Earlier in the year, I spent about 3 weeks in total in Colombia. As well as doing the Lost City trek, I also stayed in Cartagena, Bogota and Medellin.
Bogota is home to the Gold Museum, which houses a vast collection of indigenous gold artifacts.
Cartagena was the main port the Spanish used for transferring their loot back to Europe, and as such was the world’s number one destination for pirates. The Spanish built big walls to surround the city, but it was attacked numerous times, as well as ships leaving the city. It is now a popular tourist destination and the old city is a nice place to wander around.
Medellin is best known for being the home of Pablo Escobar, one of the richest and most powerful criminals in history. He made billions of dollars and terrorised the country. But he was initially a popular figure because he gave money back to poor neighborhoods and built housing estates. But then he was denounced as a drug lord and embarked on a war against the government. He hired assassins to storm the supreme court, killing more than half of the judges. He offered to pay Colombia’s national debt in return for immunity to extradition. He targeted presidential candidates and had a plane blown up. He eventually surrendered on the condition that the constitution be rewritten to prohibit extradition and that he be allowed to build his own prison. Police weren’t allowed within 20km of his prison mansion. Truckloads of prostitutes arrived at the prison and he held parties and ran his business from there. He would even leave the prison to go on shopping excursions to Bogota. After he had people executed inside the prison the government finally decided to intervene and he went on the run again. This time they tracked him down after he talked on the phone with his son and he was killed.
I went on a Pablo Escobar tour where they show you sites associated with Pablo’s life and death, such as his house in Medellin and his grave site. While it’s important not to glorify the lives of vicious criminals, the fact remains that many of the most famous ones had particularly interesting lives. And they make the subject of great drama. The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Sopranos, Blow, Killing Pablo. Consider Robert de Niro’s film career without gangster movies. He’d basically be left with Meet the Fockers and its sequels, which would be a sad state of affairs.
We drove through Barrio Triste (The Sad Neighborhood) which is full of auto repair shops and people sitting on the street smoking a form of crack cocaine. The guide said the poor neighborhoods had become really dangerous again and four of her friends had been murdered in the last couple of years. In the 80s and early 90s, Medellin had the reputation of being the most dangerous city in the world. In 1991 the murder rate was 381 per 100,000 inhabitants. By comparison the city with the highest murder rate in the US is New Orleans with 52. Melbourne has a rate of 3.7 and Osaka 1.8 A big effort was made to make Medellin a safer place and in 2007 the murder rate had fallen to 33.8. But in the last couple of years it has risen again. In 2009 it was 94.5.
Medellin is also the birthplace of artist, Ferdnando Botero, known for his distinctive fat figures.