Sunday, November 12, 2006

Medellin and other bits

Well, Medillin is a pretty awesome place. It's known as "La cuidad de eterno primavera" or the City of Eternal Spring for a reason. The weather is just about perfect. Never too hot, certainly not too cold, and plenty of sun.

Whereas Bogota is located in a wide, flat, and vast valley, Medellin is smack in the middle of a narrow, canoe shaped valley. This makes for a much greener and less polluted environment as, I'm imagining, the pollution gets blown out into the atmosphere much quicker.

In fact, there are lots of hills within the main valley, as well, which reminded me a bit of Rome. Of course, it's not Rome, but it does share a certain environmental similarity in that there is a street energy, a vibrant pulse, that is clearly not present in Bogota, for example, as well as having a number of sizable hills that make excellent vantage points to see the city.

When I speak of the street energy, I'm really referring to the downtown area. We were there last Saturday night and let me tell you, the place is an incredibly hot mix of salsa and people. Every step brings a new and often blaring type of salsa music from clubs or bars with open, inviting doors. The auditory assault is so strong that it becomes difficult to determine which types of music you're hearing from which bar and is generally disorienting. I found that aspect to be most unpleasant. Don't get me wrong, I like dancing as much as the next person, I just like to be able to hear the next day, especially if I didn't go dancing, but only went walking in the city center.

The airport, however, is located about 45 minutes outside of the city. In fact, it's on the other side of the mountain entirely. This is somewhat of a disadvantage as it costs $42,000 CP just to get a ride to town in a taxi. But, the advantage is that you get some incredible views of the city when you crest the mountain top and head down into Medellin proper. The road twists and turns, back and forth the mountain like lines on paper, as you make your ever so gradual descent into the valley. It's a quite spectacular mix of green slopes, concrete and steel views of the city, and a generally mountainous valley.

At any rate, we spent a good bit of time outside the city as well. We went to a small town called Santa Fe de Antioquia. It was the original capital of the province, although now Medellin is, obviously, the capital city. Santa Fe is a lovely little town in a beautiful section of the mountainous region. There we did some shopping, at some goodies, and saw the sights. The trip there was equally spectacular as we drove through green mountains on windy roads that twisted back and forth around each and every bend of road.

We also went to another small town (Rio Negro, I think) that is notable mostly because it's very close to an absolutely enormous asteroid that landed there eons ago. It's huge. Plus, the whole area is just spectacular. It's in a valley that is dominated by a ribbon of a river that creates marvelous little lakes bordered with tiny hamlets serving up fresh caught trout, delightfully grilled with a lovely garlic sauce called Ajillo that will alternately enliven your palate and leave you with a taste of heartburn. It's a true paradise.

Another thing to do in Medellin is ride the metro. The city is quite proud of the metro system (the only one in Colombia) but for me the attraction is not the rail. Frankly, when you've seen one metro system, you've seen them all. The question is more about utility than anything else. But, as a tourist, you can take the metro to a cable car station and take that up the mountain. You probably don't want to get out at the top, but the real benefit is that you can see a very poor neighborhood known as "Los Comunes" or The Commons. This is a very interesting trip because you can see the types of "houses" that they live in and get a glimse of just how poverty looks, even if it is from a safe distance.

Another place we saw is the barrio where Pablo Escobar hid out from the cops and ultimately died in. It's crazy, really, because the neighborhood is built on top of a mountain of trash (think Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach, except bigger) and it doesn't exactly have roads. Instead, it's more of a mad warren of dark alleyways, connected houses, and who knows what else. It's quite obvious that had the US government not tracked Escobar via his cell phone, he could have hid out there for years.

The only real complaint I have from Medellin is that the food is without a doubt, worse than that of Bogota. The reason is that the "specialty dish" of the region is "bandeja paisa" which is a huge platter of food that includes: steak, morcilla (blood sausage), chicharron (fried pig fat, mostly), chorizo (spicy argentinian sausage), beans, rice, avocado, and, to top it all off, a fried egg. I'm really not likely to enjoy much more of this platter than the steak, chorizo, and rice, but it's not like I have to order it. Of course, that's not the problem. The problem is the variety of food is much, much less. Restaurants seem to offer varieties of bandeja paisa instead of other plates. For example, you can choose your "main" meat to be chicken or pork instead of steak.

