Mucho Taco in Medellin, Colombia, South America
Updated: Mar 16
I cannot adequately express how happy I have been to finally be truly warm. Cold weather is not my forte, quite the opposite. It gave me the greatest pleasure the evening after we arrived to step in to a shower and to prefer to keep the water cool. You see, normally I have to let the shower get to the maximum heat setting to thaw out and be happy. Approximately 94% of the population would consider my happy temperature to be scalding. I know, I know... it's not good for my skin, but it's best for my soul and my psyche. Therefore, it seems that Medellín is good for my skin, and my happiness.
This big city in Colombia, South America, has surprised me in many ways so far, and I know it has so much more to teach me. As mentioned in the past, Ky and I don't research places very much before we arrive. We both like surprises and discoveries rather than expectations.
I sadly must report that our first impression was marred by a security officer at the airport successfully extorting our Uber driver for basically the amount of our fare. Uber has been under pressure here, as it has in many airports around the world. Drivers were restricted from the major airport for awhile. Uber officially settled up with an agreement, and drivers were legal to come to the José María Córdova International Airport (MDE) again just recently. Sadly, the driver ended up forking over a "propina" (literal translation "tip") so that he could continue with his day.
So.... with that under our belt, we grinned and bore a taxi ride with a visibly shaken and upset driver who calmed down and cheered up at a very generous tip. Medellin is an incredibly busy city laid out north to south in a deep valley at an elevation of 4,195' (1,495m).
It pains me to report negative situations such as the one at the airport, but it seems important to truthfully report our experiences since many people expressed so much concern for our welfare due to the past history of the area. This country has endured so much and come from being the second most dangerous place in the world to being touted by prestigious media such as National Geographic, The Guardian Newspaper and the BBC news as one of the the world's must-visit destinations. With all this international hype Medellin is currently one of the fastest growing tourist and expatriate destinations in South America.
Locals get very angry when they hear about things like the police bribery going on that harms the reputation of their proud city. Apparently much has been, and will continue to be done, to root out the few bad apples.
On our second day, we made what turned out to be a brilliant and unusual choice of activities. We're not normally tour folks. but I I think we may be in the future based on the incredible job done by our tour guide. We joined up with a Real City Tour. We learned about the tragic past suffered by the kind people of Colombia, that has been replaced with a much brighter, but certainly not perfect present, and their hope of an even better future.
A stop on our tour was at Plaza Botero. This is one of Fernando Botero's 23 Sculptures in an outdoor museum of his fun artwork. I love all of them, but especially this one entitled "Pensimiento" translates to "Thinking".
I have to mention that we also made a trip to visit Comuna 13. This area is one of Medellin's most significant areas of transformation and the graffiti there, and the six famous outdoor escalators are definitely worth a visit. For more information on what was Medallin's most dangerous area in the past, there are lots of web pages devoted to its bright present. There is amazing artwork on virtually every vertical space.
There have been major expansion projects all over the city, such as modern spacious libraries, a new transit system that was life changing for many here, and a wonderful park system that is completely free to the public. The parks and many roads seem to be under construction everywhere. So of all the cities we could have chosen to visit, why Medellin?
Surprise - it was pickleball! Medellin as far as we could tell is the only city in Colombia where pickleball is already being played. I had tracked down information on the fellow who brought it here through Pickleball Forum on Facebook. In mid 2019, Neil Palmer was talking with his tennis buddy, Ed Osterman, about this new sport he had been hearing about. Ed mentioned that he already played pickleball in his community where he lived part time in Bend, OR. The next time Ed returned from Bend, he brought enough gear with him to play and to introduce it to others. Ed and Neil recruited a couple of other fellows to play with them. Thus the birth of pickleball in Colombia!
The pair looked for a place where they could play weekly, and they were given permission to play on a covered basketball/tennis court that could be reserved each time they wanted to play. It is big enough for three courts plus a practice area, and they have been allowed to paint two pickleball court lines on it so far.
Their play started only about six months ago, and the group has grown almost every week. In fact, it has grown enough to expand to another location for a total of three days a week, two in a community called Belén, and one in another part of town called Manila.
Belén Group. Founder Ed Osterman is in the white shirt on the right side and Neil Palmer is on the back row, red shirt left end, by Ky.
Some of the 12 players at Manila got away before we could get the photo.
Before Ky and I headed to Colombia, I remembered how Jennifer Butler, a commercial pilot, a great pickleball player, and all around nice person, brought gear to share with the Irish Pickleball group in its early days. It inspired me to do the same for Colombia. After asking around, a group of generous people in the Phoenix area (Steve, Susan, Ruby, Jeff & Mary Beth, thanks again) donated a large suitcase which was filled with lots of yellow balls and Selkirk demo paddles plus some other odds and ends like towels, shirts, bags and hats.
