Top ten things i’ll miss in Medellin
This adventure of mine is coming to a close. I arrived in Medellin nearly six weeks ago, not speaking a lick of Spanish other than “please”, “thank you” and some random airplane words, and I’ll leave this Friday with a solid foundation of the language including future and three past tenses and a pool of vocabulary that is growing by the day. I had never traveled solo, and now I have. I’d been wanting to have the feeling of living abroad, to stay in one place for long enough that I felt (almost) like a local. And I have. I’ve been wanting to see this city since I first visited the North of Colombia and didn’t make it here, two years ago. Now, this city has stolen my heart. I feel so comfortable here that it is difficult to imagine going home for good and this being just another memory, another tale of travel.
I’m so jealous of people I’ve met at school who have the ability and time to stay for the full three months that the entirety of this language course would take. But I’m so fortunate and thankful that I was able to take these six weeks—and theoretically can again in the future when I please—because my job and my lifestyle allow it. I’m sad I’m not fluent. But I’m thrilled with what I’ve learned. Being able to understand people and communicate, albeit much more slowly than a native speaker, is huge. I’m going to try with all my might to be disciplined and to continue my learning once I’ve said goodbye to Colombia and am back in the States, speaking English full time. But for now, what I’d like to focus on is this city. There are a million reasons why I love it (or at least 1,000) But I’ve got Spanish homework left to do and it would take six more weeks to list them all. So here it is, while I prepare myself for the impending goodbye:
The Top 10 things I’ll Miss in Medellin
10. The snacks
The junkfood game here is next level.
Panederias on every corner. Street vendors selling arepas con queso, buñuelos (balls of fried dough and cheese), empanadas of all sorts. Meat eaters can find themselves in fast food paradise here; from perros calientes to meat-stuffed empanadas. I’ve been snacking on muchos pastels de queso (bread and cheese; what else is there, really?) You can get anything fried, and nearly all of the options include some type of cheese. And the sweets. The sweets!
One little snack as weird as they come is a solterita—an orange wafer-y cookie first topped with some sweet orange substance, the name or makeup of which eludes me. Then it’s topped with two different sweet cream substances, one white, one white-ish. I know im not making this sound appealing, but they’re so good! And pretty! Bocadillo (guava paste) con queso is another Colombian snack that is oh so strange, but hits the savory and sweet spot at the same time (I told you everything has cheese! Even the sweets!)
While ill miss my Paisa snacks, I’m sure my waistline will be better off without them. ::Sigh::
``Solterita`` translates roughly to ``single little girl.`` Creepy but delicious.
Arepa con queso, fresh off the griddle.
9. Fresh jugos- Las frutas en general
So I’m not a juice drinker. Scratch that, I wasn’t a juice drinker. In America drinking juice is like eating candy but it doesn’t taste as good. It’s all sugar, processed, barely even tastes like the fruit it’s supposed to be created from.
NOT the case here. When you order a juice “jugo” in Colombia, they take actual fruit…like the kind that grows…and blend it until it becomes a liquid. Incredible, right!? But seriously, jokes aside, I don’t know how I’m going to go on without a fresh jugo at lunchtime anymore. Every day, a new juice is served with lunch, usually I have no clue what it is and don’t particularly care. Some that I know I’ve tried are: mora (blackberry) naranja (orange) mango (so frickin good)
I’ve also been taking advantage of the plethora of whole frutas aqui. I’ve eaten more papaya in these six weeks than most people will in their lifetimes. Pitaya, or Dragon Fruit, is to fricking die for. (the yellow kind!) Granadilla was good, but very sweet. Zapote Costeño I did not care for and ended up throwing away, and I felt similar about the tomates de arból (which I have been told should only be had in a juice.) Where Colombians slack in availability of vegetables, they make up for in the variety of fresh, succulent DELICIOUS fruits.
8. Las Montañas
The city sits in a valley surrounded by lush green mountains. I know I’ve mentioned this lushness and green-ness and the mountains before, but I’m so enamored by them that I’ll keep it up. In a city surrounded by mountains there are ample places to escape the busy calles full of cars and people and get in touch with nature. There are hikes to be had here, eco parks to meander through, and it makes every view, from a dirty city street to the open window of your 19th floor bedroom look like a postcard or a work of art.
