Feliz año nuevo! We’ve officially been living in Medellin for the past month and it sure has been eventful. Here are some random thoughts on our experience here:
- Living Situation - It’s been amazing living in this apartment. We have large closets so that we don’t have to live out of a backpack. We have a maid that cleans and does laundry 3 times a week. Coffee every morning. Super fast internet. Large TV’s. Comfortable living areas. Really cool roommates. As an added bonus, my brother Tom has been living here this entire time as well. It’s been awesome to spend so much time with him. Since we both travel so much, it’s not often that we get to hang out. We’re going to miss the luxury of living here, but we’re also looking forward to new adventures on the road again.
- Our Neighborhood – We live in a very nice part of Poblado which is the nicest part of Medellin. The streets are lined with plants and beautifully maintained. Ritzy restaurants and bars are within walking distance. The nightlife center of Medellin is 4 blocks away at Parque Lleras. Dominoes will bring us pizza on demand. We’re a bit spoiled here. While it is a central and convenient location, it’s also a bit removed from the more “real” parts of Medellin – there are quite a few gringos here and everyone is very wealthy. Therefore, we’ve made an effort to experience the various parts of the city – from the gritty and sometimes dangerous el centro (think market street in SF, but much more crowded and intense) to the poor mountainside barrios of Santo Domingo. It’s been a fascinating journey to uncover the many faces of Medellin.
- Travel Style – This experience has been a departure from our normal style of traveling – spend a week or so in each spot and move on to the next. We have stayed here for an entire month! I’ve really enjoyed slowing down and fully experiencing an area. We’ve made some good friends here and reconnected with some old ones. We’ve partied, volunteered, mastered the metro system and made a delicious breakfast with coffee every morning. I feel confident that I’ve experienced Medellin to the fullest. Staying put in one location has also rekindled our yearning for new adventure – seeing new places, meeting new people and entering foreign countries. Although I’m not looking forward to living out of a backpack, I’m very excited for the next leg of the journey.
- Climate - It’s always sunny and about 78 degrees – eternally spring! The weather here is unbelievable. It rains every now and then but it is sunny/warm every day. It was a welcome respite from the hellish heat of Cartegena and Santa Marta. The one negative was that it never felt like Christmas – it was too warm to be Christmas!
- The People – Everyone here has been very friendly and welcoming – from Taxi drivers to the Parking lady that shared Aguardiente with us. We met some really cool local friends as well as other travelers through our volunteer experience. The ‘Paisas’ (the name of the locals) are very friendly and proud – always making sure we’re having a good time when they find out we’re from out of town.
- The Parties – Before we arrived, one of our Israeli friends from San Blas told us that he loved Medellin but had to leave because he was partying too much. We can relate – the people here love to drink and have a good time! There is no shortage of opportunities to get your buzz on. Beers are legal to drink in the streets/parks and people sell booze everywhere. Vendors sell Chicklets in the parks, but everyone knows they also sell any drug you want. Lauren and I have had a blast joining in on the festivities (sans chicklet sellers), but we’re ready for a bit of a break from the booze and soul-crushing hangovers. For New Years we are opting out of going to a fancy club, and instead are planning to mellow out by welcoming the new year with a few beers in Parque Lleras.
- Food – The food isn’t spectacular but very hearty and satisfying. The ‘Bandeja Paisa’ is my favorite – a delicious mix of beans, rice, chicharon (essentially a delicious and fatty portion of pork), salad, fries and an arepa.
- Dental Care – My tooth had been bothering me for the past month and I finally went to a dentist here. Turns out, the previous crown was cracked so they had to put on a new one. After a few dental visits where the dentist assaulted my mouth with a wide range of pain-causing devices, I now have a perfectly functioning tooth with a ceramic/gold crown! It set me back $600 which is comparable/slightly cheaper than the U.S. The dentist was meticulous and extremely thorough. I’d recommend him to anyone. It is cool to know that I will always have a piece of Medellin with me wherever I go.
