I’m two weeks into my stay in Medellin and I am Loving. Every. Minute. Mi español es still muy mal, but I’m understanding a little more every day. And I’m learning lots of other things along the way.
Here are some of my Second week takeaways:
Friends are the Enemy.
Okay, that’s harsh and untrue. But they make learning Spanish tough.
All of my classmates have now left, moving on to different parts of South America, so next week I’ll be on my own again, with a new group of people to get to know—or maybe I’ll end up with private lessons. It was awesome getting to know these people we had a blast together this week, but in a way I’m glad to see them go. (No offense, guys!) Where the first week we mostly all did our own thing, we were buds by week two and hung out several evenings after class, one 36 cerveza night resulting embarrassingly enough, in eating ants. (On purpose.) I definitely saw a correlation between the amount of hanging out with friends I did and the amount of slacking on my español. So I’m a little bit excited to feel on my own again. Hopefully I can dive in and try to get some of that immersion that I’ve been hoping for.
``Two weeks in Colombia and all I got was this British accent.``
Can't say I'm proud of this...
Evening snack of beers and ants.
Accepting the Medellin Sheen.
If you visit the City of Eternal Spring, be prepared to sweat.
I visited Cartagena two years ago in May and it was oppressively hot well into the wee hours of the morning. I was excited to have milder temperatures coming here to Medellin. It is certainly more comfortable than the northern part of the country, and the weather does hover in that perfect 67-85 degree window. But the humidity is ever-present in this semi-tropical climate and walking anywhere, or even just sitting sometimes, prompts sweat. Every morning when I get to school I go to the bathroom to wipe the sweat from my brow, chest and underarms. And every day when I get home I take a second shower. It’s pretty incredible that at a very mild 70 degrees one can still be dripping sweat.
I’ve given up on wearing tee-shirts and opt only for tank tops. And the long sleeve shirt, cardigan and two jackets I brought? I’d ship them home if it were cheaper. I get sympathy sweats when I see locals in their pants and long sleeved button-ups. I do not understand how they do it.
Pack your extra matte foundation and blotting papers ladies, this place is shine-city.
Switching to T-Mobile might have been my best move of 2018.
I stayed with Verizon long past what our breakup date should have been. After they kicked me off my international data plan, after they put me on a 2gb plan that I exceeded consistently, after paying approximately double what most of my friends and family paid for less service and a whopping TEN dollars a day for data while traveling, I still stayed a few more years. Last summer I switched over to T-Mobile and holy hell, best decision ever. While my compañeros here in Colombia are asking waiters for their wifi passwords and out of touch for hours until they get back to their hotel, while they’re relying on screen shots of saved locations to get around, I’m googling and gramming and mapping away—for free! International data is the stuff of dreams. Don’t worry, folks, I’m not missing this experience with my face glued to my screen, but having access to directions when I’m lost, to Uber when I’m out at night and need a ride home, to communicate with family and friends sans schedule is pretty freaking amazing. And the $70 price tag for this all-inclusive is also very sweet.
Medellin is for
This is not terrain for flip flops. Unless you plan on staying in the center of Poblado and walking only a couple blocks to the restaurants nearby, you’ll need some walkin’ shoes in Medellin. My walk to school takes 25 minutes, and the return trip is mostly uphill. The hills here are NO joke. Think San Francisco but lush and green, with mountains surrounding it and rain in the afternoons. Some say these hills—and all the walking up them—is the secret behind the Colombian “culo”. Hopefully I can reap some benefit here, but that’s a topic for another day.
The bottom line is you need comfortable walking shoes in Colombia. Not flip flops. I actually went out and bought a cheap pair of sneakers this past weekend because I was wearing my running shoes SO much that I was worried they’d get worn out in six weeks time and id have to invest in a new pair. Now I’ve got a few pairs of solid walking shoes to switch off.
This also helps you blend with the locals as you rarely catch any of them in sandals. Girls in tight sexy dresses are rocking sneaks on their feet, men in suits: sneakers, at the bars, at the clubs: sneakers. They’re just everywhere. Admittedly it’s something I’ve had to get used to, since I really only wear them at home for working out. But it’s a thing here, and you have to.
The hill situation, demonstrated.
Colombians have a sweet tooth (fine by me!)
Walking around a public square, sitting outside a café or restaurant, stopped at a red light, in a car: Inevitably there is someone there, carrying a box of treats trying to sell them to you. Lolipops, candy bars. I walk by one young guy who offers to sell me chiclets in the morning, and walking to the grocery store or into the metro station someone holds out a bag of candy, asking me to buy.
