My First Night In Medellin, Colombia
It was hot and humid and after I tried their version of firewater, aguardiente, it was time for a cool one.
When my family, friends and inner circle learned that I was planning to present at the @commcorp branding and marketing communications conference in Medellin, Colombia, they all registered a sense of fear for my safety. Would I be bringing bodyguards? An assault weapon? Bullet-proof vest?
I have to admit that I remember the name Escobar and how, at one time, Medellin was a Wild West town in a chain of towns throughout Latin America involved with the drug trade. That was about twenty years ago and since than, Medellin seems to have dropped off the map of the top cities for violence and kidnapping. I know, I Googled it. Bogota, on the other hand, is numero dos. Incidentally, there’s a Norte Americano city on the list too!
I began my first South American adventure with on-line dialog with Viviana Martinez at Plaza Mayor, the bi-lingual liaison assigned to schedule my flight, procure interpreters (sorry, I didn’t trust my high school Spanish or the words I learned in the Army) make sure I was ferried around and ensured that I would have a fun, foodie and safe time. So that Saturday, I was picked up at the airport by Andrea Vasquez and her friends who drove me the 22km to my hotel and then out to try lumpia, aguardiente and a cold Club Colombia at one of the local bars.
The Colombian version of Chinese spring rolls. Hot, crispy, greasy and delish.
My First Day In Medellin
Sunday morning I had a quick breakfast at the Art Hotel and then I joined several of the other presenters, along with the management and marketing team from Plaza Mayor on a tour of the conference hall, the entire Plaza Mayor complex and a ride on the Metro, including a cable car journey to Parque Arvi, their nature conservatory and stewardship with the rain forest. I even got to ride with the conductor of this new overhead railway system from downtown to the cable cars, with my video going.
This tasty tidbit consists of a thin wafer that you fill with different items and then cover it with another wafer. I had caramel, coconut, nuts and chocolate. Yum
As a former pilot, I enjoyed the almost seventy degree path up the mountain and then, the gentle ride across the mountain to Parque Arvi was exhilarating and fun for our entourage, and once we arrived, the tour with Andrea became most fascinating. I tasted several tasty snacks, saw taffy pullers, rode a party bus and then had a wonderful lunch at this small hotel overlooking a man-made lake on the top of the mountain. On our way back, one of the daily thunderstorms of spring kept us on one of the stations for a while and I was able to ask our representative from Plaza Mayor, Sameer Ibrahim, some questions, enabling me to round out the finer points of life and society in Medellin.
As best as I can explain, paisa is the food of the people and includes: potatoes, chiccarone, avocado, sausage, plantain, rice and a fried egg. Huge and tasty.
Sunday night we all met up for a wonderful dinner at El Rancherito, a chain of restaurants noted for their wonderful steaks and something called paisa, which I was able to taste and enjoy as well as other local culinary delicacies. This was a wonderful experience as Uriel Sanchez, one of the directors of Plaza Mayor brought his family and everybody was making me feel like part of the extended Medellin family.
The First Day of Presentation @CommCorp with a lunch at Mulata’s in Plaza Mayor
I met Sameer on the trek to Parque Arvi and was impressed with his linguistic prowess. He has lived all over the world and speaks 34 languages.
Monday was the first day of this inaugural marketing and branding communications conference and I was able to sit in and cull information from each presenter because my two interpreters, Andrea Vasquez and Mariana Montoya kept whispering in my ears the English version of what each presenter was talking about. I am a lucky guy and I’m sure some of the other presenters were jealous of me for having two smart, intelligent and attractive women in attendance.
San cocho is a delicious stew made up of beef, chicken, pork, potatoes, yucca, corn and herbs and served with arepas and avaocado. My first taste of this food of the people was great.
I sat in on all of the presentations, listened, watched and culled data from each. At the end of the morning presentations on the first day, I had learned so much and had such a wonderful time and I was looking forward to lunch. They walked us into the plaza and to Mulata’s. I would try to order san cocho.
Click here for video Lunch at Mulata’s criolla
The afternoon had another group of speakers including Alejandro Paolini, who was staying at the Art Hotel with his wife, Pamela and Daniel Scheinsohn, all from Argentina. I had an opportunity to speak with them and learn more about how the media works in their country. Pamela talked me out of one of my samples and I enjoyed every second and Alejandro gave me a copy of his presentation. I want to stay in touch with all of the presenters. After the last presenter I headed back to my hotel to work on tomorrow’s Prezi.
