It's well known that Colombia is THE country of drugs, especially for cocaine.
The legendary Pablo Escobar, the King of cocaine, lived in Medellín and made it the capital of smuggling.
We followed his footprints and had an amazing trip with Sebastian in Medellín and in the Comuna 13 which was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods.
Besides discovering Medellín, we also visited Guatapé, a beautiful village with a 200m high granite monolith, Santa Fé de Antioquia, a lovely old village with colonialism charme and the Parque Arví, a cloud forest, thousand meters higher han Medellín.
Medellín, the city of the proudest habitants of Colombia, named paisas, lies at an altitude of 1500m and has on an area of 380km² more than 2 millions habitants. It was founded 1675 and is the capital of the department Antioquia today. Medellín is located in the Aburrá Valley, a part of the Andes, and is therefore also called the capital of the mountains. It has a lovely climate which never rises over 30•C or under 16•C. The average temperature is around 22•C, wonderful!
Guatapé is located East of Antioquia and 80 kilometers (2h) away from Medellín. In order to create a lake and to use the water energy for hydro-electricity, the government flooded the area in the 1960s. The lake is called "El Embalse del Peñol" and is producing the main part of the electricity in the region today.
Santa Fé de Antioquia is lower than Medellín and lies at an altitude of 600m. It is located North of Medellín, 80km away. About 23 000 habitants are living in the city which was founded 1541. Santafé was, before Medellín, the capital of the department and had a good economy because of the gold mining. The climate is much hotter than in Medellín, almost too hot for us.
The highlight of our trip in Medellín, was a tour with Sebastian Castro Ayala, a 23 year old Colombian who grew up in the most dangerous neighborhood in the world, called "La Comuna 13".
12 years ago, people who didn't live in that part of the city and entered without any reason were killed just because they weren't from there. In 2011, more than 1600 people were killed. Since some years, the quarter calmed down and is open for the public.
Today, Sebastian has a icecream shop and offers tours to show how the life in the neighborhood is like. Furthermore, he showed us the old house of the legendary drug boss Pablo Escobar, where he got killed and where his grave is now. He explained us what Escobar did for the poor people in the city, how they see him and showed us the neighborhood he founded.
First of all some information about Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviri:
He was born 1.12.1949 at a ranch farm in Rionegro, near Medellín and was later on known to the world as the "King of Cocaine". Escobar ruled the cocaine transport, the Medellín-cartel and "los Sicarios", contract killers on motorbikes. At the height of his career, about 80% of all the cocaine which got smuggled into the USA was ruled by him. With the drugs, he earned about 21,9 billion each year. Therefore, he was the seventh richest man in the world.
He used most of the money for exploring the drug production, the transport and protection of the cocaine and bought politicians, the police officers or bodyguards for his own protection . But he also used this money to build hospitals, schools and buildings for the poorest in the city and gained their respect and their support. Furthermore, he built offices, apartments, a football station, discotheques, restaurants and he payed a lot to those who produced the drugs for him.
The story about the drug war in Colombia is huge and worth reading. Pablo Escobar or "El Señor", how the people call him in his neighborhood, died one day after his birthday on the rooftop of his house, killed by Colombian-American forces.
The first destination of our trip was the old house of Pablo Escobar. He lived on the first floor and got killed on the roof by the Colombian-American special forces, one day after his birthday.
The second stop was in the barrio Pablo Escobar or "La Milagrosa", a quarter of the city which has been build because Pablo Escobar offered money and work to the people who had absolutely nothing. People finally had a place to sleep and to establish a family.
The third destination of our tour was the cemetery and the place where Pablo Escobar's grave is now. He was like a hero, like "Robin Hood" for those people who had nothing and they still come to his grave, put flowers down and think of him. The grave of Pablo Escobar is big and different to all the others there. But like Sebastian said: -At the end, it doesn't matter how rich you were or who you were. At the end, we all end in the same place, under the earth.-
Our last and most interesting stop was at the "Comuna 13" or "San Javier".
It was the most dangerous quarter of Medellín the world but also home of Sebastian. He grew up in those streets and already saw things which nobody of us can imagine. But he never lost his motivation to live, like everyone in this neighborhood.
During our tour he motivated us to have fun, to smile, to enjoy everything and not to have any fear. He showed us his neighborhood, the place where children play football and he showed us what the people did to make their quarter prettier.
