Rambling On My Mind: South American Edition: Medellín, Colombia: Rivals And Departures

busy day, always hectic when taking off. trader joe´s, bank, good-byes. mom always freaks out when i venture out. sis and nephew drop me off at union station to get the flyaway, 7$ to lax. great service, to airport in 30 minutes! too bad they spoiled me by having it at $3.50 when i first used it.
at lax, check-in line was short and fast, but then colombia starts getting crazy on me. i had purchased a one-way to medellín and now spirit air is saying i have to buy a return ticket because they won’t let me in the country without it. shit, i planned to land there and do a slow tour and then decide when i’d return. now i have to throw down 400 $mack$ for a make-believe return. the agent promised i could cancel it before return date and get completely refunded by phone. still…

i get to screen check-in and they hassle me cause my shaving cream is 4.5 oz and not 4. no shit. that got tossed. without my special aloe blend from pavillions, how will i maintain the smoovness of my cheeks?

we board and all good. get to fort lauderdale at 8:00 a.m. we will have to wait two hours at gate for connecting flight. i begin to hear that colombian espanish, reminding me of my friend bernardita and her family in bogotá. in fact, a woman seated behind me says to her friend, “bueeeeeno, no quieres nada?” with this inflection colombian spanish seems to have. she went on: “cincueeeenta,” “fiiiijate, y son mios,” “hay maaaami…” passive aggressive? most waiting for flight to medellín are light-complected. kind of like me. behold a pale face.

this woman sits near me and she got that infamous medellín look. black hair, perfect eyebrows, light brown skin. every head turns when she gets up. she looked like this:

3 hour flight to colombia was bumpy as all hell. had an empty seat by me. don´t believe pilot when s/he says, “prepare for landing.” it´s usually bullshit because you still have about 40 minutes to actually touch the ground.

we land and as we exit this woman asked me to help her with her two ton suitcase. don’t know how many bodies she had in there. i carry it down those crazy steps and go back up into the plane for my stuff. as we entered the actual airport, there were 3 flights of stairs and the old lady turns to me. i helped her. she thanks me profusely. i’m sweating. in the building, and i am not kidding, there was an escalator down to immigration and it was not working. fuck! “hay, perdon mi amor,” she said. i took her shit down the stupid stairs. the old bag thanked me. i got in line for passport check. did i tell you her suitcase was damn heavy?

got through immigration fine. went to exchange some greenbacks, after some incredibly detailed directions from a janitor. changed $80 and got back about 1,500 pesos. i only changed eighty dollars because later i might get a better rate at a bank. now i’m in the city and i remember the last time i was here and i remember that ronnie james dio just passed. so much to hold, i begin to mouth:

oh no, here it comes again
can’t remember when we came so close to love before
hold on, good things never last
nothing’s in the past
it always seems to come again.
again and again. again and again…
blessed by the night, holy and bright
called by the toll of the bell.
bloodied angels fast descending
moving on a never-bending light.
phantom figures free forever
out of shadows, shining ever-bright.
Neon Knights! Neon Knights! All right!

looked for a taxi (colectivo) and agreed with 2 guys to pay 13,000 pesos each, bout 7 dolla. the one guy in the back with me got on his cell, argued with someone and said “mierda” 76 times, at least. the airport is outside the city (maybe 30 minutes), so it was a drive. little did i know that my hostel was in el poblado, where “clase high” reside. i didn’t mind. the pristine avenues of city terrace have prepped me for hanging with the bourgeoisie. can i also own the means of production?

we find hostal tamarindo and an old lady lets me in. she and another go over my reservation, scan my passport and ask me to sign-in. they offer me a private room even though I reserved a dormitorio. the dormitorio aka a bed, is 18,000 pesos = 9 bucks. made my economics major choice and decided sleeping in a room with other visitors is worth saving some cash.

ask the ladies a few questions and they are not very helpful. first one says, “eres complicado.” fuckin hey, asked you two questions!