As a traveler I’m inclined to basically say no to anything anyone is trying to sell me. But the candy thing has struck me as especially weird. I’m going into the grocery store—wouldn’t I just buy some candy inside if I wanted it? Or like I’m sitting here drinking a beer with a plate of food in front of me—NOW is the time I’d purchase candy? But the craziest thing of all is that people actually do buy it. Locals. People will stop one of these vendors and ask for a chocolate bar. I watched the guy with the bag of the candy at the metro station offer it to another guy after I’d politely said no, gracias, and the guy reached in his pocket and bought himself a little piece of candy. It’s wild! It blows my mind!
I guess being so conditioned to not eating candy “because it’s bad for you” and also to not buy things I don’t need (we are not, I repeat NOT talking about cerveza here) just makes these candy exchanges seem so foreign and surprising to me. They’ve got a sweet tooth, these Colombianos. But somehow they’re not fat.
Sweet treats? Don't mind if I do.
The city is green—and not just the trees!
I see more recycling receptacles here in Medellin than I do in Boston. They’re all over public spaces, with three separate bins for separating waste. People seem to be mindful of water and electricity use as well. The air quality is quite poor at the moment, due to pollution and geographic factors. Medellin is a city in a valley, surrounded by mountains. When the cloud cover stays put, it essentially traps all of that pollution in the valley causing the air quality to degrade further. A similar phenomenon occurs in Salt Lake City.
The city has taken steps to mitigate this problem by increasing the sprawl of the metro, and therefore ridership, and implementing restrictions on how many cars can be on the road at the same time. During rush hour Monday-Friday, the number of cars allowed on the road is limited based on a very simple criteria: the last number of their license plate—or the first for motos. Each day of the week there are four chosen digits, and if your license plate ends in one of those, you may not drive it from 7-8:30 am or 5:30-7pm. The numbers are different each day (out of fairness, I presume) but each day has set numbers each week, so people can plan and stay on a schedule. The system is enforced by traffic cameras and drivers receive fines for disobeying the ordinance. This helps with the city’s traffic, which had apparently gotten way out of hand, and also with its air pollution struggle.
But it is so SO green!
Don’t Give Papaya.
“No dar papaya” is a popular phrase here in Colombia (or maybe just Medellin, come to think of it I can’t be sure.)
It is a colloquial expression that basically means be cautious. As a traveler, an expat, a local, a woman alone, to not make yourself an obvious target. A friend at school asked if this wasn’t sort of a form of victim blaming, and to some degree, sure it is. But as a woman I have to live under these same rules every day of my life, whether I’m traveling or not. So I’ll take the advice.
I’ve felt safe the whole time I’ve been here. But I haven’t let my guard down completely. I feel safe in knowing that overall people are good, that I’m aware of my surroundings, that just like anywhere bad things can happen in a moment. I don’t mean this in a grim way, quite the opposite actually.
I read up on the places I’m going. I get tips about what areas are safe and which are not. Precautions to take when traveling alone. I went to El Centro this weekend alone during the day for a large open-air shopping extravaganza. El Centro is a dangerous area of the city when night falls and petty crime happens often during the day as well. Pickpocketing is one of the most common tales I hear about El Centro. So, before deciding to go out on my authentic Colombian Saturday excursion, I did my research.
I went to an ATM before I got to the metro station, and I only took out the small amount of cash I’d need for the day. I didn’t wear jewelry. My cellphone stayed tucked in a deep inside pocket of my bag where it couldn’t be stolen unless my entire bag was robbed (in which case, what are ya gonna do?) I didn’t wear headphones. I paid attention to where I was going. And you know what? I had an awesome day. I loved being outside of Poblado, so full of extranjeros (foreigners) like myself, and in the city with locals doing normal stuff.
I live in a very safe, I’d say affluent, neighborhood. My walk to and from school is lovely (the sweating isn’t my favorite, but even still.) I feel completely safe. When meeting friends out for dinner at 8pm, I’ll walk the twenty minutes to the Parque Lleras area, not thinking twice. But I don’t walk home after. Ever. I debated it one day last week. Because it wasn’t too late and I had on sensible shoes and it seemed silly to wait the 6 minutes for an Uber when I could already be six minutes into my free journey by foot. But in the end, I decided that the $3 USD my Uber would come to, and the brief wait, was worth the peace of mind.
So, those are my takeaways from two weeks into Medellin living. I’m doing a city tour tomorrow, so maybe next week I can blow you away with facts—or my blossoming español skills!
Until then, no dar papaya!