It’s really kind of nice traveling in a country that is happy to have you there. This is certainly the case with Medellín. Although Medellín was literally one of the most dangerous cities in the world not so long ago, this is certainly not the case today. But no matter how much it has changed, Medellín still does not see a lot of travelers. This is hard for a country that is desperately trying to overcome their past and move on to a bright new future. Therefore the travelers who are brave enough to venture forth and find that there is no longer anything to be afraid of are greeted most graciously with smiles and enthusiastic shouts of “Do you like Colombia?” in rough English. We are part of an early wave of tourism that Medellín has not seen for a long time and we symbolize the dawning of a new day for Colombia.
All of this was explained to Ryan, our friend David and I when we signed up for a four hour walking tour of the city. This was the first time we had ventured downtown which is often recommended that tourists avoid. But our guide Hernan explained that a lot of these areas are essential for understanding the history of Medellín and are currently more misunderstood than dangerous. One of the things I found to be most interesting was that Antioquians (and more specifically to Medellín, the paisas) are an especially proud people and are determined to show the rest of the world that there is more to their city than its violent drug history. In fact, they are so determined that even our guide would not say Pablo Escobar’s name on most parts of the tour. Hernan said that this was because he didn’t want locals (who are especially curious) to think he was giving us a tour on Pablo Escobar as this is very much frowned upon.
While downtown was not as nice as the areas we have been staying (Laureles and Poblado), it was certainly worth seeing. The world famous Colombian artist, Fernando Botero has donated many large bronze sculptures to the city and they are spread out through the downtown areas especially. The most arresting part of the tour for me was the final location when we stopped at a large plaza where concerts are often held. There were two Botero sculptures of birds standing side by side although one had been badly damaged in a bombing incident years before. Our guide explained that after the first sculpture was damaged, Botero donated a second sister sculpture and insisted that the first be left as a reminder. Side by side, the two sculptures represent the past and the future of Colombia.