Medellín: My Beautiful New Home

I love this city. The People. The Weather. The Location. The Food.

It’s the capital of Antioquia and about 3 million people. The colorful neighborhoods, bustling city streets, and savory and sweet foods make this a paradise to explore and adventure. The city is situated in a valley and is completely surrounded by towering green mountains. The city lights up at night when the villages in the mountains illuminate the surrounding landscape. By 6pm music starts playing in the discotecas and bars, flooding the streets with Salsa and Reggaeton.

Inside the city are countless parks, Parque de los Deseos, de los pies descalzos, Berrio. All of which have their own different mix of markets, people, and speed of life. Walking downtown to work on La Playa is always an adventure with the numerous stands of fruits, DVDs, electronics, books, and clothing. People strolling in and out while you’re surrounded by empanada and panzerotti tiendas, flower shops, palm trees, and textile factories.

Exploring the city is even easier with the metro, the only one in Colombia. It’s fast and reliable; and always completely filled. Every hour is rush hour and as the door beeps to close, people sidetackle you further back into people. I can’t say it’s enjoyable, but it’s an experience. And like I’ve said before busses are scary, but they’re getting better. Aside from getting stuck in a taco for an hour and a half on my way to work, I much prefer the busses. Finally, taxi’s are incredibly cheap. The furthest I’ve gone has only cost 12.000 COP, about $6 USD and that’s after 20mn.

And of course, the nightlife is great. 3 prime locations include: Parque Lleras, Barrio Colombia, and 33 Avenida. They vary from place to place, but the music is always reggaeton, salsa, or vallenato; with a little international mixed in like Rihanna or Pitbull. And Colombians LOVE to dance, and never get tired. It’s always a good time.

Excited to further explore this weekend, possibly starting with Parque Explora: a massive aquarium, museum, planetarium, and one of the best technology centers in South America.

Oh the Places We Go… PART I

What to do on a Sunday afternoon? Maybe, rent a car and drive to Armenia? Yeah, good idea! So Juan Pablo, Mayi, Damion, and I packed our few things and headed for the open Colombian road. It was a rocky start, beginning first at 7pm driving to Rio Negro a small pueblo outside of Medellin.  It was a colorful town with an open Market selling foods and crafts with stacks of families. Little did we know how cool it was going to be during the night, and so we turned back to Medellin to grab jackets and stock up on a healthy diet of energy drinks, chips, cookies, oh and apples and bananas too. It was confusing how to get home because of the massive taco (traffic jam) and peppered street lights. In order to escape the chaos, and after missing a turn on a roundabout, we had no choice but to drive onto unusually large sidewalk to get out of cul-de-sac. Two hours later, we were prepared for the 5 hour journey into the coffee region of Colombia.

With that said, nobody really knew how to get to the highway. After countless misdirections, one in which resulted in driving onto a severely battered one way road with bushes hitting the car, we made it onto the autopista. I can’t say this new road was much better however. It was filled with an endless amount of turns, In Colombia, there are no straight streets. Also, successfully passing a slow truck is a constant renewed miracle. For one, there is no speed limit, the roads are unfinished in countless areas, and if you’re not watching carefully you will tumble down the mountainside, there may be a section of the road that has collapsed, and obviously there shouldn’t be any warning or illuminating tape. It’s as if a series of earthquakes or explosives have rocked the area. It soon became difficult for everyone to sleep because they wanted to catch their last few minutes of life.

After several bumps, turns, near death experiences, and swigs of Monster we made it to a bus stop with food and bathrooms. It was a great place to stretch your legs, regardless of numerous salamanders crawling on the walls and floor. I switched driving with Damion. Yet, the fear of death didn’t decrease. Every 10 minutes there is a series of speed bumps, and along with them, we flew in the air a good foot. I was watching my final moments of life holding onto Mayi in the back seat and we kept wishing to escape the nightmare that they call roads.

Miraculously, we made it to Armenia, our final destination only to be stopped by two police officers. I hate the police officers. We were immensely tired after driving for 5 hours and just wanted to go to sleep. Alas, we were stopped for absolutely no reason and given a ridiculous fine. Saying the police force in Colombia is corrupt is an understatement. They get paid an exceptional salary and they still ask for bribes. So instead of paying the multa, which thus infers paying the the car rental company, we ended up paying 40.000 COP to leave ‘in peace.’ With their escort of course. And we finally arrived with our unresponsive bodies to one large bed.

Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time

Leo F. Busgalia

The Language Barrier

So it seems my 6 or so years of High School and University spanish hasn’t really prepared me for actual conversation in foreign country. I still can read and write excellent, but speaking and listening is a totally different being altogether. Coming to Colombia I thought people spoke really clearly and annunciated well. Well, some. For the others, its like a train wreck in my mind, I miss one word and I’m out of the game. I’ve gotten better at listening, but it takes so much concentration and effort. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been asked a question and just nodded and smile as they waited for my response. I’m deciding to put everything I speak into the present, ir a form, or imperfect, and that’s treated me pretty well so far. But, for describing things, forget about it! Take for example last week, I accidentally got ahold of the wrong set of keys for my apartment. They weren’t wrong exactly, but I just didn’t know how to use them. So, as I return back home, I spend 10mn trying to jam this unknown key into the front door of the building. Finally, two women come down to help me out. I’m trying to say, “mi llave no funciona” but they kept replying in undistinguishable sentences and so I therefore basically walked with them to my apartment door and kept saying, “gracias, chao.” But the 1-person conversation continued and continued. When in doubt smile and nod.

Another example? I made pancakes this morning. As I read the Spanish directions I ask someone for a taza (cup) for measuring, but I was given a bowl. I ended up measuring the mix with a spoon, and kept adding things so it looked better. Ehh, they were alright actually. I say job well done this time. Even though I spilled the mix on the counter and forget how to say towel in Spanish. Yeah, that wasn’t a fun part.

My New Home on La Ochenta and My New Parceros (Friends)

It was a bit confusing where I was going to stay as soon as I arrived in Medellin, but after being greeted by hugs at the airport I knew it would be okay! I ended up staying with Mayi who’s also in AIESEC. But, now I’m staying with Juan Pablo and he’s equally pretty amazing.

Mayi and Me

La Ochenta is a main street in Medellín and its always very busy. But I like it like that. There are many street vendors selling fruits like mango, pineapple and strawberries. But also comida rapida like hot dogs and hamburgers. Or my favorite stands, empanadas and panzerotti. And they’re incredibly cheap between 1000 COP- 3000 COP or about $0.50- $1.50. Yeah, it’s not healthy but incredibly delicious. Also, it’s particularly close to all the bus stops; because there are none in Medellín– just wave out your hand.

My first roommate, Mayi was all a newbie trainee could ask for. Kind , generous, outgoing, and happy. She was always there whenever I needed help or wanted to go somewhere. She’s basically my unofficial madrina (godmother), and it was a blast staying with her for a week! She’s made my experience one to remember from the first night of going out and introducing her to 5-hour energy to the numerous helado outings. So happy she only lives a block away!

My new roomate, Juan Pablo is incredibly funny and generous. While I attempt to speak Spanish, which more or less ends in stares it’s a vibrant exchange between my English and his Spanish. Yet I’m trying to turn him away from Lana del rey and Adele. I can’t take sad artists, I need everything to be upbeat and happy! For example, don’t watch the movie One Day; I thought it was going to be a happy movie. Nope. Thanks Juan Pablo.

And for the AIESEC kiddies! They’re all fun, smart, and spirited people. They make this exchange incredible. They’re from a slew of different countries, Eric from Panama, June from China, Katrin from Germany, Laura from Italy, Marion from France, Icaro, Dilne, and Gerson from Brazil. And finally, 3 from the United States: Brittney, Steven, and Sarah. I’m glad I’m not the only one navigating through this unfamiliar domain and can connect with Brittney in falling in almost every crack on the street, or Marion and bargain shopping, and Sarah for helping me with my classes. More on them later!

But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life, and thanks to a benevolent arrangement the greater part of life is sunshine.

-Thomas Jefferson

The AIESEC gang

Buses in Medellín

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How I feel riding the bus some days

We’re not in the US anymore. The busses continue to amaze me everyday. I’d say it’s like a video game swerving through motorcycles, people, and various forms of transportation. But, that sounds too fun. The first day that I rode the bus with my then roommate, Mayi I was shocked to find out that the door of the bus stayed open while I attempted to salvage through foreign bills of Colombian pesos. I desperately cling onto the railing trying not to fall out the door into my ultimate death but thankfully I make it in time to find a rocky seat. For about a week I’ve avoided taking it again at all costs, but since the metro is dangerous at night, I had little choice but to become accustomed to the ways. Each time I am still staring out the window looking for an familiar point, I’m not sure what I would do if I got off at the wrong stop, because even if I got off at an extra block, I’d be done for, if you told me I was in a different part of the city I’d believe you. I’m getting better I swear. Even though it is a 40mn ride to work everyday, the view is relaxing with the mountains and the river. But, today I had to ride it again and I basically got a foot of air going over the several speed bumps, note of advice, don’t ever sit in the back of the bus. And don’t fall out. That is all.