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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Ryan at Desk to Dirtbabg who’s currently working and living in Medellin, Colombia. If you’re an expat and interested in sharing the day-to-day details of your city shoot me a message at thepaperplanesblog @ gmail . com.
Mention that you’re heading to Medellin, Colombia to your parents and relatives and you’ll probably be greeted with looks of astonishment and concern. Medellin, of course, is a name that was synonymous with drug violence and cocaine. In 1991, Medellin was indeed a dangerous place, the murder capital of the world, with 381 homicides per 100,000 residents. Which is more than double the murder rate of the world’s most violent city today, San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Thankfully, times have changed here. Medellin, also known as the City of Eternal Spring due to its agreeable climate, is now entering its own spring of growth, progress and prosperity… Pablo Escobar has long since passed and the violence has subsided tremendously, now boasting a lower murder rate than either Detroit or New Orleans.
In 2013, Medellin was also named the most innovative city of the year, beating out New York and Tel Aviv. To go from the murder capital of the world to one of the most innovative in only 20 years is quite an achievement. The city has made huge strides, and there’s no doubt that it has become a growing destination for international travelers and a sort of hot spot for tech startups in Latin America.
After traveling for a few months through Colombia, I arrived in Medellin in March and quickly fell for the city. I never planned to stay this long in Colombia, or in Medellin for that matter. But travel plans change and here I remain. I live in a quiet neighborhood known as Laureles where I am renting a three bedroom apartment. It isn’t the tourist hot spot of El Poblado where most of the hostels and foreigners reside, but it is a nice neighborhood with lots of families which offers a more authentic glimpse into a normal neighborhood in Medellin.
There is a great mix between regular “Mom and Pop” restaurants and stores along with some of the nicer chain restaurants and higher end stores. My day typically starts with me waking up between 8 and 9 am. Most often I make my own breakfast at home of huevos pericos (scrambled eggs with chopped tomatoes and onions) with an arepa on the side. Arepas are typical Colombian corn-based flat bread (think a really thick corn tortilla) which are often topped with butter and a chunk of cheese.
I also kick start my day with a freshly ground and freshly brewed cup of coffee from my Aeropress, which has been a life saver to avoid the ubiquitous Nescafe and instant coffee down here. If I’m feeling lazy though, I just step outside and get a similar breakfast for only a few dollars including either juice, hot chocolate or instant coffee).
Since I have a large three bedroom apartment to myself here, I rent out the other rooms through Airbnb.com to help cover my costs. I will often start my days socializing with my guests and recommending places to see or things to do for the day. I really enjoy showing people this side of Medellin, and something different from the tourist mecca of Poblado. I work from my laptop primarily by writing, freelancing and working on other projects, so following breakfast I usually try to sit down, focus, and put some words to screen without getting too distracted by social media and the other time sucks of the Internet.
After a few hours of staring into the screen, drinking coffee, and occasionally taking a break in my hammock, I’ve usually worked up an appetite for lunch. I love the fast, fixed plate lunches that are served in typical Colombian restaurants here. Generally you choose your choice of meat, a side soup, and your juice of choice, with a standard set of accompaniments. My favorite lunch time option is pechuga a la plancha (grilled chicken breast) along with a bean soup and small arepa to start, and is accompanied by a small salad, rice, yucca, a fried plantain, and a delicious tropical fruit juice like passion fruit or maybe guarapo (sugarcane juice). It’s a delicious meal for only about $4.00.
Following lunch I often stretch my legs with a walk around the neighborhood, perhaps stopping in at one of the cafes in my neighborhood like Cafe Revolucion. It’s funny, while Colombia is a major coffee producing country, they mostly drink instant coffee. But the cafe culture is a growing phenomenon here, with no less than three fully fledged coffee shops in my area. There are even more, of course, if you go to Poblado and Parque Lleras where more of the gringos are.
In the afternoon I might head back to the apartment to do some more writing and work, read for a bit in my hammock, or perhaps go out to explore a new place for a potential article on MedellinLiving.com.
My evenings are often spent heading out to Poblado to meet up with my girlfriend for a bite to eat in one of the many delicious restaurants there. Or I might be found heading out to one of the local waterholes to chat with the locals, practice my Spanish, and maybe watch some futbol.
I started traveling in Colombia in January and planned to make my way all the way south to the Chile and Argentina. But somehow Medellin called to me and kept me here for much longer than I planned. Life in Medellin is nice, normal and relaxed.
My mom actually just left after a week and a half visit to Medellin, she got to see that it wasn’t all those bad things that it was made out to be on the news. Don’t get me wrong, there are still problems with crime and inequality that exist here as they do everywhere and things are still far from perfect, but this a city with a lot offer and one that should not be overlooked. The dramatic change in this city in such a short time and its continued progress offers lessons that other cities in other parts of the world should look to and are compelling reasons for more and more international travelers to visit and experience this beautiful, vibrant city.
Ryan S. is a former Washington DC desk jockey that left behind the working world at the end of 2012 to explore more of the world. He’s been exploring all that Colombia has to offer since the beginning of the year. You can read about his other adventures on his blog Desk to Dirtbag, or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.