It’s been an intense week in Colombia. I am writing this from Cartagena, a magical town on the country’s Caribbean coast. On my Sunday afternoon stroll here, I felt like I’ve stumbled into a Gabriel García Márquez novel.
I arrived yesterday morning for a whirlwind two-day stay. After the mad dash around Medellín, I’ve decided to take it easy in Cartagena. To laze around, meander aimlessly, sit in city squares, and take siestas. What a luxury, paired with sea breezes and the chirp of nighttime cicadas.
During this time, I’ve been mulling over my four-day stay in Medellín. I’m still short of words to describe it so I thought I’d post a couple of short video clips, taken around town. I kept on forgetting to bring my camcorder so these are shot with my photo camera, hence the bad quality. Still, I hope to convey a few everyday moments, as the city goes about its regular business.
The barrio of Santo Domingo (where both videos are taken) used to be a no-go zone during the era of Pablo Escobar, Colombia’s most infamous drug lord. Even the police didn’t dare to enter these gang-ruled shantytowns. Five years ago, the hilly neighborhood was transformed with the introduction of MetroCable, an aerial cable car that goes up to the top of the barrio, thus connecting the inhabitants to downtown, and hence jobs. In the past, the walk – the only way to get up and down – took 2.5 hours in each direction from the top of the hill. And that was just to the first stop of the metro. Now, the MetroCable whisks the barrio people up or down within 10 minutes.
Less than a decade ago, these hillside slums in the city’s northern part were the epicenter of cocaine-related violence and murder. The social and cultural revival was spearheaded by the construction of Parque Biblioteca España (Library of Spain). Not only are the vistas amazing from this spectacular building but it’s also become the center of educational and recreational activities for the neighborhood. On the day I visited, children were happily playing in the daycare, many of whom come by themselves to while the afternoon away. These days, life in Santo Domingo goes on as in any other barrio – donkeys, street vendors, music and all.