Meddlin’ with Medellìn

If any city epitomizes what was Colombia as compared to what is Colombia, Medellìn is the place. Countless friends and family, upon hearing that we were considering this country as our 2017-18 destination, warned us about coming here and questioned our sanity (not for the first time, and, perhaps, not without good reason). Historical updates – Pablo Escobar was killed in 1993. FARC (Fuerzos Armades Revolucionarias de Colombia or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) disbanded – more or less – in 2016. So all is good.

We have spent just over 48 hours here; a bit curious upon arrival, as to how the city has adapted to its new realities. Very well, it turns out. What’s with cities beginning with ‘M’? Montreal, Manhattan, Manchester, Madison. I know it’s a rush to judgment, but Medellìn may qualify. Why, you say? Simple, I say. Check out the public transit (I know this sounds like I’m sucking up to Valerie P. but guaranteed if she wants to go pink, this is the place to learn how to do it). I won’t bother you too much more about a system that includes inner city trains running above ground. Like New York  & Chicago. But neither NYC or ChiTown boast a funicular (Spanish for Funny Car). 

For the price of general admission, included is a ride in a gondola up the mountain that is Medellìn. 
View from cable car. Note that while these homes are modest, most inhabitants have jobs.
Imagine Stowe meets Disneyland. At the top of the mountain, formerly the hacienda of one of the Narco boys, (called Aurora, beautiful site) are high rise apartments that are given free of charge or highly subsidized to the poorest in town. 
Public Housing

Art Project. Note funicular, top right.
They possess the best views and there’s a hospital – with a heli-pad decorated with the pink ribbon Breast Cancer symbol. 

The House of Culture is one of the nicest properties we’ve ever visited. 

Architecturally and socially, it presents bothly as an incredible reflection of this ciudad. Containing a library of either 30,000,000 or 30,000 books, depending on how you interpret Lori’s Spanish) books on architecture, art, history, etc. in multi-media form. 

Cool accidental skull shot from beneath lamp

Unique tile patterns. This is one of the libraries.
Free for public use. And used by the public. 

Haven’t seen a piece of litter on the street.

Main Square

Former Train Station

Two politicos captured, ransomed and killed by FARC

Great Bars & Restos.

Amazing thunder & lightening show last night.

OK, have to admit it, the cradle of the Escobar story.

There is a large presence of women out here. Both travellers and locals. I have to say that about 75% of the people that Lori and I encounter are of the female persuasion. And an extremely high percentage are lookers, as we used to say. There is a very popular artist here. Name is Botero. 

He paints pictures and sculpts bronzes of round, obese individuals. Personally, I can look down whilst shaving and save $40,000. Getting spoiled; second place in a row with hot showers. Struck out on the shave since the sink only had Cold. (Note to self – shave in the shower). But that’s probably been the worst thing abut this place. Really beautiful physical surroundings. 

They pay amazing respect to architectural heritage here.

Former convent-cum-retail centre

They will either restore properties of unique history or will reposition and repurpose the building in a way more akin to the 21st century than for the 17th for which it was built. Sound familiar?

No shortage of invaders
OK, now off comes the humanitarian hat and on goes the mortar board associated with my brush with academe. As a Political Science dude, not a real person, here’s my take:

Question – what do Munich, Manchester, and Medellìn have in common?

Answer – all three cities have ultimately benefitted from horrific events that physically scarred the city, cost many lives, had massive impact on the psyche of their populations, and  led to a rebirth. 

The Marshall Plan after WWII resulted in the industrialization of Munich and allowed the city to change its course, becoming a driving force in a post-war Germany which has turned the country into the de facto leader of the EU.

Manchester’s Ste. Ann’s Square was targeted by the IRA in 1996. Showing a degree of compassion, uncharacteristic of terror, a phone warning was received 90 minutes prior to detonation. Nobody was killed but upwards of 2000 were injured. The shock waves, literal and figurative, resulted in a civic renovation of the area that ultimately kicked off numerous municipal projects launching a renaissance that turned the once grimy, industrial city into a center for the arts, modern architecture, and tourism.

Medellìn suffered from a double whammy, starting with the Pablo Escobar Cartel, that ran the city. From 1990 to 1993 families did not leave their homes after dark. People were found dead on the streets, buildings were bombed, political opponents assassinated. Six thousand people murdered a year. When Escobar was killed, the doors opened up for FARC and other competing guerrilla groups who terrorized the city and its surroundings. Farmers were given three choices – join the fighting, supply the guerrillas with food or money; you can guess what was behind door #3. 
District 13 in the slums of Medellìn became the focal point of inter gang warfare, drug and arms dealing, as various factions of former cartels, militants, and warlords fought for territory. October 16, 2002 the government responded. Apache helicopters flew overhead, indiscriminately strafing the barrio with 50 mm bullets. A thousand soldiers and police attacked the 100,000 inhabitants. The white flags went up. Nine deaths (3 children), hundreds wounded, but the war was over. Medellìn’s fiercest groups came to a forced conclusion. Enough dead, enough pain. Local organizers began a process that has subsequently been adopted by all levels of government and has received widespread backing from the citizens, who after twenty rears of pain, death, and repression, were given a new lease on life. 

Graffiti springing up in heretofore blighted areas

Rarely, if ever, have Lori and I witnessed such a  spectacular rebirth and repositioning of a city. Do not deprive yourselves of the chance to visit a city, reborn from the ashes of its former self; a city that has civic pride tattooed on the soul of each of its inhabitants.

Ongoing urban improvements

Keep your eyes open. Medellìn is back on the charts – with a bullet.

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