they point to a wall of flyers as a gesture of hospitality. nyet. bail to “my” room and lay out my stuff on “my” bed.

i am a bottom, ahem, i mean i always take the bottom… bunk, so I can hear and see goings-on from ground level. i’m careful like that. paranoid? uh no. i haven’t traveled to many places but i have been in my share of hostels and not once has anyone taken any of my shit. not once! check out the hostel and nobody home so i leave and walk about el poblado and everything is fuckin closed! end up at this juice joint, la jugosa, which is on this main drag, Calle 10.

i get a jugo de melon and homey says, “día festivo.” independence day foolio. see, when you don’t research, what could happen. i had no idea and nobody said shit on the taxi ride over or on the plane. who gives a damn, i’m in south america. again. walking about el poblado and hell, i know i rag on westwood, but no kidding if this place be lit up with boutiques and kawasaki jacket vendors. who knew i was in williamsburg or damned concord, mass. walk down calle 10, a serious decline (and incline, i find out later) and exito! is open, one of those walmart holes that mexico and i guess colombia, believe is something special: canned food, tires, diapers, toilet paper and dead meat all in a row, how middle-class. don’t worry, you belong.

but a starving fool, even a vegan one, can’t be too picky. in the food court is a japanese joint and no shit if the veggie yakisoba is on some shit, plus with a mango juice, burp! i head out and when i think i see a giant mercado (they are always near and dear to my heart/stomach), it is actually one of many bars, boutiques and clubs of parque lleras aka the zona rosa of el poblado, you know, the in spots. booze, booze and more booze. the names of the spots should give you an idea: mangos, tijuanas, and some other stupid names. there was even a hooters and a cafe juan valdez (in lieu of starbucks). bro, this area is, like, so bangin.

it’s like a combo of old town pas, the glendale galleria and downtown claremont and there you go, oh and add some tia juana. hey i exxxagerate but bars, billiards and large television screens line this row. they trying to outdo cancún, pronounced as in “racoon”.
head south and wtf, there is this cool park, and it runs right by this jersey shore hotspot. i took a stroll and took some shots. see?

some soldiers give me the eye, these mofos be everywhere. i already told you bout my run-in with them in another post. fuck em, keep doing my thing. i sit for a bit and relax.

during all my walking i kept an eye out for a cyber cafe and a veg place, but nothing was open. but later, i did get a moment to laugh aloud. got back to hostel about 930 and a woman at the desk is way more hospitable than the 2 vultures who signed me in. she in fact, runs this spot. the cold ones from earlier were more like maids. who knew? not me. she breaks down so much for me re: streets, mercados, vegetarian spots, etc. but get this, they had a computer with internet right there by the desk! emailed sis and others. through the window, i noticed it started to drizzle. go upstairs and i’m rooming with 2 brasileños, a young couple. they seem alright. we say hi. i hit the head and head out to the roof top of this cozy hostel.

which is where i write this.

good night.

** it is fatal to know too much at the outset: boredom comes quickly to the traveler who knows his route as to the novelist who is overcertain of his plot. (paul theroux)

p.s. yes i know lucho barrios was born in callao, peru but i discovered his music in colombia several years ago. his voice and those incomparable musicians will always be part of my visits to south america. if there was an east america, i’d listen there too.

Rambling On My Mind: South American Edition will detail my 40 day, 3 country visit of that continent. from the streets of medellín to the calm, cloudy skies of manizales to the inviting plazas of popoyán to the latitude-defying geography of quito to the muggy beaches and sultry songs of guayaquil to the sacred valleys of urubamba and the magic mountains of machu pikchu and waynapikchu. may i say, in the most “american” of accents, the trip was, like, omg, like, so amazing.

15 thoughts on “Rambling On My Mind: South American Edition: Medellín, Colombia: Rivals And Departures

  1. I skipped Bogotá because friends didn’t get back to me before I left to Manizales. I was very careful in Medellín as I am in East Los. Those downtown streets of Medellín are “interesting.” You have to be “on” all the time, again, just like in downtown L.A. The people I did meet in Medellín were extremely considerate, as is the reputation of paisas. Those numbers don’t bother me in any city. I always treat every “big” city the same way – cautiously. I did see a corpse in Medellín after a hit and run in downtown Medellín but the only place where I was physically threatened was in Tumbes, Peru. Interesting pics on your blog.

