Thank goodness for my dark hair and light skin. That combination served me well during my last trip to South America.
It has been more than two months since I spent five days in Medellín and the most popular question I have been asked is: “Was it safe there?”
Yes. It’s like any big city in America. If you use common sense, you’ll have a great time with no problems. And for someone like me, who has similar traits to many paísas — dark hair and light skin — I felt as comfortable there as in any big city I have ever been to.
I followed some advice from guidebooks and websites that I browsed: men in Medellín do not wear shorts. Ever. Unless they are working out, it’s always pants.
Those books and sites also suggested learning some basic Spanish. I’m already proficient so all I had to do was review my language books to refresh my memory.
And I was cautious when pulling out money to pay for things, and when using my camera or phone. I didn’t wear a watch or any jewelry either, not that I ever do.
I did veer from one bit of advice: tourists should refrain from going downtown at night alone. My hotel was near Parque Lleras, arguably the most popular nightlife area of the city. But not on Wednesdays. It was my first night in town and I wanted to have fun.
Two people had already asked me for directions that day, so I was feeling confident. I took a cab downtown. Not much was happening there either but I always felt safe. A homeless guy asked me for money, but so what? That happens to me every time I walk to the Metro near my apartment in Washington, DC.
My comfort level rose even more the next day when I met a guy from Cali who lives in New York and was in Medellin on business for the medical industry. I told him I went downtown against the advice of the guidebooks and he told me, “Unless you do something really stupid, you won’t have any trouble blending in here. You look enough like them.”
Paísas I became friends with didn’t feel as strongly as he did. But they seemed to agree that I would have no problems while I was there.
I had quite a dark tan in high school, all those days at the beach growing up in Hawaii. My color faded after moving away and not spending a lot of time in the sun. I remember lamenting my mom’s English, Irish and Scottish genes, how they stole my tan and have kept it away. I don’t complain anymore.