Medellín, Medallo, Metrallo

By Daniel de la Calle

Although I only stayed in Medellín for a couple of days the screening organizers, Agenda del Mar, squeezed over 10 television, radio and newspaper interviews along with the evening at Parque Explora into the agenda.  My tourist sightseeing experience was limited to quick glimpses and finger pointing from the van while rushing between interviews, crisscrossing town. “That we just passed was Parque Botero” “the pueblito is on this hill to the right” “oh, you have to see the Modern Art Museum!”, I was told and took mental notes, made plans for the few unscheduled hours that never materialized.  It is great traveling this way though, it not only feels better moving around while being productive, but it also offers an insight into people’s lives, into the spirit of a particular society that purely detached and aimlessly wandering travelers are forcefully denied.  I arrive into a place and instantly become an active part of things.

Medellín, Medallo, Metrallo

Out of the few places I saw while in Colombia none has impressed me more than Medellín.  I am not ashamed to confess that my expectations and mental images were mostly based on Our Lady of the Assassins and was a bit overwhelmed by my friends and family’s concerns over local drug lords, hired assassins, kidnappings, etc.  Medellín, the big city at the dramatic bottom of a high valley, surrounded by imposing mountains that look like a crown on rocks or a ramp into the skies, is also called Medallo and Metrallo [shrapnel].  As everyone knows, it lived through 20 some years of hell that have stigmatized it to the eyes of the world to the extent that medellinenses expect us to arrive on guard and are ready to confess and repent for crimes they obviously had nothing to do with.
The truth is quite different: no city in South America has impressed me this highly.  It is seriously committed to social and environmental improvements, culturally lively, ambitious, has the cleanest tap water 3000 miles around, is located in one of the most impressive settings I have ever witnessed and is filled with charming and beautiful corners for everyone’s enjoyment.  To be able to open the faucet and drink, something we take for granted in Europe and the US, is a luxury and a particular source of pride for locals in the paisa region.  If I were to return to Colombia, the first place I would like to get back to is undoubtedly this. There are too many good spots in town and aspects of social policy making to mention here, so I invite you to do a little web research or to include it in your next visit to South America and discover a vibrant, beautiful place.  “My corner of the woods” was the fun and enlightening Parque Explora, an interactive science center for children and students (or adults that like to play like me), and its outstanding little aquarium, with the nearby botanical gardens and planetarium on either sides as well.  Botanical gardens are a weakness of mine, it is simply magical to stroll through a small bamboo forest and amongst towering jungle trees in the heart of a busy city. 

The impressive “Orquideorama” area at the botanical gardens

The most remarkable aspect of the Medellín botanical gardens was that they are totally open to the public, free, so they have in reality become a luxurious and spotless city garden where kids play soccer in the fields, couples nap, cuddle and kiss under shady canopies, where families picnic.  But this is just one more element in a conscious plan that includes an efficient, modern and democratic public transportation system, a municipal project that allows free entrance to all educational and cultural spaces for the poor, a network of parks, walks and welcoming public squares and a program that is incorporating the destitute neighborhoods, the many shanties, into the city by placing in their hearts the most iconic, dynamic and ambitious libraries and architectonic structures.  It is a resurgence that is firmly showing its benefits and should set an example all over the world, specially in the US.

Parque Explora

We had a full house the evening of the screening at the 3D cinema.  People applauded at the end and most stayed for a chat and q&a between Juan Carlos Huertas, head biologist at the Parque Explora Aquarium, Jorge Aubad, another brilliant Colombian biologist currently working on Climate Change for Berlin’s Humboldt University and modest me.  I was particularly moved to have people come at the end to say they had heard or seen a radio or tv interview and decided to attend.  One always wonders if such things have any results and mobilize or interest people; I guess it does. 

One of our banners inside Parque Explora

   We want to express here our most sincere gratitude to Parque Explora and its Communication’s Director Ana Cecilia Ochoa Acosta, and to Agenda del Mar and its Director Maria José Ospina, two committed and outstanding women that do a selfless work focused every single day on leaving a better world to the ones that will come after us.  If only we had more people like them.

Colombian piranhas at the aquarium


Next week, after diving and snorkeling in the Caribbean over this past week, I will exclusively write about corals and turquoise tropical waters.

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