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This week’s guest post for the ‘Day-to-Day’ series comes from Leah, an American 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.
Living as an expat for the last few months in Medellin, Colombia, has been interesting, challenging, eye-opening and inspiring, to say the least. This city has been through so much turmoil in recent decades and come so far since. Admittedly, they yet have a long way to go in some respects, but I can’t help but feel proud to call Medellin home, at least for now.
I first came through as a backpacker in the fall of 2013. It rained a little, was sunny a lot, I made some amazing memories and left knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’d be back one day. It’s not often that premonitions like that turn out to be true, but here we are.
In late October of 2014, I found my way back to the City of Eternal Spring (the weather truly is perfect all year round) once again, this time hoping to put down roots (a term I use quite loosely these days). In any case, I knew I wanted to be here for longer than eleven days.
Within a week or so, I found a room in a shared apartment at the south end of Medellin, in an area known as La Frontera, which translates to “the border.” It’s known as such because it’s where Medellin borders the municipality of Envigado, a city much like Medellin but that some choose to describe as “more authentic” (which I then interpret to mean “with fewer gringos”).
It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the location of my apartment. I’m a block from a major grocery store and conveniently sandwiched between two major avenues, from which I can hop on either a bus or the metro depending how far I’m traveling (Medellin is in a valley and I’m at the very bottom of it, near the river).
Did I mention Medellin has the only metro system in all of Colombia? It’s one of the city’s crowning achievements. It’s clean, it’s efficient, and it’s cheap (just $1 per ride).
Taxis are easy to come by as well and I generally feel quite safe walking in this area. It helps that my apartment complex is gated and that I’m greeted with a friendly hello by the guard each time I come or go.
Though I had taught English abroad in the past, I had no intention of doing so when I returned to Colombia. I had been working part-time as a social media consultant for a few months’ time in addition to fervently keeping up my own travel blog in hopes of one day generating income from it as well, so when I arrived in Medellin I simply continued plugging away at both. Much to my pleasant surprise, more opportunities for related work eventually presented themselves.
Because I generate an income entirely online, my days are often spent, from sunrise until long after sundown, in front of my computer in my very own little apartment. Honestly, it’s a good thing I have such an incredible view to “Ooh” and “Ahh” over all day, because otherwise I might go a little nuts.
On the bright side, as a freelancer, my schedule is usually entirely up to me. I work throughout the day but take breaks as needed, either to eat a meal (almost all of which I cook at home) work out in my building’s gym (there’s also a pool, though I rarely use it) or to Skype with family or friends.
I do have my favorite haunts around town though, and on days when I have less to do, I might take my laptop to one of the coffee shops I frequent in the neighborhood of El Poblado or Envigado. My time is then split equally between sipping impeccably brewed americanos, people watching, and working. The restaurants in El Poblado are incredible too, but I try not to eat out too often both for the sake of my wallet and my waistline.
Barring special occasions, like the month of December (essentially a non-stop party in Colombia) or when friends are visiting, I reserve most of my socializing for weekends. It’s legal to drink in the street here, so one of my favorite things to do on the weekend is get together with a few friends, buy a bottle of the local liquor, Aguardiente, and sit in one of the public parks where people often congregate before going to clubs. The people watching is spectacular and sipping Aguardiente (or “fire water”) almost always leads to a funny story.
I was surprised to find that nightlife here can be quite expensive—the posh clubs often charge for entry and the price of a bottle of liquor more than quadruples once you’re inside—so my preference is typically to buy my own beer or liquor at a market and sit someplace where actual conversations can be had.
Unlike some gringos, most música latina just doesn’t do it for me. If I’m craving a night of dancing, I’ll seek out one of the few clubs that consistently play electronic music, though even those can be hit-or-miss.
And although I’ve been able to make friends with Colombians with relative ease (they really are a friendly bunch), there’s one thing I must admit—I will never, ever date a Colombian.
In the few short months I’ve lived in Medellin, I’ve been deceived by more Colombian men than I care to admit. And not only that, I’ve seen Colombian women do the same thing to men, and I’ve watched other men do it to my friends. I know stereotyping isn’t fair and I like to hold onto the hope that there are some honest ones out there, but at this point I’ve been burned too many times to continue giving them the benefit of the doubt. Dishonesty and cheating seem too deeply engrained in the culture.
On a lighter note, I have highly enjoyed learning about the city’s checkered yet triumphant past. One of my favorite outings so far was a free walking tour with a company called Real City Tours. It was so thorough and fascinating that it lasted for four hours and not a single person even once looked bored. We explored the downtown area that has seen an impressive transformation in the last decade and I was moved to tears on more than one occasion listening to stories of the city’s perseverance through tragedy.
Overall, I couldn’t be happier with my decision to move to Medellin. It may not be my forever home but I’ve learned so much in my short time here, about Colombian culture and about myself. It’s a city that will always be near and dear to my heart and one that I encourage every traveler to visit at least once.