  2. That’s the way to think CT, listening to peoples fears and paranoia based simply on what they have heard or read (mostly sensational statistics that are many times faulty or just plain cooked up), can lead one away from the most beautiful places and people.
    When I’m in New York tourists or Bourgsie local people regularly repeat fallacies constantly reminding me not to visit certain neighborhoods or to even take the subways. It’s total bullshit, people I run into on the subways and in working class areas are some of the most friendly, fun, and down to earth people I have ever met, some of the best experiences I have in New York are in those “OMG!” areas. And how many times have we read or heard that tourists should avoid the LA Eastside at all costs? Paranoia runs deep and is spread by fearful unknowing people mostly.
    I’ll never forget being in Zihuantenejo Mexico some years ago with a bunch of my brothers yuppie middle class friends from No Calif. Being tired of the tourist crap in Zihua and Ixtapa I asked a MExicano where the Mexicano’s kicked it for fun. He told me to rent a car and head south to Barra de Potosi.
    All my bro’s friends except one (A lawyer and future City COuncilman from Santa Cruz Ca) were fearful and warned me sternly that the road South of Zihua was rife with banditos and criminals who would surely rob us or kill us.
    That beach and area where the Mexicanos hung was off the hook, the best time I had that trip, buying fresh seafood from the pangeros on the beach, partying, singing, and getting fucked up with great Mexican families having a ball. There was even a Federale there who was supposed to be enforcing the no drinking law due to it being National Election Day, he was tipping himself and just laughed and told us to hold our drinks below the table so he couldn’t see them. We had such a good time with the jente that the only tension all day was when we told a group of people from a nearby pueblo that we couldn’t hang out with them for a few days in thier little town for the Fiesta’s they were having. Shit, I wish I could have but we were leaving the next day!
    Most of the time I have found that if you have a sense of humor and are respectful of the working people in a location they will make damn sure nobody fucks with you.
    Have a ball CT, your from the Eastside and know what’s up, no matter where you are!
    Con Safos/Rifa Bro!

  3. CT: Yo, thanks! But, what happened in Perú? Looking forward to hearing the rest of your LatAm travel stories and experiences.

    DQ: I hope that wasn’t all aimed at me. If so, talk about overreacting! Mentioning Medellín’s rather exorbitant murder rate and advising a fellow blogger/Angeleno to merely exercise caution is hardly sensationalizing or being petrified thanks to a fear-mongering media.

    I agree with everything you said – people, some more than others, do have a certain tendency to exaggerate and overdramatize situations – however, my reasoning for mentioning a murder rate isn’t unfounded, nor is it just talking out of my a**. Its crime, especially paramilitaries and their limpieza social, is well-documented and known, and while (exercising your street smarts, of course) you’ll probably be safe 99% of the time, it never hurts to know what’s up. Mejor prevenir que curar, that’s all.

    Which brings me to this: I was in Colombia; staying with a local family, for the better part of August (would I have visited if I had believed everything in popular media? Of course not) and have many stories similar to the one you shared with us. Same goes for the time I visited NYC and stayed in Bushwick (“What, you didn’t get mugged in Brooklyn?” or “It’s an ungentrified area,” blah blah, etc). Hell, even yesterday, when I caught flak from ignorant Westsiders for volunteering in Boyle Heights for CicLAvia. However, it is ignorant to assume that being well-versed, or at least, knowledgeable of the crime situation, means silly things like, you don’t want to hang around locals or that you will go around being paranoid everywhere. We wouldn’t want anybody to be naive or unknowing – by pretending that such an element doesn’t exist. Or do we? Unfortunately, both far and near, you’ll find people who capitalize on and thrive upon fear.



