Background Information on Medellin’s Hillside Favelas
Two decades ago, the northeast favelas of Medellin were the epicenter of the global drug war and the Popular and Santo Domingo barrios were places of violence and death with the murder rate five times higher than New York City. Today there is little evidence of the chaos that once reigned. Innovative city planning – a cable car system built in 2004 and a giant 384-meter escalator that scales the mountain in six minutes that opened in 2011 have united the geographic areas of the city as well as the different social strata. It has brought a sense of belonging within the Medellin citizens. The investment in innovative social programs, building projects such as the Espana Library Park, recovery of open spaces for education and recreation have all helped to create a sense of pride in the citizens of the favela neighborhoods. Although much progress has been made in the Medellin favelas, many problems – related to violence, drugs, and gangs still exist. Hopefully, the communities will continue to transform and the people will maintain confidence in their urban quality of life.
Cable Car Ride Above the Favelas
Our final day in Medellin was a walking tour of the Santo Domingo and Popular barrios which were located in the hillside favelas northeast of Medellin. We were supposed to ride the cable car from the bottom of the mountain to the Santo Domingo Cable car station but were told that the cable car was being repaired. Our driver and guide took us by car to the Santo Domingo cable car station where we were to meet members of an activist group composed of artists, singers, and dancers who would show us how art helped them to connect with the surrounding communities.
Our driver later told us that he had never driven up to the favelas and found it very confusing – especially all the narrow and winding roads. With the help of our guide, Ana, we arrived at the station only to find no one was there to meet us. I noticed that the cable car was running from that station and beyond and asked about taking a ride to see the views from above. After a few phone calls to change our meeting time, we were on our way and in our own private cable car. Having arrived early, there were few people going our way. We discovered a park and restaurant and a small outdoor market at the end of our ride.
On the Way
We wandered around the park and looked at the food and goods that were being sold. There was a restaurant nearby where we got something to drink. We didn’t stay that long as we needed to return to meet the artists’ group.
Returning to the Santo Domingo Station
Walking Through the Barrio Streets
We finally arrived back at the station and were met by several young people. One young man did most of the talking telling us about his organization and what they were doing to improve their communities. Klan Ghetto Popular is the name of the organization. It was kind of difficult because they spoke in Spanish and then our guide translated into English but at the same time, we stood in a group on the sidewalk with people walking around us. The day turned out to be very warm and there was a lot of walking up and down steps. They showed us the street art along the way and talked about the different artists and their contributions.
When you look at the street art you might notice how family-oriented it is. It represents the lives of the common people.
We stopped here to listen to a song written by this young man. It was somewhat awkward as there was not a comfortable seat and by this time it was getting hot and humid. In spite of the heat and seating, we enjoyed listening to him sing and play the guitar.
We continued walking and came to a shady area and the group decided it was time for some break dancing. They had their music set up and a young girl who had been walking along with us started to dance.
We continued walking and by now I was getting tired and asked how much further we had to go. We were walking to the neighborhood of one of the artist’s and we’re going to have lunch at his house. Since it was at least another half hour, we decided to get a taxi. I enjoyed the ride in and out of the narrow streets and the taxi driver was very friendly and spoke some English. He said he had lived in the favelas for 33 years and had seen a lot of changes. We finally arrived and walked up these steps to the artist’s home. Evidently, it was his apartment and his mother lived downstairs. We met her later and she was very warm and welcoming. We enjoyed more music while we waited for lunch. The apartment was teeny tiny but there was room for everyone. Lunch was served in just a few minutes and it was typical local food of soup, rice, plantain, and arepa. Shawn bought one of the tee shirts that was made by the host.
We said our goodbyes and thanked them for their kind hospitality. We walked several streets away to find a taxi to take us to where our driver was waiting for us.
It wasn’t what we had expected, but all in all, it was an interesting day with much to see and it was fascinating meeting the people who lived there and learning about their way of life.