One of the things I love about travelling is that it makes us realize how different we are, while at the simultaneously showing us that in many ways we’re really all the same. Kind of a paradox, I know. The more I travel, the more I am convinced that although we may have hugely different ways of life from those in other countries, at our core we are all just humans, working within our means to find happiness in the best way we know how.
Today, Zevi and I made our way to Medellin’s Metrocable and hopped on to get a whole new perspective of the city. Another piece of innovative urban design along the same lines as some of the architecture I talked about yesterday, this gondola is much more than just a tourist attraction. The first three stops on the route are included in the price of your Metro ticket, and service some of the poorest areas of the city. While ten years ago the only option for people living in these areas was to take a bus or walk up the steep hill, they now have a much more efficient and reliable means of making their way home. As it was explained to us on the tour yesterday, this was a way for the government to show that they cared about these people, partially in the hopes that they would choose a better life for themselves rather than joining a gang or getting involved in crime.
On the first part of our cable ride we shared a car with some people who presumably live somewhere on the hillside. I wonder what they think of the influx of tourists riding up the hill looking down upon their winding streets and tin rooves. Maybe they’re happy to have some outside money flowing in after so many years as a virtually tourist-free zone, although who knows how much of that cash they actually see. Hopefully they see it as an opportunity to show the world that they’re people just like us living their day-to-day lives with many of the same problems that you or I have. More than likely they don’t put too much thought into it at all, but I just can’t imagine taking public transit home with a bunch of foreigners who are snapping pictures of my neighbors’ front porch. Wouldn’t that be strange?
We paid the extra fare at the Santo Domingo station to take a second cable car up to Parque Arvi, a national park at the top of the mountain. We weren’t able to see much of the park without a guide, and we didn’t really feel like spending our whole afternoon up there, so we went for a short walk and then ducked in to a little market to find some lunch. There were a bunch of vendors selling what we’ve discovered to be pretty typical Colombian street food – empanadas, bunuelos, arepas, and various other (mostly fried) things. Zevi got what I would describe as a less dense version of cornbread with a large slice of cheese stuffed inside. I tried a papa rellena, which was a large ball of mashed potatoes and ground beef that had been deep fried. It was reminiscent of shepherd’s pie, without any of the healthy stuff of course. Topped with some spicy salsa, I sincerely loved every last bite. Sometimes the simplest things taste so much better than the fancy stuff (I’m looking at you, weird pizza I had at an unnamed restaurant last night). We figured we should round out the meal with something a little more wholesome, so we grabbed a cup of uchuva and lamented the fact that we would only get to enjoy Colombian fruit for another week. You have a lot to live up to, Peru!
We made our way back down, once again carving right through the poorest areas of the city. There was laundry laying and hanging everywhere, including on the flat tin roofs where lines just couldn’t hold any more. Friends chatted as they walked down the narrow roads. A woman washed a young girl’s hair on a balcony. Kids played soccer in the streets, in fenced in basketball courts, or wherever they could find space. A man helped his friend fix his roof. People walked in and out of shops, doing whatever errands were needed for the day. These peoples lives are so different in many ways from my friends and mine, but when it comes right down to it, we’re all just living. Our means might be different, the brands of clothing we wear might not match up, and we might not have the same opportunities, but so many of the things I saw were things I could imagine myself doing (I only wish I could hang my laundry outside all year round!). It almost sounds silly to say this because, duh, we’re all humans, but I think that we spend so much time focussing on our ideological and cultural differences, that we forget that we’re so much more the same than we are dissimilar. If we could all remember this, maybe it would help us to stir up more compassion towards our fellow human beings.
I’m not quite sure why this ride prompted me to wax philosophical, but suffice it to say that it’s a journey that I won’t soon forget. It would be very presumptuous to say that this gave me any great insight into the way of life in the slums of Medellin, since we were still far from the actions down on the streets. However, so often the poorer parts of a city are hidden away like a child that we’re sure will misbehave on the night of a dinner party, and I really did appreciate the privilege of getting a little peek into the day-to-day of a group of people so far outside my realm of understanding.