It sounds like a great idea: close off part of Medellín’s central
avenue for a couple of hours a week to allow pedestrians, cyclists, and joggers
the ability to access the fresh air of downtown Medellín at their leisure. But what seems like a good idea in theory
does not always work in practice. Substitute the fresh air for smog and ‘at
their leisure’ for ‘the constant preoccupation of crossing traffic and whistle-blowing
police officers’ and you have an idea of the outdoor activity that lays in
store for you on a Sunday morning in central Medellín.
In an effort to get people more active and to promote health
and well-being, the city of Medellín began closing a few lanes of major roads
in the outskirts of the city 22 years ago. On March 22 the cycling program was
taken even further with the inauguration of the cycling path on Oriental Avenue
When I first heard about this, I was anxious to experience
the constantly crowded Oriental Avenue in a different light. I strapped on my
running shoes and slathered on some sunscreen (the sun can be quite brutal here
in Medellín, even in “winter”) ready to run blissfully free on the streets of
downtown without all of the congestion. Boy was I in for a surprise. The first
thing I noticed was that because one lane of Oriental Avenue was still open,
instead of traffic be rerouted to another area of the city, there was even more
traffic than normal. This allowed even more people to stare at me as I jogged
about in my pink shorts with my blonde ponytail bobbing up and down.
Immediately after the traffic, the second
thing I noticed was that I was the only one running. Perhaps it was because I
chose the hottest time of day to step outside, or the fact that no Colombian in
their right mind would run solely for running’s sake, but I only encountered
the occasional cyclist on the 3.5 km stretch of road, all of them whizzing past
me with quizzical looks on their faces.
Stuck between puzzled cyclists and gawking bus drivers while
running sporadically about and sweating profusely was not quite what I had in
mind for a leisurely jog around the city. When I say running sporadically
about, I must point out that because I was running alongside traffic, I still
had to abide by the rules of the road. At the rate I was going, I managed to
hit every second stoplight, where volunteers obliged me to stop with the blow
of a whistle and frantic hand gestures.
I managed to catch my breath and permeate my lungs at these stoplights with
the help of the awesome diesel exhaust fumes billowing out of the buses,
trucks, cars, and motorcycles stalling alongside me.
So, my intended nonstop half hour long jog to get away from
the hustle and bustle of the city turned into a 45 minute stop-and-go flustered
trot, something I will never attempt again. I think I’ll stick to the bit of
nature-lined paths at the local universities from now on. Or join a gym.