Our tour was billed thusly: “You will take the public transport—the symbol of the city of Medellin, and visit the most important squares and learn about the extreme change that this city went through from being considered as the most dangerous city in the world to becoming the most modern city of Latin America.”
Daniella actually didn’t say much about “the drug thing” or Pablo Escobar. I would have been interested to hear about it from a first-hand account, but having had a son who personally contributed to the international drug trade by being an addict and drug dealer, I was okay not knowing the details of how the US demand for drugs had made life hell for the residents of Medellin.
Daniella led us along the streets toward the Metro. It was Monday, but a holiday, so traffic was light.
The walkway to the Metro itself afforded fantastic views of the city, with misty hills in the background.
The Virgin Mary stood guard at the entry to the station, blessing our travels.
While inside, there was a 10 by 30 foot ad for tampons.
I snapped a photo of the Metro plan since they didn’t have artsy little handouts like in London.
Daniella paid for our passes and away we went. The station and the trains were spotless.
This was amazing, given that so many vertical surfaces in the city were covered with murals and just plain graffiti. Daniella explained that the residents of Medellin felt proud ownership of their relatively-new Metro system, and thus didn’t want to see it go to pot like the filthy, tattered, litter-strewn systems in Washington, DC; London, Naples, and elsewhere. I liked that. A social compact. If only we had more such things the US.
We rode the train a couple stops and emerged near the old central train station. Daniella glanced around shiftily, then led us across the street to some metal barriers on the side of the station, which she proceeded to try to slide open.
“We will see if we can get in,” she said. “Sometimes we are lucky, sometimes not.”
“Hey, hey! Stop! No entry!” a man in some kind of uniform yelled in Spanish from down the block. He wasn’t threatening, but he wasn’t joking either.
Daniella looked momentarily deflated. She turned and beamed at him as he approached, and they had a brief consultation. She led us around to the other side of the station, where she conferred with more guards.
I didn’t see any money exchanged. I think we just caught the guards in a good mood. Regardless, they moved one of the metal barriers aside so we could scoot through to the plaza.
And what was so important here that it was guarded so closely? This square was the site of Medellin’s city office buildings. In St. Paul, you have to go through a metal detector to get into city hall, so Medellin is no more of a security state than we are. In fact I thought there was much less of a military/security apparatus on display than in many other places I’ve traveled—notably London, Ramallah, Addis Ababa, and even Copenhagen.
But we were there for the art, not a lecture about government or Medellin’s recent history.
This soaring piece is by a sculptor named Betancourt. It contains all the elements of Colombia’s development, from natural resources, to horses and the rail road, to the indigenous workers and Spanish conquistadors. The four of us are very well traveled, and we were in awe. The photo doesn’t do justice to the humbling feeling of standing beneath it.
We left the square, and Daniella thanked the guards who again moved the barrier so we could exit. Across the street was another square filled with light tubes.
“The idea was to have 328, for the days in the Inca calendar,” Daniella explained. “But they ran out of money so there are only 300.”
There was also a charming display of posters featuring children’s books, since the main public library was here.
“Are the tubes lighted up at night?” I asked.
“Yes, but don’t come here after dark; this square is full of drug addicts and robbers.”