- Medellin Itself – Before arriving here, we heard a lot of positive things about Medellin. It did not disappoint. The city itself is one of the most modern places we visited. The climate is unbeatable, the people very friendly and the sights numerous. My brother and I were talking about how before traveling to a country like Colombia (especially if you remember how bad it was in the 90′s and haven’t done much research into the current situation), you think that the country is full of people shooting at each other, riding around on horses and snorting massive amounts of cocaine. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Iphones and BMW’s are plentiful here and the tap water is clean and delicious. This city has all the modern amenities you can ask for plus a healthy dose of unique Colombian culture and zest.
- Angeles De Medellin – We spent a fair amount of time volunteering at this organization. It was a wonderful experience. We cover our experience in detail at the end of this post.
What else have we been up to the past month? Here is a quick photo recap:
Our stay in Medellin started off very rough with Lauren coming down with Dengue Fever. Before we took the trip, we read about all the horrible diseases, potential crime threats and natural disasters that could occur on our travels but we never thought any of those things would happen to us. It was a very sobering experience to deal with such an awful sickness, especially in a foreign country. We do consider ourselves very fortunate that we have the means to get proper care in an excellent hospital; a lot of people do not have access to adequate treatment. It took about 10 days, a lot of rest and several hospital visits/blood tests – but she recovered. We were very impressed with the quality of health care here. We didn’t use any insurance and our total cost for 3 doctor visits and 2 ER visits was less than $400. Although Dengue was pretty awful, I’m happy that it happened here in Medellin as opposed to a less developed part of the world. As an added bonus, we are staying in a nice apartment (by far the nicest place we have stayed), so it made it much easier to care for a sick person. I couldn’t imagine staying in a dirty hostel or roach motel whilst dealing with Dengue.
Angeles De Medellin
Lauren here! Patrick let me chime in for this section of the blog. Although we were not able to make it home for the holidays this year, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to do the next best thing…give back to those in need. As many of you know, this is something that I have been looking forward to our entire trip. It has been more difficult than I had expected to find a place to donate my time and energy. Many foundations desire a minimum time commitment of 6 weeks and weekly donations that are costly (typically over $200/wk). Expectantly awaiting our month long stay in Medellin, I got a jumpstart on looking for a place to volunteer. I stumbled upon an organization called Angeles de Medellin and instantly, I fell in love with the organization! It is located in the mountains in a barrio of Regalo de Dios (we take those same metrocables you saw pictured above). Angeles de Medellin is a program helping poor and displaced children and families. They can come to the center to learn English, learn how to work on computers, or simply to play! The founder, Marcos Kaseman, replied to my emails and welcomed me to come to his organization! One day, one week, one month; it doesn’t matter to him! If you want to volunteer, he has a place for you! As I mentioned in a previous post, I eagerly jumped on the invitation, spending my second day in Medellin up in the mountains! I helped the organization move to a new, larger location (scraping, painting; all the fun manual labor)! That was also the day I fell ill with Dengue…
A couple weeks later, my energy was back, as was my desire to volunteer! I was enthusiastic and inspired when Patrick told me that he too wanted to start going up to the mountains to volunteer! And so the memorable experience began! Every year Marcos organizes a Christmas party for the children and families in the surrounding barrios. This year, we brought a slice of joy to the lives of over 4,000 children and thousands of families! Patrick and I cannot express the blessings and joys we received by being a part of this extraordinary experience! We unloaded trucks, organized toys, bagged messy fruit, hugged grateful strangers, and LOVED every minute of it! I am so grateful to Marcos and his organization for giving us this opportunity! We will always cherish it! Please enjoy the beautiful video that Patrick put together, capturing a slice of the mountains!
Here are my favorite shots from our experience volunteering.
Thanks for reading everyone! We hope you all have an amazing new year. Much love and happiness towards you all.
P.S. Here is the entirety of photos that accompany this post. In order to make it a reasonable length, we had to cut out quite a few good ones. Enjoy!