Medellin: Day 1A

Being such a creature of habit, I find it hard to blog on the road. The connection from my room is sketchy and the lobby of the hotel is never optimal for concentration. Good thing I don’t have to file stories for approval by an editor with deadlines and all. This is what will have to pass for a partial first day trip report from Medellin Colombia. I’ll post specifics (interviews etc) once I get back.

My trip was organized by Proexport, a pro-trade agency funded by the Colombian government. I’ve never availed myself to a service like this (other nations do this too) so having nothing to compare it to, my conclusions are limited. That said, it’s been a very good experience. From arranging itinerary to reception at the airport, it’s been a wonderful experience. Perhaps a stupid thing I appreciated was, the instructions said there would be a booth as soon as you left customs where they’d ferry you to the hotel. Having traveled to many international airports, amid the bustle, sensory stimulation, unaccustomed signage and a culturally distinct pattern language, I expect to have difficulty finding the concierge. In this case, my concerns were for naught. You could not not find the booth. It was staffed by a bevy of attractive socially astute young men who all spoke English (I’m trying to keep my eye on conditions that’d effect non-Spanish speakers).

I know I am SO going to regret this but I neglected to take a photo of the airport police’s drug dog. In the States we’re used to German shepherds. At the airport in Colombia, I saw a police officer with a schnauzer. The one I saw was a handsome fellow, immaculately coiffed, a walking advertisement of health and breeding. Not that I know anything about schnauzers. Although he was medium sized (full sized for a schnauzer) he was impressively formidable, all business. I will be so disappointed if I don’t see one upon departure. What can I say? He was so intimidating I didn’t think to photograph him. My companion remarked that next they’d be using dachsunds. I refrained from comment. Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers, a notoriously quarrelsome creature. Eric had a mini-doxie that even he hesitated to handle.

Sorry about the dog thing. You know me. I notice weird things.

From the airport to the hotel is quite a hike (the shuttle hired by Proexport). My companion on the plane said it was 45 minutes and another ten or twenty to the city center. This surprised me. It seems that most Latin American cities I’ve traveled to, have airports more centrally located. It was evening so I couldn’t see much plus I was running off at the mouth with a designer from Dallas who I didn’t know but we had several acquaintances in common so I got more dirt (never forget, this business is smaller than you ever imagine). Her name was Susan, she has an upper end kid’s line. You know, her coats have bound button holes and what not. I did notice that police officers were atypically armed, with rifles slung over their shoulders. This is quite imposing. Oddly though, I didn’t see any today during day light hours. It was surprising because Medellin is a very safe city. Its reputation of being dangerous is antiquated. Still, you have to keep in mind that the manner in which police officers are armed in Latin America, is in many respects, a cultural artifact. Security in general is very well organized. I noticed that the “doorman” (private security, also with a rifle) at the hotel, logged every single taxi (with taxi number, guest room number and destination) that departed from the hotel.

Speaking of the hotel, it was very nice and modern. The room rate was equivalent to about $100 a night. The rooms (don’t know if this is standard here or just typical of this hotel) were closer to what we’d describe as a hospitality suite. Actually, you could live in one of these for quite awhile. Although compact for its amenities, it had a full size kitchen with full size refrigerator and stove (no coffee machine but there was a hair dryer in the bathroom). It also had washer and dryer hook ups. There is a dining area (table and four chairs) a sofa and two chairs. A half bath was off to one side. The bedroom had two twin beds and another full bath. The furnishings weren’t luxurious but quite comfortable and not the least bit worn. Everything was immaculate. There are drains in the floors of the bathrooms. That’s something homes don’t have in the U.S. but are common elsewhere. When I first came to the U.S. (I lived mostly in Germany until I was 16), I thought it was weird that kitchen and bathroom floors didn’t have drains. Below is a photo of the view from one window of the hotel.

