You always hear them before you see them.
The sound is an invitation to witness the living personification of the Colombian flag.
As soon as I hear the characteristic squawks, I run to the balcony, scanning the horizon, hoping I didn’t miss them.
Two macaws soar into view. The vibrant red, yellow and blue colors of their wings flicker in and out of vision as they angle left, then right over the valley.
It’s the little things I forgot about. It’s the little things that make the tourist slogan The only risk is wanting to stay so true.
It’s the pleasant curiosity of the people. The musical accent. The soul-warming agua panela con límon and the perfectly toasted arepas in the morning. It’s the mystical way the mountains look in the cloudless sky, right before the sun sets, and as a storm rolls in.
In four years, everything is the same and yet everything is different. The city is modernizing. There are newer, shinier buildings. Parque Envigado got a facelift.
The food scene is better (with the exception of Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, which have infiltrated every nook and cranny of the city). There are more vegetarian restaurants. There are newer cuisines and better quality food.
The fashion is evolving. The typical uniform of long, dark hair cut in a V shape, skinny jeans and a face full of makeup is now flannels, ripped jeans, and shorter hair in many colors. There are more glasses and less plastic surgeries. It used to be easy to spot a gringo. Now, less so.
The cool places to hang out are different. My friends tell me they haven’t been to Lleras in years. That it’s filled with dealers and women of the night. Provenza, just a couple of blocks north, is where it’s at.
My husband and I go our first night there. We wander around like the pair of tourists that we are. The only places we recognize are El Social, Toscano and the Bogotá Beer Company. It makes us wildly uncomfortable.
Why haven’t I come back before now? I have many excuses. Mainly I was intimidated by traveling to a foreign country with a baby even though I used to live here.
I never noticed families when I lived here before. What is life like with a child in Medellín? Do women nurse openly? Will they judge me for using a bottle? Are there strollers? Will they stare at me when he cries? Is it safe? Will the taxis drive more responsibly with a toddler in their car? The anxieties of a new mother are never-ending.
It wasn’t until my husband Dwayne proposed a radical idea to me that I considered going back. He had to travel to Medellin for work (and had been missing the city like crazy) and offered to take our son on the trip. It would just be a couple of days and Dwayne’s mom would be there to help take care of D3 (our son) while he was gone.
I reluctantly agreed. I knew it would be good for him to get back and for my son to go. When they returned, Dwayne’s high from the visit was evident. And contagious.
I joined my husband and son on a trip back a few days later. We stayed for nearly 3 weeks. And as our time there came to end, I did not want to leave.
A lone tear rolls down my cheek as we wind around the road leading up to the airport. I gaze out the window, willing the sight of the green and the mountains to imprint itself in my memory.
At the airport, Dwayne consoles me. “Don’t worry,” he says. “We’ll be back.”
I look back at him and nod.
Yes, we will be.