Friday, January 20, 2006

Medellin's MetroCable




Ok, let's stick with Medellin for one more blog post. Despite the fact that it was overrun by multiplying budget costs and it doesn't connect as many areas of Medellin as Bogota's bus system, Transmilenio, it has been more than a decade since the Colombian city inaugurated its Metro system. As with Bogota's Transmilenio (which has done wonders for public transportation in Colombia's capital), Medellin citizens are almost fanatically proud of their Metro to the extent that a public service campaign asks people in Medellin to treat their city as they would treat their Metro.

Anyhoo... If you have seen Colombian movies such as Rodrigo D: No Futuro or The Rose Vendor you will probably are aware of the extreme poverty and danger that defines the outlaying areas of the city and of the so-called 'invasion' shanty-towns perched atop the sides of the majestic mountains that surround Medellin. Yet, as the years have gone by, the residents of these neighborhoods have built up homes and, for the most part, thrown out the laminated walls that they used for a home and replaced them with cement and bricks. At the same time, violence has markedly decreased so that its no longer a danger to walk these neighborhoods' streets (paramilitary gangs, which feuded with each other and kept residents from even walking from one neighborhood to the next, still exist but are not as active; some argue that this has been mandated by higher-ups who do not want to endanger the sweet deals that President Alvaro Uribe has offered former paramilitaries who 'renounce' their ways and pledge to leave arms in exchange for full pardon for any crimes committed).

Now, while Bogota's Transmilenio has 'feeder' buses that connect Transmilenio riders with most of the city not covered by the system, Medellin has tried a more limited system of connecting Metro riders to outer boroughs. Still, their most recent effort is a stunner: Last year the Metro opened a new off-shoot which goes from the Metro line running along the Medellin river at the bottom of the valley where Medellin lies to the Santo Domingo neighborhood high up on the side of a mountain. This is done not by metro but by tramway, in small cabins that fit 6 seated and 2 standing people. The cabins are in constant motion and jumping in felt somewhat like catching a ski-lift. They have called it MetroCable.

On the day we decided to give it a try, there was a huge crowd of people, many of them tourists, who had to stand in a fast-moving line to climb on. Some tourists, afraid to step down on what used to be dangerous streets, opt to climb up the three stages, stay on the cabin and turn around all the way down. My mom, my brother, his gilrfriend, my boyfriend and I stepped out and had some coffee at a local restaurant. The experience was bizarre as I got to see part of the city I would have never thought I would ever visit and the locals still seemed a bit dazed by the fact that this massive transportation experiment had been plopped right down on their streets (and stared at tourists like us as if we were fish out of water). The impact of the MetroCable was immediately noticeable by the commercialization of the streets outside the main station. I've read that it has been one of the most successful social projects in Latin America in connecting a poor neighborhood to the rest of the city but I'm not certain that the full impact will be known until years from now (positive or negative).

A bit scary, to say the least, was the fact that on the way up the lift seemed to stop abruptly and the cabin seemed to lurch down in two pulls. For a moment it wasn't clear that it would stop falling and some of us thought that was it for us (the bottom photo shows the relief we felt when the cabin regained altitude and started moving again). Also noteworthy was the rooftop signs that residents have begun to write in huge white letters. The sign in the top picture above reads: "METROCABLE - THE NEIGHBORHOODS' AIRPLANE"

Other roof signs, which you can check here, along with other photographs, read:

"WELCOME, WE ARE WELCOMING PEOPLE"

"AT HOME, AT PEACE, AND GLAD I FEEL - IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD"

"I AM THINKING ABOUT YOU"

"DWARFS WOULD NOT BE DWARFS IF THEY STOPPED GIVING STATURE TO THE GIANTS"

2 comments:

R. Henry Goins said...

I like the photos from the Medillin Christmas. Thanx for sharing.

Medellin Traveler said...

Travel To Medellin, Colombia!

My first trip to Medellin, Antioquia - Colombia, March 2007...

When I booked my first trip to Medellin I did not know what to expect based on all the negative media reports in the US regarding violence in Colombia. It seemed that whenever I informed any of my friends, family and colleagues about my planned trip to Colombia, they all thought I was crazy! Well, my flight was already booked and my hotel room was reserved, so no turning back now. I was going to Colombia!

"What did I discover in Colombia?" some of you may ask.

Well, I did not come across any kidnappers upon my arrival. But, what I did discover was a wonderful magical world-class metropolitan city in South America. The culture, the food, the music, the warm weather, salsa clubs, vibrant nightlife, lots of modern and interesting architecture throughout the city, amazing views from the metrocable, a much superior metro system compared to the one back home. And a incredibly pleasant surprise, something that was not mentioned in any of the trip reports I read before my departure, an beautiful expansive water park to rival anything in the states.

I spent a whole day relaxing at "El Parque de Las Aguas" and found it to be a very enjoyable experience which divided my trip. I had a great time watching the locals spend their weekend with the family. There were many kids around the park with friends and family enjoying the beautiful weather and experiencing the varies water rides available. There were many families who brought blankets and picnic baskets filled with typical Colombian dishes along with treats for the children to enjoy.

There are also many public parks in Medellin were the locals meet to socialize and talk about the daily news as well as world events. Old men sit on park benches snacking on fresh fruit, sharing treats with the birds, which also seemed to enjoy mixing with the locals. Young mothers busy taking care of their babies while the older children run around playing. The children are very friendly and love to play games and joke around with friends and tourist alike.

More importantly, what separates Medellin from other travel destinations in South Ameirca are the generous and friendly locals known as Paisas (pie-sahs). I traveled to Medellin alone but never felt so much at home due to the fact that the Paisas made me feel like family. Everyone I met was eager to show off their great city. I was continually being invited to travel across town to see many of the wonderful places a new visitor to Medellin must see during their trip.

One of the most frequently asked questions was, “What part of town does your family live in Medellin?” I told them I did not have any family in Medellin. To which they replied, “Who do you know in Medellin?” I said I did not know anyone. They all thought I was crazy but then responded with a smile, “You now have friends and family in Medellin.”

The only negative comment I have about my experience in Medellin is that I put on a few extra pounds because almost everyone I met invited me to their home for a traditionally home cooked Colombian dinner, which I was always happy to accept all invitations. :-) The Paisas are great at making you feel at home in a foreign country.

The first thing I did upon my return to the states was book another trip.

Tip: I would strongly suggest anyone interested in visiting Medellin to brush up on their Spanish because there are not too many Paisas who speak English. No worries, an English program has now been added as part of the student courses. Medellin takes pride and promotes reading in all its educational institutions as part of its transformation into a world class destination for travelers from around the world to visit.

Visit my blog http://www.medellin-colombia.blogspot.com which was created to promote the positive side of Medellin. It will be updated with the latest news, articles, information, trip reports and recommendations for those who are interested in traveling to the city of eternal spring.

Vive Colombia! I love Medellin!