If you have a look at Medellín, almost every building has the same colour, boring orange. But, the walls and houses in the Comuna 13 are different. On every corner there are big graffitis with important meanings to the residents and colorful houses. Every graffiti has an own meaning, like the elephant, which stays for strength and the fact that the whole neighborhood is holding together like an elephant family or a graffiti of a woman with all the elements in it and all the characteristics of Colombian people. All this gives hope to the people and reminds them of what happened. Sebastian explained them all and was very proud to show them. Another special effect is that, from far away, the neighborhood looks like a colorful heart in the boring orange buildings.
Besides the graffiti, Sebastian also showed us his home, the electrical steps between the tiny streets and offered us a tasty icecream made of Mango, lemon juice, sugar and salt.
Interesting information: Some of Pablo Escobar's family members are still alive and live in the exile in Argentina.
After he died, a big war started to control the drug traffic. One who won is El Chapo. Before, he was one of the middle men of Pablo Escobar.
Guatapé and the Piedra del Peñol
The point of interest in Guatapé is the 200m high monolith of granite, "La Piedra del Peñol'. After climbing up more than 700 steps, very close to each other, there is a fantastic view over the lake. The area looked similar to Austria to me.
On the way down, the very narrow steps were difficult to manage.
Afterwards, we went to the city Guatapé which is very beautiful. All the houses, in the middle of the city, have colourful and nice "zocalos", artful bas-relief on the cladding.
Santa Fé de Antioquia
We were very afraid during our drive to Santafé de Antioquia.
The minibus driver drove like crazy down the mountain, from 2000m to 600m. With over 100km/h he passed cars or trucks which were too slow, no matter if there was a speed limit, no passing allowed, a bend or another vehicle coming.
We were more than happy when we arrived in the city and left the vehicle.
The old historic part of Santafé de Antioquia is small. In the middle of the town was a little street market and all the house still have their colonial charme and are still very beautiful. It was nice to walk around, discover all the little streets and observe the Colombian life in the streets.
This fantastic park lies at 2500m, 1000m higher than Medellín. It's much cooler on the top and the landscape remembered me of a tropical Black Forest, so I sarted missing European forests.
Actually hiking around in he park is somehow only allowed with a guide and for each part you have to pay a fee. However, we had a short 4km hike without guide and enjoyed the trip.
More exciting is the long way up. The teleferic is going over the dangerous quarter "Santo Domingo" and in the teleferic you have an awesome view over Medellín.
Museo in Medellin
We visited two museums in Medellín, the "Casa de la Memoria" and the "Museo de Arte Moderno".
The memorial museum had free entrance and was very interesting. It tells the story of the last decade in Colombia, especially about Medellín and the war against the drugs. It's showing documents, pictures, old papers and much more of the horrible story. They have big screens with contemporary witnesses who tell their story, several artefacts which show what kids saw in the streets and how they believe their future will be!
The art museum was interesting. The art on the lower level was very strange and kind of disturbing. The upper floors were more interesting for me. Besides the art, it's also possible to watch movies.
The highlight of our stay in Medellin was definitely the trip with Sebastian Castro where we followed the footprints of the drug lord Pablo Escobar and visited the Comuna 13.
It was very interesting to see another point of view, different to what we know in Europe.
In Europe everybody knows him as a bad person who killed hundreds of people and shipped drugs to the United States. For some residents in Medellín, he is like a hero, even if they know what he did wrong.
For me, Medellin was a very important place that we visited!
Guatapé isn't far away and a perfect daytrip.
We already saw the monolith from the airplane. It's expensive and exhausting to climb up all the steps, but he view is fantastic.
Afterwards it is worth to visit the village.
Santa Fé de Antioquia is much hotter than Medellín but has very nice streets and beautiful houses which are still in the colonial style.
It was very interesting to observe the Colombian life on the streets and to take pictures.
The Parque Arví was a good change to all the buildings in Medellín and a good place to hike around and to enjoy the nature.
It remembered me a lot of the Black Forest in Freiburg, not sure if it's really looking like this or if it is just me missing it.
The best part was the way up and down with the teleferic from where we had a beautiful view over the Metropolis and the quarter Santo Domingo.
The Parque Arvi was very interesting.
A higher altitude also meant different species. The behaviour of the birds in the cloud forest over 2000m altitude was similar to the one of lowland birds. They all come and leave together, which is quite difficult to photograph because everything is moving at the same time. One of the species I saw was looking very similar to the Black Thrush in Europe.
Same same but different view