Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Traveling: Impressions From Medellín, Colombia

(Drivebycuriosity) - As I reported before, my wife and I are traveling in Colombia. After visiting Cartagena (driveby) we took a flight to Medellín, where we stayed 5 nights. A shuttle bus brought as from the airport to the city. The bus ride over the mountains on a winding road took about an hour, as long as the flight. The views of the rough landscape - mountain chains covered with a lush vegetation -  were gorgeous. As we approached Medellín we saw the city deep below in the valley - an awesome impression. We arrived at rush hour and the taxi ride from the bus terminal to the hotel took another hour. 

The metropolis has a population of about 2.4 million, similar to Chicago. The city snakes through a valley between high mountains and stretches her arms up on the many hills and into the neighbor valleys like an octopus. Large parts of Medellín cover the often steep mountain slopes.

                                                          Middle Class Oases

Medellín is a patchwork of very different regions. There are large traditional low income areas  - including huge slums. But all over the city you can see modern oases with nice middle class districts and clusters of high-rises. We stayed in the middle class district Laureles, which reminded me a bit of Barcelona.

                                                                   Safe Place

Medellín maybe known by the Netflix series "Narcos" and has a very bad reputation. But this is history. We never feared for our safety, we never got  bothered.  Medellín doesn`t have the aggressive beggars & and heavily drugged people which are frequent on the streets of New York City or San Francisco.

The safety and calmness seems to be enforced by a massive police presence. You can see cops everywhere, especially on and near the metro stations and often they accompany the train rides. While we were attending a 4-hours guided hike in nature park (hiking) we had a police escort on horses.

But regarding safety: There is one exception. Beware of the traffic. People are driving aggressively, especially the ubiquitous bikers, who accelerate when the traffic light turns green. Both, car drivers & bikers, squeeze into any available space to advance in the frequent traffic jams.

We got irritated by the taxi drivers. They don´t understand English, like the rest of the population, and they didn`t know our locations, including the hotel. The city is big, but the streets follow a grit system, a chess board pattern, like Manhattan. Carreras (streets) run from South to North, the calles (also streets) cross the Carreras and run from East to West. Apparently not much help for the taxi drivers. Showing them the address in print, doesn`t help either. It looked like that many have problems to read. Nor did it help to show them the location on Google map. But finally they managed to bring us to our locations, often by asking people on the streets.

Fortunately Medellín has a public transport system on rails, called Metro. This is an elevated railway, with 2 lines which form a cross. The trains are fast, but often very crowded because the capacity is too low for Medellín´s growing population.

2 times we used a terminal station, which also is an interchange. This intersection gets flooded in rush hours. There are open boxes indicating the access to the trains. When the train has arrived, its passengers leave on the opposite sides and then the doors open for the waiting lines, letting the new passengers stream into the car. Usually the trains cannot swallow the whole queues. When the train is full, a signal sounds, the doors are closing, and the rest of the queue has to wait for the next train.

We also changed from the trains into cable cars, which go way up onto the mountains. The cabins, which take up to 6 persons, allow a great view on the city, the vegetation, the architecture & the local street life.

                                                Hustle And Bustle

The subtropical metropolis has a vibrant street life and there are many street markets where you can watch the hustle and bustle.

Anyway, during our hike through the city we got plenty of colorful impressions.

We also enjoyed the street art. Lots of murals & graffiti enrich the face of the city.

Medellín`s climate is mild thanks to the tropical location and the high altitude: The city center lays about 1,500 metres (4,900 feet) above sea level and we enjoyed between 70-82 F/22-28 C during our stay. A  kind of mediterranean climate. The subtropical city has a lot of beautiful parks and other green spots which make hiking there even more pleasant and protect a bit against the torching tropical sun.

Medellín was a great experience and provided much fun!

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