Before we left the Hotel Conquistadores on our first full day in Medellin, Mike booked our flights from Cartagena to Cuzco in mid-February. It will form our second inland trip with the Huffords, leading us to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Obviously, the eight of us make great travel companions.
Mikayla took the first leg of our expedition and led us to the local shopping plaza lined with stores selling clothes, shoes, souvenirs (made in China, of course), optical services and food. Along the way we brushed shoulders with sidewalk vendors hawking all sorts of goods: cellular minutes, lottery tickets, watches, cell phones, sunglasses, T-shirts, fresh squeezed sugar cane juice, pirated movies, belts (Mike bought a genuine leather belt for only $5US.) sliced fruit and dried herbs. It’s an endless array of merchandise at irresistibly low prices.
Jerome led us to the Catedral Metropolitana, made of 1.2 million bricks in a neo-Romanesque design. Lovely to look at and closed. Nearby we watched a street musician entertain a small crowd and learned a lesson in economics. A vendor had approached our group to sell his hard candy; no one was buying. He eyeballed every individual and when all declined with a polite, “No gracias,” he tapped his elbow in a gesture meaning tacaño or cheapskate. We laughed about that all day.
The City at our Feet
Eventually we made our way to the Metrocable and rode a cable car as far as possible. This should be the #1 tourist attraction in Medellin. It’s cheap. It’s easy to reach. It offers stunning views of the City of Eternal Spring.
We could perceive how the city was shaped by the cordilleras, confining its growth to the valley. Below us stretched acre upon acre of roofs topped with red tiles or corrugated tin, the streets curving this way and that to hug the mountainsides. We walked down the hill from the cable car station to the public library that presents a sweeping panorama of Medellin. At dusk the city’s lights created a starry display.
My daydream of a glass of red wine at a neighborhood bistro morphed into a couple of cervezas at a hole in the wall near the bus drop-off. As one travels further from the Metro, the neighborhoods become poorer and tiny cafes are the norm. Ours held only four tables, yet it was a lively place and served the best roasted chicken thus far.
We headed to Salon Malaga, a nightclub we’d seen the previous night, for wine and cafe con leche. Our plans transformed once again and we parted ways, with Mike and I staying at the club for a tango exhibition and the rest returning to the hotel. This plan evolved even further as Mikayla and Alec headed to the Zona Rosa, the cluster of upscale retail stores, bars and restaurants.
Two to Tango
A young Colombian man, Andres, became concerned about our safety in Salon Malaga’s neighborhood and quickly adopted Mike and me. His mother Leslie was participating in the tango exhibition, and we were happy to join Andres, his girlfriend Luz Marina, his father, his grandfather, his aunt and uncle. They refused to let us pay for anything.
The sound spilling out of the jukebox was vintage tango music. It was composed and performed by Carlos Gardel, a singer, songwriter and actor from Buenos Aires who popularized tango music. Since his death in an airplane crash in 1935 in Medellin, the city has claimed him as its own.
While the TV show “Dancing With the Stars” provides a good education in Latin dances, watching the tango performed by ordinary folks appears quite different. The DWTS dancers go for flash and a stylized performance. The Colombians danced precisely and earnestly. Was it due to the five-inch heels and a slick floor? Many closed their eyes as though to concentrate on every move and nuance.
Leslie was quite good. She beamed at the end of every dance with her instructor of 12 months. Andres proudly exclaimed, “Isn’t my mother beautiful!” Indeed she is.
Pants or Passports
When the tango exhibit ended, Andres invited us to go salsa dancing. Alas, the date on our pumpkin had expired and we headed back to the hotel. We walked as usual, and a worried taxi driver insisted on carrying us the final half a block to the Conquistadores.
Ironically, Mike and I stayed out later than the young people, and Mikayla exclaimed her surprise when we walked through the door at 1:00 a.m. She and Alec were partially successful at bar-hopping. Our 15-year-old waltzed through the doors of more than one nightclub. Alec’s shorts kept him out. He needed long pants. At a couple of clubs, passports were required to show proof of age.
No pants? No passports? No partying.