Getting Buried in Culture

Cementerio Museo de San PedroEver since we first stepped foot in La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires looking for Evita Peron, we realized cemeteries are more than burial grounds. By comparison, most US burial grounds are the homely stepchild of the deceased storage units. La Recoleta Cemetery was like walking through an architectural museum. This appreciation continued when arriving in Budapest. Kerepesi Cemetery is one of our top ten things for tourists to see when in the city.

These cemeteries and those similar that we have toured, aroused our interest in the San Pedro Cemetery Museum in Medellin. Originally, created by 50 wealthy families in 1842, they wanted a discrete way and well maintained area to bury their loved ones. Customs of the times dictated that the dead be buried on church grounds. After decades, there just is not sufficient room at the inn.

Just as other famous cemeteries, they only achieved fame due to the residents. Here you will find ex-presidents, governors, Colombian writers and artists, educators, and the list goes on. The vastCementerio Museo de San Pedro majority of names do not mean much to either of us, not knowing Colombian history.

One mausoleum holds the remains of Pablo Escobar’s hitman. Escobar was the infamous head of the world’s most intricate and widespread drug trade the world has known. This hitman’s tomb had music playing 24 hours a day. The electric company shut it down regularly, but it inexplicably was reconnected. Finally, the administrators told the mother if the music did not stop, her son faced eviction.

Named a museum in 1998, it reached the status of National Monument of Colombia in 1999. The entrance is a large lobby with guards and all the other accouterments ascribed to a museum, but entry is free. Once beyond this closed room, entering the actual cemetery there are large displays with photos. There is some connection with Argentina, but we could not sufficiently read the Spanish to understand.

Of course, we chose a day that was exceptionally hot to visit an outdoor venue. A funeral mass could be heard in the chapel on the grounds. The participants were sparse. Overcome with the over-sized storage cabinets for the dead, we noticed many had artificial flowers decorating them. I could not help but wonder if the plastic and silk flowers were for economy of money or time.

Unlike any other burial ground we have been to, this one is a space for a variety of artistic expression. Hosted here are literature and art programs, sometimes a drama performance. What is incredibly different is the nocturnal offering that takes place among the burial chambers, called “Noche de Luna Llena,” Night of the Full Moon. Apparently, this is not a pagan ritual like what one may assume. Offered every full moon after starting in 2000, the event includes a nocturnal tour followed by a cultural presentation provided by local artist. It may include dance or drama.

Unfortunately, for us the sun was killing us, if you pardon the expression. There is barely any shade here except in the church or a mausoleum, but with a funeral mass going on, it was not appropriate.
Nearby is the aquarium we visited, but also the botanical garden. There we were bound to find shade.

Orchidiarium MedellinLike many venues, there is the official name, in this case, Joaquin Antonio Uribe Jardín Botánico de Medellín and then there is the common name: Botanical Garden of Medellín. Covering 14 hectares, this was the perfect place to find shade, enjoy blooms, and just relax. Entry is free.

What really warmed my heart, other than the sun blasting, was seeing the local people enjoying the surroundings. There were young people gathered in small groups looking at flowers while involved in intense discussions. Others were napping on blankets spread on the grass and families were enjoying the ducks, iguanas, and turtles in the pond.

Within the 14 hectares area, there are more than 1,000 living species and 4,500 flowering plants. Naturally, they are not all in bloom at once. With all of those floral perfumes at one time, a full migraine would surely blossom.

One word and a fact that I learned from this visit is that the strange looking structure hovering over Medellin Botanical Gardenthe orchids is called an “Orchidiarium”. This is a specifically designed structure to protect the propagation of orchids. Here we found a wide collection of the delicate, but glamorous flowers.

We found a bench near the pond to sit and relax. They have the outer area of the pond roped off to protect the wildlife. I am guessing that feeding the ducks is not allowed; no one was doing it. However, you would need a good pitching arm to send some bread flying close to where the ducks could retrieve it.

As we sat on the bench, one long leaf started swaying back and forth. It was only strange because its fellow leaves remained nonplussed by whatever was in the air.

At times, the leaf twisted and turned almost frantically. It seemed to really want be noticed and we did.

Medellin Botanical GardenLeaving, we discovered the iguanas that were entertaining others and along the path, a turtle started scurrying by. If there were a hare around, this turtle could give it a run for its money.

This was another wonderful day in Medellin. Medellin Botanical Garden

After completing my Ed.D., the frustration of finding a teaching position where I was willing to live, led to Ron and I leaving the country. We intended to travel for a year before settling somewhere in MA or RI. We left the US without any credit card debt, no car payments and our house mortgage paid by renters. We had $10,000 in the bank to make our way through a year.