When deciding where to live in 2019 I had a few criteria. I wanted an affordable, easy to live place to base myself. I limited my search to Latin America because I wanted to improve my Spanish through immersion. I also wanted somewhere walk able, with good public transportation, or both. Basically, I was looking for an economical place with a high quality of living.
After a lot of research and deliberation I finally settled on Medellin, Colombia. After living in Medellin for four months I can say it pretty much met my expectations in terms of livability. Despite this, Medellin didn’t leave a great impression on me and I have no desire to return any time soon. Here’s why:
I remember when I first came to Colombia ten years ago in 2008. The US Department of State recommended not traveling to the country at all. Medellin, which in the late eighties was considered the most dangerous city in the world, was slowly beginning to re-build its reputation. While Uribe’s disbandment of paramilitary groups was officially completed in 2006, the city was still considered to be very dangerous.
In 2008 I opted to ignore the US government’s warnings and travel to Colombia anyway. I’m glad I did. It ended up being one of the highlights of six months of backpacking through South America.
I did have a few times I felt nervous in Colombia. One time in particular I was in the back of a pick up truck full of complete strangers on the way to a late night party on a finca outside Cali when it occurred to me I could easily wind up dead in a ditch and no one who cared about me would be the wiser. I had wound up in the truck bed on the invitation of a caleña I had met. We ended up going to a raging party in the mountains that the police unceremoniously shut down by ejecting a few rounds of tear gas on the dance floor. Yeah, it was lit. I spent the night at a finca and woke up to fresh squeezed orange juice and a game of tejo to decide who would do the dishes. The experience was one of a few which left me with such a fond impression of Colombia.
While I ultimately found the US’s incredibly dangerous perception of Colombia to be exaggerated, it’s not without some merit. My recent four month stint in Medellin only re-confirmed this.
Paisas themselves will tell you how dangerous their city is. Colombian friends and acquaintances frequently admonished me to stay away from certain areas of the city at certain times, and to not ‘dar papaya’.
I don’t really watch the news, but even so I was constantly informed of the crimes, both petty and serious, being committed in the city on a regular basis. I had only to look out my apartment window to see the smoking scene of a double homicide where a man had stabbed a woman and her mother, drug their bodies inside the apartment, and set the place on fire. This, in the relatively posh estrato cinco neighborhood of Laureles.
While Medellin’s homicide rate has seen radical improvement since the eighties, crime is still a major concern. All of my Colombian friends have stories of being robbed–one of them alone told me she’s been robbed five times.
While much of your risk in a place like Medellin can be mitigated by taking some basic precautions, the fact you need to take these precautions to begin with demonstrates the high potential for crime. I managed to make it through living in Medellin for four months relatively unscathed, but it’s the kind of place you can never fully let your guard down.
The one incident that did happen to me in Medellin was the rear window of my Uber was shot out with a rubber bullet. This happened late one Friday night while leaving El Poblado for my apartment in Laureles. The perpetrator was a member of the taxi mob who committed the crime in retaliation for the ride sharing service’s increasing share of the transportation economy. I’ve witnessed this kind of violent, gang-like retaliation from taxi drivers elsewhere, notably in Mexico and Indonesia, but the fact the Medllin taxistas are willing to actually shoot their competition (albeit with a rubber bullet), gives you some insight into the ubiquity of violence and crime in the city.
While Medellin may lay claim to the most beautiful women in the country, I found dating in the city of eternal spring to be a rather tedious proposition.
Going out with paisas requires a lot of effort with little reward. After four months I can say that for me the juice is not worth the squeeze. Here’s why:
While Colombians in general are known for being flaky, paisas in particular are very hard to pin down. Getting one to meet up with you for dinner or drinks requires a lot of back and forth messaging to build comfort, coupled with a good degree of logistical work. They will frequently cancel plans, often without deigning to inform you of the fact. There are strategies you can employ to compensate for this, but they’re band-aid fixes which don’t address the underlying cultural reasons. Because this flaky behavior will be exhibited by the majority of paisas, you’re better off employing these strategies and adapting to it rather than ‘sticking to your guns’ when it comes to punctuality. Like expecting the traffic to yield to you at a cross-walk, expect a colombiana to show up when she said she would and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
If you do manage to get a girl from Medellin out on a date you may not find it worth it. Paisas have a reputation for being ‘muy princessa‘. This basically means they’re entitled little narcissists. In my experience, the reputation is well-deserved. The stereotypical paisa will behave as if you are very fortunate to be enjoying her company. This, despite the fact she can’t cook more than an arepa, hasn’t traveled outside of the country, and may or may not have a kid or two at home.
When you go out with a paisa you will be expected to pay for the date, including her transportation to/from the venue. Given the incredibly low Colombia minimum wage I can understand this. What I could never get used to is how many of them will not even thank you for the meal, considering you lucky for having had the privilege of buying it for them.
It’s a theory of mine that narco culture and sex tourism are to blame for the incredible entitlement of paisa women. It also has something to do with how Colombians and Latinos in general are raised by doting mothers who cater to their every whim.
Both factors have left an indelible mark on Medellin culture, especially when it comes to inter sexual dynamics. Paisas are accustomed to drug lords and sex tourists lavishing them with money and gifts. Their sole asset and value proposition is their sex appeal, which they’ve subsequently weaponized for maximum effect.
If sex appeal is the paisa’s trump card even that offer is dubious. It’s true paisas appear very sexy, but I wouldn’t say they’re actually very sensual. It’s important here to distinguish between overt displays of sexuality versus genuine sensuality. Perhaps because paisas view their sexuality as a tool to be used for advantage rather than mutual enjoyment, but I found them to be surprisingly a-sexual. Similar to pornstars, paisas put a lot of energy into the advertisement of their sexuality instead of actually cultivating it.
High class hillbillies
Paisas are montañeros. This is a the Colombian equivalent of a hick. They’re small town mountain people who now live in a big valley city. Despite being a fairly large city and enjoying unprecedented levels of international tourism, Medellin is commonly described as a big pueblo. This is because of paisa culture, which is very inward looking. Many paisas I met seemed to think Medellin is the greatest city in the world–even though they’d never left Colombia.
While I generally prefer small town culture to a homogenized urban environment, in Medellin it further exacerbates paisa narcissism. The women in Medellin may be beautiful, but they’re acutely aware of the fact, and this ruined it for me.
Of course all of this is my own personal experience. Overall I found paisas to be vain, superficial, and not very interested in me, which in turn made me find them not very interesting. Depending on who you are your results may vary.
While Medellin’s climate is often touted as one of its best features, I found it far from ideal. While the nights are a pleasant cool temperature, I found it uncomfortably hot in the daytime.
In addition to the heat, it rains–a lot. During my four month stint in Medellin it would often rain every afternoon for weeks at a time.
Again, this comes down to personal preference. I come from the mountains and prefer a slightly more brisk temperature.
Researching Medellin I came across a lot of hype. Many people sing the praises of the city and its perfect climate.
While I had a decent time living in Medellin I don’t think I’ll be back any time soon. I’m glad I lived there, because I can check it off the list of places I’d like to live. Overall I found the city very overrated.