A VISIT TO COLOMBIA – Rich Paschall

I have seen a few articles that claim Medellin is one of the best international cities for retirement. The US dollar goes far and the climate is pleasant.Forbes rates Colombia the number 6 country in 2019 for International Living. I have made two trips to Colombia. Here are my thoughts after the first visit.

Medellin, RICH PASCHALL

A mile high in the Andes mountains of Colombia, located in the Aburrá Valley, lies the city of Medellin. It is somewhere between the size of Los Angeles and Chicago. Some of its neighborhoods are built up the sides of the mountain, but the city center is mostly flat.

Nevertheless, bring a good pair of walking shoes to make you tour around town.  Traffic in downtown Medellin can be something close to gridlock in midday.  A large number of buses and taxis will not help you get around quickly.

Medellin downtown
Medellin downtown

My trip was somewhat of a lark. A longtime internet friend encouraged me to come visit. Although we talked often on Google Hangout and Skype and chatted on Facebook Messenger, we had never actually met.  After seeing all the Facebook pictures of friends and relatives, it was as if we were old friends.

The weather there was just about perfect, so I decided to use my few remaining vacation days and hop a plane south.

I was not eager to transit another country, I decided to take American Airlines from Chicago to Miami and then fly directly to Medellin. It would have been cheaper to connect in Panama City, but lacking Spanish, it seemed a better choice to connect in an American city. Besides, the Miami connecting times were shorter.

Columbia’s international airport is in Rionegro, 45 minutes from Medellin. It’s at a higher altitude than Medellin and offers amazing views of the tropical region. Although the airport is the second largest in Colombia, it was closer in size to Sarasota, Florida, though much busier. The airport is modern and efficient. Much easier to get through customs than Miami — a story for another time.

My friend was waiting for me as I came out of customs.  From this point on in the trip, it’s a good idea to have someone local with you, even if you speak Spanish, which I don’t.  Most signs are entirely in Spanish … which by itself can be a problem for tourists.

I had exchanged currency at the airport in Miami — never a good thing. Rates of exchanges at airports are the worst. Even ATM rates would have been better, but then you have fees, so I suppose it’s a toss-up.  I did not see currency exchanges in the city, but there were some large banks in downtown Medellin that might have been able to make the exchange at a better rate.

You definitely need cash. Most stores and restaurants take only cash, even when you see a MasterCard sticker on the door. The only place you’ll likely use plastic is at an ATM.

There are plenty of taxis and buses at the airport, so transportation to the city should be no problem. My friend took us to the taxi line. The first one was for a shared cab to a designated spot in the city. He chose this for economy

We shared the ride with a couple and a single person. A three-way split is very economical.  In fact, it was cheaper than from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago — and O’Hare is actually in Chicago proper.

Road to the airport
Road to the airport

The ride down the mountain in the dark was an adventure. The road into the airport is wide and well-lit, but shortly you are on a winding two-lane highway. In the mountains. At night.

The driver knows the road well, but racing down was quite a thrill.  We would get tossed from side to side like a roller coaster ride.  When we arrived in town and dropped off the others, my friend negotiated a rate to his apartment.

At night we visited a neighborhood filled with outdoor cafes and sports bars. A large central square was crowded. You could buy beverages at nearby stores. The square and two streets along it formed an “L” and were like Bourbon Street in New Orleans — one big open-air party.

The downtown shopping area the next day was crowded.  We went by Metro and returned by taxi. The wide walkways on many streets could accommodate outdoors stands and carts where a variety of goods were available. Tropical fruit drinks (nonalcoholic) were everywhere  — a good thing when you’re doing serious shopping.

Downtown shopping
Downtown shopping

Many stores featured products from the US. We saw one store supposedly selling “USA brand” clothes.  My friend said to me, “all originals,” with a wink and a laugh. I decided after a while that I could figure out which places sold authentic goods and high-end merchandise because they had armed security guards at the door. It did not appear the police walking the streets were armed, although I didn’t study them.

Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of its temperate climate.  The average annual temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most days are in the 80s all year long, but since they are in the mountains, it cools off to low 60s at night.

Upper 50’s would be a cold night.  Few places had air conditioning. Restaurants and bars are open-air and the climate is perfect for living outdoors. Cool enough for comfortable nighttime sleeping, too. For my visit, the days were in the upper 80s, and the cooler nights did not require jackets.

If your knowledge of Medellin comes from news stories from 1993 or earlier, forget it.  They have worked hard to live down the past and transform the city into a welcoming place.

