Travel warnings from locals

We took an early morning flight from Bogota to Medellin this morning. When we arrived, it was very clear that Medellin was a very different city than Bogota: we drove down and up mountains just to get from the airport to the hotel! The “City of Eternal Spring” as Medellin is called is full of hills and mountains with houses built atop them everywhere; it’s kind of like the land-locked version of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

When we checked into the hotel, a bellman insisted on helping us with our bags. Once he set them down in our room, he asked us what we were planning to do and how we were planning to get around. He then started telling us that although Medellin has changed quite a lot over the last 10 or so years and is much safer now that we had to be very careful, not take random cabs, always watch our surroundings and bags, etc. We said we understood and thanked him.

Then again, as we were waiting in the lobby for our Uber, he comes back up to us asking where we were headed and how we were getting there. Chris told him we’d be taking an Uber into the town, to which the bellman said, “Oh, that’s a very different place than it is here.. It’s much more crowded. Just be very careful and watch your things. Beware of your surroundings. There are a lot of good people in Medellin, but also a lot of bad people here, a lot of homeless.”

Then, I could feel myself starting to feel uneasy. He really doesn’t think tourists are safe here, huh?

Then to make matters worse, after we ate lunch near the plaza in the city, the next Uber driver who took us from the plaza area to Commune 13 (formerly what was the most violent neighborhood in Medellin, but now has been cleaned up, with escalators that provide easy up-and-down transit access for both locals and tourists, and also has a lively street art scene) didn’t want us to get out of the car when we arrived at the bottom of the escalators built there. He was speaking with us in Spanish, and although I could not tell word for word what he was saying, I could decipher that he was trying to say that he didn’t think it was safe for us to walk around on our own there and that we really need to be in a bigger group or with a guide. Then, as soon as he saw a group of white tourists with cameras and maps, his face is relieved, and he said, “Okay, okay,” and seemed willing to “release us.”

All I could think of when our Uber driver was having this broken lost-in-translation back and forth with us was… I just spent over $1,500 on my new mirrorless camera and its fancy zoom lens… I cannot get this camera stolen on its very first international trip. And we’re carrying it in a bag right now. Please, please don’t get stolen. 

Then, as we finally started opening the car doors, a guy on the outside of the car tried to open my door. Another tick: I don’t like anyone touching me or my stuff when I’m traveling if they are a stranger (okay, the car is not mine, but you know what I mean). That type of thing makes me uneasy. In the end, this guy was just trying to ask if we wanted a guided tour of the graffiti art. He was looking to make some money with some tourists — not a big deal. Still, I didn’t like it.

Because of the bellman’s repeated concerns, the Uber driver’s stated worries, and now, this guy who touched the car door, I was hesitant when Chris asked if I wanted to take my camera out. “I can use this,” I insisted, taking out my iPhone (yeah, because that’s just $1,000, but hey, I have to use what I have).

As we rode the escalators to the top, I started feeling less edgy as I saw more locals doing normal everyday things — chit chatting, teasing each other, biking, selling items. I saw more tourists, and I also noticed security guards and police officers walking around. I finally took the camera out when we got to the top and saw the incredible views of the city. This is just another neighborhood where people live and are just trying to get through their day-to-day lives, I thought. And now, it has all this amazing street art that attracts visitors like Chris and me. Yes, it has a violent past, but that isn’t really the case anymore. Plus, it’s the day time. What’s the worst thing that could happen in this place that has so many people in it?

As I was standing up there taking photos of the graffiti art and the views, I realized that the bellman and the Uber driver’s concerns were rubbing off on me, and that was really what was getting me annoyed. I know they were just saying these things to us out of concern and to look out for us since we’re tourists on vacation, but I’d personally preferred not to be told this kind of thing. It just makes me second-guess everything, which I hate. I read enough about safety when traveling to different countries I haven’t been before far before any trip begins, so it’s not like I am an unaware traveler.

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