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I have wanted to go to Medellín for quite awhile now.
Whenever I complain about the heat in Cali, invariably someone says “you would like Medellín, it's always 70º” (as opposed to 85º-90º in Cali). And recently, any time anyone comes back from Medellín, the report is always the same: “Medellín está MUY bonito”, referring to recent improvements in the city as far as the abundance of green and green technology and the level of organization unparalleled in the rest of Colombia.
I had a lot of expectations for the city dubbed “The City of Eternal Spring”, and I have to say, I wasn't let down. The first day, I took the subway (the only one in Colombia) to a station where a funicular brings you up the mountain into the slums. What once were impenetrable areas for outsiders are now accessible, giving some of the best views in the city as well as much needed transportation for its hillside inhabitants. Public libraries and youth symphony orchestras are scattered throughout, and it is both clear that Medellín has invested money into including these communities into the life of the city, and that in many ways it has paid off.
Coming down the hill, everywhere you look there are green buildings, museums and new city planning projects. I suppose you could relate the city's universal embrace of technology with its habitants' propensity for plastic surgery, but if that correlation existed Google would currently be inflating housing prices in Los Angeles and not in San Francisco. At any rate, I particularly liked the gorgeous, orchid-filled botanical gardens and the Parque Explora, which mixes hands-on science demonstrations and creepily moving life-sized dinosaurs as well as an aquarium. I can report that I saw piranhas up and close for the first time; they are far sparklier and less snaggle-toothed than their reputation would lead one to imagine.
I also went to some of the glitzier neighborhoods—all fancy boutiques and fusion restaurants, plenty of places to see (if you know who to look for, that is) and be seen. But I much more enjoyed a visit to a melancholy, European-style castle overlooking the city. Called Museo El Castillo, the place is both a testament to family fortune and family tragedy with a secret garden-like backdrop, rather frozen in time but for a building outback that currently functions as an art school.
More modern is the Plaza de Botero, built in 1999, which sits in front of the Museo de Antioquia. Enormous statues donated by the Medellin-born artist Fernando Botero inhabit the plaza, and he donated many of the works inside the museum as well. If you're looking for criticism of traditional Colombian society, you'll find it in spades in Botero's work, but he also clearly loves his country. The 81-year-old artist is still active, still productive, and still critical of the world at large.
And Medellín is evolving alongside, something I hope to continue to see. That seems likely, because although this was my first visit to Medellín, it certainly won`t be my last.