Colombia Redux: Medellín Requiem

Ah, back to that hub that is Medellín again, now for the last time on this trip. Some things just don't seem to change, but that's perhaps some of the appeal in this case. But then... wait... no, they did not! Holy poopsicles! The driveway next door looks about... finished! Granted, this is only after nearly three months of work, but still - this simply can't be possible. What will the faithful denizens of the hostel do without constant hammering and pick-axing at all waking (and some not) hours to almost no apparent purpose? Is THIS the omen I've been needing to leave town? I'll take it as yes... but only after some recharge time from the Choco's harsh regime of lazing about beaches.

One thing that HASN'T changed is the continuing Poblado crime scene. An Irishman unexpectedly has his wallet lifted in the hostel, albeit foolishly asked-for by leaving it on top of his bed. More typical is what just happened to an American couple who have recently checked in, they on a long pan-American trip heading south by 4x4 truck: They had a couple of knives put to their throats in the quiet and well-lit park between the hostel and the nearby Zona Rosa. In a slight twist of the norm, though, the male victim refused to hand over necessarily everything - even as the somewhat dull knife was pressed a bit harder into his ribs. He managed to hold onto a bit more stuff this way - hardly not the recommended course of action, by the way - before his girlfriend rained insults and chased after the hoodlums shortly after the transaction was completed. Well, that's one approach... probably only lacking further shouts of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" to top it off perfectly. Balls, they gots. Brains, I dunno.

In the meantime, at least a couple of motorcycle bandits have been caught, vastly more positive stuff for the well-being of all. So says the main local newspaper, anyway, never a rag to overstate things - unless when given license to hang monikers on bad guys like Mr. Bad and One-Eyed Jose. Perhaps these freshly-incarcerated moto-bandits are the pair known to wait outside the supermarket I frequent, watching those who extract money from the ATMs that are visible from the outside (not for nothing do I use the interior ones). Not that that's a bad modus operandi, to be fair: As soon as the victim is walking down the street afterward, the moto-passenger of the pair merely has to hop off the still rolling bike with knife extended. "Transaction" complete, he hops back onto the awaiting motorcycle within seconds, loot in hand, before they disappear in a flash. Efficiency-wise, it's tops.

More curious are the events circling about the girl who has her wallet removed from her hostel locker (to the eternal consternation of the owner, who insists these events are particularly rare - which I'll concur to be typically the case in Colombian hostels). She misplaced her lock's key, something particularly befuddling as she typically wears it about her wrist. Whatever the case, in a short amount of time her locker is opened and her oversized wallet/claspbook has been removed. The lock is oddly put back on in an open position, however. Curious and curiouser. With the theft still fresh, a shitstorm is quickly raised among all of us that immediately leads to many theories as to the how and why, not to mention the WHO. The place is subsequently thoroughly searched by a growing number of volunteers (undoubtedly her case is helped by her beauty), the hope being that the cash only was removed - with the rest pitched nearby as having no value. No luck.

So... is it one of the guests? It appears that it has to be, and soon many comments are made as to how the bloke will be ripped from stem to stern if he's found out. An Australian immigration official (and former Sydney cop) leads this charge to (mob) justice particularly ably, making a good case in demonstrating how to properly do the job (to add to his trove of stories that relate to his extracurricular activities while an on-duty cop -ones we've already been vicariously enjoying, as the guy knows how to weave a tale in proper Aussie-style).

Interestingly, yet only after such futile searching and her going through such things as card cancellations and calling her embassy - plus a judicious parade of tears - the wallet miraculously reappears. Well, THAT's new. Anyway, it's left to be found in the locker the next day, again left open, yet now with all its contents accounted for. This only leaves the rest of us to continually wonder who the thug is in our midst. Personally, I figure it has to be a Catholic - from personal experience I know them to be champions in the realm of guilt - but maybe the mere thought of falling into the Aussie cop's hands wasn't terribly appealing, either.

All of that, however, has absolutely nothing to do with my heading to a soccer game - which one might successfully guess I do. Like the previous year's match in Bogotá, this is an idea that comes out of the blue to gain steam only hours before the competition. "Sure, why not?", I think, hearing of the idea's groundswell - an often-enough reaction of mine. So about ten of us soon head over to the stadium, ten minutes away by taxi.

There we find the masses properly assembled in green-striped shirts, all rooting for the local Nacional team. The opposing team will be Baranquilla Juniors, the same group beaten by Once Caldas in The Great Owl Incident. Meanwhile, based on what I've seen of the Colombia "Postobon" league to date - no high level of play demonstrated to date per my TV watchings in El Valle, Bahia Solano, previous hostels or ANYwhere - I'm unquestionably only going for the experience.

