T – We were going to be tourists today. Which meant our bikes would get a days rest! But first we had to move to another hostel as this one was full. Once we had moved everything and parked the bikes behind bars we wandered off through the streets of Medellin.
Chantelle was keen to go and see Pablo Escobars 1980’s mansion in the city. This guy was a real bad ass. He basically was the major guy exporting cocaine from Colombia and was just rolling in money. He was making around 60 million US dollars a day for a while there and he couldn’t launder his money as fast as he made it. Anyone who stood in his way or spoke out against him was murdered. Finally though the Colombian government had enough and chased him down. Eventually Escobar lost all his properties, some 800 of them, and finally his life. So this building has sat empty and abandoned for quite some years now. There is footage on the net showing cavities in the walls of the building where Escobar hid bundles of cash. Very interesting.
We wandered along one of the lanes of a major highway, yes that is right, as it was totally closed off from traffic and opened up to Colombians who were walking, running, and cycling. Medellin has some great social policies and making the city more community focussed vs car focussed is part of that. There was thousands of people out and about and we walked along and did a touch of people watching.
C – I have read quite a lot about the work the city has done to try to rebuild itself after Pablo Escobars reign. A key strategy was to try to rebuild a sense of community, and it was wonderful to see the effects of this nearly 15 years on. One particular initiative included building two cable car lines to extend the metrorail system into the favelas (shanty towns) allowing the poorer residents in the area easier access to the services in the city, in an effort to increase social inclusion. These social programs have made Medellin into an extremely lovely city and it certainly appears to be very ‘liveable’ now.
I was also however, very excited to see one of Pablo Escobars mansions, Edificio Monaco, where I can only imagine the sorts of conversations and business dealings happened! It is difficult to comprehend being able to earn US$60million a DAY in the late 1980’s. He was clearly feared by many, and had a lot of power, both in Colombia and the USA. He was definitely known for his ruthlessness, and it is believed he is responsible for the death of well over a thousand Colombian police, judges and journalists. Interestingly, he did spend money on the favelas, including building 800 houses and investing in community services in these poor suburbs. By these people, he was viewed as a modern day Robin Hood and a hero.
T – We eventually stood outside of a very tall very square and very dilapidated looking building. There was a security guard eyeballing us from the gatehouse so we took some pics of Escobars house and then carried on our way.
Next on the list was a train trip and a cable car ride to one of Medellins Favelas. Tightly packed housing that ran up the sides of the valley where the city is built. Mainly consisting of the poorer inhabitants of the city. We had read that it was safe enough to wander the streets of this particular suburb but to avoid other favelas as they could be quite dangerous for outsiders.
The train ride and cable car came to a grand total of $1 each. So long as we didnt exit the stations we could ride the trains all day. We hopped into a cable car and began the climb up over the favela. The Medellin government had several of these cable cars installed so that the people of the favelas could have easy and cheap access to the train lines into the city. The theory being that it would allow families easier and cost effective access to work.
The view from up there was impressive. The favela was like nothing I had seen before except on TV. Houses were stacked on top of each other with stairs leading from rooftop to rooftop. There was graffiti everywhere and some of it was gorgeous. There was some very talented artists around. We decided to just sit in the car and enjoy the ride up and the views on the way back down.
C – The further the car moved up the hill, the more the housing and streets deteriorated. It was interesting to see the contrasts between the suburbs, from the city out to these areas. In 30 minutes we had gone from large shopping malls and modern apartment buildings with streets filled with new and expensive cars to homes that barely looked like they should be standing. Sure, the views back over the city where beautiful from the top cable car station, but really, it was witnessing the favelas that made the trip for me.
T – We took a train back to the city and just hung out for the remainder of the day with another overlander.
We have decided that we will head out of the city tomorrow and make our way down towards the coffee growing region south of here.
C – Oh delicious Colombian coffee, I am coming for you!