Why won't They Come? A story from Medellin

Praise continues for MEDELLIN...Yes, Huff POST, NY Times, National Geographic, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Forbes... etc etc all Praising with great Praise,  but.. my friends and family still won’t come.  It can’t be the fault of beautiful and exciting Medellin...it must be me.  I love this place and its folk so much that I’m a pest.  I am incessantly sending the good news about Medellin to my friends and family.  Visiting this December and /or January was a hot topic for some of my friends. But...no.   Not this year.  Who me? Depressed?  Hey!  I have a great life as a gringo in Medellin and I want to share a bit of it with my dearests.  Is that so bad.  Maybe it is if I’m a pest.

About visiting Medellin my expat buddy wrote, ”We have to excuse our brothers back in the U.S. They get their info from the wrong places most of the time. Some of my friends, even if I paid for the ticket, won't come here. It saddens me that I can't share my happiness with some of the people I care about the most.”  So he’s singing  the same blues I am singing.
Look!  I think I'm allowed to whine after two now FIVE years of bugging my friends with no results, no comments, no “maybe next years”. Some of my friends said they never liked me anyway and now they consider me a pest. I guess I am right about being a pest.  Wow!  This is not fun for me.  And as bad as that is, not having friends come down it’s worse because there are no nibbles from my family.  Interestingly, during these two years some of my friends vacationed in Brazil, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and all over Central America and even Cuba,  but somehow forgot that I was here in Colombia. And close family members went to Greenland, Ireland and again to Paris.  I can’t fault them for that,  I just wish… well you know.

So, What’s So Great About Medellin???

Last weekend as Beatriz and I left our apartment at about 11 AM we both stopped, looked at each other and both agreed that we were  routinely astonished once again by the beauty of the place and the wonderful weather.
When I taught meteorology at the university in the States we gave a definition of Weather as the condition of the air at any given time.  But this Saturday there was a special beauty picked up by the senses that somehow could not be a part of any definition... the feel of the breeze, the smell of the breeze, the speed of the moving air, the de facto temperature of the air in motion and the high clouds focusing the sun coming out between them, the humidity, the density... all gathered and focussed to let out a big Medellin "Ahhhh".  Beautiful!  It's almost like that most days, but last Saturday it was even more so.
They call it “The City of Eternal Spring”,  a chamber of commerce title if ever there were one, but here it is deserved.  On any day the high temperatures are rarely above 80 and never below 72 degrees F. At night they may fall to 65 F.  This is everyday all year round.  It is perfect sleeping weather without A/C or heaters;  just open the window or close it, close the bedroom door or open it, a sheet or a light blanket-  that’s all you need… At noon the sun is strong and because of the altitude and being near the equator the sun’s rays can be damaging.  Cabbies cover their left arms and the women carry umbrellas as parasols.  I wear my stylish Panama hat.  Younger men are in baseball caps.  Short sleeves and jeans are the uniform of the day.
Then come the thunderstorms, daily almost, refreshing and strong mountain storms, “los tormentos” in Spanish.  They clear  and clean the air like the cool showers they are, and they feed the sweet sub-tropical vegetation with moisture coming each afternoon over the Andes from the Pacific.  As quickly as they come they are gone.  There do not seem to be any sustained rainy days,  just quick short bursts of cooling rains.
Can there be too much of a good thing?  Never any snow , sleet, dust storms, ice storms, tornados or hurricanes.   Sometimes I joke with the cabbies saying, “Omigosh, another day in Paradise”.  “Yes”, they respond, “But don’t you think it’s a little cool today?”  I have to grin.  The temperature is 72 degrees with a five mile per hour breeze.

Maybe if I lay out AGAIN what I think is wonderful about living and visiting and retiring here, just maybe…. here we go again!
Here's a list as to when and why to choose Medellin for your next vacation, for visiting, for retiring...

1)  OK, you've been to Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Las Vegas, the ocean, the islands, the Caribbean, Prince Edward Island, the Rockies, the Rock Bound Shores of Maine, Boston, Florida, New Orleans, Mexico, Montauk, Philly, Chicago.... now for something very different.  It is very very different from Mexico.