The taconacho costumed character posed with me at @commcorp communications and branding conference.
Monday night I was still adding to my presentation as they told me I now had an hour and a half, so I added a few topics and then, at nine at night, I ventured out into the streets of El Poblado with my taste buds in the lead, seeking something new. A few blocks from the Art Hotel I spotted a big sign for Mondongo’s and dying to try mondongo, I went up the street to give this tripe stew a taste. I later found out from Carlos that the original Mondingo’s, (he owns restaurants in Miami and all around Medellin). I enjoyed my first modongo stew. It came with arepas, that corn bread found everywhere just waiting for a topping.
Tuesday – Day four of my captivity
I had a wake-up call for six, took a great shower, realized I would sweat in a jacket, rolled up my sleeves and went downstairs for the breakfast buffet. I have dined all over the world and have eaten just about everything but this was the first time I had these baby empanadas for breakfast. In fact, every morning at the Art Hotel I had some fresh fruit, granola with some of their flavored yogurt, some eggs and sausage and I was ready to be in front of the eight hundred and fifty or so scheduled attendees waiting for me to make them smile.
At eight they introduced me and I took over the stage and shared the secrets of how to use video to ensure page one placement in an organic Google search. This technique allows you to dominate your Google real estate within minutes of posting and is basically for free, which annoyed the people from Google corporate, who were trying to convince the students that working for them selling Google Ad Sense would make them more money. Then, mysteriously, the internet crashed and I dropped off the stage and walked among the audience, selecting people at random to demonstrate gender specific communications and how successful messages must be emotionally charged in order to get to the frontal cortex and be acted upon.
At the end of my presentation everybody gave me the OK sign and from then on, wherever I walked, I was stopped by all of the people who wanted a photo of the Gringo from America, as I was the oldest presenter. And the young women come up to me and they would hug and give me a kiss on the cheek. I felt like Brad Pitt. I kept telling them that in America we have legislated touching, kissing and even looking at someone funny, out of the workplace. It didn’t stop them from cuddling up to me and hugging me for a picture.
They didn’t restore the internet until the next presenter.
Carlos comes from Spain and his specialty is tracking social media trends.
During the @commcorp marketing and branding communications conference, held at the new Plaza Mayor, most of the student attendees were constantly tweeting about each presenter and Carlos Gutierrez, the Social Media analyst and fellow presenter from Spain was keeping a tally of who received the most tweets. He revealed the results during his presentation on day two, and believe it or not, I received the most tweets for my presentation. Some were #harvey some #hirsch and when added together produced a number greater than all the other presenters combined. OMG.
Mulata’s chicken salad with Colombian bacon. Ahh.
Uriel Sanchez, one of the marketing managers from Plaza Mayor took the presenters out for lunch again at Mulata’s and I was able to get this wonderful chicken salad with arepas that I saw being eaten the day before. It was tasty and not too calorie loaded. I can get used to the Colombian lunch, which is huge and followed by a siesta. Very Euro and serene but I am not used to two-hour lunches with a nap. I could get used to it if I lived in Medellin.
Alejandro Paolini, from Argentina, presented his views on brand protection.
The rest of the presenters shared their ideas for the balance of the afternoon and the last presenter, Daniel Sheinsohn from Argentina rode in on a Segue scooter and circled the audience before making his presentation. Everybody, it seemed, got charged up from seeing my presentation in the morning. In fact, two of the presenters said they had to upgrade their presentations because of what they learned in mine. The conference was now officially closed. I had a bet with Mariana and Andrea about how many more people would ask for a photo with me. We were all wrong. Here’s what happened.
I was invited to party with the students and their DJ’s played until nine at night at which time they had arranged a ride to take me back to my hotel. I had dinner with David, the manager of the Art Hotel at a local hamburger joint in the park. It was so much fun.
Wednesday – Day five of captivity
I would meet up with Carlos Villa, a media mogul in his own right, who was instrumental in prying me out of my secure environment, onto a compact seat for a six-hour flight on Avianca and then to the Art Hotel, a fabulous boutique hotel in the fashionable El Poblado section of Medellin. Carlos produces the largest watched cable show on marketing in all of Colombia (maybe even South America) as well as a popular printed magazine devoted to marketing, an e-zine on marketing and on his off-time, he teaches at the local college, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.
