers, and the kids go off and play. Or in the case of Archie’s, an Italian chain, they make their own dinner.
5. The Mountains
Medellin is a city surrounded by mountains. The city is at 5000 feet and we live at 7500 feet. The drive from downtown Medellin to our house takes 20 minutes, so it’s a quick ascent. It is a fun and beautiful drive in our fun new car (stay tuned; the car deserves it’s own post). The air is thinner and cooler. People ride horses to work. There are working farms next to weekend fincas and massive estates. (And then there’s us in our flop-house glass cube palace.)
There are some beautiful towns just outside Medellin; El Retiro is 20 minutes away and Santa Fe de Antioquia is 90 minutes away.
There are still so many places within driving distance that we have yet to see, including the coffee region.
I forgot to mention coffee in my food edition. Coffee here is cheap and delicious.
That’s it for now. Come visit soon- the only risk is wanting to stay!