Down Medellin Way
OK, so let me get this out of the way right now: why would anyone want to go to Colombia? Especially an English-only speaking white man with no roots or connection whatsoever with the city?
There are three answers. One, I have been reading that this is one of the best places in the world to retire, and I’m looking for an overseas paradise. Two, I have just purchased property directly on the Gulf of Mexico on a barrier island in what is affectionately known as the “Redneck Riviera”, and I’m thinking I need a place in the mountains. Y’know, yen and yang and all that. Three, I have some extra Spirit Airlines credits that need to be used pronto, and this seemed like as nice a place as any to go for a couple of weeks.
So, is it the best place in the world to retire? Hold on! I just got here today. More on that later. What I can report is that it is indeed a bargain as travel destinations go. I’m staying at a very nice hotel (the Diez) in the best part of town (El Pablado) and am paying under $100 a night out the door including tax. Now that may not seem like a deal, but remember this is a cosmopolitan city, the second largest in the country, a real city that has an active night life, is supportive of the arts, and is a center of commerce, and I am within walking distance of some of the best public transportation you’re ever likely to find in a mountainous urban environment (it even includes a ¼ mile long outdoor escalator)!
Here’s another deal: the 40 minute ride from the airport set me back less than $60. Due to an unfortunate malfunction of my Budget RAC Nissan Altima, I was unfortunately forced to take a cab to the Orlando Airport just today and can thus provide an immediate comparison. My 50 minute cab ride? $155, including tip. Ouch! Thanks for nuttin’, Budget. And so much for Japanese quality!
But the point is, cabs and hotels are cheap. Too bad the food isn’t, or at least I’m not sure yet. I ate at a tourist place with bilingual menus and paid $20 for a beer and a dozen wings. Not good. But I’ll reserve judgment until I can get away from Gringoland and dine where the locals do. Still, it isn’t a good sign when I see a nice Malbec I could buy in the States for around $12 going for $16 here. Jury’s out.
Now, is this a great place in the mountains? Yeah, it looks like it! It’s almost a cliché’, because so many other South American cities claim it, but this is known as the “Eternal Spring” city because even though it is fairly proximate to the equator it sits at 5000 feet and thus has a relatively narrow band of temperatures that are very comfortable for most people, including me. Right now, it’s 20 degrees Centigrade, and it’s perfect. Not to mention the fact that, it being in a rain forest and all, it shines after a morning rain like an emerald in the sun.
So my last reason was simply I wanted a vacation from the harsh reality of my everyday life, which is an endless series of all night drunken orgies and late morning red-eyes. On this score, I’m pleased to report that Medellin is as fine a home as a man could want. This city of 3 million people is as vibrant and exciting as you would expect from its intoxicating mix of peoples and cultures, and I’m glad to say that the women, who are justifiably famous for their beauty, are among the most stunning in the world. It’s an exotic blend of tall white-skinned Europeans, dark mestizos, and even a small smattering of ebony African-Colombians, and they all make there mark when the sun goes down.
Outside of Argentina, this is the best place in the world to salsa, and there are many clubs devoted to just that. But walking the streets at night, you’ll see ethnic restaurants of every stripe: Italian, Mexican, Greek, American, Japanese, Chinese, Thai…even a Colombian diner or two, and they’re all busy on this weekday night. This is a real city that runs all night long, and there are people everywhere. Here a gaggle of co-workers snapping group photos, there a lone drummer practicing in his open-windowed loft, over by the running brook that cascades through a dense canopy of trees are street vendors dispensing everything from rubbish to, well, more rubbish, but everyone knows it and they don’t seem to mind. It’s got a buzz and excitement that’s hard to ignore, and its easy to explore…and fairly safe-if you are diligent.
Yes, safe. That’s the other question I get a lot. Is it safe? Well, not statistically. Actually there are 20 times more murders here than in the USA on average. And yes they still produce more cocaine here than anywhere else in the world. But not downtown where I am. Just use more caution than you would in a big American city and you should be OK. The crime, just as it is back home, is mostly in certain bad neighborhoods, and usually committed between friends and lovers. Sound familiar? My advice is to stay in the “Safe Zone”, and you won’t get kidnapped.
So if you don’t hear from me again, you’ll know I foolishly wondered into a dingy bar, was drugged by a beautiful girl who turned out to be a transvestite, and woke up with just one kidney and a hell of a hangover. But let’s hope not. I’ll try to report back on Real estate prices when I can. I hear they’re a screaming bargain.