2) Think high Andean Valleys. Medellin is almost a mile high but being near the equator we get #3)...
3) Think perfect weather YEAR ROUND...  Come when your weather is awful.  
4) We do casual dress year round, maybe a light sweater in the evening.  A little neater or dressier but still very casual for dinner, clubs, concerts, or the opera.
5)  Medellin is the hometown of Fernando Botero, Pedro Nel Gomez and Eladio Velez.  The home of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Juanes, …and their presence is all around.
6)  There are fine art museums, fine music, symphony, lots of music for children and by children, opera, folklorico, ballet, salsa, tango, cumbia, the Carib/African liaison.  And festivals celebrating all of these and more year-round.  
7) Here you will find unique and wonderful food.  Indigenous (Comida Tipica)  and international cuisines, local beers and liqueurs are superb.  Fresh juices and fruits are available everywhere on the streets, in shops, ...at your disposal.
8)  There’s first rate medical care. Inexpensive out of pocket!!!  The ophthalmologist in her modern office building clinic treated my scratched cornea including a complete workup, glaucoma screening, prescription for new glasses, vascularization check, , eye drops and antibiotic drops, and follow up for Forty Dollars, US.  I got to see her about thirty minutes after calling.  No gatekeepers!!!!  She spoke perfect English.  And, being a Paisa,......... very lovely. Since I was in pain she pushed me to the head of the line.   Charming.
9)   The pure clean cold mountain water comes directly from the tap.   No filters needed.  No waterborne diseases to upset your tummy.
9 a) Things work... the TV (Cable and many stations have SAP English) , the phones, the transport systems, the ubiquitous metered cabs, the Metrocable.  Modern domestic and civil infrastructure  (plumbing, electric, water, sanitation).)
9b) There are no bugs, no flies or mosquitoes.  No tropical diseases.  No vaccinations are necessary.
10) Amazingly clean Attended Public Rest Rooms are everywhere...this is a rule all over Colombia.
11)  El Poblado, Estadio, Sabaneta, Envigado and Laureles neighborhoods are as fine and upscale as you will find just about anywhere.  ...with clubs, theaters, coffee houses, shopping, and restaurants to match.  And it’s all very Green, sub-tropical, lovely.

12) Choose from three professional soccer teams and stadia.  Atletico Nacional is a perennial South American power.  Olympic quality athletic facilities are centralized and well-distributed both.  We just lost our bid for the Junior Olympics, but we’ll try again.
13)  Biking is a passion as are sports and swimming in venues all over the city.  Major roads are closed to traffic on Sundays for bikes and hikes.
14)  Here we have what I can only call “super shopping” in modern brand new malls and districts.  Medellin is THE fashion center for Latin America. Colombiamoda is a stop on the European and American fashion circuit in July.
15) LOve the Low Prices...  for example...5 star luxury hotels from $59 to $150 per night.  Private rooms,very well appointed and safe in homes with private bath, begin at $20 per night.  And no cars necessary.  Cabs and Metro and busses and walking everywhere.  Just imagine not paying for  gas, insurance and parking.  Hassle-free transportation.
16) Again, Medellin has an image problem as you know, but there is a certain positive edge to being here knowing that this was the home of Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel.  I’ll explain..  For me the positive edge comes from seeing how wonderfully the people have rebounded from their "Mala Fama" and “Violencia” to become a favorite of Martha Stewart, Anthony Bourdain, the NY Times Sunday travel section, Forbes, Bloomberg Business, Huff Post, National Geographic and this year to be named the “Most Innovative City in the World” by the Wall Street Journal, Citibank and the Urban Institute beating out New York, Tel Aviv and others for this signal honor.

17) Truly spectacular infrastructure unlike any other in the Americas... safe, clean, inexpensive, efficient and scenic, ... brand new Metro, MetroCable, MetroPLus express busses,  and the thousand foot vertical outdoors escalator up the mountain to the poorest neighborhoods, changing those neighborhoods for the better forever.  Also consider the wonderful ECO Parque Arvi, Parque de las Luces, Parque Explora like the EXploratorium in SF or the Field Museum in Chicago, El Jardin Botanico with its jungle in the center of town and flower and orchid displays all year round, with book fairs and as the center for the Feria de las Flores city-wide celebrations in August, the architectural wonder of the  Biblioteca EPM, the EPM Building-  ten story self-sufficient for energy and water, computerized mega-structure, and the black geometric volumes of the dramatic Bibloteca Espana in the formerly poverty and crime-ridden Barrio Santo Domingo, the truly international class El Plaza Mayor Exposition Center, the new Teatro Metropolitano Concert Hall, the iconic Barefoot Park, the Park of Your Desires, the Golden Mile of stylish hotels, clubs and casinos, el Zoologico, el Acuario de la Amazonas, el Planetario, the EPM Water Museum!  , ... Museum of Modern Art, Museo Universidad de Antioquia, la Plaza Botero...  emphasis on Ecology in all of these buildings and parks, ecology and the kids.

