Rose Goes South • The Escobar Experience

It’s impossible to avoid drugs in Colombia and I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you all about them. How did I find out about them? I went on a Pablo Escobar tour, of course.

Dreary eyed from the night before I boarded a bus for what other travellers had recommended as a great experience and more realistic version of events on the topic of drugs that we’d learnt on the legititimate and official city walking tour. After half an hour on the bus, I was wondering what all the fuss was about. In broken English, our Narco’s obsessed tour guide (if you don’t know, Narco’s is a Netflix series based on Colombia’s drug movement) went on for a good half hour about how much money Pablo Escobar had, glamourising the whole thing and with almost a hint of jealousy! I mean yeah a pool with a remote-control helipad in the middle does sound pretty cool, but when you get shot a few years later, probably not worth it.

Anyway, we pressed on and eventually arrived at the first tour spot, an abandoned ex-Pablo property that is soon to be a Police Station. No locals want to buy any of Escobar’s 500 empty properties because they believe in karma so now they all belong to the government. Regardless of it sitting empty, we weren’t allowed in, any trace of Escobar’s existence had been removed and the whole place was patrolled by police officers. The guide remarked you could pay off a corrupt officer to let you in, and some Israli boys on the tour considered, but I decided I didn’t want to risk spending the rest of my trip in Colombian Prison, so declined and anticipated the next part of the trip.

On arrival at Pablo’s grave, I was again, dissapointed. I’d paid $40 USD to visit a bunch of public places and listen to the differences between Narco’s (a series I haven’t yet even watched) and reality. They also kept trying to sell me stickers of Pablo’s face… Like seriously, what do you think I’m gonna do? Stick the image of a criminal next to my Tiplr sticker and risk being attacked by the 80% of Colombia who hate Pablo’s history?! Hmm. By 11am I was ready for some coffee and this is where things got interesting.
Back on the bus, the tour guide was telling us, in a slightly shady manner, that the third and final stop would be the highlight of the tour… It wouldn’t take much. We began to climb a twisting driveway, potholes and hairpin corners included – the lack of suspension on buses here is a whole other topic – but at least the excitement and anticipation was building. Through some big iron gates topped with barbed wire, the bus came to a halt and the driver remarks sternly ‘don’t ask ANY questions’. Hang on… Were we about to meet the man himself? Had Pablo really faked his death as some of the guide books suggest? No, sadly not. But we were at the home of his only surviving sibling, Roberto.

Roberto greated us kindly with a strong handshake but didn’t crack a smile, and proceeded to show us around the house which was a kind of hybrid between a wealthy home and museum. We saw Pab’s old cars, a portrait of a horse that he cloned from another hores’s DNA, and a number of wanted posters and bullet holes in the property… The fear set in… How had I ended up here sharing a drink with one of Colombia’s ex convicts? After an awkward photo opportunity (cue awkward smile) and coffee offered by the man himself, we left, feeling, well, somewhat confused. The man shook my hand and sat well-dressed in his front garden, with his ex wife, staring as the bus reversed away. A bizarre feeling of relief set in.

Boarding my flight to Cartagena this evening I reflected and I’m still not really sure what to think of the day other than maybe I’ll just stick to more official city tours in future in order to avoid hanging out with criminals siblings! Oh and that it’s about time to hit the beach…

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