Every morning I walk outside and the weather feels the same. Short sleeves and about 75 very comfortable degrees……..every day. Medellin is known as La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera or The City of Eternal Spring.
The friendly, warm and courteous local people are called “Paisas” or Antioqueños after the larger Colombian region of Antioquia in which Medellin resides. It’s clear the residents have a lot of pride in their city and make efforts to keep it clean and hospitable. Although this is a city of 2.4 million people, it’s not unusual for people to express a daily greeting like, “buenas tardes”, along with a broad smile. Paisas are very straight forward and direct. Unlike many other cities, there is very little to fear about getting ripped off simply because you’re a tourist and automatically a target. Given its reputation from the 80’s as the second most dangerous city in the world, Medellin would surprise many people at home as to how safe and “everyday” pleasant it feels with its supermarkets and shopping malls.
As social norms go, there are some things that just are or are not done. For example, although it can get warm here, its unusual to find people dressed in shorts. I’d estimate that 70% of the people in the city regularly wear blue jeans. The men dress casual and are always neat and presentable. The women are impeccably put together without a hair out of place.
The only clothes I have are quick-dry t-shirts and pants making it very easy to spot the gringo in the crowd. I wondered if I’d blend in if I put on a plaid shirt and jeans. Cindy assured me that I would not.
I often see high-end road bikes around the city ridden by cyclists dressed in matching regalia as they do back home. Although Colombia is a relatively poor country, there is a visible population with high disposable incomes.
One of the aspects of ‘life in the big city’ here is that drivers have the right of way and they exercise that right at most times. Not that anyone would intentionally hit you but cars and especially motorbikes go very fast. The general guideline is that the larger vehicle has the right of way so pedestrians rank quite low. Often traffic lights are pitched only towards drivers’ view making it difficult for pedestrians to know when it’s safe to cross the street.
I went for a long walk on my own one day unfortunately forgetting my cell phone which I have specifically for situations like this. I didn’t have a map either. So, when I got ‘lost’ and had to ask for directions, it was a game of language survival skills to get back to home base. I thought this was kind of cool. I stopped and asked a gentleman for directions to the metro. I got the drift of what he said but he had also used a term twice that I didn’t understand. He used the word “derecho” (straight ahead) which I took for “derecha” which means “right”. The word came up again with another person I asked after traveling down the street a ways. Then I got it. The second gentleman gave me explicit detailed instructions of how many blocks to go, in which direction, where to turn and how to recognize it because of the gas station on the corner……., of which, I understood 100%. I was on my way. It’s great to have things like this happen as it makes up a bit for all the times I don’t understand most of what people say.
As were returning from one of our exploration excursions, we stopped at one of the larger plazas at the mall that happens to be on our daily route. Cindy had seen some dancers that morning so it looked promising to see a show.
Sure enough, at about 4pm a band came out for a set. I was surprised to see a harpist/vocalist leading a seasoned professional band playing Latin tunes. After their set, an emcee came out on stage to announce that the show would start at 5pm. What baffled us was the ensuing 3-4 dance groups who appeared to be prepping for the show in the most disorganized and undisciplined fashion possible. We were wondering if it was going to be worth waiting 45 minutes.
The gig started promptly at 5pm when they brought out couple after couple of the most fabulous salsa dancers tearing up the dance floor with ferocious physicality. These young adults were in great shape. I gleaned from the emcee that many of these dancers had competed internationally. There were even a couple of dancers as young as perhaps 8 or 9 years old whose legs were spinning as fast as blades in a blender.
What a treat to see such great local talent.