¡I wish we had the little upside down punctuation marks in English!
It was exhausting but our week back at school is over. We got to Medellín on Sunday morning and on arriving at the language school where recommended a farmer’s market up the road. Without hesitation we dropped our bags and made our way. On Sunday in Medellín they shut off a few roads so people can have a run or a bike ride, it’s a great idea and was a lovely introduction to the city. The food market was relatively small but had a decent selection, I asked around for a vegetariano option but sadly nothing took M’s fancy. I went for deep fried ball… I didn’t know what was in it but my choice paid off, it was chock full of chicken (8/10 – really tasty). Colombian street food is mostly deep fried stuff, it’s all been top notch so far!
We got back to the hostel and were whisked away on a walking tour with some of the folks at the language school. After a few trains and a bus we arrived at comuna 13 (community 13), a once incredibly dangerous area controlled by criminals. Now reinvigorated and somewhat a symbol of the change Medellín has undergone during the past 10 years or so. Apparently Colombian’s are not interested in Narcos and avoid mentioning Pablo Escobar in public at all. There are varying views among people here but I think the majority are not fans at all and just want to focus on the future. Generations here grew up seeing bombings, violence and bodies in the street, and are now just incredibly proud of what the city has become. There is still violence, drugs and crime, much like any city, but it’s a far cry from the place declared most dangerous city in the world in 1988. At least to some extent they are managing to keep the drug trade separate from civilians, a fact that is essentially the main driver of the tourism boom of the last few years.
Comuna 13 is a town on a mountain, which itself is unusual (to me at least) that possesses a real urban beauty, with the mountains providing a naturally beautiful backdrop. One of the early investments in Medellín, once the cleanup had started, where the escalators. The community didn’t necessarily ask for it but the authorities installed escalators to the top of comuna 13 to make the area so much more accessable.
Since then, and with the boom in Colombian tourism, the area is full of tourists. They come for the views, the history, the graffiti, and the feels that come from visiting a place that has, on the surface at least, turned it’s fortunes around in such a big way. There are tons of other little touches in Comuna 13, such as a slide (the landscape lends itself well to slides) that was installed where a child was hit by a stray bullet in the darker times, so I do intend on doing some more reading. There are plenty of examples of positive investment throughout the entire city which are well worth reading up on.
Monday we started school!
Languages are hard, Monday was really hard! We were in a class of five lovely people, two of which had a pretty decent grasp of the language already, one who had a Mexican wife, and two stupid English people. Monday night though, we just wanted to give up and go to New Zealand, maybe Spanish isn’t for us. We persevered though, and by Wednesday the two people who were ahead of us had been moved up to more advanced classes and we were enjoying the lessons without feeling like total mugs. Natalia was an amazing teacher and we learnt a lot, I’m not sure how much we can put into practice right away but we are already understanding a lot more. With some more work I hope I’ll be able to communicate a bit with locals but we’ll see.
Monday and Tuesday night we were wiped after a morning of lessons and an afternoon of practice but Wednesday we dragged ourselves away from our books and went for a social game of Tejo, arranged by the hostel. Dubbed ‘Danger Bowls’ by M, Tejo, the national sport of Colombia, sees each person take it in turns to throw a rock at a lump of mud.
Excitingly, the mud is rigged with gunpowder so if your rock lands in the centre you are rewarded with a spark and a loud bang, it’s brilliant. We didn’t actually play each other but I heard a rumor that M “carried her team” with her pinpoint accurate rock chucking.
I can’t remember who won overall, but it was probably my team.
Thursday we met again with Charlie, Becci, Daniela and Juan from the tour. It was brilliant being able to hang with Medellín natives and was a great test of our Spanish. We can’t confidently say a great deal yet but we’re understanding a lot more. Daniela and Juan are bloody lovely and hopefully our paths cross again some time.
After a sleepy final lesson on Friday we just about had time to join a walking tour of central Medellín in the pm.
Our guide Hernan, some kind of wizard person, asked our names at beginning of tour and 15 minutes later proceeded to introduce every single one of us (25 or so) to the rest of the group, quoting names from all over the world. Three hours later he said goodbye to each of us by name. It does not matter what else we do on this trip, where we go, what we see, or what we do, I’m not going to be as impressed as I was by Hernan (he might not have actually been called Hernan, we can’t really remember his name)
The tour was also pretty good and stuff.
Hernan built on what we already knew, and had heard about Medellín (Med-a-jean), and gave a great account as somebody who had grown up through the tough times and is incredibly proud of his city.
The entire tour was fantastic but I hadn’t seen the statues before. I’m not sure why they look like they do and a quick Google didn’t give me any context, but even without some explained deeper meaning they are fantastic and right up my street.
Most beautiful of all were the “Birds of peace”. During the violence of 1995 a bomb exploded from within the bird sculpture killing 30 people at a concert and injuring 200 more. Upon hearing that the disfigured sculpture was going to be removed the artist, Fernando Botero, insisted that the work remain and another be installed beside it. A plaque has since been installed on the damaged sculpture with names of all the victims.
It’s been quite a week. Forcing knowledge into my brain hurts and is extremely tiring… I do know some stuff already, maybe it’s not worth the effort. As we’ve spent the week like some booky losers we’ve added an extra few days to our stay in Medellín so we have until Wednesday to eke a bit more out of a city that I’ve really taken to.