There were many fantastic experiences throughout our trip to Colombia. Near the end of the six weeks, we visited the city of Medellin. While there were plenty of fun excursions throughout the study abroad, I’d say Medellin was the most unique city we visited. The UA in Colombia program is based in Barranquilla, Colombia, a coastal city located in northern Colombia. It’s known for its Caribbean climate and carefree culture. Stepping off the plane into Medellin was an immediate reminder of how large and diverse the country of Colombia really is. In the United States, Colombia is often stereotyped as forested and tropical, but this couldn’t be farther from reality for the country’s most famous city. Because Medellin is located at the bottom of a valley, nestled between mountains, the city was somewhat chilly. In hindsight, I should’ve packed something other than short sleeves.
I entered the main lobby of the airport opening up the app InDriver. This is one of the main apps Colombians use to book taxis since Uber is illegal in the country. Despite this many people still use Uber. Taxis are extremely common in Colombia and are easy to pick out because of their bright yellow color. When requesting from the app it never took more than five minutes for one to arrive, especially at the airport. There are a few main differences when riding in a taxi versus an Uber. Instead of telling you a fixed price, taxi applications like InDriver will let you set your own price and drivers will accept the offer if they like the amount offered. Secondly, taxi drivers will only accept cash. Throughout the trip, we always had to make sure to keep enough cash on us at all times to pay for taxis.
The drive from the airport to our Airbnb was about 45 minutes and fortunately, my taxi driver was exceptionally friendly. You might expect there to be a “standard Colombian accent”, but this was not the case. The accent in Medellin is quite different from the accent in Barranquilla. My taxi driver’s Spanish was very easy to understand compared to the accent on the coast aka “Costeño”. He had a great sense of humor frequently using Medellin regional slang that I hadn’t heard up to that point. His favorite was “chimba” meaning great or awesome which he used in about every sentence. Colombians take a lot of pride in their city, and by the end of the ride I was convinced Medellin was the best city in the nation. Taking a taxi is incredibly cheap in Colombia. This ride cost me 50,000 pesos which is around ten US Dollars.
After dropping my things off at our Airbnb, we left to go to a breakfast restaurant. I noticed that there were many tourists and foreigners in this area, especially compared to Barranquilla. Barranquilla is known for its industry not tourism so seeing an American is incredibly uncommon. Breakfast was very similar to in the United States (pancakes and eggs). Surprisingly, like the United States, Colombia has a tipping culture. Usually, the tip gets automatically added to the check which makes the process a little easier. Unlike in the US, your waiter won’t bring you your bill until you ask them for it. After eating, I left the restaurant with four girls from my group to go somewhere (I hadn’t been paying attention and I was ready to be surprised).
We ended up at a set of stairs that lead to an above-ground metro system. It turns out Medellin has a really solid public transport system that goes all around the city. Saying boarding the metro was a challenge would be an understatement. Rachel, who was the most familiar with riding the subway, gave us some good advice about boarding. The two people who knew what they were doing the most would get on first and last in case the group got split in half. It was immediately clear that this was a good plan when the train flew in front of us, and its doors burst open. People pushed and shoved to get out of the incredibly packed car. The first two girls in our group were able to squeeze their way onto the car in the ten seconds that it was open. There were three of us left and I realized I would have to be much quicker to get in the next car. Fortunately, we only had to wait about two minutes to get another chance. I’m grateful that I do not have claustrophobia because this car was standing room only and a tight squeeze. I looked to the entrance of the train and watched our carefully constructed plan fall apart. Moments before the other two girls could get on the metro the doors closed shut. Being in the middle of our boarding line, I, unfortunately, had not thought to ask what our stop was. Finally, the words “Plaza Botero” popped into my head. I knew that wasn’t the name of the stop, but it was enough. Thankfully when I asked the couple behind me which stop “Plaza Botero” was at, they knew.
By some miracle, we all got to our station. Leaving the metro station, we descended through a two-story indoor shopping center packed with vendors. On the street, we were presented with fantastic architecture in what you might describe as Medellin’s “downtown”. I put this in quotes because many non-American cities don’t have sharp distinctions between residential and commercial areas. Given that Medellin is so enormous, there are many downtown-like commercial areas interspersed with residences throughout the city. This area stood out to me because it had a large park full of statues and one of the most unique and striking buildings I’ve ever seen. We walked past a large number of street vendors looking to find a cafe. A few people stopped to buy a jersey for Medellin’s soccer team “Atlético Nacional”. I was torn about whether to buy one myself, but I decided not to. Every city in Colombia has an incredibly passionate fanbase for its soccer team. Having been surrounded for weeks by people with an overwhelming love of Barranquilla’s “Junior FC”, buying a Medellin jersey seemed wrong.
We stopped at a comfy cafe to order some coffee. Looking out on the street from the outdoor patio, it was a relaxing moment to catch our breath after what had been an eventful morning. A street vendor came up and sold us some art prints of comically obese cats. This was a great purchase. After our coffee, we took a taxi back to our Airbnb, which sounded like a more appealing option than the metro. We got back in time to meet up with Sarah who was the last person to fly into Medellin from our group. My Colombian friend from the University of Alabama also decided to fly in for the weekend with her friends, so they also met up with us at our Airbnb. Finally, the whole group went out to a restaurant.
The second day was equally eventful, as my Colombian friends and I toured the historic Comuna 13 neighborhood. This was the most stunning, compelling place I visited in the city. Overall, our Medellin trip was a really great experience though there were other trips during UA in Colombia that I enjoyed even more which says a lot about the program’s quality. We had been planning the Medellin trip since nearly the start of the program and it felt like the perfect final send-off for everything. Though we all started the program as strangers, by this point we had formed a strong bond within our group. I’m confident that many of the friendships formed during these six weeks will continue after returning to Alabama. For anyone pursuing a degree in Spanish, this is an excellent program to choose.