Really, the point is that in Bogota I eat out a lot and I pretty much never have any complaints. Even a simple grilled chicken breast has a unique seasoning or flavor that makes it a tasty opportunity. But I didn't have that type of success in Medellin. We did eat at a really great steak restaurant, but that's nothing new in Colombia. If you pay a good bit for your meal, it's pretty much going to be fantastic. No, it was the average restaurant that disappointed me. Maybe I'll have better luck next time.

Anyway, I'll be going back to Medellin someday I'm sure. There's a lot that I didn't get a chance to see. Escobar's old house, for example. It's supposed to be spectacular. Plus, we didn't go into any museums or anything like that, so there's plenty to do. Overall, I give Medellin a solid grade. It's behind Cartegena, but I'd say it's on par with La Zona Cafetera, depending on what one would want to do.


We went back to Andres Carne de Res last night. My Brazilian friends have some people in town and wanted to take them there. It was great fun. People really do dance on the tables. Plus, the food was fantastic. We had "Lomo en Trapo" which is actually a really simple dish to cook and something I'd like to prepare when I go to the US for a visit because it vastly outpaces the tasty, delicious, and succulent tests. I won't describe it any further as I'll only get hungry again.

Of course, Andres is a really expensive place really. Not by US standards, that is, but by Bogota standards it's a bit ridiculous. Usually you can pay about $60,000 CP for a bottle of Rum, Vodka, or Whisky (the big ones, the table shares it), but at Andres it's $98,000 CP. That's a pretty steep markup. Plus, the mixers come at a premium. But, you're paying for the experience more than anything, so I guess it's worth it every once and awhile. Generally, however, if I go out dancing, there are a couple places in Bogota proper that I think are great and are more reasonably priced as well.


I have my first job interview this week. It's for a company that does USAID work. They have a sustainable development contract that is designed to shift the economy away from illicit activities (coca production) to legitimate forms of business. It's quite interesting really and it does coincide with some of the things I wrote about on this site before (think Regional Development Plans), so I'm very curious to see what the position is and what it will entail. Of course, like most USAID programs in Colombia, this one is radically underfunded. But, it's possible that this is a pilot program, so if the results are positive, maybe that will make a difference in the next funding cycle.

At any rate, I'm excited to actually have an interview.


Last, I've been thinking a lot about this blog lately and I've come to the conclusion that it's become too politically minded. Part of that is because of just how repugnant I percieve the Bush administration to be and another part is because of the election cycle. But, this blog was never intended to be a political blog. There are tons of those out there and most of them do a better job than my often spotty coverage can manage.

No, the real goal of this blog was to write about my life, my thoughts, and my experiences, hopefully in marginally witty or entertaining ways. I do enjoy making social commentary and it doesn't always have to be couched in the rhetoric of one of the least honorable professions in history (as politics more often than not becomes).

I think one of the reasons I moved away from my older style is because I met my wife. A lot of the relationship angst, a frequent subject in this space, dissappated rapidly and that changed my point of view. But also, I clammed up a bit about my personal life because not only did I have someone to share my inner thoughts and concerns with, but I want to be respectful of our private life together. It's easy to go on about my personal troubles when it's only me, but when you involve someone else, well, let's just say you don't have the blank check anymore.

However, the point is, I didn't have to throw the baby out with the bath water. There are a lot of things I want to write about and I shouldn't feel constrained from describing the world according to me. Sure the personal stuff is going to remain closer to the vest, but I want to go back and refocus my writing on topics generally more enjoyable and less frustrating. Reading some of my old posts was all that I needed to do to convince myself that this is the right move to make.

So, while readers can expect some political and social commentary to continue, I pledge that it will not be the focus of my efforts. Instead, I'm going back in time and start cooking up some real juicy pieces about my life here in Colombia. After all, that's the interesting part, isn't it?


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