THAT part starts just outside of the stadium, where we make our way through a mild series of harassments to buy scalped tickets and ponchos. The latter is because rain is threatening, too which I'll say no thanks, but I'll passively let the other American in our group lead the charge to ticket-dom. This compatriot is a true soccer fan - in contrast to the merely bemused sort, like myself, who is satisfied to see fans going apeshit. A good game is just a nice extra. For the moment I'm far more concerned with harshly shrugging off annoying kids, anyway, like the ones who keep yanking on my sleeve while trying to steal my potato chips. Hardly starving street urchins, instead these are annoying brats who won't take no or "Get stuffed!" for an answer. In any event, with the price between scalper and box office being about the same - 22000CP - we conventionally buy our tickets to escape this small mob. We hurriedly down a couple of beers to enter the stadium with at least some kind of minimal - necessary - buzz.

No beers are allowed in the stadium, of course - security is a big enough problem as it is. Such was the same case at Santa Fe's roost in Bogotá a year prior, although I was somewhat surprised at the time. When I saw the TINY, MICROSCOPIC visitor's section then, I was rather startled to notice that it was completely surrounded first by police, then by numerous riot cops to form a double ring as the game got going. Yet, in spite of that official presence, fights still manage to break out. Call it passion or mayhem, in either case the poor fools are pelted non-stop with debris from above and around from the neighboring sections. This is amazing considering the buffering empty sections to both of the visitors' sides that increase the distance. It ultimately can get so bad that the entire section is cleared out with fifteen minutes or a half of gametime remaining. Wow.

But Barranquilla is certainly not that much of a foe; it looks like their few away fans will get to enjoy the entire thing. Or experience it, anyway. The local Nacional team scores four atrociously easily goals, with even another one called back. The Juniors goalkeeper is strictly bush league, something obvious even to a relatively soccer-ignorant fan such as myself. We're left with the ball-passing to pass true judgement on, eventually placing bets on the quality of the players chiefly by ranking the brightness of their shoes from so high up as we are. We make a game of calling out the lazy ones, too, with the American among us (already appropriately monikered as Loud Mike) practicing all of his new Colombian swearing phrases recently learned in San Gil. While the rest of us hide our heads somewhat in embarrassment at his outbursts (and I particularly so, being sensitive to the Loud American rap), it amuses our neighboring fans to some degree. Which makes sense, since sometimes they're doing the same - when not macking on their pretty (and numerous) girlfriends. The latter, for their entertainment, mostly sing along to any piped-in music that never seems to stop.

When not jeering or smootching, the rest of the time our neighbors spend smoking oodles of pot. Wave after wave sweeps over us, lending credence to the possibility of contact highs that somehow don't seem to happen. This haze of weed-dom goes relatively uninterrupted throughout the entire game, starting with its punctuation of the national anthem and continuing right up until the riot police place shields over the exiting losers from Barranquilla. The masses exit in a stoned haze after this easy blowout, leading to celebratory beers outside. This includes our gringo pack, naturally, now even more welcomed than before the game under such a cloud of victory by the locals.

We eventually head to the nearby Metro to return to our Poblado "home", surrounded by the remaining hordes of fans making their way home as well. Back to the Black Sheep Hostel, in other words, where we'll soon be overrun by even MORE English-speaking Americans, Brits, Irish, and Aussies - in that order. Yes, for the first time it's the Americans that now really stand out in number, albeit still West-Coast dominated beyond an odd cluster of Floridians. Only a handful of other countries are making token appearances now, and only in small numbers. Weird, I think, and even stranger it is that this doesn't bother me as much as usual.

That's because in no time it's obvious that we have a good group of easy-going folks - minus the thief, that is, if he's still around (we give the few women in the hostel the benefit of the doubt). As has been consistently the case, the number of women holed up here only swell at best to perhaps 40% at times - when the place doesn't otherwise revert to an unhealthy sausage fest of guys looking for booze and women. Which might explain something. Then again, such are the current general demographics of hostel life in a big Colombian city, the attraction evidently more to a young male's liking - particularly those looking for a party and a temporary Colombian girlfriend - than the female's. The baldness/directness of it, however, is nevertheless frankly embarrassing at times.

