On the first day of my recent trip to South America I found myself in some unusual positions. I caressed the shiny butt of a rotund woman who was glancing at herself in a hand mirror. I floated in mid-air above hundreds of red brick homes perched on the hillside while gazing at three large, fearsome, black boulders that house a neighborhood library. And, I walked on a pre-Hispanic road nearly 7000 feet above sea level, as a local guide recounted its history as a major trade route for gold and salt mined nearby.
I had started the day eating yellow corn arepas with uchuva jam (also known as tomatillo – of the genus Physalis, the same family as tomato, potato and eggplant), and ended it in one of the trendy restaurants in the leafy neighborhood of Poblado. While I can’t speak highly of the Lebanese cuisine I ordered, the trout at our table was a welcome harbinger of many tasty fishes to come during the two-week ecotour that I organized for a small group of nature-lovers/biologists.
I was in Medellin, Colombia, once the capital of drug cartels, but now one of three most innovative cities in the world (per an Urban Land Institute survey). It’s highly livable, clean, strong in education, booming economically and culturally, and has a perfect climate. Even its nicknames – the City of Everlasting Spring and the City of Flowers – suggest growth, prosperity and tranquility. Its people, the paisas, are rightfully proud of their city for its many cultural centers, public spaces, bustling commerce, and prime location in the Aburrá valley at 1500 feet above sea level.
One of the city’s most praiseworthy features is its public transportation system. It has a modern, very popular Metro system that has reduced CO2 emissions tremendously; three aerial cable car lines that reach even the poorest barrios; a bike-sharing program, and a Sunday Ciclovia (where streets closed to cars and open to bikes, roller blades, walking, etc.). And, there are large well-maintained public parks, and safe, well-patrolled streets. All of this I experienced in our scant 24 hours in Colombia’s second largest metropolis.
While we could easily have stayed longer, we had many other fish to fry (and to consume) on our tour of Medellin, the coffee-growing area to the south, and Cartagena, an historic colonial city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. However, before I lead you away, I owe you some explanations: the oversized derriere that I found myself fingering was a sculpture
by Fernando Botero, a Colombian artist renowned for his paintings and sculptures of voluminous people. It was downtown in the Parque de las Esculturas, which also features brightly dressed ice cream vendors, purveyors of straw hats, local families out for a stroll, and very few foreigners other than us. My aerial encounter was aboard the cable cars on our way to Parque Arvi, one of the newest and largest parks in the department (i.e., state) of Antioquia. And, the ancient trade route traverses the park.
So, there was Day One of my three-week Colombian Adventure of 2013. This is only the beginning of what I have to say. I will write more, but (thankfully) won’t subject you to a day-by-day account. Instead, I will write around several different themes (many yet unrealized), and do so sporadically. Be patient and stay tuned. Colombia is definitely a country worth learning about, as well as one to be visited sooner rather than later. Why? Stay tuned, I repeat, as I expound on my two-week ecotour, as well as the additional week that Eileen and I spent vacationing on two Colombian islands in the middle of the Caribbean Sea.
(Did you think you had caught an inconsistency in my writing – re the length of my trip? If so, thanks for your careful reading. I’m honored that you’re following along with exactitude, and hope you’ll come back for the fish stories to come.)