In Colombia, it does seem to be typical that an “American breakfast” is included with each night’s stay. The food process was kind of trippy. You order your breakfast the evening before and they deliver it the next morning precisely at the time you wanted it delivered if not a minute or two early. An “American breakfast” consists of a continental breakfast (a real one, not the Holiday Inn version consisting of donuts, gunked up sweet rolls and bananas) with eggs of your choosing. I ordered the traditional scramble with tomatoes and onions. I do not like cold food. I was pleased the food arrived hot. Oh, and no bacon or sausage which was just fine for me although someone should tell the Colombians that most Americans don’t do eggs without meat. Not that I’m complaining. Speaking of meat, Colombia is not a vegetarian’s paradise. Just try ordering a salad sandwich with cheese and avocado. I’ve had two since I got here. Each vendor was convinced I’d either taken leave of my senses or didn’t know what I was ordering and snuck a slice of ham in there. I said no meat and no chicken. In their minds, that left ham as the only possible dietary alternative. I meant to take a picture of the ladies in the hotel kitchen. They have cute little uniforms and nary a one was over 4’10”. Their height surprised me because nearly everyone you see walking around are big like us. Or rather, not “big” like us but you know, height-wise, they were the same size as people in the U.S.. Perhaps they are indigenous but their physionomy wasn’t remarkable in that it was obvious. The most popular food item here is an “arepa”. It’s a white round flat corn bread, and looks exactly like a six inch flour tortilla.

Medellin is considered to be an “industrial” city. Everything is relative, I suppose. There’s plenty of greenery which isn’t something you’d see in a commercial center in the U.S.. The climate is like spring year round and things never stop growing. I thought it’d be cooler based on weather reports but it feels warmer than that. It’s very humid with low clouds so I suppose that makes it warmer. Medellin is situated in a valley and the second largest city in Colombia with a few million inhabitants. I’m not on the web as I write this so I can’t crib stats from Wikipedia. What did we do before Google and Wiki? Below is another photo from a hotel window.

In the morning, the shuttle to the show (ColombiaModa) comes around. You probably don’t know this but the companies that provide distance bus travel (like Greyhound) have the equivalent of a flight attendant on board and they serve meals, just like airlines used to do. Anyway, the shuttle also had a hostess which surprised me but I guess it shouldn’t have. Our hostess offered us apples and bottled water for the drive to the show. The hostesses are young ladies, students mostly. Our hostess is a law student named Sara. Here’s a photo of her with a coworker. Until I saw the other young ladies, I didn’t know her outfit was a uniform. I wonder who decided on these.

On the shuttle to the show Wednesday morning, a fellow passenger told me that residents of Medellin refer to themselves as “Paisas” which at first I pronounced totally wrong because it looks so much like pais I wanted to pronounce it like that (pie-ee-sas) but it’s actually pie-sas. Paisas are, on one hand, very businesslike, efficient, organized and extremely professional. Public decorum is unparalleled. I don’t know that I’ve ever been around a group of people so immediately responsive and aware of others in their space. Strangers strike up conversation constantly. No hermit-ing allowed. If you jostle someone accidentally, they’ll immediately say “tranquilo” kind of laconically which in spite of delivery and facial expression, initially disturbed me because elsewhere, tranquilo means “calm down”. You say that to someone who’s getting wound up or is angry. Here it seems to mean “no problem”.

Gas is comparatively inexpensive, premium is sixty cents a liter ($2.40 a gallon), the cheap stuff (called “corriente”, I laughed out loud) is maybe fifty cents. The rate of exchange varies daily and I think it was 1,800 pesos to the dollar when I arrived. Cash machines are common and you can use your credit or debit cards. You’ll have to work out the exchange beforehand to know how many pesos you want. I thought I was getting $50 USD but it was 50,000 pesos (trailing zeros are omitted on the screen).

Speaking of transportation, there tons of taxis -all of them yellow- buses, cars, and many get around by bicycle or motorcycle. I also saw a few horse drawn wagons and I know there’s a Metro too. Motorcycles are much more common than I’ve seen stateside, usually with two riders. Helmets are required by law. In addition, the transit regulations require that your license plate number appears on the back of your jacket (or a harness thingy) in large silver reflector tape. The plate number is on the back of their helmets too. I guess that’s one way to cut down on motorcycle theft. If the numbers on the back of the jacket and helmet don’t match the bike, they’re stopped. I noticed that commercial vehicles (all but private conveyances) were required to post their license plate number on the sides of the vehicle, much larger than the actual plate size. It makes it that much easier to read the plate if it’s visible from four sides. Maybe that’s why people drive fairly well here. It’s not as crazed as other places I’ve been, say Las Cruces NM or Los Angeles and Houston.

