Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The City of Eternal Spring

If Medellin is indeed the Goldilocks of Colombian cities as I previously wrote, then it was time for me to do a proper tour of the city.  I had tried to do a free walking tour on my previous visit but it was booked.  I tried again this time, but again it took me a few days to get a reservation.  Apparently free walking tours in Medellin are quite popular.

Eventually, I was able to get a spot on a Real City Tours free walking tour.  I arrived a lil early at the meeting point at Alpurra Station.  I was so early that I stopped to get some coffee.  I returned to the meeting point, and asked a few foreigners standing around if they were there for the walking tour.  

"Are you the guide?" a Brit asked me.  

Why yes, of course I am.  Let's go.....

Shortly thereafter, a fellow in a Real City Tours shirt walked up.  He began the check-in process and sent me over to the shade to wait.  They had a booking list of 73 people.  I could now see why they had problems with demand.

Eventually the tour got started, and we made our way through the city.  Our tour guide, Pablo, took us to a shady spot nearby and began sharing the history of Medellin and his passion for it.

Medellin was basically a city of refuge for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and Basques fleeing cultural domination.  The surrounding mountains offered the communities isolation.  It remained in some-what isolation until the 1850s, when a coffee boom forced the city to break its solitude.  Due to the climate, the city and coffee regions nearby could have multiple coffee harvests throughout the year.  In order to get the coffee to market, the city tapped on its other resource: gold mines.  The gold helped bring trains for transport, and ended the grand isolation of Medellin. With trains came the industrial revolution to Medellin.

Due to the rail and industrialization, Medellin now also created a textile industry, as well as iron works.

Pablo explained that as Medellin broke its isolation, it found a largely agrarian Colombia surrounding it.  He also explained that those from Medellin have a precarious relationship with the rest of Colombia--because Medellin considers itself better.  The business-oriented, industrialized Medellin saw the rest of agrarian Colombia as backwards; the rest of Colombia saw Medellin as too business-oriented, and too deceitful in its business.

Important to note, Medellin was a relatively wealthy city long before the Narco boom.  It has long been the second-largest city of Colombia, and as explained, was quite industrious.  

With that said, Pablo also explained the situation in Colombia with drugs (it remains nearly 3 percent of Colombian GDP), and he explained the negative effects it had on the Colombian nationbrand, especially in personal circumstances.

We toured through the city, gaining insight and local knowledge.  Pablo explained the scope of Colombian history, and how it affected Medellin.  The city itself had been historically conservative, but much had changed in the recent past.

We toured through areas of "democratic architecture," which are formerly blighted public spaces that the city had revitalized.

I can't get into all the history that Pablo shared, but I will say it was an excellent tour that put Colombian history into context in connection to the city.  My take-away from the tour was something that Pablo said:

"Change in Medellin is real but fragile."

I would highly recommend the tour for anyone visiting Medellin.

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