8. Menus del dia
Touched on this briefly in the juice section, but let me elaborate. A majority of the restaurants here offer for lunch a “Menu del dia”, menu of the day. It’s different every day and different for every place, but in general you can expect to get a whole lot and pay just a little. A typical menu del dia includes a soup to start followed by an entre, a fresh jugo of the day and often a postre, or dessert, to top it off. Typical Colombian fare is served in many of the restaurants including some type of meat, rice, beans, salad, maybe some plantains. There is variation, but these items tend to be in heavy rotation. In El Poblado, the area near where I live and where my school is (and where all the tourists stay, let’s face it) there is a plethora of vegetarian restaurants, each with its own menu del dia. Lucky me! I’ve been sampling these restaurants and it’s been so much fun popping in one after school, not knowing what my meal will be. I’ve had a few burritos, eggplant served with mashed potatoes and salad, some type of lentil and garbanzo curry dish, and lots of other things. A vegetarian menu del dia is a bit more expensive than the regular meat options; they range from 13,000-15,000 pesos. Or $4-5 USD. I can’t even get the bowl of soup for that in the US! The signs I see for menu’s del dia are often around 10-12,000 pesos, but my teacher last week told us this is expensive and you can find them for 6,000 pesos in places. That’s TWO dollars! Menu del dia is the best way to eat. Not only is it economical (for both you and the restauranteur), but you never have to wait long for your food (mass batches), AND there are no decisions to be made. Just sit down and get ready for a surprise!
I’m seriously going to miss this.
One of the many menu del dias I sampled while in Medellin
Eatin' papaya like er'ry day
7. Being a full-time student
I haven’t been on a schedule this regular in over ten years.
Working for an airline your schedule is always a bit outside of the norm. With that being said, I tend to take it to the extreme, working 12 hour overnight shifts often, sleeping in the daytime, changing time zones as often as I wash my hair, and generally never knowing what day of the week it is.
I sleep eight hours a night. Like a baby. I’m up between 6-7:30 depending on if I need that snooze button. Class is 9-1 Monday through Friday and then I have activities. Salsa lessons 1-2 times per week, tours of the city or popping into a museum, Language exchanges two nights per week where locals and students hang out and talk for 2-3 hours for practice, and often a school-organized outing on Fridays. One was Chiva bus, which I can’t get into now, but it involved drinking and was a blast, and last week was Tejo, which involved a game of explosives and beer. Between my activities and the intense mental labor that language learning entails, the heat of the daytime here and all the walking, I’m absolutely beat by the time I go to bed. I fall asleep instantly, something I haven’t experienced with any frequency maybe since high school.
I’m loving my student life, and am buckling up for a rude awakening when I have to go back to working (with the American public) next week.
Ahhhh, student life.
6. El clima
Yes… I actually think I’m going to miss sweating all of the time. The unpredictable, but frequent schedule of rain, the cool evenings and sometimes blazing mid-days. Having to tote a rain jacket and umbrella along everywhere I go, and having to blot my face after arriving at school because I’d been sweating the whole way there. It’s not quite hot enough here to feel oppressed by it, and it’s never cold enough to be uncomfortable—you hardly ever really need a jacket.
The weather here is like a puzzle…like the language. And slowly, but surely, I’m adapting, growing accustomed, and thinking about how ill miss it.
Luckily the last of winter should have finally passed at home in Boston by the time I get back. But Medellin, La ciudad de primavera, you’ll always have a place in my (sweaty) heart.
5. The exchange rate
Let me start off by saying not everything is that cheap here. A bottle of cheap wine is $10 US at the grocery store. (Unless you shop at D1 Tienda, in which case under $4!) My grocery store visits averaged $30-40. And bath and body products can be on the expensive side. I caved and bought dry shampoo for a whopping SEVEN US DOLLARS. Brand name lotions, shampoos etc can add up pretty quickly.
That being said, I was shopping at what turned out to be a very expensive grocery store, which I had some idea of based on the appearance and shopping experience. For most things, US dollars go a long long way here. Lunch is $3-5 for a large filling meal. A cerveza is 5-6,000 pesos which is $2 or less. A ride on the metro is 2,500, under $1 USD. Don’t even get me started on how much cheaper my Uber fares are. Which is why this—and much of South America—is so great for budget travel and long-term travel (which generally always requires sticking to a budget). I haven’t worked in six weeks and I can still afford to buy things, to go out and do things. And I’ve still been paying all my bills at home. This place has a huge digital nomad community and the benefit is obvious and so worth it. Getting paid in USD and spending in Colombian pesos gives you an incredible leg up and opportunity to live very well on less.
3. Toucan Spanish School
This school was recommended to me by another flight attendant I’m acquainted with who had studied here before. She said it was the best and it swayed me to book classes here instead of in the other school I’d been researching. I’ve loved my time here. I LOVE my school. My teachers have mostly been amazing. In fact, my classmates tried many times to no avail, to get our teacher Carlos to come out with us after class for drinks and laughs. And Vanessa cracked me up daily with her facial expressions, colorful topics of culture, and self-induced laughter. The school administrators who keep things running—the ones pouring aguardiente in shot glasses on the chiva bus and encouraging us to drink more—have been a fixture in my life for six weeks and it’s actually going to be really weird not seeing them.
