You can find plenty of online advice about how wonderful Colombia is as a retirement destination or just a good place to live. But sometimes these websites are just trying to do a sales job rather than really inform. The worst of these offenders is International Living, in my opinion, which would have you move every month to a new country because the best one in the world is ALWAYS the one they’re marketing books and conferences for. For that matter, I’ve told you mostly just the good stuff myself. So with that in mind, I’m here today to give you the downside of this mountainous country down south. Here’s my list of 5 reasons to avoid Colombia:
I first noticed this while taking a taxi across the Rio Medellin (really an ugly canal) during Friday rush hour. I was trying to enjoy the ride with my window rolled down, but I’d already had about ten times my normal recommended daily allowance (RDA) of carbon monoxide poisoning that afternoon, and my lips were starting to turn blue, so the cabbie mercifully allowed as how he’d spring for closed windows and air conditioning for the second half of the trip. Yes, they’re aware of the problem and working on it by restricting traffic on certain streets during peak hours (and other measures), but for now, a good idea is to carry a gas mask when in the lower altitudes. The problem rapidly abates, it seems, as you climb up the valley floor to elevations 500 feet or more above Ground Zero, but if you live and work below, it’s like a high altitude version of LA. By the way, it was a good idea to pull my elbow in to the car, anyway, as motorcyclists hurtling past at highway speeds, oblivious to the violent and untimely deaths which they would all undoubtedly suffer, and soon, came so close to the car that I could have played grab ass with them if I wanted to.
2-Where’s the old town?
It’s 50 miles away, in Santa Fe de Antioquia, of course, you stupid gringo! Medellin is a modern city of high rises, but if you’re looking for colonial charm in the Andes, go to Cuenca, because there isn’t much history in or near the city center. Yes, they’ve preserved a church or two, but if you like history and a sense of cultural continuity as much as I do, this isn’t the place for you. “History? We don’t need no stinkin’ history!”
Yes, this had to come up in any discussion where the city’s most famous citizen was a drug lord (Pablo Escobar) and where the police were likely to find twenty murder victims every day during the height of the Medellin Cartel’s worst wars. Now, a lot of people would have you believe it is perfectly safe here these days. I’m sure that’s what the American tourist gunned down in a nice section of the city just a few days ago thought as well. Yes, it may be much safer than it used to be, and if you travel with friends and make no ostentatious (read stupid) displays of wealth, you’ll probably be OK in the wealthy areas, but when your murder rate is still twice as high as Detroit’s, and that’s a huge improvement, what does it say about your city?
You’d better have the speed and agility, not to mention the outright fear in the belly, of a baby gazelle being chased by a hungry lion if you plan to cross a major street in this city, because, chances are, there’s only one way across the highway, and it involves dodging cars racing around blind corners like they’re vying for the finish line at LeMans, and they’re willing to swap paint and maybe kill a few innocent bystanders to win. No, it’s not that the drivers are bad: quite the contrary. They’re very, very good. But the roads simply don’t provide for a normal system of crosswalks in high traffic areas, and of course the aforementioned pollution makes walking a trade off between good exercise and lung cancer.
Yes, the economy here is improving dramatically, and the signs of economic progress are everywhere, but so is the poverty, and it gets far worse as you get away from the city center. So, if you can’t handle seeing legless beggars and orphaned kids trying to sell you Chiclets for milk money, this isn’t the place for you. But then again, I’d say it eliminates most of the rest of the Third World as well.
So that’s my list, but don’t get me wrong, I DO like Medellin and its people. It’s just that I believe in truth in advertising, and it ain’t the perfect Shangri-La that some would have you believe. No surprise it isn’t heaven on earth, right?
Today, I looked at some apartments, but I’ll report to you tomorrow what I’ve found. Until then, Adios…again!