kristen reNae

travel

Pablo Escobar

escobar jail
Those “who forget their history are doomed to repeat”

Our tour guide from Comuna 13 advised us to contact him if we wanted to venture out, as he also offered private tours. When in Colombia, you of course need to do a Pablo Escobar tour. I mean, how can you live in Colombia and not learn about a man that ultimately changed the city of Medellín? So we set up a private tour for that following Saturday.

The first stop was to Escobar’s private “jail”, aka “La Catedral”. The government negotiated with Escobar, convincing him to surrender in exchange for a reduced sentence and preferential treatment at this jail. The agreement would stand if he ceased all criminal activity, however, if he was caught, then they would prosecute and extradite him to the U.S..

guard tower

Hpad

The jail consisted of separate rooms for him and about eight personal body guards, a helicopter pad, and a fútbol field. In 1992, the government found out that Escobar was still operating his drug business from La Catedral, so they sought to move him to a more conventional jail. However, he found out about the plan and escaped before they could move him.

His total jail stay was about a year until his final escape. Escobar was on the run for over a year until he was finally caught at his uncle’s house. There, they surrounded him, and contradictory to what many believe, is that he shot himself in the head before his captors could kill him.

hearse
Pablo drove a hearse during his escape to stay under the radar.

 

 

 

 

Our tour explored the jail grounds (which now serves as a retirement home and also a place that priests conduct exorcisms), his grave, the neighborhood he stole his first bike, the house he grew up in, the café he was a regular at, the place he died, as well as, the neighborhood he built. The only place we did not visit was his “ranch” – which other tours will take you on (and I would definitely recommend).

IMG_6750 grave

We were told that Medellín was split between those that loved him and those that hated him. There were also many men under him who had way too much power and exploited a lot of the city and the people. Throughout this time, many people were killed; some out of hateful actions towards a specific person, but many were innocent bystanders.

At one point, Escobar offered anywhere from 2000 to 5000 pesos to civilians who killed a cop. They were instructed to remove the police patch as proof and the payment depended on the cops level of hierarchy. So in retaliation, the police began killing civilians. They stated that for every one cop that was killed, they would kill four civilians at random. Sometimes they would pull up to a street corner and take fire at a crowd. These were horrible times the people had to live through – but Medellín has become a much more peaceful city now.

pablo2

As with the last tour – our guide showed much pride in the progress this city has made. They are rebuilding the city, offering the metro, cable cars, and a new trolley system – much of it free to the people. The city has been recognized with the happiest citizens and other countries have approached Colombia to copy the systems they have put in place for creating better welfare for their citizens.

So, although Escobar created a lot of turmoil for his country and the people, Colombia has risen from those dark times and created a much better environment.

Comuna 13

During our month long adventure in Colombia, we had an extra day off due to a North American holiday, so we decided to take advantage of it and book a tour. The Comuna 13 Tour was recommended by our housemates and had great reviews on TripAdvisor.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0578.

We were asked to meet our tour guide and group at the metro station. From there we took the Metro to the cable cars and then by bus up to Comuna 13. This area is one of the poorest sections of the city. When Pablo Escobar was in power, many fled to the hillside, which was former boss, Don Berna’s neighborhood. It was extremely divided with crime and gang war, which continued even after he was extradited to the US in 2008.

IMG_6682

Our guide, Roger, was extremely detailed in explaining the history and transition the city has gone under. When we finally arrived at the top of the hill, he treated us to a mango popsicle (diced mango frozen and lime juice poured on top).

IMG_6695 IMG_2164

In most North American cities, the people that have the best views on the hillside are the rich, however, it’s the opposite here. The mayor and the city of Medellín have placed new opportunities for the people of Comuna 13 and are slowly building up the neighborhood.  When they decided to revamp this area, the residents could choose whatever color they wanted to paint their house. For the houses that were no longer stable or livable, they began creating massive apartment complexes for them to move into and after 15 years, they would own that apartment.

