It was our first evening in Medellin and we were debating whether to go and see the “Zona Rosa”, the modern and trendy part of the city, or take the cable car up to the Santo Domingo barrio, which was once one of the poorest and most dangerous neighbourhoods. Our new friends Elena and Noah, who were both almost full time residents of the city, persuaded us to go with the latter and they promised to show us the real Medellin. Medellin16

I was already excited after five minutes into the metro ride: it’s above ground, spotlessly clean and very secure, not things you would normally come to associate with the metros of New York and London! It was a unique experience as far as “metro’s” are concerned. Medellin lays along the wide Aburra valley, with the city sprawling up the steep hillsides. This one of its kind metro somehow manages to traverse partially up one side of the valley, from which you have the most magnificent views of city. After a 10-minute ride from San Antonio station, we stopped at Acevedo to take the cable car up to Santo Domingo barrio. Yes you did hear me right: this metro even has a cable car aptly named “metro cable.”

We jumped off the cable car at Santo Domingo station and strolled over to the viewpoint. Almost immediately a boy came rushing up to Noah: in his best English, the young man introduced himself to us: “ Hello my name is Freddie and I ‘m going to be your tourist guide and explain the story of Santo Domingo barrio.”  Noah explained he had met him before while in the area and already had the famous tour of the barrio.Medellin15

As we started to wander through Santo Domingo. Freddie explained that during the late 80’s and 90’s up until 2002 people were not be able to walk through the streets for fear of being killed: warring urban militias controlled the neighbourhoods.  These militia came about because of the Medellin Drug Cartel, headed by the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar: he brought a reign of terror over the city because of on going wars between the cartel and it’s enemies. Freddie describes how it was a sad and horrible time when many people were killed unnecessarily.  Because of this, Medellin was given the title “ the most dangerous city in the world”.

On a more positive note, Freddie was very proud to show off a huge new construction called Santo Domingo Savio – Spain Park library: the name was given in honour of the King and Queen of Spain who contributed to the construction. The huge structure dominates the hillside, standing proudly overlooking the rest of the city: it offers book collections, recreation areas and free Internet access to the local community. These new facilities, along with the metro cable system, have allowed these poorer neighbourhoods a cultural revival: they now have become an integral part of the city and are no longer cut off, as they once were in those violent crime ridMedellin18en years.

As we finished our tour with Freddie we could sense the community atmosphere on the streets: music blaring from every home, hot dog stands on every corner, children playing on the streets. It was public holiday so everyone was in a party mood and seemed Santo Domingo knew how to get you in the festive spirit.

The following day we went to check out the “Zona Rosa” and surely enough we were disappointed: it was full of modern bars and restaurants that could have been in any big city of the world. It lacked the heart and feeling of Santo Domingo and Freddie, our Tourist Guide!!

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