I’m sure I would have loved the other school just as much as Toucan. This experience would have been incredible no matter which building I went to each morning. I would have had great teachers and met really cool people along the way. But I picked Toucan and I stuck with them and I’d be thrilled to come right back here to finish my Spanish learning with them. (I’m seriously hooked!)
If you’re looking for a place to study Spanish in Medellin (or Bogota or Cartagena) I can’t recommend them highly enough. And I’d be happy to give more information to anyone with questions!
``You can with Toucan``
2. The views
Every single view is a vista. Every window is a mirador. Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, there are just incredible views. Dying to be photographed, leaving me slack-jawed, gob-smacked, enamored. The city is huge and the layout is spread out across the vast valley. The mountains form a majestic backdrop and then bursting through the green are giant, 20+ story buildings. All major cities have tall buildings. Sure. But what makes it different here is how spread out they are. The fact that there isn’t a “skyline”, a cluster of buildings, that there are so many high rises and that they’re spread out and mized in amongst shorter buildings and green, gives this incredible visual effect. A mountainscape rolling out before you and boom! Bam! Right before your eyes these massive tall structures just jutting out of nowhere, seemingly standing all alone. It is so COOL looking! And of course I’ve included pictures but it will never do full justice.
The benefit of the city sitting in the valley is that there are so, SO many places to go for incredible views. It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions here—looking at the city! From the metro cable cars, Pueblito Paisa, Cerro de Tres Cruces, there are so many easy-to-get-to spots for vistas that I could write an entire post on just that. (hey! There’s an idea!) Two of the apartments I lived in while in Medellin were in high rise buildings and boasted incredible views. Sipping my coffee (or wine or water) overlooking this city in the quiet of the morning, the brilliance of the sunset, or the cleansing of an afternoon rainstorm, feeling full to the brim with awe and gratitude. This will be one of my fondest set of memories from Medellin. The thing I might just miss most in a list of truly wonderful, miss-worthy things.
1. La gente
From the Airbnb hosts I’ve stayed with, to the security officers who open the gates for me as I come and go, to uber drivers, workers in cafés and restaurants, strangers sitting next to me on the bus, and of course the staff at my Spanish school I have encountered so many warm, inviting locals. I met a lot of Colombians at Intercambio—the language exchanges I attended weekly—who I saw over and over and who were engaging and interested in my life and travels.And were patient with my slow, labored Spanish. I talked with dozens of uber drivers who seemed impressed at my coming to try to learn Spanish and complimented that I was doing very well, when in reality I feel like I’m barely treading water. People working in coffee shops and in bars started conversations with me when I ordered drinks. “De donde eres?” “Te gusta Medellin?” “Cuanto tiempo te quedas en Medellin?” Of course this is because I look foreign. I’m pale and blonde and tall. But regardless of the reason for their curiosity, it was cool having people interested enough to strike up a conversation. Sure I’ve been cat-called. And called a prostitute TWICE by the same street vendor when I refused to buy a bracelet from him. But overall my interactions with locals—con la gente—have been overwhelmingly positive.
But it isn’t only the locals I’ve met that have made this experience such a positive one. I now have new friends from England, Holland, Australia and Canada that I met in class. And besides the few friends that I actually plan to stay in touch with, I’ve encountered so many interesting people along the way from all different places and walks of life. Doing the same thing I’m doing or better. I’ve met doctors backpacking around the world for the year before they finish their residency. I’ve met people from the States who sold all their stuff and are living full time on the road, working remotely, with no desire to resettle anywhere any time soon. There is a family in my Spanish school—two parents and two boys who look to be about 10. All here, learning together experiencing something totally different from what is typical in their home country. One girl in my class has been traveling for seven years, living for no longer than six months in one place while she replenishes her savings to leave again.
Being surrounded by travelers gives me a certain kind of feeling. At home my non-airline family and friends think I’m a world traveler, always on the go. But here, surrounded by these folks, my travels are small potatoes. There’s so much I have yet to see and do. There are so many people living way more by the seat of their pants than I will ever be. In fact, in my classes I was the one living the most conservatively. And while I want to see everywhere and get to know every place and do everything this world has to offer, meeting all these travelers and backpackers and digital nomads and retirees on the move shockingly hasn’t set off my FOMO. On the contrary, being surrounded by travelers gives me a sense of community. A reassurance that I’m not nuts for wanting to live a bit differently, that you really can grab life by the balls and do whatever the hell you want. As I’m in my thirties now and oscillating between wanting to settle down and make babies and wanting to live out of a suitcase and never stop until every square inch of my passport is stamped, seeing people doing their thing and just making it work has been so, SO calming. Encouraging. Inspiring.
My glass is very, very full.
Gracias por todo, Medellin. And you can bet I’ll be back someday. So instead of goodbye, I’ll say