With the soccer game making bedfellows of sorts of a number of us, now I end up mostly hanging out with a couple of British travellers. These are Martin, an ex-pat-ex-lawyer (with an impressive, humorously-affected pan-Southern European accent at the ready) and an aspiring doctor-to-be, Lisa. Loud Mike, the young American with no shortage of energy and a booming voice - if always confused what to do next - makes our "cut" as well, if only by sheer bombastic will, while others only make the tough grade by default. The latter includes the curious man named Paul, a misplaced English-Quebecois with an unrepentant draw to hedonism of the basest sort. He consistent makes for some bluntly interesting conversations - if there are any hookers to be had, or coke, he's always game - but we all somehow can't help but like the slimeball.

Above said company, including yours truly, all pale, however, as we bow down to The Cleo (rhymes with "cow"). There CAN only be one The Cleo, the master! Yes, here's a Brazilian who can put both Loud Mike and Marble Mouth Paul to shame effortlessly. First impacting himself upon Martin, he launches into a sordid tale minutes after meeting: " I was making the sex on the beat (beach) and this guy he a-rob me!" Yes, he was robbed, but he insists that he still finished the task at hand - of course! He's The Cleo, after all, and there will ALWAYS be more than meets the eye with him. For example, YES!, we WILL all be invited to the biggest party in the world when the World Cup came to Brazil. We don't doubt for a moment that, come that time, all signs in the entire country will change - if not transfix for all time - to point the way: This way to The Cleo's! Fortunately there's enough Cleo for all to enjoy, so no worries about that, and naturally the line will form right over there, just behind those beautiful girls. Ah, The Cleo!... and in this way The Cleo never will grow old to any of us, a legend both of his and our own making from the "beat" of Ipanema to the one nearest you.

The Cleo is the gift that keeps on giving, making for endless conversation as the Anglo part of our crew walk about town one day. What would The Cleo do, for instance, when confronted by the angry man in front of the museum overlooking the Botero sculpture park? He who accosts us when eyeing me playing guide to my friends. What would The Cleo do when he angrily confronts us, claiming all the plaza is his commercial guide territory (while looking every bit the failed rap/reggaetone star)? Although we continue on our way and ignore this interlocutor - to his vocally angry contempt - we know that surely The Cleo would handle it better. Moreover, somehow everyone would've gotten laid right then and there, for instance. Ah, The Cleo.

Or what would The Cleo do at the Parque ARVI, the park I finally get around to checking out (with the same gang of three) on the outskirts of town? Sure, we do the obvious in taking a couple of cable cars, befriending some kids on the way, and soon engage in a picture frenzy of moss (of all things) in the park. Exciting stuff. But surely The Cleo would make sweet love to a trio of maidens on such soft bedding instead, no? And, precisely where we walk through mud puddles, would The Cleo not instead frolic with sirens hiding within them instead? He never would high-five while in cable cars in such a retarded fashion as we do, either. We have so much to learn from The Cleo!

It's likely, too, that The Cleo probably would have stopped the catastrophic, devstating Japan Quake that's come to dominate the news just... somehow. When we go to the soccer game of Medellín's other team - called Medellín oddly enough - HE would make the action in the stands that much more alive, of a certainty. Instead we're left to become permanent Nacional fans in response to the lackluster fan showing (and that despite the non-stop party in the end zone). Similarly, our last calls to the party scene surrounding Parque Lleras and the Zona Rosa would be that much the better with The Cleo. But none of this. The Cleo has left the building, off to greener pastures, with promises of more partying in a nearby hostel. We deflate one by one in the vacuum left behind. Oh, The Cleo.

And then I wake up. Is The Cleo merely a dream? Ah, who knows? I retreat to more pedestrian fare in his wake, now reading through the end of Twain's tales before immediately launching into Le Carré's (dependably impressive) The Honourable Schoolboy. More constructively, I finish some write-ups of Cuban transcriptions, already moving on to jotting down the notes of some Fats Navarro tunes as my next musical tasking phase.

Yes, for all the above, the time has come to head toward Bogotá. With only a dozen or so days left, and the never-ending full house status of the Black Sheep getting old, it's time. My guessing is that this is likely the sign of things to come in ever-more-popular Colombia, too. Yep, it's time to disappear from the madness yet again into a little corner of the unknown. It's time to bid my Medellín hub goodbye, so I roll up my yoga mat, fold my music stand, then heave up this backpack now more stuffed than ever (mostly with treasures from the Pacific Choco). It's time to achieve escape velocity from the City of the Eternal Spring and get a move on to Rio Claro and probably Honda beyond. At the end of the line, Bogotá awaits.

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