You have noooo idea how long I've been waiting to use that title...
but umm anyway, back to the point. So when I told people that I was traveling to Colombia, a ton of them gasped and asked me if I was insane.... they envisioned a violent country full of drug dealers and paramilitary troops blowing shit up and murdering people on every corner. I'm happy to report that I have not experienced any scary moments (knock on wood) and that every Colombian I've met has been extremely kind and welcoming.
In case you're not up on your current events, FARC, Colombia's most famous paramilitary group, has vowed to maintain its unilateral ceasefire and a Guardian article, "From murder capital to modern city" mentions that Medellin's murder rate has fallen a staggering 80% since its height in the early 90s. The city is transforming itself by investing in education, infrastructure, and social programs for the poor. And as you can tell from my pictures, Colombia is an absolutely terrrrible place filled with ugly things. Everyone should stay away (I say this selfishly, so the place doesn't get overrun by tourists!)
Unfortunately, people still associate its extremely violent past to the present and despite the many wonderful Colombians that have lived and that are living, most people only know the name of one evil man, Pablo Escobar, a notorious and wealthy drug lord who called Medellin his home. He essentially kept the country under siege and created an unofficial civil war to protect his cocaine trafficking business.
While a lot of Colombians want to forget this dark period, especially because its so recent and emotions are still raw, i was really interested in learning more since it is such a pivotal period in Colombia's history. I had also watched ESPN's super interesting, 30 for 30 documentary, The Two Escobars, which is about the rise of the national soccer team fueled by drug money and the murder of Colombian soccer star, Andres Escobar, following an own goal in the 1994 World Cup that eliminated the team from advancing (It's available on Netflix btw...) and it piqued my interest. Anyway, I signed up for the Pablo Escobar tour with Paisa Road on my last day in Medellin.
This was NOT a tourist tour where you endlessly stop at sites to take selfies. While I didn't find the stops on the tour particularly interesting (they just showed us places where there were bombings and where he was shot, etc.) the history itself was fascinating. Because I'm a nerd, I read Killing Pablo before the tour, so I knew a lot about the man and how he essentially held the country hostage. Over 220,000 people have been killed in the past 20 years because of the drug wars, and another 6MM people have been affected in some way.
Hearing our guide, Paula, and our driver, Nicholas, who were born and raised in Medellin talk about how the city used to be and how the drug wars affected their lives gave the stats a personal story. They called themselves survivors. And while some people liken Escobar to the Colombian version of Robin Hood, by the end of his life, he was despised by a majority of the people due to all the violence he caused, which included the bombing of an Avainca flight that killed 107 innocent civilians (the one person he intended to kill never got on the flight.)
Despite being cynical at times, our guides did remind us that Colombia is a beautiful place with vast resource and a seemingly bright future--apparently only 2% of its GDP were associated with drugs. And while Colombians and other Latin American countries may traffic the drugs, the consumers are largely living in the U.S. and Europe... just some food for thought. Not judging, since people who live in glass houses should not throw stones, but I do think it's time our government rethinks the way it deals with drugs since demand will continue and people are still losing their lives, mainly across Latin America.
So that's it. Not a ton of photos but enjoyable and informative. And despite it's violent history, Medellin is really an incredible place right now. I've really fallen in love with the city and it's awesome nightlife and wonderful people. I actually only meant to spend 3 days here, and it's now been over a week since I've arrived. The hostel I stayed in, Arcadia, was amazing in every single way and the people were fantastic. I'm sadly leaving, but i'm excited to be heading down south to Salento, the coffee region... my kind of drug :)