My Columbian adventure started with what could have been a kidnapping…
(Mum it wasn’t really that bad, I promise.)
My first unexpected travel challenge on arrival was that my phone didn’t pick up a network in Columbia. So no data roaming to be able to Facebook message, WhatsApp, or even call or text Josh (my old flatmate, one of my besties, and soon to be my epic travel buddy). The intrepid, experienced traveler inside me was confident all would be fine – although I must admit that jumping into a taxi at 11pm with no knowledge of Spanish, a driver with no knowledge of English, adding no phone communication and a 40 minute journey to the mix = adrenalin and a massive relief to see Josh happily waving at the apartment lobby for me. I was safe and sound. Phew!
I only ever managed to watch the first the episodes of Narcos, but still, that had given me quite a skewed view of what Medellín was really like.
Josh and I had an Airbnb apartment in El Poblado, a beautiful green suburb with tree lined streets, and a flowing river through what looked like a tropical jungle.
I loved the vibe, and it felt reasonably safe. There were streets full of cafes and rooftop bars amongst trees and we could tell that the nightlife would be pumping.
Our first day was spent catching up with Josh’s friends from Remote Year. A lot of fun was had and I met some amazing people. Josh is on to a really great thing with his Remote Year experience. One country every month, all organised, sharing workspaces with like-minded people from all around the world (but mostly Americans in his group). How cool. I did wonder if my boss would let me work remotely for a year… Hmm.
A recovery day was imperative following the night’s escapades. Josh and I chilled in our apartment and enjoyed the laziness which ensued from our Netflix marathon.
We may have also ordered Uber Eats. Twice.
Emerging from our hermit-like state, we were ready to explore. Following some research on TripAdvisor I booked us in for a Pablo Escobar tour. Our guide was a local who was able to share her own perspective of what Medellín was like while Pablo Escobar was in his ‘prime’. Some interesting facts I learnt:
- The film set of Narcos was actually two doors down from the real place where he was killed.
- Neighbours get annoyed with tour guides coming to their street so we had to be as inconspicuous as possible.
- There is still quite a divide in the city, of those who liked him (for all the good things he did eg. building hospitals, schools and malls), vs. the people who have suffered loss in their family from all the killings and destruction.
- Medellín has seen a vast change since Pablos death. The city is a lot safer. However there are still a few safety precautions that we were told about, eg. someone must sit in the front of Ubers, no open windows in the cabs, and keep phone, wallet, and cameras inside bags when walking on the street.
- Pablo Escobar’s grave stone has been made into what looks like a table full of cocaine and two thin stones which look like razor blades.
- We drove past a few night clubs as with hotel rooms as part of them, which apparently you rent by the hour (convenient for what i wonder…).
- Pablo built his own ‘prison’ for himself and 20 of his men. It is more like a penthouse condo high in the mountains over Medellín. He was there for a year but could pretty much come and go as they pleased as the cops were on Pablo’s payroll.
- He built a tree house for his daughter there, who apparently got whatever she ever asked for, as when she asked for a unicorn… he bought a horse and surgically added a horn and wings. Sadly the horse/unicorn didn’t last too long after the surgery due to an infection.
- Pablo killed and dismembered the of his enemies up at the prison, before putting their limbs on a BBQ. He then got their driver from the car and made him eat the BBQ meat… Eww!
- It was a really beautiful drive up to the top of the mountain where the prison was, our guide beeping the horn at every corner because the road was so windy and precarious. Horns in general are used excessively by drivers here!
- We also visited the building which Pablo had built for his family to live, which got bombed and was the catalyst to Pablo’s drive to fight back and then his eventual downfall and end. During these final years there was a lot of bombing and unrest in Medellín. The building now looks like a derelict car park, and is owned by the police to avoid further trouble inside – but the building is not used.
Josh and I had our fair share of boozy nights with his Remote Year friends. But also a lot of rest time to gather energy before our tour adventure begins. We knew the upcoming tour would be full of long days and little rest time so we made the most of the freedom to do nothing.
Netflix binge sessions were a perfect past time.