Snapshots from Envigado, Colombia

The authorities in Envigado, the home town of Pablo Escobar, are working hard to get rid of his memory. But it is a complex and difficult task due to the long history of the relaxing reputation of a certain plant.

Anyway, this was not the reason why my husband and I decided to visit the little brother of Medellín in the Aburra Valley, Colombia. We needed a break from the northern Tenerife winter climate and at the same time learn more Spanish.

Here I am outside Santa Gertrudis church in the center of Envigado, a town 1,675 m above sea level centrally located in the metropolitan Medellin area. It is just north of the equator but the elevation makes the climate springlike and pleasant all year around. There are about 235, 000 inhabitants and the standard of living is among the highest in Colombia. It is now a safe place to visit. After years of bloody gang wars, criminals, paramilitary units and guerrillas seem to have found a way of cooperating and they are all keeping a low profile. This has made it possible for the area to prosper and more and more tourists are coming in. The only bad thing I was experiencing was that two of my fellow students’ bags containing computers, money, passports and personal items were stolen. Otherwise, we had a peaceful time and I never felt unsafe walking around. But we were never out later than midnight and it is advisable to take a taxi late at night. The main problem is air pollution and sometimes it can turn really bad.

 

Envigado is a paradise when it comes to fruits and vegetables. They are cheap and very tasty; a blessing and a great contradiction to the air quality. Carts like this are present all over town in addition to a big variety of shops and supermarkets.

 

A motorbike parked in the living room just outside our bedroom door.

In Colombia, it is normal to use the living room as a night garage for motorbikes. We woke up the first morning to a very unpleasant smell of garage and told the hosts that we could not accept the arrangement. The motorbike was parked on the pavement for the rest of our stay and the problem was solved. Colombians are mostly kind, cooperative and easy to deal with.

 

Our host, Tatiana. It was a real pleasure to learn to know her and her husband, Leon. We felt very welcome and there were no problems. We rented a bedroom with private bathroom and shared the kitchen and living room for about 12 USD a night through Airbnb.

 

Leaving the house for a walk. Our bedroom is just behind me. With the window open, the smell from passersby-smokers often finds its way inside. My husband figured out easily that tobacco smokers were in minority; it was another smell that dominated LOL. We just closed the window when it became too much.

 

The streets of Envigado are full of trees and made our daily walks in the smog more pleasant.

 

Enrolling at Colombia Immersion Spanish School, a 15-minute walk from our house.

 

Photo op (L-R) with one of my cool teachers, Lorena, whose patience in teaching I definitely admire. With me also is CI’s kindest Student Experience Team — Cristina, Gloria, and Johanna.

 

A Londoner (George) and a Dabawenya (yes, me) to the advanced class with coach Sandra during our TEDTalk Spanish presentation.

 

Leaving the school, while a student and a teacher are having conversational classes outside.

 

Hanging out with friends in a Mexican restaurant, Tequila y Sabor. From L to R, me, Seattleite Saircha, Colombian teachers Lore and Mafe and her friend, Laura.

 

Envigado is full of small eateries serving very good and reasonable food.

 

We tried many of the high-end restaurants in Envigado but only a few are good. But the cheap ones like La Sason de Doña Angela where this picture is taken never disappointed us.

 

A meal with a soup and main dish plus freshly-made tropical fruit juice cost around 3 USD. We never had stomach problems eating in the local eateries but the more exclusive restaurants were a shaky experience now and then.

 

On my way to the small grocery store/bar across the street. There is one like this on almost every corner.

 

1 USD for a cold beer. Many Colombians in Envigado originate from Galicia and northern Spain and has developed a lively kindness that makes them very pleasant to associate with. For me, the people are the biggest resource of Envigado.

 

This is Otraparte Villa, the house of Fernando Gonzalez, a writer and philosopher Envigado is very proud of. He lived from 1895 to 1964 and still has a great influence in Colombia. His house is now a museum and the headquarter of a foundation promoting his work. It is a hidden oasis and a fantastic place to relax even if it is just a few steps from a busy road.

 

The café/restaurant in Otraparte is one of the best in Envigado and is very popular.

 

Rain is normal but it doesn’t last long. For me, it was refreshing with some showers cleansing the air a little. The driest period is from January to April. Here, my husband is enjoying a Colombian “cappuccino con ron” outside the Mayor’s office.

 

Envigado has many old cozy bars like this and in the evenings, tango and salsa music is on the agenda.

 

The sidewalks outside the bars and private houses are popular gatherings in the evenings. Chairs and tables are taken out and the party starts.

 

Locals are mostly drinking beer, shots of a local anise liquor, Aguardiente, and Medellín Ron.

 

.. and tropical fruits are never far away.

I know there are so many places of interests in Medellin which I did not visit, but it is a consolation that I still have many attractions to look forward to on my return. I am just hoping that the air pollution will ease in the more metropolitan parts. Overall, I am now looking at the country differently with mad respect for the people of Envigado who are working really hard for their future and leaving their country’s problematic past behind.

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