After he interviewed me he did 5 more segments and then broke for the day.
The UPB also houses the television studio where Carlos was taping 5 future shows (including one with me), while giving the students a chance to improve their camera work, editing skills and resumes. It is also where, as I found out, the school has made a pact with local coffee bean growers to sell at fair trade, their harvest, to be used in all coffee vending kiosks throughout the school. Not only was that process beneficial to the coffee growers and local produce providers, it made for the tastiest brewed coffee for the students and faculty and one of the best I ever sipped. We had lunch at a very nice place called Hatoviejo where I tasted lulu and guanabana, two fruit drinks and had a royal serving of san cocho for lunch. A special dessert called arequipe, which consists of figs soaked in sweet syrup, a slice of cheese and a dollop of dulce de leche that just tasted so good. Arequipe is the signature dessert of Medellin, where it was invented, according to Carlos.
After lunch Carlos took me to an area called Old Village, which was a historical area with old houses and a courtyard set up to recall a history of how Medellin looked at the turn of the century. I took a few photos of the buildings and had a wonderful photo of Medellin from the mountain top that this place was situated on and then we drove around town for another tour.
We then went to one of the largest malls in Medellin where I noticed how clean the streets were and how everybody takes pride in their city. I missed my two interpreters, Andrea and Mariana, whispering in my ears. What’s that about?
That night, I had an idea where I could get a fried chicken dinner at the hotel and get ready for my presentation at Universidad Catolica de Oriente, one of the colleges Carlos scheduled me to present at. I also started working with the Hotel Manager, David Santamaria showing him why video gets higher ratings in an organic Google search and how he should prepare his for the search engine.
Thursday – Day six of captivity
The students from UCO ranged from business majors to communications.
Had one of the Art Hotel’s healthy breakfasts. Fresh fruit, granola, yogurt and café con leche. The coffee here is fabulous. Carlos picked me up after breakfast and drove me around town and then to Rionegro, over the mountain to the Universidad Catolica de Oriente near the airport where I was scheduled to present my topic to the students.
Carlos also drove me to his family’s country home and showed me around the town of Rionegro where we caught lunch at one of the local eateries and I had a tortilla soup experience. Then to the UCO where I met up with Monsignor Dario, the President of the college and a good friend of Carlos’ and several professors in the marketing, media and communications departments.
Monsignor Dario introduces Carlos Villa who will intro me as a Media Terrorist.
I was told that 125 students in several disciplines would attend this presentation and the designated room filled up by the time the Monsignor introduced Carlos, who would intro me as a Media Terrorist. During my hour presentation, some of the students actually found
The students from UCO ranged from business majors to communications.
on-line and downloaded my Prezi so they could follow along on their iPads and smart devices. The technology was everywhere for the students to learn how to compete on a world-wide level and they all seemed to take advantage of it. I explained how it was important for entrepreneurs to navigate the free enterprise system and they all seemed to enjoy what I shared with them. They video taped me for students that could not be in the seminar and then we headed to the faculty conference room where they had an impromptu cocktail party and they broke out the twelve year old scotch and they had wonderful cold cuts and cheeses and olives, like a Colombian antipasto.
Father Dario presented me with a painting of Don Quixote by Juan Manuel Guiral, which came with a certificate of authenticity, and a hand woven poncho, and then made plans to take us to one of the better steak houses in the area, Mundo’s, for dinner. What a treat. And what a nice bunch of faculty and teaching clergy UCO has and they do stock some excellent scotch.
Mundo’s is really a chain of restaurants and the owner, Ralph is a Cuban guy from Miami who came to Colombia to build his dream, and what a wonderful place this was. Monsignor Dario was friends with the owner and Carlos knew him as well so we had a wonderful meal with wine and a fabulous dessert.
I got back to the Art Hotel around 11pm and caught up on my emails then went to bed and rested for tomorrow’s new experiences.
Friday – Day seven of captivity
Had another great shower at the hotel, enjoyed the breakfast of pancakes, granola with yogurt and some fresh fruits, yada, yada. Love this place. Carlos picked me up at nine and spirited me to his office, then his mother’s place where I met his mother and her live in attendant, and his wife, Anna. He then drove me around town to a huge mall where we had lunch with his son and wife at another Crepe & Waffle. This time I had the Arabian beef crepe and then an amazing dessert, and another round of that tasty and sweet coconut and lemonade slushy, too. A special dessert was ordered and shared by us all. It was 3 little shot glasses filled with different flavored ice creams and syrups and fruit. Yummy.
