A fellow traveler told me a couple of weeks ago that he had to leave Medellin because the temptation was too strong with cocaine being cheaper than beer. A moment to take that in.
I moved to Mexico City as a child, at an age where the chaotic city did not seem as natural as it did to many friends who were born there. A modern version of segregation, slavery and injustice. I left for Israel at age 18 and although Israel has its issues (now probably more than ever) I was happy to not be in that specific environment anymore.
We arrived in Medellin two days ago and everything I saw reminded me of Mexico City; the huge buildings surrounded by makeshift houses, the paint peeling off the sides of the thousands of motorcycle repair shops, the ruthless taxi drivers, the food stands, the barefoot children, the dust, the smell. Here I was, on a trip that is supposed to be about new places and new experiences and all I could think of was: I know this and I don’t like it.
We moved to a hostel in the Poblado neighborhood. Moving hostels seems to be turning into a tradition of sorts. Our travel book said that when the center became too dangerous under Escobar’s reign of terror, the wealthy people moved to el Poblado — so it’s very pretty here, and it’s also where most of the hispters and tourists hang out. As we walked past the bars and restaurants, the guys that sell gum and candy offered us cocaine. It’s that easy.
And on that note, one of the most popular tours is the one of Pablo Escobar’s house and operations. The very expensive version includes a face to face meet-up with his brother, and from what I heard, it sells out. This offends me deeply, that people would both create and buy this tour and turn a villain into an object of desire. We see t-shirts of him at market stalls and I can’t imagine what kind of person would want to wear them but, then again, who hasn’t owned a t-shirt of Che Guevara without knowing what he really did or stood for (and I’m not talking about his idyllic early days)?
Traveling in Medellin makes me think a lot about the things I locked away a long time ago. And that might not be fair, because I don’t know this place and what I do know, so far, I do like. We went to the park full of Botero’s sculptures that were breathtaking, we went to the science museum with the best interactive expo I have seen in years, and the people here are beautiful. Avri laughs because every time I ask a short question I get a very long answer. They like to talk. A lot. And everyone we have talked to has been helpful and nice and kind. These are the people who rebuilt the city against all odds and they are so proud of what they have achieved. They really should be. And I need to stop comparing and just take all of this in. All of it, except for the cocaine.