The metamorphosis of Medellin
I fell in love with Medellin the moment I saw it. The ride from the airport takes 45 minutes, but halfway through, the taxi rounded a bend to reveal the city sprawled out in a valley below our vantage point — and at night, the view is magical. And while the night can hide most imperfections, by day, my opinion hadn’t changed.
Certainly, the city has its problems. But in the last 20 years, and certainly since Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror ended on a rooftop in 1993, crime has plummeted and Medellin is looking toward the future as a vibrant, cosmopolitan city that doesn’t shy away from its past.
At the National Museum, the half AK-47 and half guitar (or “Escopetarra”), created by Colombia musician Cesar Lopez, serves as a symbol of the transformation taking place. He believes that artistic endeavors are the best weapon for counteracting the violence that has plagued the country.The museum has an impressive collection of the “top guns” of Colombia, all housed in a beautiful Art Deco building in central Medellin. The entire third floor of the museum is dedicated to Fernando Botero, one of Colombia’s most-famous artists. The majority of his subjects, in sculpture and paintings, are depicted as extra plump — human, animal or inanimate (a print of his is hanging in the ladies’ bathroom at the Stone Oven in Cleveland).
His oversized bronze sculptures can be found in the park in front of the museum, as well as in various spots in Bogota, where an entire museum is devoted to his work.
After going to the museum, we grabbed lunch at a restaurant in the city center serving regional cuisine. It’s located in a strange neighborhood, where one street is choked with people shopping at the mall on their lunch break and, one block over, there are sex shops and prostitutes wandering about with their wares hanging out (their profession is legal).
We then hopped on the convenient metro until we reached the stop next to the botanical garden, a green oasis in the city that is open free to the public. The park include a section of native medicinal plants and their uses, a orchid center, a place to buy live plants and a lovely restaurant that grows its own herbs and vegetables just outside its doors.
Chris and I carve out a spot on the edge of a lagoon that is perfect for animal- and people-watching. Some kids are scooping up baby fish in water bottles, while a couple canoodles on the bench next to us. A turtle swims by in slow motion. Here, there are no worries.
A loud bang (hopefully a car backfiring) breaks the silence. The young man on the other bench falls to his knees, turns around, puts his fingers together as if to shoot back over the top of the bench. His girlfriend giggles.
If only we all could laugh in the face of adversity like Medellin seems to have done.