Now we were heading to the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana where I presented my process of Using video for rapid domination of Google real estate, to their communications and marketing students, Juan Carlos Zapata Valencia, the Director of Faculty gave me a package of this wonderful blend to take home. He also gave me his wife, for lunch that is, as he was flying out to one of the neighboring regions to teach., we were joined by Carlos and Jeanette Marin Sanchez, another Professor from UPB. The college picked up the tab at Crepe and Waffle, a local chain where I had a delicious crepe filled with creamed spinach smothered in large shrimp that were simmered in a tasty salsa. They also ordered for me, a wonderful drink, more like a slushy of coconut and lemonade. I drank two of them over lunch. Big yum on that meal.
That night, when I tried to download my photos and videos, my mac got choked with all the data and refused to take any more so I had to go with plan B and just shoot what I could on Saturday. I left the hotel around nine and walked the streets around the hotel until I found a fast food establishment that would take my credit card and got some really good and crisp fried chicken, which I took back to my room and devoured like I had never eaten before.
Saturday – Day eight of my captivity
My last “Rainfall” shower. Breakfast and check out. Carlos asked if I would discuss my marketing experiences and answer questions with his Saturday morning
I gave a short lecture to 2 of Carlos’ students right in his office.
class so I went to his office and discussed marketing theory, my technology and did a Q&A with them, then off to his country estate in the mountains.
The ride to Rionegro was like riding the wild block in Coney Island. As the road snaked its way up and through the mountain cars would enter quickly and jostle for position on what is the main road out of town. I had been on this route a few times since arriving in Medellin and some of the sites became more memorable as I glimpsed them from the car. Carlos was describing which former President of Colombia lives there and this person lived there. His family, it seems was very well connected.
We arrived at his family’s estate just as Saturday evening’s services where about to begin and he was scheduled to do a reading during these services. I sat in on this outdoor mass in the church built by his family to honor a promise his grandfather made to God. Afterwards, he introduced me to the priest, who worked with Monsignor Dario and who invited me into a small courtyard where he was just about to perform a christening. I was invited again by the family of Emmanuel to video and photo their happy event, which I was pleased to do and was treated to a memorable event.
For dinner, Carlos, his wife, Anna and her sister Vivian took me to Asados Exquisitos and I had a tamal, wrapped in a banana leaf and stuffed with chicken and pork while everybody indulged their craving for blood sausage. This restaurant was like a giant cabin with open space all over and no walls. It was pouring rain outside and a bit nippy for everybody except me, so the manager had a portable heater brought to the table. This was real cool as it burned wood and coal and it radiated the heat from below to warm your feet under the table. It was made of clay and had a long chimney to let the heat of the fire come out two ways.
We had a delicious dessert with Asado’s version of arequipe accompanied by a tasty and sweet Napoleon covered in slivered almonds. Oh, I got to drink green mango, which is a salty, slushy drink, favored by the locals. I would have preferred the coconut lemonade slushy from Crepe & Waffle, but that’s me, sweet over salty.
After dropping the ladies back at the ranch, Carlos took me to José María Córdova International Airport for my midnight flight back to Kennedy airport. The rain was really coming down now and I asked if they would cancel the flight and the ticketing people said maybe a short delay but probably not as they are used to the spring storms that pass over this area daily. The flight left on time. I already miss Medellin. Go figure.
Arrived in NY on time with the only incident being the man in the seat behind me having to be assisted twice for either a serious case of apnea or some substance that caused him to foam at the mouth.
He was escorted off the plane by NY’s finest and put under observation. I observed this from my position in line at customs where I waited for two hours to show my passport to a tired-looking agent from homeland security who glanced and passed me through.
My good buddy, Nick Belmonte was waiting outside to drive me back to Jersey and he had called me periodically to let me know where he was and were I was on this line. The slowness by which this line snaked around itself reminded me of most of the lines at Disneyworld, without the fun payoff at the end.
Now I was finally loading my suitcase into the trunk and climbing in for a ride home and perhaps a toasted bagel with coffee at Ridge Bagels in Lyndhurst. What a trip.