By Jeff Preece
Nearshore Connect LLC
I am taking you to Colombia,” I said to my wife. “Colombia?” she questioned. Followed by, “Is it safe?” That was a fair concern as there has been a history of drugs and violence in the country.
I told her to just trust me (which just makes her trust me less) I did our flight and hotel arrangements and our trip was on the books. In all my travels around the world I never brought her along. She was busy raising kids. But now that our kids are grown, she said she wanted to start traveling with me. I tried to convince her that it was not going to be any fun and all I do is work. It sounded incredibly exciting to her – shopping, pool, food, a trip to the spa. So, moving forward I now have a regular traveling companion.
My career and personal travels have taken me around the globe. I have experienced some of the world’s most beautiful cities. In my early 20’s, I spent two years living in Spain – a country full of beauty and culture. I became fluent in the Spanish language which opened a whole new world to me. I spent over 40 years in California and my love of the Spanish language and Latin culture created a desire to visit many countries in LATAM. I had spent some time in Colombia, but I had never actually been to the city of Medellin and had no idea what to expect.
The primary purpose of my visit was business related. I was evaluating several Colombian cities as a potential location to open up a customer experience contact center. I had visited a number of attractive places such as Bogota, Barranquilla and Cali that seemed like obvious choices to do business. Medellin was on my list based on recommendations from some of my Colombian colleagues.
The airport is
located outside the city and way up on a plateau out of sight of the city. We
arrived late in the afternoon when the sun was beginning to dip behind the
mountains. We grabbed a taxi as quickly as we could and started to make our way
to the hotel. The trip to Medellin takes you through the mountains, literally.
There is a very long tunnel that has been recently built to make the drive to
Medellin much more direct and shorter. When you emerge on the other end of the
tunnel, you start the decent that brings you down into a valley. What a
beautiful drive. Then, appears, almost out of a storybook this amazingly green
valley surrounded on all sides by mountains. On the outskirts of the valley,
ed the mountain slopes. In the city center, new commercial
buildings have been erected both in the valley and up on the hillside that
rival ed any modern city. The beauty of this city is palpable
Beyond the beauty, we still had reservations about our safety in this city. On the surface it seemed like any other metropolitan city but historically Medellin was a hotbed for violence. Upon arrival at our hotel, we were ready to go eat. I inquired with the concierge on a good place to eat. He made a few recommendations and I followed up with, which I thought was reasonable, “is it safe to walk there?” He smiled at me and said that we would have no problem.
I had read the Medellin has been dubbed the City of Eternal Spring for its perma-pleasant weather. But beyond that the city has gained a reputation for its great food and is perhaps Latin America’s best foodie destination. This falls right in line with our favorite things to do when we travel – eat wonderful food. Before I go further in our experience, let me say first that the food we experienced in Medellin was some of the best we have ever had. I am not talking about just traditional Colombian food but a gastronomic experience that includes a global/fusion cuisine. Even an experience at a local “food court” consisted of an amazing flat iron steak dish that you would expect from a high-end restaurant in the states. Here for the cost of the meal was around $11USD. I could write a whole article on the dining experience we had but let us just leave it at Medellin does not disappoint when it comes to amazing food.
That next morning as I was preparing to head out for a day of meetings, my wife and I agreed that she would stay in the hotel – hit the gym, hang out by the pool, eat from the hotel restaurant – but would not leave until I got back. She was totally fine with that as it sounded relaxing anyway. I headed out the door and caught an Uber to my first meeting. Yes, Uber. The interesting thing about Uber is that it is actually illegal in Colombia. They are allowed to operate but run the risk of getting caught. When I was getting in the first Uber, I opened the back door like I would in the states, and I was asked to sit in the front seat. The driver then began to explain the reason being that a police officer could pull him over and give him a large fine of something equivalent to a few hundred US dollars for illegally operating a taxi service. The Uber app works but you should stand somewhere off the main street where it appears that you are waiting for a friend to pick you up rather than a taxi. If the driver pulls up and he is concerned about getting caught he will just drive away.
After a long day of meetings, it became clear to me that Medellin was not the scary city that it once was. I navigated the city from one meeting to another without incident. In fact, the people there are amazing friendly. I was anxious to get to the hotel to go out an explore the town. I found my wife relaxing and reading a book waiting to see how we were going to spend the rest of our evening. I told her that we were going out. I wanted to check out Barrio Provenza. One of my colleagues had made the recommendation and said that this is a must visit. She was game to go and so we got a bit dressed up and grab another Uber. We were so impressed with Provenza. A super quaint and hip neighborhood where the streets are neatly divided by running creeks and lush green bamboo forests. People come to Provenza from all over town to enjoy some of the highest rated restaurants & bars in Medellin. There were so many great restaurants to choose from it became incredibly difficult to simply choose one. We ended up starting with drinks and appetizers in one restaurant and then hopped from one to another until we had indulged more than we should have. We had sushi, Peruvian, Colombian, Asian fusion and more types of food. All of it wonderfully prepared and the experience was incredibly friendly with service, in my opinion, far superior to most US restaurants.
The next day I said to my wife, “Go for it. Head out and do some shopping while I am gone”. She asked if I thought she would be ok on her own and I told her to stay close (there was a large shopping center right next to the hotel) but that she should be fine. So, she did. She wandered the street around the hotel and perused the mall, ate at a local restaurant and then back to the hotel after about four hours of exploring. I called to check in to see how she was doing, and her comment was that she was having a wonderful time just cruising around. I asked if she had any issues at all and she told me that everyone she ran into was incredibly nice. Let me also say that she does not speak any Spanish at all. So, I was curious to learn how she managed to communicate while she was checking out the city.
I do not want to mislead anyone in thinking that Medellin is a city where the majority of the population speaks English. Not true. But I did find it incredibly entertaining to watch her shop or order food. She would just say what she wanted in English operating under the assumption that she would be understood. The people she was attempted to communicate with would patient try to understand what she was trying to say. It became more of a communication through hand gestures or she would simply say what she wanted in a much slower and clearly articulated English hoping that would help. Bottom line was that she usually ended up getting what she needed with a noticeable level of patience from the locals.
At one point towards the end of our trip I made the comment that I would not mind living in Medellin for a couple of years as we were getting this business off the ground. My wife responded quickly with, “That would be fun. I love this city!” Since the shut down on international travel into Colombia, all she can talk about when we speak of our future travel plans is a return to Medellin. The truth – I feel the same way. Our expectations and concerns about traveling to Medellin were changed over the course of our 2-week trip. Now she takes every opportunity to share her experience with others and I cannot wait to visit again the “City of Eternal Spring”.