The state of the nation: Colombia

Medellin Travel Blog

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Pablo's crib

The night bus to Medellin is a breeze. This time I came prepared; I got my earplugs, blow up pillow, sleeping bag, eye mask and shawl, todos! I must have looked like an idiot, but I'm the only of our backpacker group of five that had a decent night sleep... Who's laughing now huh! I arrived rested and chilled out in Medellin, full of energy to explore the city... But that's not going to happen. Simply put: there's nothing to explore in Medellin. I'm walking around the city center for hours but not once do I take my camera out of my bag. There's just nothing to make a picture off. What an utterly boring city. No historical sites, barely any culture, lots of concrete, what a shame. Luckily Medellin has another card up it's sleeve; apparently, it's one of the best cities in Colombia for clubbing.

Massive clubs, international DJs, pretty people: bring it on! I'm sad to say that the clubbing in Medellin is  the most disappointing experience in Colombia so far. No, Medellin is not my city. So instead of the lowdown on Medellin, a blog about Colombia instead.

So, Colombia. First up are the men that everybody is talking about since a couple of weeks: Jojoy and Santos. Santos killed Jojoy and everybody is happy. Santos is the president of Colombia, and Jojoy was the military boss of the FARC. The army bombed the Jojoy's jungle hideout killing him and some twenty others. Santos claimed victory, proclaiming on television that 'the symbol of terror in Colombia' was now dead.

It's a taxi driver who breaks the news to me: whether or not I heard about the death of the 'jefe muy importante'. I haven't, so he quickly updates me about the raid on Jojoy's jungle hideout.

I don't understand half of what he's shouting but his handsignals clarify a lot. His dashboard is the jungle, his hands the fighterplanes. Mimicking the sound of bombs exploding and Jojoy dying, it's clear to me what happened. He turns around, smiling, and shakes my hand. He couldn't be happier; good for him. While I believe the FARC is a bad thing and mostly a criminal organization, it's still hard for someone like me, coming from a country without real terrorism, to be happy about the death of a human being. Either way, everybody seems to be fairly satisfied about it. For several days every newspaper shows Jojoy's bloody and mangled face in full color on their frontpage. Not everybody is as overly optimistic as Santos is however; “New leaders will rise to power. They always do” says the girl behind the reception in Cartagena.
...but one thing is for sure: it has been a tough week for the FARC”.

The military has a big presence on the streets and country roads in Colombia. Policemen armed with batons and guns are on virtually every street corner. They appear to do absolutely nothing at all, but just their presence is enough. Armed military forces occupy road checks: six boys armed with rifles, again just standing around and waving the cars through, rarely stopping anyone to check IDs.

Another big happening in Colombia: the landslide not far from Medellin. Thirty people died when they were swept off the road by a mudslide. It was a big feature in the media because it was caught on video from a distance. Rescue teams were sent to the area and official investigations announced.. Too little, too late. There are two main roads from the North to Medellin; the moment the tragedy happened I was on a bus on the other road, not far from the accident.

The end
Counting my lucky stars.

Always on Colombia's mind: drugs, and with drugs I mean cocaine. While it's still widely available at night, the damage it did to Colombia is also clear. I found several hostels that put up aggressive signs against the use of coke. Cocaine users are accused of having blood on their hands, supporting terrorism (FARC) and more. I'm writing this in Medellin, the city that once belonged to Pablo Escobar. The most successful criminal of all times, he went on the become the  7th richest man in the world, and at one point offered to pay Colombia's national debt. He built homes for the poor, hospitals and schools, all of course paid for with money from the cocaine trade. This good work is all counter balanced by the hundreds of people that he had killed, most notably the would-be president of Colombia. Catchphrase: plato o plomo? Money or lead (bullets)?

Half of the city sees Pablo as a Robin Hood, a hero; in the eyes of the other half he's a criminal. The Pablo Escobar tour takes you to his mansion (massive, three elevators), his grave (fresh flowers every day) and the house where he was killed. Highlight of the tour is a visit to Roberto Escobar's house. His brother will show you the hideouts they built, places where they could store money and weapons and personal belongings of Pablo.. or not. Half an hour into the tour we receive a phone call and we're informed that we can't meet with Roberto today. The reason why remains unclear. We're joking that maybe the Cali cartel got to him or that he overdosed on coke, and we have a good laugh. I'm slightly disappointed however; it's the highlight of the tour and I would have found it fascinating to meet with his brother.

Bizarrely, a couple of days later I find out that there was an actual kidnap attempt hours before we were to meet with Roberto. Read the news story here. While shitty for Roberto, this totally makes up for not being able to meet the guy. Kinda cool!

Musically, Colombia is dominated by the reaggaeton boys from the North. Don Omar and Daddy Yankee score a monster hit with Hasta abajo, and Cosculluela has the clubs bouncing with his hit Prrrum. Finally Y-King y Maximan are on the radio all day with Cuando cuando es? There are some not reaggaeton hits as well, most notably Que tal, but it's hard to find them on the internet. The music videos are not top notch, to say the least, but the sound is getting to me!

While the above constitutes a lot guns, drugs, criminal activities and death, I've not once felt unsafe in Colombia. The FARC has been forced back into the jungle, kidnappings are only a threat if your name happens to be Escobar, mudslides are unfortunate and the military presence is rather comforting than threatening. Unfortunately, it's always the dirty news that make the headlines and the blogs. Mostly Colombia is an unbelievable beautiful country, with the nicest people, the most stunning nature and a fascinating history. I can't do anything else than repeating the witty slogan the Colombia Tourist Board came up with: Colombia: the only risk is wanting to stay.

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Pablos crib
Pablo's crib
The end
The end
photo by: caliphil007