For those of you not as completely ignorant as I am, you may have heard of Medellín before now. Maybe the name Pablo Escobar (or at least his epic mustache) rings a brain bell? Indeed, Medellín, Colombia, used to be the kidnap capital of the drug world! Hooray!

But fortunately for me and my inability to pay ransom in any currency other than beans, that description is no longer accurate. In fact, judging from my first impressions, the only risk is wanting to stay!

Dios mio, that’s a clever campaign.

But seriously, it’s true. No one’s even attempted to kidnap me. I’m a little offended, actually. I mean, I am the jolly white giant, after all.

Nabbings aside, however, I have been arrested — ARRESTED BY ALL THE NEON, THAT IS! Just take a look:

Neon trees!

Neon fountains!

Neon star/flowers!

And the list of neon sh*t goes on and on. They even have a neon Jesus. But, hey, I was told not to expect anything less from Alumbrados, Medellín’s annual festival of lights and one of the city’s only claims to fame that doesn’t have to do with Mr. Escobar and slitting people’s throats for coke.

And speaking of coke, other than the cola variety, I haven’t seen any of that at all. In fact, according to a local, cocaine is a rare recreational experience around here and if it’s done, it’s only done by the super-rich in Poblado, the neighborhood where all the rich people live. But even then, “they prefer weed.” And speaking of weed, it’s hard to walk down the street without getting a good whiff. In fact, I’m probably high right now from all the secondary smoke.

Where are my Cheetos?*

But at least I’m not experiencing any secondary fumes from all the glue-sniffing. Yeah. Glue-sniffing. Apparently, it’s cheap, potent and widely available. Unlike liquor, which you can drink openly here, people keep their glue bottles in little black plastic bags, which they hold up to their noses before stumbling off to a corner to speak with a child prostitute. Yeah. Child prostitution. Seems like Colombia’s tourism department failed to include those images in their little vignette.

Honestly, it’s startling and disturbing how young some of the “working girls” are here. I’d say the average hooker-age is probably 12. The average john, or “juan” (which they really do say here) is probably 25 or 30 or older.

*think of a good segue, Marissa, think of a good segue…think of a good segue…thinking of a good…*

Um, Merry Christmas?

Sh*t.

OK, so we went from neon to child prostitution. That’s what you get here. I keep it real, even when it goes wrong.

And speaking of real, overall, Medellín reminds me a lot of Moscow, save for the hookers of which the Russian types looked to be at least 18. But nevermind my rather extensive and creepy knowledge of hookers all over the world, despite being thousands of miles apart, the two cities really do have a lot in common. Unfortunately this isn’t always a good thing. For instance, both seem to value appearances over substance. That is, on top of each city’s crazy past and dirty underbelly is an image of pure, unadulterated excess. Since my stint in Moscow, I have never seen so many boob jobs (both good and bad) in my life. Or encountered so much questionable fashion choices (white leggings are never a substitute for actual pants…). Or heard so many techno versions of Rammstein’s Du Hast. (Although, these versions might actually be better than the original.)

But there’s one thing both cities have in common that will always keep me coming back for more — the neon, duh!

*Dear kids,

My allusions to drugs are for comedic purposes only. I neither imbibe nor condone such chemicals as they harm your brain and impede your judgement. In short, hugs, not drugs! Well, unless it’s hugs with an old man for money, in which case, maybe drugs are the lesser evil. But, kids, hopefully you have a choice regarding both manners, in which case just say no. And maybe when it comes to dirty old men, just say no and kick him where it hurts. Hard.

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