Being a Traveler in Medellín: 1

The warm, oily air rushed on to my face from the street. It smelled like diesel and fried dough.

I walked down the sloped sidewalk to the station for El Metro, the overland train public transport system in Medellín, the discovery of which was a post-arrival-in-Colombia happy surprise. It was rare to find a city in South America with such a developed public transportation. Motion, especially when I’m riding trains, is good for my writing habit.

I crammed into the car, squeezed armpit to armpit with the rest of the riders, listened to my Spanish rrrrrock en español music through headphones, hung on to the metal handles suspended from the ceiling, watched as we passed over densely clustered brick buildings and foothills within the city. I looked down and saw people on the street, some barefoot and wearing rags, hocking cigarettes and candy, some well shoed and wearing business suits, talking on a BlackBerry. I saw other billboards plastered with posters proclaiming that violence wasn’t the answer and advertising for mega-malls that always had some large sale running.

Wow.

I got off at Estación San Antonio. I walked through crowded streets satiated with market stalls and every bright thing: stones, banners, rings, lawn chairs, dirty papayas, hand-drawn fruit carts, and vendors wearing vests with pockets full of radios and speakers. Flash drives and beading wires. Lots of shoes. Plastic ones, leather ones, pink ones, bejeweled ones with fake crystals adorned…

“¡A la orden! ¡A la orden!” the vendors shouted, meaning As you wish… and somehow I felt the shouting intrusive. It was a catcall, a demand, a bidding, even though I was very sure of what I wished: adventure, and then time to write about it.

I walked past the last vendor and the view opened up: Dozens of tall, spindle-like lights arranged like a pin ball table, equally spaced shapes, dotted around park benches and palm trees. I thought that if I were in an airplane, and I could get a bird’s eye view of this, it would appear like the circuit pattern on the back of a fuse box, a giant light-peg game. I crossed through the oversized light-pegs feeling electric just from the simulation of walking through a (faux) circuit pattern.

—Down a slope of granite.

The entrance to the library was partially underground. The air was cooler, and the walkway was slightly dark. But then I entered into the artificial-light and climate-controlled space. The guards, the same guards every time, had dubbed me la señora de los tatuajes.

“¡Hola! Buenos días,” they said with smiles, holding their gun straps across their chests. Hello, good day!

“¡Hola! Buenos días, gwatchi-men,” I replied. Hello, watchy-watchy men. Then:

A transparent staredown: Me: in black. It was the black outfit that I could layer over and under: under for yoga, over for change-up weather. Black harem cropped pants, black leggings black tank top, black sheer blouse with three-quarter sleeves. The guards: black and khaki, guns, the same as any other guard on any other street corner or building entrance in this city of secrets and discovery.

I see you. You see me? What do you think? Who am I?

“Nice that you have returned, gringa,” one said in Spanish.

I nodded as I passed through the checkpoint. “Thank you,” I replied.

A large staircase to the left led up to small cabins made of glass and overlooking the inner atrium and outdoor circuit grid. There weren’t too many people on this floor in the library. I scaled the stairs in rapid sequence—up up up—the pads of my shoes, the pop pop pop of my feet, the pop pop pop of my shoulder bag on my hip, pitter patter pitter patter up up up. A row of glass reading cabins were perched in a beautifully precarious stroke of architectural genius, hanging above the vast open entry space, in line with the sunshine and view of the light-pegs on the outside. I walked into one of the hovering glass reading cabins–glass on two sides, including one for the entry; an opaque wall on the other. A box with a view in which to think, dissect thoughts, explore tap tap tapping the electricity, the current, the charge in me…

I am never more electric, lit up, alive than when I am travelling.

October 2010

Places as characters are really my jam.

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