* EPM. Empresas Publicas de Medellin.. the utilities, semi-public, which runs the water, electric, gas, santitation and many of the parks and museums.  Beatriz is a librarian at the EPM Biblioteca at Plaza Cisneros/Parque de las Luces.

18) Ajiacco and the beautiful, beautiful  Paisa women.  There are men too.  I think.
19) The ride to and from the airport is a scenic wowser!
20) Come for our Festivals of Music, theater , poetry, rock and roll, dance, tango (Medellin is second only to Buenos Aires for tango) , salsa, electronic music... but the most famous are the Christmas lights shown off in the FERIA DE LAS LUCES  (number one in the world according to National Geographic) and the FERIA DE LAS FLORES in August of course.
21) Sample or guzzle the best Coffee in the world... in the opinion of many aficionados.  Try different provenances, roastings, visit local growing regions near Medellin.

22)  Get outta town... exploring Colombia's colonial past, scenic greatness, mnatural and human diversity, ecology, coffee regions, rivers, forests.  Colombia is the closest part of South America to the US.  Therefore it is on the way to the rest of the continent.
23) and from Juan Dario Gutierrez in “Live and Invest Overseas.. “Foreign investment in Colombia has increased six-fold in the past three years, the number of tourists to the country is four times greater today than it was in 2002, there are 30% more flights from the United States to Colombia now than just a few years ago, and the country’s GDP has expanded 190% in 12 years.”  
Sounds great to me!!!!!

…….and some more attractive odds and ends….-  All male Colombians know who Edgar Renteria is.-- There are panaderias y reposterias on every other corner to relax in al fresco.. bread and dessert shops with coffee.-  The popcorn is called "palomitos", Little doves.  So cute, yes?-The US Secret Service guys should have paid the prostitutes in Cartagena- You can get a vegetarian three egg omelet for $2.50 at just about every corner restaurant- There are more kinds of fruit here than you can shake a guanabana at.  Try a lulo, or tomate de arbol.- Dunno how many different potatoes there are or banana species-Three ounce espresso costs $0.87 everywhere.  A doble is a dollar five.- A black coffee is called a Tinto.  Available in shops and on the street.  All coffee houses will add liqueurs like Bailey's etc to your coffee if you like.  Starbuck’s is coming as is Crispy Creme for better or worse.  Duncan Donuts is already well-established--
AND HERE”S one that the US should look into...honoring its elders in a visible way, good manners,  like...As an older person I am escorted to the front of the line at soccer matches.  Also if there is a long line at the movie theater, I am offered a seat to wait my turn or I am put at the front of the line.  And in supermarkets there are chairs for the older folk right near the register, and their baskets are pushed along by those standing in line.  Then a store worker will take your basket to the cab stand which is in front of every large supermarket and he or she will help the cabbie load it for you, older person or not.  The cab takes you to your door and the taxista helps you unload to your front door or up to your apartment.  Fare?  $2.50 American. -- You can watch "Duck Dynasty " here on SAP English!  We also get BBC, CNN and Bloomberg. 65 stations in all plus Premium channels are available-Many movies in theaters are in the original language (English) with Spanish subtitles, while next door at the multiplex you can choose to see it dubbed into Spanish. -- I stream KDFC, KNBR, KQED, KCBS  and KKII on my computer.- You do not need any sort of Visa to visit Colombia as a US, Canadian or EU citizen.  Your passport is sufficient for up to 90 days.- Tipping of taxistas and waitpersons is never expected or required.  In some restaurants they will ask you if paying by credit card if you would like to leave a tip.  No thanks is a perfectly good answer.  Colombians rarely rarely tip.


There’s an  800 Pound Pablo in the Room!!!

Well, he ain't in the room any more.  Not since 1993 when he used the wrong phone and found out that it was already being traced as the helicopters circled his last hideout and as the Federal troops crashed up the stairs.  He escaped to the roof where he was shot by waiting police, and tumbled to the alleyway below.  Dead.  The genius behind the cartel was dead.  The one-time third richest man in the world was dead.

Pablo Escobar was born in  1947 in the next town over, Rio Negro.  He started out as a petty criminal, but an ingenious one.  His racket was to steal grave stones, sandblast them and resell them.  Later on he just smiled when asked if this were true. Like other stories about him no one is quite sure.

He worked for a local cocaine runner and eventually murdered his way to the top.  He wiped out rival gangs and intimidated or killed the middlemen, the chemists and the growers until he was all there was.  His motto was "Plomo o Plata", lead or money.  He gave the rest of the underworld a choice.

