No matter where you are from, you probably know the name of Colombia’s most notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar. Lauded for his good deeds, almost as much as he was condemned for his atrocities. After being here a week, I can see why he wanted to come back so badly during his exile in Panama. Medellin is by far one of my favorite places in Colombia, but Escobar will forever remain, the violent bloodstain in their history that can never be fully bleached away.
Marijuana is illegal here, but the aroma in the air makes it clear it’s not strictly enforced. Prostitution is legal, but if you aren’t aware of this fact, you might find yourself in the same predicament as a traveler we met. He wanted to buy the beautiful girl at the bar a drink, and see if she wanted to go to dinner. She said yes, and then let him know how much she charged per hour. I get the overwhelming sense that after Escobar, a little marijuana and sex is no big deal.
The people of Medellin are wonderful, and have been some of the most accommodating hosts. Their warmth and kindness is genuine, but sometimes I wonder if somewhere, buried deep in their subconscious, they are trying to show the world that they are not defined by their past.
I found out how wonderful our hosts were our first day, when I got lost in the city by myself. Shocker. Rain came down in sheets, and I got increasingly turned around, but I never once felt unsafe. I must have had desperation written across my face, because I received unsolicited help from so many people. For twelve blocks, people guided me in the right direction. Some walked with me as far as they could go, when someone didn’t know where my hotel was, they went out of their way to find someone who did, and nobody shrugged me off.
Pablo Escobar was terrible, but he also did some good while he was on this earth. He built homes for people living in the landfill, and built soccer fields throughout Medellin. In my opinion, Medellin is so far advanced from many other Colombian cities because of the money Escobar put into this city. If Colombia’s government used more money to help their people, maybe history would be different. Medellin is clean, orderly, filled with beautiful parks, and a phenomenal public transportation system. Medellin’s metro system puts D.C.’s to shame. Would this city be as safe, would the government have tried so hard, if Escobar’s tyranny never occurred?
It took years for people to stop associating my home town with John Bobbitt, and that was a rather “small” occurrence.
Pablo Escobar’s shadow looms much larger, draped over soccer fields, seeping into the minds of the people, his shadow will not be lifted anytime soon. Medellin’s smiling faces, beautiful places and charismatic spirit is their present, because of their past. From chaos, a beautiful city was born.