Falling ill in Medellín

Last Tuesday in Medellín, as Mick and I touched down in the airport town of Rionegro, I had an uneasy ache in my stomach, and an undescribable fatigue. I don’t think I could have kept my eyes open, even with toothpicks. A delicious plate of chuzos de pollo, french fries, and a salad of onions, lettuce and dressing went uneaten as my unsatiable appetite succumbed to this mystery illness. No, not SARS.

Thankfully, a wicked hookup at a pricey aparta-hotel left us living in luxury for the price of peanuts. Our executive suite came with an eye-popping 8th floor balcony view of the mountain-side neighborhood of Poblado, and free medical attention. They diagnosed me with just a rogue “bug” that would pass in a few days. I was laid up in the hotel Tuesday night and all day Wednesday.

The central section of Medellín is nothing special. We spent Thursday afternoon in an area of town near Parque Berríos. There’s a museum nearby honoring the famous Colombian painter, Fernando Botero. Mick and I walked the streets in search of three things, a t-shirt, a pair of size 48 (European) sandals, and a strip club. We ended up in a place where the DJ played Snap from a Sony Discman hooked up to a speaker system, and a cockroach scurried across the stack of second-hand CD’s. We also sat down for 20 minutes at Taberna Unica. It didn’t take us long to realize we were in a brothel for underage prostitutes. The place was full of girls, some alone, some in groups, drinking beer at 4pm and watching a soccer game on TV. Really sketchy.

Outside, on the steps of that same “brothel”, a street urchin lay sleeping with a tattered brown blanket partially covering him. He couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old, and his face was covered in bruises and dirt, and a unidentifiable white crust in his hair. “What kind of life is that?”, Mick asked aloud.

Medellín is a city famed for being the home of the late Pablo Escobar, and is reputed to be the homicide capital of the Americas. However, its many trees, the distinctive red-brick buildings, and the phenomenally gorgeous women which are its claim-to-fame, give it a flavour which is unique among the cities and areas of Colombia. The paisa accent is a sing-songy baritone lilt which will charm and disarm you. The people are friendly and warm, and love to have fun. The Antioqueños are known for their hard-working nature. They are fiercely proud of their city, and will get very upset with anyone who says otherwise.

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