When some people think of Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city, Pablo Escobar, the drug trade and potential danger still come to mind. These are legacies of the past. It’s time to move on!
If you want to know some interesting realities and quirks of modern day Medellin, this is a list of amusing, unique and surprising things about Medellin.
Crossing the road is one of the biggest dangers
Forget kidnappings or muggings, since I‘ve been in Medellin, one of the scariest things I have encountered is crossing the road. The green walk sign at traffic lights is highly amusing as it is an animated man, depicting running. It is indicative of the reality that you often need to run across intersections. You don’t delay crossing the road here! You always need to be on high alert for random motorbikes weaving through traffic or stray cars that have gone through the lights once they’ve changed to red. As for pedestrian crossings, cars are very unlikely to stop, so you need to wait until the traffic has passed. Colombians are kind, patient people but when it comes to being on the road they seem to lose these endearing qualities.
Shopping malls are of a high international standard
The people of Medellin love their malls! They are located all over the city and are extensive in size. It might come as a surprise that a developing country has such sophisticated facilities. I am happy that there is a Forever 21 here to shop at.
The extent of the religious faith
The Catholic presence is clearly evident here with everyday demonstrations of people’s faith. The cook at my hostel, just a week into his job, made the sign of the cross across his body as he left the premise for the day. I assume he was giving thanks and gratitude for his much needed job. At Colombia’s biggest phone and internet network provider, little statues of the Virgin Mary stand serenely on every worker’s computer. People cross themselves in the street, or when they pass a church. Most taxi drivers have a cross hanging from their mirrors. A man on the metro asked if I was Catholic and wanted to know why not? One of my English students when asked of the advantage of learning English and speaking to foreigners answered “to tell them about our religion.”
Car drive-through Automatic Teller Machines (ATM’s)
In Australia we have drive through bottle shops, here there is a drive through ATM so you can securely withdraw money without needing to leave your car. A very convenient way to get cash on the run!
Pavement for the blind
All across Medellin there is paving for the blind. The network is widespread and you can find it in almost all neighbourhoods. The irony is, there are small gaps in the system where people might come to a dead end and get confused. Furthermore what blind person could cross the intersections here? Even with good eyesight I find it challenging. It’s a very progressive and innovative idea in theory but in reality I’ve never seen a blind person walking the streets!
Sundays are reserved for exercise and leisure
Aside from going to church, Sundays are special days set aside for downtime. Some main roads are closed to enable locals to go walking or cycling. Paisa people from Medellin usually work long hours during the week. You can feel the joy in the air when the day arrives, the one day the locals have to enjoy with family. People are either in their work out clothes exercising or in their Sunday best outfit for an outing. I adore this day of the week when they close the road, as it makes it easier for me to cross!
Christmas is Massive!
There were decorations in the shops in September! November 30 is known as Alborada, a big celebration with drinking and fireworks to celebrate that the month of December has arrived. The tradition started over a decade ago after the demobilisation of a paramilitary group when fireworks were handed out in celebration. It has now transformed into a party to pre-empt that Christmas is on its way! Fireworks have been heard almost every night throughout December. Initially it was a little unnerving, taking me by surprise and sending me ducking for cover. My first instinct was to think the noise was gunshots, however that is just paranoia, based on “the legacy of the past”. Now I am getting accustomed to the random explosions. Locals go crazy decorating malls, houses and apartments with extravagant lighting and naivety scenes and music can be heard everywhere. December has certainly been surprising for me, and I’m sure it will be for a lot of locals, when they get their electricity bills!
These have been just some of my insights into this new world I find myself in – Medellin. There is lots more to share about the idiosyncrasies of this place! Stay tuned…
For now…Feliz Navidad from Medellin, Colombia.
Wishing everyone a happy festive season!