Pablo Escobar is dead.

Trip Start Oct 20, 2006
Trip End Nov 07, 2006

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Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Though I had planned on seeing a few more of the cultural sites in Medellín, the long, festive weekend kept me out late at night and often sleeping until noon, so while I may have missed out on a museum or two and failed to see Pablo's grave, I still took advantage of by far the best part of Medellín - the company of its sociable people. I named this entry after the demise of Pablo Escobar because what I most noticed when speaking of the man, once among the wealthiest on earth at the top of his prodigious and murderous cocaine cartel, was that everyone made it a point to tell me that that epoch of Medellín was done with and that those times are a thing of the past. Although the cocaine trade is alive and well, Colombians are quick to point out that blow is an "export product" which is manufactured to supply the northern appetite.  (Following the principles of capitalism, there is no demand that doesn't find its supply, though el gringo virtuoso likes to blame others for his vices and often makes them expiate his sins.  See Plan Colombia and the correlation between U.S. military aid and human rights violations since Colombia overtook El Salvador as the biggest recipient of aid in the Americas...)  While I saw some cocaine and was offered it on a few occasions, I've seen more of it in the U.S.

Medellín today is a prospering city, with an impressive infrastructure that continues to grow at a rapid pace. There is much less crime than before, and compared to other Colombian cities that I have seen I'd say Medellín is probably the safest and most cared after. This I attribute to a strong sense of pride and good education, things that can be seen in the people and the city they strive to maintain as a reflection of who they are. I'd also say the Spanish is probably the best in this city, as the paisas speak with a beautiful accent that is a real treat for your ears if you've spent as much time in Central America and México as I have.

My final day I toured the northern end of the city where the poor are conveniently tucked away, far from the upscale south where luxurious shopping malls, fine restaurants and wild nightspots reside. I followed the metro into the northern barrios along the turbid Rio Medellín, which is peppered with ramshackle dwellings and families living on the margin of society, surely negotiating their existence on a regular basis. Just as the scenery becomes more dirty and offensive in the poor section of the city, so too does the odor in the air, as plumbing and waste removal are surely lacking here. I got off in the heart of the north and grabbed the metrocable, which is like a ski lift that takes you up the mountainside even further into the anthills that spatter this part of the city. The whole ride up the mountain you have a birdseye view into the homes of the underprivileged of Medellín, witness to the women cooking and cleaning, the children playing football in the garbage-ridden streets and the normal collection of hawkers selling everything under the sun up and down the narrow roads that meander through this overcrowded urbanization.

After spending the morning in the north I hopped back on the metro and headed south, returning to the side of the city I was much more familiar with. Each ride costs only 50 cents, including transfers, which is great given the speed and frequency of the metro and better when considering that a taxi covering the same distance will run you $5 easily and take much longer. As I got off in the Poblado area the clouds began to gather and darken, and by the time I grabbed a cab to the hills where I had planned on visiting my friend's aunt at her new café/bakery, it had begun to rain.
(To my dismay I would be unable to take the pictures I wanted to shoot from the miradores high above the city, though as my luck would have it the sun appeared once again in the afternoon on my way to the airport, allowing me to get the pictures posted here.)

The café/bakery is called Fionna and is located right next to the Pinares del Rio shopping center off of Cra. 10. I highly suggest this place if you're looking for some good international cuisine with a taste of Colombia, and the pastries are fabulous. I spent a few hours chatting with Claudia before having to head back to my hotel to pay the bill, then run over to Sonria where I had a dentist appointment. While I've already mentioned the obsession in Colombia with beauty and the cosmetic enhancements available and affordable all over the city, I came to discover that a good smile is yet another phenomenon that has overtaken the country as well, especially Medellín. Never have I seen so many people wearing braces, young and old, professional and unprofessional alike. There were police, soldiers, bartenders, students and streetwalkers with metal mouths. Given the low prices and good services in Medellín, I took advantage and got myself a cheap cleaning and whitening before heading out to the airport.

To my chagrin I would arrive at the Medellín airport only to discover that there were no direct flights to JFK on Tuesdays, despite having a ticket with a contradicting itinerary, so I was forced to take a flight to Bogotá in the evening and then another from Bogotá to NY at 11:30 pm, which didn't actually depart until about 12:30 due to a heavy rain and some mechanical problems.  I was sad to depart, but eventually all vacations must come to an end.   I'd definitely like to return and continue exploring down here, despite the possible dangers which are not difficult to avoid, and extend my incursions further south into the continent.  Even though I came closer to the realities of war than I'd like, it didn't seem to be as shocking as you might think, certainly nothing I'd never seen, which I attribute to viewing the news every day and living in a nation that claims to be perpetually threatened, on constant alert and in what seems to be becoming a permanent state of war.  Colombia was only different in that here the war was homegrown and more sensory.  It was also obviously being waged in closer proximity to my individual existence.  I left certain that seeing war in living color only made it more barbaric and more senseless than I had already believed.
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