If he comes up in conversation, locals will tell you that Pablo Escobar does not live there anymore (died in 1993), just as Chicagoans sometimes have to say that Al Capone does not live here anymore (he died in 1947).

The people are friendly, food is good, the climate is great, and the scenery is beautiful. The trip was too short and I wouldn’t mind another visit. Especially in the winter.

Visit the Medellin photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog here.

Also see: “The Top 10 Places In The World To Retire: 2 New Lists,” Forbes.com, January 4, 2019.

TRAVEL ON – RICH PASCHALL

Where To Next? by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


Perhaps you have seen the commercials or print ads for a popular travel planning site that features a garden gnome. Yes, a garden gnome!  If you have done any travel planning online, then they may have popped up on your computer too.  The internet is smarter than we are and knows when to send us a picture of a garden gnome.  For years I thought the ad campaign was silly.  I could not imagine why a lifeless gnome was speaking to us from various locales from around the world.

Then a friend recommended the beloved 2001 French film Amelie to me (aka Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) .  Actually, he checked it out of the library, gave it to me and told me to watch it.  Amelie was busy in her life solving the problems of others while neglecting her own.  As the film progresses, one of the people Amelie turns her attention to is her father, a widower who rarely seems to make it past the garden and his beloved gnome.  I will not explain the importance of the wooden figurine, but needless to say, Amelie has launched a great plan that includes the gnome.  If you do not know French, watch it with subtitles.  It is worth it.

Tom Law t-shirt, Chicago

Some years after discovering why the gnome is travelling the world, I had a conversation with musician Tom Joseph Law regarding his t-shirts and where they had been seen online.  Perhaps it was just a casual conversation about the posting of a friend, I honestly don’t recall, but I do remember that I had a picture of myself at a local event in 2015 where I was wearing the shirt.  So I posted it to Facebook.

Colombia

In the picture, a stick figure Tom is falling off his surfboard while a large fish seems ready to greet him.  It is based on a rather horrible surfing accident which Tom relayed to me one day in quite a bit of detail.  Some of it is a bit amusing now that time has passed, but it was not pleasant.  It affected Tom’s voice for a long time to follow.  This is not good for a singer-songwriter.

The first time I went to Colombia, I took the shirt along and got several pictures throughout Medellin.  I am not sure which one I posted at the time, so here is one with my friend and tour guide for the visit.  Not only did John take a few pictures with my camera, but we also bothered his friends to get some pictures of us. It was the first time John and I met in person, after a year or more of conversation.

On the next trip to Colombia I may have forgotten this particular shirt, but I had another Tom Law shirt with me.  It is the drawing that also appears on the cover of an album (EP, actually).  I may have violated the true spirit of the gnome, but nothing says Colombia more than an American wearing the British guy’s t-shirt in front of the British store in a mall in Medellin. So here it is anyway.

Medellin

When I finally got to travel to England and visit the area where Tom is from, he had already left the country.  I am pretty sure that had nothing to do with our arrival.  So we found our own travel guide and went on to Bath while Tom was hiding in an eastern European country.  I guess it was his own personal Brexit.  Anyway, I got my travel companion to take pictures of my gnome t-shirt with my phone.  If you wish to see pictures of our tour of Salisbury, Stonehenge and a Roman Bath, you can find them here.

Bath, England but where is Tom?

Last month I visited my closest friend in France.  This brought the opportunity to get another picture of the traveling t-shirt with the gnome falling off the surfboard.  On a sunny day in a week that was filled with clouds, we made it to Strasbourg where I coaxed the French guy into taking pictures of yours truly in the British t-shirt. Since the guy in the foreground is not much to look at, it is fortunate we were on the street that leads up to the magnificent cathedral in Strasbourg.

Strasbourg, France

This historic building was started over a thousand years ago.  It is awesome in its intricate details and is always a site to behold.  At one time, it was the tallest structure in Europe.  Now the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg should be on the tour of anyone passing through the Alsace region, whether you are carrying a garden gnome or not.

When considering all of the countries where this shirt has been, whether there was a postcard home from the gnome or not, Tom thinks it may have made it to more countries than he has.  That’s not too bad, actually.

A VISIT TO COLOMBIA

Medellin, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

A mile high in the Andes mountains of Colombia, located in the Aburrá Valley, lies the city of Medellin. It is somewhere between the size of Los Angeles and Chicago. Some of its neighborhoods are built up the sides of the mountain, but the city center is mostly flat.

