Street Strollin’

Sunrise isn’t really a thing here.  The cloudbanked morning sky simply becomes quite must squint my eyes or don my shades bright. We walked a few miles east on San Juan towards downtown this morning, joining a free history walking tour of Medellín. We crossed the Río Medellín and hopscotched our way through tire strewn sidewalks and a neverending labyrinth of parked scooters and motorbikes.

Politics, history, drugs, prostitution, poverty, fear, growth, and culture. All that and a bumbling pack of gringos…we took the streets by storm. This was the second walking tour in which I’ve participated [ever]. The last one was 6 years ago in Buenos Aires when I was guiding an Unschool Adventures trip with Blake.

I’m not a big tour-taker…I know, I know. I’m a guide. I’ve led many a tour. How does that add up?

Needless to say, this tour was “vale la pena,” absolutely worth it.


El Monumento a la Raza. This statue could very well be an urban climber paradise, if it weren’t for the hordes of security guards and the questionable integrity of the features and holds on the statue itself. Rodrigo Arenas Betancur created this statue as a representation of Paisa history, and the forces of good and evil.


I immediately thought of The Edge, that epic free fall roller coaster at Great America back in the early nineties…which my Aunt Ginny thought was good, and my older brother thought was evil. Or maybe I just thought it was evil because I was too short to go on the ride. Whatever.


“When the light changes to green, look once to your left to make sure no motorcycles are going to run you over, then run! Don’t stop until you make it to the sidewalk.” -Camilo, our guide

We survived the gauntlet crosswalk, infamous as the shortest pedestrian light for the longest street crossing, in one of the busiest parts of town.

We heard tales of how the city came into riches with its gold mining industry and how once the Antioquia Railway was finally completed in 1929, Medellin was finally connected to the other economic and commercial hubs of Colombia. The Plaza de Cisneros is a massive block, not unlike San Francisco’s Civic Center plaza. It was re-designed and constructed from 2002-2005 to rejuvenate the area and emphasize the growth and healing of Medellin after the rough/absurd/heinous final chapter of the twentieth century. The re-design implemented large open spaces interspersed with forest of incredibly tall lighted pillars and fountains and giant bamboo forested aisles.

Renew & Rejuvenate.

Repurpose? This gorgeous historical building was once the Justice Department; it has been converted into a shopping mall where, as Camilo told us,

“everything will be 50%-80% off…because it is all fake or counterfeit.”

Outside bargain central, I met the man t-shirt of my dreams.


We had a hilarious conversation. I told him I was absolutely in love with hi…s t-shirt. He smiled, laughed, and said,

“Hecho en Colombia!”

Then we took a photo. So I can forever remember hi…s t-shirt.

Fernando Botero bronze statues are everywhere. He’s the artist / sculptor who is infatuated with demonstrating volume. It’s truly wonderful. In fact, there’s a law in place that all public buildings must include some sort of public art on their premises once they are constructed.

The bronze on many of the statues has been buffed and shined over the years, simply from people touching the statues when they are photographed with them.

Psychedelic Church // Catedral Metropolitana. Reminiscent of the Rila Monastery in Bulgaria that I visited in 2007.


The Metro is another proud piece of infrastructure for Paisas. It was built in the mid-1990s, when the city was still being rocked by Pablo Escobar’s influence [even though he was killed in 1993]. It was a step in a direction of hope and community and connection and growth.

Think about BART in the Bay. It gets you from A to B and sometimes C. Unfortunately it’s often dirty, it’s always loud, and people have scratched into the glass and written on the backs of seats. On the flipside, the metro here only gets you from A to B, but is impeccably clean and respected to this day, and I think that is a valid testament of how important positive change, accessibility of opportunity, and community collaboration are to the Paisa population.


Boom, reality check. Our final stop of the tour was next to Botero’s Pajaro de Paz. A bronze bird sculpture, one of many lining the edge of the plaza, exploded when a bomb was placed at its base in 1995. Almost 30 people were killed next to the statue because the explosion happened during a music festival. People blowing up. People getting killed. Real stuff here in the 80s and 90s. Unfathomable violence and fear.

In 2000, Botero cast a second identical bronze sculpture and placed it not 10 yards away from the original. The original, now malformed sculpture presents quite a juxtaposition next to the newer piece. Again, a demonstration of noticing Colombia’s bizarre history that I really have no idea how to understand.


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