The group was beyond thrilled to receive the treasure trove. The group had previously been sharing just a few paddles. The day we arrived to play, there were 18 of us on three courts, their largest group to date. Ky and I spent time teaching some new and nearly new players some of the things we've been fortunate to learn from others who have shared their knowledge with us. There were a few former tennis players who have caught on to pickleball very quickly. We were showing them some of the benefits of getting to the line to block hard drives, and the fun of dinking. We had plenty of opportunities to show them how to block ;-) The dinking is sure to come...
Another unfortunate turn of events occurred due to the seasonal pollution that is in large part the result of Medellin's location in the bottom of a valley. The incredible traffic has to be controlled by what is called Pico y Placa. literally translated to "Peak and Plate". At peak traffic times only certain license plates are allowed to be on the road. This year due to lack of air cleansing rain, the exceptionally bad pollution warranted extended hours and additional affected plate numbers. The government even resorted to a few days of 24 hour restrictions.
A local expression would lead one to believe that there will be ample tacos for you to enjoy, but "Hay mucho taco!" means "There is a lot of traffic!" In typical Latin fashion however, it seems that people work around it without too much grumbling. It just is what it is.
Additionally because of the pollution, all of the wonderful city parks, pools and recreation centers outside were ordered to be closed by Inder, the government body in charge of all of the facilities. The pollution rate was deemed unsafe, so all of the very fit people here (the majority of the population) were not able to do sports outside. That included pickleball. We're all in this together, and despite the group's best scheming, there has been no more pickleball. Fortunately Ky and I had been able to play with the two groups in two different locations before it got shut down.
At El Estadio there are dedicated areas for so many sports like ping pong, wrestling and even chess, among many others.
It might look like a volleyball stadium, but I see pickleball in its future ;-)
Instead of getting bent out of shape over the pico y placa situation people take public transportation or one of the inexpensive multitude of taxis which dart around like ants on crack. There are more motorcycles than cars in Medellín. The motorcycle drivers in the city can be crazy and aggressive. They weave in and out, pass on both sides and come down the middle between two lanes. In addition, it seems that motorcycle drivers don’t always follow traffic laws except they usually stop at red lights. Pedestrians have seemingly no rights, but lots of common sense. Don't step out on the street until it is clear of traffic, and be ready to run or you might not ever get across the street! Strangely enough, the flow seems to work quite well. We have yet to see (or be involved in) an accident. Prayers appreciated though!
We had the good fortune to meet Alex & Melisa Crescencio. Alex was the coordinator for the upcoming pickleball exhibition. Such a fun couple!
I much prefer this type of traffic!
We took a quick three day trip to the countryside to an area called Guatapé that boasts a very large man made lake with a distinct shape due to the mountainous terrain. The tranquility was wonderful and we enjoyed quiet time on a finca (small land holding) filled with such a wide variety of trees, plants, flowers and birds. Nearby in the small town of Peñol, we hiked up a monolith of just over 700 steps (if you include the extra top tower which we had to do!) The view of the nearby lake was just terrific. Again however, more sad news, the lake is tragically low due to drought and hydroelectric use of the water. The locals are completely dependent on tourism, so the relative quiet of the town was unfortunate for them. Everyone there was very kind, so were were glad we hadn't missed coming to the area. We enjoyed our time there immensely, and the caretaker for the house was the sweetest woman who patiently let us practice our Spanish with her.
It's a pretty big rock. At just over 7,000' above seal level, I huffed and
I puffed all the way to the top.
The view from the top of the rock.
The view of the rock from our finca from my drone.
The quaint and colorful town of Guatapé
We returned to Medellin to help out with Alex's pickleball exposition. Sadly, it had to be cancelled due to the pollution. The pollution was just beginning to clear up, but even sadder news about the Coronavirus was astir. All of the city facilities were ordered to stay closed to prevent transmission of the virus. There have been a small number of cases discovered in Colombia, and the government is working diligently to curtail it's spread.
As you might imagine, we are uncertain, as is the rest of the world, on what we should do next. Should we stay here or head for "home". There is not currently the panic here that we have heard about and seen in photos on social media over toilet paper and other necessities in the US.
No shortage here!
We also don't currently have plane tickets home, and we're waiting a bit longer rather than panicking and hopping on a plane to come back to the US to chaos. We're heading out to coffee country on Monday after we finish a short pet sit for two adorable cats. We're supposed to come back and sit with them for another eight days at the beginning of April. Only time will tell if we made a good decision to stay.
"Our" two adorable cats, Lady P and Dalí. Both cats are exceptionally sweet. Dalí was born with a permanent wink (only one eye) and a perfectly crooked tail.
I saw a shirt today that I liked. It said "Live More Worry Less". I didn't buy it because it won't fit in my suitcase with all the toilet paper I need to bring back with me. Sorry, there's no hand sanitizer here either, or I would be bringing that home as souvenir gifts for everyone.