IMG_2167

The escalators were also created for the Comuna 13 people. Before, the hillsides were divided my imaginary lines formed by the gangs, and if you crossed it back then, you would disappear or be killed. The escalator served to replace that line to provide unity between the sides and decrease commute time. The people had requested this because it would normally take over half an hour to get to the top. Essentially it assisted with workflow and transportation. After they were installed, it decreased commute time down to five minutes.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0556.

At the top, there was much more graffiti, and views of Medellín below.

IMG_2165 DCIM100GOPROGOPR0570. DCIM100GOPROGOPR0563. DCIM100GOPROGOPR0564. DCIM100GOPROGOPR0567. DCIM100GOPROGOPR0565.

The mayor and city of Medellín created schools, gyms, and libraries to assist the Comuna 13 people. A lot of the amenities are free to them, including childcare, schools, transportation, and job assistance. The majority of this community has low to no income, therefore they are not subject to pay taxes; here, the wealthy pick up the majority of taxes.

IMG_2168

On our walk back we stopped at a local street vendor, recommended by our guide, to try an oblea. Oblea is a Colombian dessert; it is a very thin, but large waffle sandwich with a mix of sauces and cheese on the inside. Very different, but delicious. And then Roger took us to a local restaurant for a traditional Colombian meal.

IMG_6730 IMG_6786 IMG_2169

After that, we took the metro back into the city to the Poblado area and walked around until we found a restaurant and bar for social hour. A couple cocktails completed our very full and exciting day of adventures.

IMG_6787

Guatapé y La Piedra

Following a day in Santa Fe de Antioquia, we decided to take another 1.5 hour bus ride from Medellín to adventure the town of Guatapé. However, right before Guatapé, you can hop off the bus at La Piedra, where you will see El Peñón de Guatapé (aka the “seven wonders” rock).

IMG_2156 IMG_6590

El Peñón de Guatapé is a huge rock formed millions of years ago, and then someone thought it would be a good idea to create 750 steps to go up to the top. Don’t get me wrong, the view is magnificent – but that is a workout!

IMG_2157 IMG_2158

Once at the top, there is a lookout area to view the lake and catch your breath. There are also a few concession places that offer cut up fruit and cervezas. Of course with it being a tourist trap, there are several small stores that offer overpriced trinkets. By climbing a few extra stairs, you have a 360 degree view to take pictures, however, it was bombarded with a ton of people, selfie sticks, and weird bugs that swarmed the area.

IMG_2161 IMG_2160

From there, we found a motochiva to take us from the rock all the way into Guatapé. We were dropped off in the main square and we began to explore the cobblestone roads. There was a lot more going on in their main square area than in Santa Fe.

IMG_6622 IMG_6652

We walked around to find a bite to eat and landed at a restaurant overlooking one of their main strips of cafes and boutiques. They had one menu nailed to the wall, and we all decided on the plate of the day. It was a delicious start to the trip. After finishing our meal, we began walking the streets to capture the colorful community.

IMG_2162 town square

The vibrant neighborhood lead us to the waterfront, where vendors were lined up along the sidewalk to make sales on tourist items (mainly hats, ponchos, food, etc.) Across the street were various restaurants overlooking the water. We took it easy for a while and enjoyed a cerveza and people watched as locals and tourists napped on the grass, boarded boats for a tour, and took a flight on the zip line.

IMG_6664 chillin

We were advised to purchase our tickets in advance for the ride home because they often sell out. So we thought the 6 pm bus would suffice. However, around 3 pm we were about done being tourists.  We attempted to exchange our tickets for an earlier time, but had no luck because they had sold out. So we lollygagged around town a bit more – taking pictures and running into dead ends. Then it was finally time to head back.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR0541. DCIM100GOPROGOPR0542.

Overall, Guatapé had a lot to offer and was a fun adventure to add to our time in Colombia.