So like most gang leaders his murders were against people already in the trade.  Only later would he begin killing as a terrorist with car bombs in shopping centers and the downing of an Avianca passenger jet, and an invasion of the Central Courts in Bogota and assassinations of presidential candidates, lawyers, witnesses, and cops on the street.  He was afraid of only one thing- extradition to the United States.  Only in the US could he be tried and incarcerated.  In Colombia this was impossible.  To avoid extradition he had to make sure no such laws were entered in the constitution of Colombia.  He wiped out anyone who threatened to legalize extradition to the US.  His frenzy was heightened when George Bush Sr. declared cocaine traffic to be a threat to the national security of the US.

After his death the Cartel slowly fell apart and the narcotrafficking today is controlled by smaller gangs and they are incessantly targeted and decapitated.  Yet it goes on..why?  Because AMERICA has a drug problem, Colombia doesn't. More American gang members are killed over drugs and turf than Colombians by far.  By far!!!  BUT the trade is too lucrative to die.  Why?  Because the War on Drugs increases the street price in the US.  The US is so close-minded on this that it just can't politically declare cocaine use to be the medical problem that it is and decriminalize the possession of the white stuff and crack.

Clearly spraying the peasants in the field (the so-called US Plan Colombia) has not stopped the drug trafficking.  Three and a half tons of marijuana were captured just the other day along the Ecuador border. But neither has interdiction at the US border;  there’s still more than enough from here in the US and you can take Nancy Reagan’s stupid "Just Say No" and throw it in the trash along with other right wing fanatic attempts at "education".

So what has happened to Pablo's memory in Colombia?  Yes, he was a criminal of the highest order, but, tweaking the nose of the Gringo Government is a good thing for a change in the eyes of many Colombians. For a change the money came south instead of all of it flowing north as US corporations profited on Colombian resources. His public works were largely a good thing..churches , soccer stadia, many many houses for the poor built on US drug money. He tried to be Robin Hood and for many he succeeded.   Keeping his memory alive to the detriment of all Colombians we have in the US  tell all books, and many stupid films, sensationalist TV shows, magazine articles all about Pablo all of which throw mud on all of the people of Colombia.  It’s time to move on.

So Pablo is dead for two decades.  Medellin is as safe as any large city.  It was even safe back then because the violence was confined to very small parts of the population. Medellin was however stunted in its growth because of fear and its horrid reputation.  But now with the Cartel gone, Medellin can go on and upwards because the eyes of foreign investors and tourists are becoming slowly opened to this gorgeous place and its fine people.  There is the edge that an unsavory history can bring to a place to make it more interesting.  Think of Berlin.  Think of Chicago.  Think of Ho Chi Minh City.  In Medellin the edge is amplified because of the great and positive changes that have taken place since Pablo was killed.


Wikipedia has twelve or so definitions of this term, Third World,  none of which evinces Colombia except" newly developing".  And I think we would agree that being newly developing is a good thing for a nation.

We start with a nation that wins recognition and awards on the international stage for its infrastructure and not one that needs repair of thousands of bridges, transportation systems, and roadways.  We have in Colombia a nation with fresh clean water from the Andes, delicious to drink and pure.  Clean air. We have a people conscious of their natural resources many of which still have a very good chance of being preserved and restored from the sea to the Andes to the Amazon.

We have a city like Medellin with five major universities, twenty-seven high schools for music and  art all linked in a performance and educational network, hundreds of public and private English language schools, fifteen new modern shopping malls, and almost free Metro and taxis.  

In Colombia the indigenous cultures escaped genocide and have become an important, integrated, and honored part of the nation's future.  It's important to note that one of the main reasons for the revolt against Spain by the people led by Simon Bolivar was to save the Indigenos from further oppression and slavery by Spain.

We have a nation with a carefully growing yet bounding economy, embracing the best of social planning in health care and education,  and an upwardly mobile poor and middle class, not like some places which are supposedly in the first world.  Forty percent of the lower class moved to middle class in the last ten years.  Violent crime is down 40 percent.   Gun ownership is at 5.8 per one hundred persons, while in the US it is at 89 per 100 persons. The entrepreneurial middle and upper classes are everywhere to be seen and everybody works and works hard.

Since such measures have been made, Colombia is always near the top of the list of "most happy countries" along with the Scandinavian nations and western Europe from the First World.

So Why won’t they come?  Must be me.  I’m a pest.

Larry Rose, November, 2013
Laureles, Medellin, Colombia

Sra Fe Mall retractable roof
Taking a break in Sta Fe Mall

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