Medellin and Guatape
28.11.2012 - 07.12.2012 21 °C
For a city once known as the most dangerous in the world, Medellin sure was nice. It had squeaky-clean streets, a schmick public transport system and the best Christmas lights I have ever seen. Once brought to its knees by cocaine and the men who controlled it, Medellin has well and truly put the terrors of the 1980s and early 90s behind it.
— A rainy day in Medellin, the country's second largest city.
- 'Man on horse' by famous Colombian artist (and local) Fernando Botero.
— Saturday morning market.
To understand Medellin’s past, you must understand the white powder that gave the city its black history. Let me introduce Pablo Escobar – the drug lord of drug lords. This bloke makes Australia’s Carl Williams look like a boy scout. So intrigued were we, Bray and I signed up for the Pablo Escobar city tour. The purpose of which was not just to gawk at points of interest relating to Escobar, but also to inform visitors on the brutal reality of the drug trade.
— One of Escobar's many mansions. It was almost destroyed in the 80s by a rival cartel.
Our guides explained by the mid 1980s, Escobar was responsible for one of the most powerful and ruthless criminal organisations in world history. Escobar used his fleet of planes, submarines and mules to distribute as much as 80% of the world’s cocaine supply. His billions saw him named the 7th richest man in the world (it's believed he had a net worth of $30 billion). Anyone who stood in his way was exterminated. So brazen was he, he once ordered the bombing of a commercial airliner, killing 107 innocent people. His target, a presidential candidate, wasn’t even on board.
Pablo Escobar even marketed himself as a new age ‘Robin Hood’ spending millions on schools, stadiums, parks and houses for Medellin’s poorest to muster sympathy. By the early 90s, the war between the cartels had made Colombia the world’s murder capital with more than 52,000 violent deaths between 1991 and 1992.
— Despite their sins, the drug lords remained staunchly Catholic and went to places like this to worship.
But by this time things were starting to unravel for old mate Pablo. After more than a year in hiding, he was tracked down and shot by Colombian security forces. His legend now the subject of countless movies, tv shows and books. Unfortunately the murderous story behind cocaine remains a mystery to ignorant users in wealthy countries. “Blood is on their hands,” reckons our tour guides.
— The home where Escobar hid and where he was later shot dead.
— The grave of the world's richest criminal. It's the second most visited in South America after Argentina's Eva Perón.
— “Death of Pablo Escobar” by Botero at the Museo de Antioquia.
Indeed there is so much more to beautiful Medellin than a very ugly narcoterrorist. For the best views of the city and a chance to experience life in a Colombian barrio, a trip on the Metrocable gondola is a must. The ride takes you up and over thousands of small orange brick homes that make up the poorer neighbourhoods built into the mountains surrounding the city. Interestingly the system wasn’t designed to transport tourist chums like us, but as a means of getting residents in impossibly steep neighbourhoods from A to B.
— It's less than $1 to ride the Metrocable.
— For an extra couple of bucks you can take the gondola to the nature reserve, Parque Arvi.
There was only one factor that threatened to ruin our Medellin adventure and she goes by the name of Madonna. Yep, Madge was in town for a couple of concerts, meaning there was no room at any of the city’s inns. After much searching we found a couple beds in a hostel wedged between two nightclubs. It also had a takeaway shop on the first floor meaning if the deafening beats didn’t prevent you from sleeping, the smell of bubbling grease would.
— One good thing about our hostel's location in El Poblado was we didn’t have to walk for a drink. This area is chockers with restaurants, bars and clubs.
— Most of the clubs are VIP all the way.
The upside to Madonna’s visit was Medellin’s famous Christmas lights were switched on a week early. This year’s display celebrated Colombia’s diverse eco systems, so instead of reindeers and snowmen there were shimmering sloths, parrots and tropical flowers.
Just a couple hours north of the city lies the picturesque town of Guatapé – home of ‘La Piedro del Penol’, little sister to Australia’s Uluru. The climb to the top is gruelling, but the view was worth it.
— Both Guatapé and the neighbouring town of El Peñol claim ownership of the rock. Years ago, Guatapé thought it would settle the matter by painting its name on the rock. Only the ‘G’ and the first party of the ‘U’ were completed before sanity prevailed.
— 650 steps to the top.
— You can stop half way and say a prayer to the Virgin Mary.
— The amazing landscape was created several decades ago when the Government decided to flood the hilly region and make a hydroelectric dam. The dam now supplies Colombia with at least a third of its electricity.
It’s not just a giant rock that sees tourist flock to Guatapé. The town is so colourful and unique thanks to the brightly coloured paintings that wrap around each building. A walk through the technicolour streets makes you feel like you’re staring in a Disney movie.
No trip to Guatapé is complete without a spin on the lake. The classic tour sees you whiz around the islands, past Pablo Escobar’s burnt out mansion and over the now-submerged old town of Guatapé.
— At Pablo Escobar's bombed holiday home...spooky.
— The house was so luxurious it even had its own football field.
After a few days in quaint little Guatape we packed up and headed to loud and proud Bogotá – the country's sprawling capital.
— Man I love Colombia...nothing like dancing to a live salsa band while you're waiting at the bus station.