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Medellin: Living in Laureles

Medellin: Living in Laureles

We ended our year away in Medellin, Colombia. Slowly, comfortably.

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Naturally there was a pang of sadness that this was our last stop.

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That it would be our last time stepping off of the plane, with an entirely new city to explore. That’s my very favorite feeling in the world.

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First cup of coffee in a new city, first adventure walk. An entire day of unknowns ahead. Of course Will reminded me that this wasn’t the end, it was only the beginning.

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And of course I reflected on this year, appreciating how many vastly different cultures we experienced, the people we met.

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But for me, with our last two weeks in Medellin, I felt an overwhelming somberness. This year was something we were looking forward to and talking about and working towards for so long, and now it was concluding.

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And thus, from the moment we landed in Colombia, I vowed to live in the moment.

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The first thing we noticed upon stepping off of the plane that evening, other than the pleasantly mild weather, was the Christmas lights everywhere. The airport alone was completely decked out.

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We were hungry and settled on the first Mexican restaurant we came across. Our comfort food. Restaurante Milagros was also probably the nicest restaurant we dined at in Laureles. We were likely the only couple who wasn’t celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, literally celebrating anything.

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We noticed we could also drink the tap water. An immediate indicator that this would be a livable city for us.

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Not to mention this meant I could have all the fresh fruit smoothies, in which I did not hold back as the week carried on.

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Medellin is massive. And each neighborhood takes on an entirely different identity. It’s similar to Berlin in that manner, in that where you stay makes a big difference.

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We started in Laureles for six nights. It’s located west of downtown in the Valley of Aburra.

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The area is becoming more popular among visitors who are seeking a nicer neighborhood with more affordable prices.

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Laureles had a more local vibe than the downtown, with relatively low residential houses lining the streets.

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Yet, it has an urban feel with trendy cafes and patio bars.

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One thing we absolutely loved about Laureles was that it was incredibly pedestrian friendly.

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Even among the most traffic clogged areas.

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In the neighborhood however, the streets aren’t orchestrated in a traditional grid style, but rather a maze of roundabouts and diagonal boulevards.

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There’s a European feel, since it was designed by Colombian architect Pedro Nel Gomez who was inspired by his time spent in Italy.

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Medellin is also bike friendly, largely due to the growing bike share program Encicla. As such, there’s a high concentration of bike lanes.

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And yet, as we found Laureles to be safe and overall very pleasant, the neighborhoods do change quickly. On our first full day we walked to Plaza Botero through a less than a desirable cluster of body shops.

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Plaza Botero is a popular place to see the works of sculptor Fernando Botero Angulo.

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Located in the “old quarter,” we assumed it would be a nice, cultural day trip. But it wasn’t what we expected.

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Unlike so many quaint, charming old quarters that we have visited this year such as in Hanoi or Crete, this old quarter was gritty with expensive touristic restaurants.

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It started to downpour at 2 p.m. like clockwork. We waited it out as long as we could before retreating back along the raised walkway to our neighborhood.

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We went to Naturalia Cafe for some sandwiches. From then on, Laureles became a sort of safe haven for us.

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To us, Medellin felt like Buenos Aires meets Hoi An. Two of our favorite stops.

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The bright, colorful Latin American culture was all encompassing like Argentina, but roving, yelling tropical fruit stands also crawled the streets like Vietnam.

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More familiarly, to me the tropical ambiance felt like Miami.

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Without the ocean, but with rushing waters through the deep valleys.

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In an effort to really slow down, we made a real home in our studio apartment. Will got another fantastic straight edge razor haircut at Vikingo’s Barbershop for a whopping $3 USD.

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We tended to have breakfast and dinner at home, but go out for lunch on long adventure walks.

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It was easy to get outside, find shaded pathways. Medellin had the pedestrian sidewalks we yearned for literally everywhere else we went.

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We would stop for the occasional pastry at a local bakery. Similar to other South American countries we visited, Colombia had some all-star baked goods.

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Mostly, Medellin felt festive. Celebratory.

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It was unclear if the lights and decorations were always around or specifically for the holiday season.

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On one of our more deliberate walks, we trekked to the Jardin Botanico de Medellin.

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It was yet another retreat from the busy city. Notable features of the manicured botanical garden include a butterfly house, a cactus garden, and an extensive pond. 

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The garden dates back to the 19th century, when it was originally known as Casa de Baños el Edén, a family estate. In perspective, Medellin only had a population of a mere 40,000 people at the time.

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There’s nearly 120 plant species, but my favorite was meandering down the wooden path in the undergrowth of the tropical forest.

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On one of our last days staying in the Laureles neighborhood, we took a short walk up to Pueblito Paisa.

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It’s located on Cerro Nutibara in the middle of the Aburrá Valley. The hike up escalated quickly.

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But the top offered stellar views of the city itself and the surrounding mountains.

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Impressed with the greenery and vantage point, we were completely caught off guard when we came across a miniature cobblestone town square. It’s a replica of a turn of the century town in Antioquia.

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We stopped for a few Aguila’s, and a snack of chorizo and fries and an arepa with cheese.

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We stayed for a couple of rounds. But when it started to absolutely downpour again at 2 p.m. there really was nowhere else to find shelter.

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My cousin ended up meeting us, and we later went for pedicures. Because they are only six dollars at the reputable places. It was one of the best I’ve ever had.

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Ultimately, there’s no doubt that Will and I process things differently. We always have. But in this particular moment, when he was looking forward to the future to properly mentally prepare, I was focused on living presently.

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There’s no right or wrong way. But I loved Medellin, for the city that it’s become and for what it personally represented.

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