Medellín is so different from Bogotá it's hard to believe they're actually in the same country. Medellín is warm ("City of Eternal Spring," they call it,) Medellín is clean, with regularly spaced bins around the city and outskirts for people to throw trash rather than the side of the road, and Medellín is much less hectic. Drivers have less of a run-you-off-the-road attitude towards pedestrians. From what I've seen, Medellín is also quieter, though that might be because I'm staying in a very pleasant little suburb, Barrio Laureles, rather than in the center of town.
Medellín is also, with no offense to Bogotá who is gritty and mad and wonderful, much prettier as a whole. Colombia's second-largest city, Medellín also sprung up in the middle of a mountain range, but here it seems the sun is always out. There are trees and small parks and water sculptures with little kids splashing around in them and random sculptures and interactive artwork all over the city. In fact, an edict was passed making it a requirement that every new building in such-and-such a range of the city center include a work of public art, giving all of downtown the feel of a giant, outdoor art museum. The buildings are all either very creative or very bizarre or both, (the central EPM building was designed to look like a giant tanker ship,) making you feel like you're wandering around in the capital city of some might sci-fi planet.
But Medellín is very proud of its citywide spirit of innovation (it's the first city in Colombia to have a Metro!) and really, I can't get over all the art they have just for the sake of art. They have interspersed patches of sand in the middle of business districts, with signs urging people to take off their shoes and feel the energy of the earth. They have jet-powered tide pools where people can just hang out and dunk their feet. They have bizarre shooting fountains everywhere and little bamboo groves filled with hanging light bulbs and metal flowers that are actually shaped like planets. They have benches and chairs all over the city that look like they're made of cement but are actually recycled plastic.
And furthermore..... THEY HAVE THIS!
I am staying with a lovely family - a mother with two daughters and a hyperactive dog - who invited me to the older daughter's birthday party which involved an amazing home-cooked meal of beans, rice, chicharron, and a cake with arequipe. (I wasn't too keen on arequipe when I first came to Colombia, but it really grows on you. Pretty much all their dessert pastries are filled with it, and it's delightful on strawberries.)
For a week spent in the city, I didn't exactly get to do all I wanted. I never got around to the Botero Museum, for one thing. But there's enough Botero artwork scattered around the city to make up for that. He is fast becoming my favorite painter of all time, second only to Hieronymus Bosch.
Fernando Botero: he is just a million kinds of genius. Otherwise, I take the allegedly 13-hour bus-ride (it will actually be more like 16 or 17-hour,) to Cartagena tomorrow. Onwards!