Nevertheless, bring a good pair of walking shoes to make you tour around town.  Traffic in downtown Medellin can be something close to gridlock in midday.  The large number of buses and taxis will not help you get around quickly.

Medellin downtown
Medellin downtown

My trip was somewhat of a lark. A longtime internet friend encouraged me to come visit. Although we talked often on Google Hangout and Skype and chatted on Facebook Messenger, we had never actually met.  After seeing all the Facebook pictures of friends and relatives, it was as if we were old friends.

The weather there was just about perfect, so I decided to use my few remaining vacation days and hop a plane south.

I was not eager to transit another country, I decided to take American Airlines from Chicago to Miami and then fly directly to Medellin. It would have been cheaper to connect in Panama City, but lacking Spanish, it seemed a better choice to connect in an American city. Besides, the Miami connecting times were shorter.

Columbia’s international airport is in Rionegro, 45 minutes from Medellin. It’s at a higher altitude than Medellin and offers amazing views of the tropical region. Although the airport is the second largest in Colombia, it was closer in size to Sarasota, Florida, though much busier. The airport is modern and efficient. Much easier to get through customs than Miami — a story for another time.

My friend was waiting for me as I came out of customs.  From this point on in the trip, it’s a good idea to have someone local with you, even if you speak Spanish, which I don’t.  Most signs are entirely in Spanish … which by itself can be a problem for tourists.

I had exchanged currency at the airport in Miami — never a good thing. Rates of exchanges at airports are the worst. Even ATM rates would have been better, but then you have fees, so I suppose it’s a toss-up.  I did not see currency exchanges in the city, but there were some large banks in downtown Medellin that might have been able to make the exchange at a better rate.

You definitely need cash. Most stores and restaurants take only cash, even when you see a MasterCard sticker on the door. The only place you’ll likely use plastic is at an ATM.

There are plenty of taxis and buses at the airport, so transportation to the city should be no problem. My friend took us to the taxi line. The first one was for a shared cab to a designated spot in the city. He chose this for economy

We shared the ride with a couple and a single person. A three-way split is very economical.  In fact, it was cheaper than from O’Hare airport to downtown Chicago — and O’Hare is actually in Chicago proper.

Road to the airport
Road to the airport

The ride down the mountain in the dark was an adventure. The road into the airport is wide and well-lit, but shortly you are on a winding two lane highway. In the mountains. At night.

The driver knows the road well, but racing down was quite a thrill.  We would get tossed from side to side like a roller coaster ride.  When we arrived in town and dropped off the others, my friend negotiated a rate to his apartment.

At night we visited a neighborhood filled with outdoor cafes and sports bars. A large central square was crowded. You could buy beverages at nearby stores. The square and two streets along it formed an “L” and was like Bourbon Street in New Orleans — one big open air party.

The downtown shopping area the next day was crowded.  We went by Metro and returned by taxi. The wide walkways on many streets could accommodate outdoors stands and carts where a variety of goods were available. Tropical fruit drinks (non alcoholic) were everywhere  — a good thing when you’re doing serious shopping.

Downtown shopping
Downtown shopping

Many stores featured products from the US. We saw one store supposedly selling “USA brand” clothes.  My friend said to me, “all originals,” with a wink and a laugh. I decided after a while that I could figure out which places sold authentic goods and high-end merchandise because they had armed security guards at the door. It did not appear the police walking the streets were armed, although I didn’t study them.

Medellin is known as the “City of Eternal Spring” because of it temperate climate.  The average annual temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most days are in the 80’s all year-long, but since they are in the mountains, it cools off to low 60’s at night.

Upper 50’s would be a cold night.  Few places had air conditioning. Restaurants and bars are open air and the climate is perfect for living outdoors. Cool enough for comfortable nighttime sleeping, too. The days were in the upper 80’s, and the cooler nights did not require jackets. Pretty good compared to December in Chicago.

If your knowledge of Medellin comes from news stories from 1993 or earlier, forget it.  They have worked hard to live down the past and transform the city into a welcoming place.

If he comes up in conversation, locals will tell you that Pablo Escobar does not live there anymore (died in 1993), just as Chicagoans sometimes have to say that Al Capone does not live here anymore (he died in 1947).

The people are friendly, food is good, climate is great, and the scenery is beautiful. The trip was too short and I wouldn’t mind another visit. Especially in the winter.

Visit the Medellin photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog here.