Yep, it’s official – we’re in Medellin, and we’re here for awhile.

It was an awesome three months around Europe, and there’s plenty more about the continent to come even as we settle into a more normal routine for us. ‘A more normal routine’, that is, of getting up at noon, getting some work done, exploring on the weekends, and not going to bed until sometime after midnight…

For now, there’s a tradition to follow – presenting some first impressions on Meh-deh-yeen. (See first impressions on Thailand as a whole, or on Krabi, Thailand over here.)

It’s an interesting mix of Korea and Thailand.

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You can drink Medellin’s tap water, ride two of the cleanest metro lines I’ve ever seen… and see plenty of folks selling cold drinks on the sidewalk from well-worn foam coolers. Prices are somewhere between Korea and Thailand.

I’ll note that Laura disagrees with me on this one. To her, there’s nothing about it that looks or feels like Korea (she said it was like a combination of the US and Thailand, for what it’s worth) In any case, we’re not referring to the history or the language, just the general feel of the city.

I’ll also note Colombians, along with Peruvians, will soon have the same visa-free access to Europe as other developed Western countries do. The pact was made in June 2015, and at the time of writing was in the process of ratification. It’s a growing sign that perceptions of the South American country are slowly changing around the world.

The weather is very nice.

Medellin’s touristy-sounding slogan is the ‘City of Eternal Spring’. The average high historically is between 26-28 C. year-round, though highs have touched the mid-30’s during our time here in mid-July. So much for the notion that July in South America means it’s cold! At night it averages 15 C. year-round, which feels just about perfect to both the shorts-and-shirt Chris and the jeans-and-short Laura. The jeans and khakis may not be coming out all that often… and I’m totally OK with that.

There’s almost no English around.

This one’s been the biggest shock to me as a non-Spanish speaker. I can get the gist of signs and Laura speaks some Spanish, but the percentage of English has been almost zero. Lest I sound a bit spoiled after living in a touristy country like Thailand, there was more English around in non-touristy, rural parts of Thailand than there is in the most metropolitan areas of Medellin.

While this is admittedly a limited impression, it also seems that learning English isn’t yet that high on the average local list. There’s at least one language exchange every Friday, and more than a few English teachers are employed here, so there’s room for it to grow. It’s definitely not the sort of obsessive thing as seen in Korea.

Getting around is easier than expected.

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You can thank a modern two-line subway system and a couple of Bus Rapid Transit lines for that. The buses stick to main roads, and have lane barriers in place to ensure a lane just for their buses. It’s setup a lot like the BRT system in Bangkok, except it’s been set up to work well and connect to main roads and other metro lines nicely.

I’ll note we haven’t yet tried to figure out the more colorful private buses, of which there are dozens (hundreds?) of different routes around Medellin. They cost about the same as the metro / BRT buses, but make plenty of stops closer to neighborhoods and the like.

The address system will take some getting used to – and there’s a twist.

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Medellin uses calles (pronounced ka-yehs) and carreras (pronounced kah-rare-uhs), which can be thought of streets and avenues, respectively. Calles typically run east to west, while carreras run north to south. They’re both numbered, so meeting at, say, Calle 32 and Carrera 76, is fairly straightforward. It’s far from a grid system, however, and the abbreviations are odd. Calle can be abbreviated as ‘Cl’ or ‘Cll’, while Carrera can be abbreviated as ‘Kr’, if it’s not simply referred to as a number. Each building also gets a number, so an address can look like “Calle 32, Carrera 76, #28″ or “Calle 32, #76-28″.

The twist – and perhaps a wrench in the system – is that Google Maps doesn’t really recognize the system. It’s used to thinking of each road having a name, then referring to a house or building number on that road. Instead, with most any address you try to throw at it, Maps seems to interpret one number as being the ‘road’ and the other as being the ‘number’ on that road, then gets totally confused when you throw a third number for the specific house / building at it.

Another twist (as we discovered while looking for apartments) is that the same area of town can have multiple calles of the same number. In one case there were two 19A’s (we were told the one closer to the metro station was the one we wanted), so it’s not quite as bulletproof as it might seem.

The beer and food are both good.

It’s not German or Czech beer, but it’ll do. Aguila is a decent yellow-labeled lager, and Pilsner is another easy-to-find and drinkable lager. Club Colombia is worthwhile, and there’s plenty of imported options available if you want to pay for them. The food? Lots of meat and very good (once we’re settled in we’ll explore the vegetarian options for the sake of variety). Lots of restaurants are around in general, but the only Western franchise I’ve seen around thus far is Subway.

Plenty of Western products are around, however, including Coca-Cola made from real sugar. The good stuff, baby.

Security and police are present, but far from overbearing.

There’s plenty of political turmoil around in some parts of the country, and a country that decades of violence and robbery from the drug trade is forgiven for changing slowly in some cases. Some convenience stores and photocopy shops are set up to where there are jail-like bars protecting both themselves and their merchandise from whomever may come in. In other areas, such as along the metro lines, it seems a matter of prudence to have a few uniforms present to prevent gate-hoppers and to discourage the petty theft that’s all-too-common in other countries.

It’s a good deal, and it’s going to get better.

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We couldn’t have planned the timing much better if we tried. From the beginning of 2010 to the end of 2014, the average US dollar bought 1,750 and 2,000 Colombian pesos. At the time of writing, 1 US dollar is worth about 2,759 Colombian pesos, one of the most favorable exchange rates for people with US dollars since 2004. Thank a strong US dollar for that, combined with bleaker prospects for higher oil prices (thanks, Obama!).

I should note that quite a few apartments we’ve looked into or heard about are pegged to the US dollar. It’s unclear whether they’re trying to avoid being locked in to a devaluing currency

We’re settling in for the next 6 months or so in Medellin at this point, so if you’ll be in the area, let me know and we’ll get a beer or coffee.

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