Last night we left Medellin headed for the coffee zone. Our bus journey was supposed to take four and a half hours. But there was a problem with the road, we stopped for about an hour and crawled thereafter. Our trip ended up taking eight hours.
We’re told this kind of delay is not uncommon. It’s easy to understand why. The roads climb precariously along ridges of spectacular Andean landscapes.
Our journey provided ample time to reflect on some of the factors that make Medellin and the region that surrounds it – the Paisa region – so special.
First is its disconnection from other places. The colonists that arrived in Medellin didn’t venture far once they arrived for the same reason our bus journey was torturous: geography. We’ve talked before about how their accent developed distinctly from the rest of Colombia as a result.
Second: many of the original settlers were Basque or Jewish. Both groups were fleeing persecution in Spain. It’s hard to imagine two groups with as proud a cultural tradition, and stronger sense of difference than the Basques and the Jews.
Take two proud cultural groups leave to ferment for a couple of hundred years before railroads arrive and you get the Paisas. But interestingly, the cultural factors which made these groups so distinct to start with – Basque language and Jewish faith – are not readily observable in modern Paisa society. Still Paisa identity is strong. It’s sometimes even suggested that disdain for the Bogota political establishment was one of the reasons why so many in Medellin were prepared to harbor Pablo Escobar.