Colombia

Medellin’s Free Walking Tour- The beautiful, the ugly, the scars

May 26, 2015
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Yearning, come to my country, see my beautiful people, shake our hands, take our hugs, see past my scars and know I haven’t been completely in charge of the history that was put in front of me but here I am, showing you the good, the bad, my city Medellin.ย 

This was my interpretation of our tourist guide’s feelings as he walked us through his city. We went on the Real City Walking Tour and we’re toured by Hernan. We started at the Alpurjarra metro station with a group of 20 people and made our way to the Antioquia Railway. This historical site introduced us to the importance of transportation as a means of building Medellin. Medellin was not built by the drug cartel, cocaine, or Pablo Escobar, sure there was some influence but the foundation of this great eternal spring city was two fold. First was gold, with a huge industry with 250 years of mining. Then there was the 70 years of the coffee industry booming. So while the region shifted from an agricultural industry into an industrial one infrastructure was built and the stage was set for economic prosperity.

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You’ll learn that the people from Antiquoia region (which includes Medellin) are called Paisa. Ethnically and historically they are a mixed of Basque and Jewish leaving their origins for political and religious regions. These two groups are already a prideful bunch. So while their neighbors are still farming and doing more laborious work the Paisa’s are prospering from their advanced economic status. So when you come to Medellin and think the Paisa don’t look Latin you now know their roots are from from it.

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Once you’re at the steps of the Alpujarra Administrative Centre in view of the sculpture “Monument to the Race” you’ll hear all about the history of Antioquia. Hernan will then create an invisible timeline where he describes a two political party system in the 1940s splitting, then the details get a bit blurry as there are a bunch. Presidential candidates are shot, parties are split, liberals kill conservatives, conservatives kill liberals, guerrilla movements come out as the government isn’t protecting anybody and counter-groups form to combat them. In the 1980s the drug cartel gains power, the government starts policies to indiscriminately spray farms as a declaration of War on Drugs. Farmers seeking protection get some from cartels- money’s exchanged, people are armed and trained, and a huge mess continues to unravel.

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In 1993 Escobar is killed and though Hernan seemed to prefer to issues aside from drugs and Pablo, it is very much relevant in current history. There is a Pablo Escobar tour which you can do in the city and you can even meet Pablo’s brother. After his death another drug cartel takes over the trade. In the early 2000s President Alavaro Uribe is elected president and then re-elected and holds office until 2010. During this time he is quite popular and does well fighting illegal armed groups and drug cartels and starts boosting the economy through various reform.

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Today Medellin is looking forward sometimes forgetting it’s past. Hernan takes you through a few places and gives anecdotes of grenades going off in public killing 10-30 people yet most Colombians have forgotten these specific stories given the horrors they’ve experienced in the past. The last story he leaves you with is in a Plaza San Antonio with two Botero birds- one that’s torn apart and another next to it that’s in perfect condition. During an event at the plaza a backpack was put down and a bomb was blown up killing people including children. The government wanted to take the destroyed bird down but with a phone call from Botero himself, were advised to keep it as a way of remembering the history in an effort to not repeat it.

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The tour ends and you feel much safer being in Medellin. You realize that while this was once the most dangerous place in the world it isn’t the same place these stories depict. Today Medellin is a beautiful city attracting more and more visitors each day. The people that joined our tour are proof of that. Each day in any city around the world bad things happen.

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You only need to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, anywhere. Colombia, in our short 2 weeks that we’ve been here, has deconstructed a lot of our assumptions we had of this place. It’s full of wonderful people willing to help you find your way around the city, offering hugs, smiles and thanks. Throughout the tour we’d stop and listen to Hernan, curious locals would peek through our group, some would ask Hernan to let them know that we were welcome to the city. This happened often and with a welcome and a greeting they would be on their way where they were but happy to see its city opening up to tourists.

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