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Where Are We: Medellin, Colombia

Our first stop on our trip was Medellin, Colombia. We picked this city for several reasons, but mostly because the outpouring of love for this city from the backpacker community and several of our friends. It is relatively cheap compared to Chicago, it came with a pretty significant cultural shift, and it seemed to have lots to do.

We got here on a Thursday night, hopped in a car which we had pre-scheduled, and arrived at our AirBNB about an hour later. All we’d eaten all day was plane snacks, so we headed out immediately to the burger place we saw right around the corner from us. We came to find out that this place had not one, but THREE veggie burger options and the two we tried were amazing. Already off to a good start.

Friday was our first full day and we spent it on a walking tour with Real City Tours. After that, we went grocery shopping, cooked dinner, and went out to check out some of the night life in Parque Ileras in El Poblado. From just over 24 hours here, these are my initial reactions to this city.

1. There are very few English speakers here

I knew I was heading to a Spanish-speaking country, so I expected this. I tried to learn some Spanish before we got here, but it got away from me. Even if you find yourself at a place that has an English menu (fairly common), that still does not mean anyone working there will be able to take your order in English. I find myself constantly looking pathetic as I smile, point to things and hope that they take my money and bring me something in return. Kenny, however, has been crushing it in Spanish and is able to complete basic interactions very successfully.

2. The people here seem happy, friendly and curious

We spent most of our tour in the City Center which is bustling area lined with street vendors, shops and restaurants (think Chinatown in New York City). We haven’t interacted with too many people, but the ones we have seem very nice. They are patient with my inability to speak Spanish and a simple “por favor” and “gracias” will get you really far. I noticed the curiosity most on our walking tour as strangers would just walk up into our group, not knowing a word of what our English-speaking tour guide was going on about, and ask in Spanish what was going on. I can’t blame them. With our backpacks and our shorts (no locals wear shorts) and all of our English, we really stuck out.

3. The street vendors are cheap, the grocery store is not

We had lunch from a small vegetarian place in the City Center. We ordered two empanadas, one samosa, one tamal (fried potato thing with peas, fake ground beef and onions) and one croquet and paid right around $3. We had fresh-squeezed local orange juice for about $1. Cheap beers were about $2 and craft beers were under $4. Even though eating out was cheap, we wanted to have some food to cook at our apartment partly because we wanted to save money but also because we couldn’t eat empanadas everyday and not gain 20 pounds. We found that the grocery store was actually quite pricey compared to prepared food, even though it was still cheaper than an American grocery store. Cheese was about $4, pasta sauce for around $3 and less than a half pound of pasta was $2.

4. It’s really freaking hilly

I (kind of) knew Medellin was in the mountains, but I didn’t realize what exactly that meant. I feel like I’m constantly walking up hills in the sun and feeling desperately out of shape (I guess that’s how people here get away with eating so many empanadas!). Running on Sunday is going to be a real test of my strength!

5. Only Gringos Wear Shorts

We have heard this time and again, but you notice it the second you get here. The locals here do not wear shorts. (Also, we learned “gringo” is not a derogative term, it just means foreigner.) They wear jeans or long pants even though the temperatures climb into the 90’s during midday. We try to adapt to this for the most part and wear jeans when we’re going around town or to restaurants. However, today, we cracked and wore shorts. Yes, this makes us stand out and look like tourists, but with our limited Spanish, backpacks and fair skin, we look like tourists regardless.