Speaking with the average person on the street, I was surprised that everyone knew about the show ColombiaModa (images). Apparently it’s on the news every night with footage of the fashion shows. Everyone wanted to know if I’d been to one of the shows called “desfiles” or parades. The shows are invitation only and much sought after so even if you register for the show, it doesn’t mean you can get in to see one. I was graciously given invites to two shows but being the space cadet/ingrate I am, spaced the times and didn’t attend either. Some gratuities are entirely wasted on me.

Well, I suppose that’s all I can dredge up for now. Below is yet another view from another hotel window.

Amendedthis evening to correct a plethora of spelling errors. Good grief. I was in a hurry this morning.

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  1. juan carlos giraldo says: don´t know who am i, but i am the sara´s boyfriend, sara is the flight attendant in your bus, she spoke to me about you. she was very happy, because she met many differents persons in this week including you. i think that is very nice that people from another countries learn about the true reallity of our wonderful medellin.
    specifically colombia moda is the real oportunity to show the goodness of the a great country.
    jajaja i am smiling because i saw the sara´s picture in your page, by the other hand i read your article, and i am agree with you, so i gona try to make a few comments about some aspects.
    for example about the weather, we arer a lttle bet concern about it, because in the month it is supous to be very dry , i mean this part of the year should be summer but it isn´t. I think that is for the global warming.

  2. sara catalina montoya says:

    hellow fasanella, i am sara montoya. do you remember me? the law student in the bus, i am writting you because i have to tell you some things.
    1. i am very happy to have met you, i must say that you are an interesting and friendly person.
    2.i hope to have served you properly, because it was my mission , and i hope i have done a good job. are invited to return to medellin what ever you want´s. if you want to see something beautiful, you can return in Christmas time, medellin is the best in this month.
    4.i have to clarify something about my job, this service belongs to TCC . traasportadora comercial de colombia.
    5. this job is a part time, and a need it because a pay part of my university with this, that´s the principal reason to be here.
    6. tank´s a lot for your kindness. my best wishes for you.
    7. jaja my boyfriend had to help me wrintting this, ,,,,,be carefull and have a nice day….see you tonight,,

  3. Nancy says:

    Oh you have just made me “homesick” for Latin America…..its such a wonderful place, and yet in the US, all you hear is the negative stuff. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru – all so very beautiful, with wonderful warm people…..and nevermind the food. When I was there in 95, I ate my way through Ecuador and Colombia!

    If you like spicy/hot, ask for “aji” with your arepa. And if you like milkshakes – get thee a batido guanabana (gu-ahn-ah-ba-na). Or Moro (blackberry).

    Now I’m hungry damnit! LOL :)

  4. Kathleen says:

    When I took the shuttle bus back to the hotel in the evening, Sara mentioned she and her boyfriend left comments (above). Can you imagine that she had a gift for me when I disembarked? And hand-made no less! I’m just blown away. I’ll tell you more later.

    And thanks Sara; I’m overwhelmed at your kindness and generosity. Que dios te paga.

  5. Kathi S says:

    In 69 on the way to Costa Rica, we landed in Guatemala City where the runway was lined with tanks and armed soldiers everywhere. The American ambassador had been asassinated the day before and we were ordered off the plane by a machine gun toting soldier. We were herded into the waiting room where everybody’s luggage was searched. A couple of people were detained and questioned. It was very hot, but noone complained or said a word. After a couple of very nervous hours we were allowed aback on the plane to continue our trip. It was my first plane trip and I learned that we weren’t in “Kansas” anymore, Toto!

  6. I attended Colombiatex in Medellin and had a great time meeting people from around the globe at Plaza Mayor. And like every first time visitor to Medellin, I fell in love with the wonderful city after meeting so many great Paisas as I explored the city.

  7. Esta es una importante feria y son muchos los extranjeros que vienen a la ciudad de Medellín,
    nosotros ofrecemos los más lujosos y a mejores precios apartamentos amoblados en toda la
    ciudad, pueden comunicarse el 444 2990 o visiten nuestra página en la red.
    [KF translation]
    This is a very important show and to the many foreigners who come to the city of Medellín, we offer the best prices on (luxury) furnished apartments in every part of the city. Call us at 444 2990 (from the US, 011-574-444-2990 time zone is EST) or visit our site on the web.

    Another source for apartment rentals in Medellín is here.

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