  4. Alright, DQ. One of those pesky Mexican (national) stereotypes is federales engaging in sophomoric behavior while on duty, like drinking alcohol in plain view of citizens. You kind of countered one stereotype with another. But other than that, I agree with you. And if you think I’m just being feisty because you insinuated Northern California is a land of snobbish yuppies, that’s not the case. 🙂

  5. No Devan, my comments weren’t aimed at you directly, just the general attitude of many Americans vis a vis other peoples and cultures. During my travels I became aware, many years ago, how tight assed and paranoid most Americans are when confronted with other cultures, and especially if those cultures are populated by people of color who speak another language.
    Americans for the most part project an unattractive attitude of superiority and entitlement, their demeanor when dealing with other cultures usually contains an ugly combination of impatience, snobbishness, patronization, intolerance, racism, and that all too familiar hysteria about germs or of catching some disease that seems to permeate the American psyche. This at the cost of having any valuable cultural interaction, kind of like the rest of the world (except for Western Europe), is a filthy cesspool to be avoided religiously. Curious when it’s the USA that contributes to most of the poison and pollution contaminating the world.
    And as far as the threat of violence, don’t we in the USA live in one of the most violent cultures ever seen on the face of the earth? Shit we invented and used the atomic bomb, how many people have we killed, injured or refugee’d in Iraq and Afghanistan just in the last ten years! Want to talk about a violent culture?

    Most of these American attitudes about travel to other country’s are based on nothing but fear and ignorance, that’s why I never pay much attention to hysterics about crime statistics, or read guide books, or go on guided tours when traveling, you end up missing the most interesting and valuable part of travel, the interaction with other cultures.

  6. Sometimes I get paranoid in foreign cities and then I think to myself, wait I grew up in Los Angeles proper. After all the things I’ve seen and been through, these folks should prolly be afraid of me! LOL!

  7. DQ + I completely agree with you. “Most of the time I have found that if you have a sense of humor and are respectful of the working people in a location they will make damn sure nobody fucks with you.” I had a blast, especially in Colombia and Peru, and a lot of it had to do with how I approached people and situations. It’s not very complicated and neither are kind people. Also, being from LA Eastside has helped in reading situations and people.

    Devan + In Tumbes, Peru (border town), in brief, I was told by a woman I had just befriended a half-hour earlier that 2 moto taxis had asked for me and were intent on finding me, knives at the ready. The woman begged me to go with her moto taxi friend back to the bus terminal. I did, even though my stubborn ELA vibe pushed me to go solo. I’ll add more details when I get to this part in my posts. Hey, I made it, didn’t I?

    Chimatli + I do appreciate what happened in Colombia and Peru in the 80’s. Wars, massacres, etc. But, it is sometimes interesting when folks from these places are shocked I am from L.A. visiting their city. Being from L.A. has shown us some crazy things. Big cities aren’t very forgiving and this has toughened many of us.

  8. I wonder if I should venture into the Westide with the snobbish rich gavachos? Maybe if I act politely the will be nice to me, Quien sabe?

  9. DQ- Haven’t heard the term “rifa” in a long time, some people say it’s raffle, but I remember it being used in another context like you used it, in ” Boulevard Nights”someone shouts that out in the cruising scene, I love it!!

  10. It’s definitely the American way to criticize things in other countries that happen here, too, DQ. Violence is definitely a good example. Americans laugh at the idea of Wyclef Jean running for Haitian president, even after Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  11. Maira + actually, each city that i visited, instead of asking about museums and landmarks, i often asked for the mercados. puestos overstocked with music was what i often searched for and found! so yes, i have returned with many cd’s. in fact, i am waiting for a friend to send me the rest that i purchased. if you like cecio alva and lhasa, then you will really enjoy what other treasures i discovered. btw one of the cd’s forthcoming contains many songs by lucho barrios.

  12. surely there are many observations you bring to us from your trip, but here’s mine: them’s some funky lights at the park, twirling around like medusa’s head, ready to turn you to stone.

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