Tracing Pablo Escobar & adios a Medellin!

And three weeks in this fantastic city are already over. One thing is sure – it was not enough time and I will be back! Hasta luego!

“Quien no conoce su historia esta condenado a repetirla”

“Who does not know his history is condemned to repeat it”

Banner in Pablo Escobar prison, Medellin

School got off to a late start after the Ayahuasca weekend. The last week at Toucan wasn’t all happy though. I got a little fed up with our group session (where things got repetitive after a teacher change) and some organisational issues at school.

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Vegan burger in Medellin … thanks to Uri i now know a bit more about that cuisine

However, the private lessons got me started on future and past tenses and seriously make talking easier. In the end I made to the bottom range of intermediary level and can express myself reasonably well. Understanding free-flowing Spanish remains a challenge. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

Outside school I managed to see a few more places in Medellin including Pueblito Paisa and some spots of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. And there were also a few goodbye’s from friends.

Pueblito Paisa, a reconstructed traditional village in the middle of the city, was great. It also offers good views over Medellin. The x-mas decoration that was put in place further served a timely reminder that i need to sort presents ;o) (weather here makes you forget that all too easy).

The Pablo Escobar trip, however, didn’t meet my expectations after it had been praised so much by friends (i booked the afternoon session with free tours). We basically saw his old apartment house in Medellin, his prison and his grave (alongside family). His big countryside finca was too far away and probably offers a bit more. Some stories were interesting such as Pablo inviting seemingly not loyal partners, kill them and feed them to their subordinates later on. Would have liked to see the picture of their faces when Pablo announced what they had just eaten – their bosses!

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Week two at school & more of Medellin’s

Short, but sweet week after the bank holiday Monday in Guatape. We had a new teacher as we moved up to A1.2 level (spanish speaking only this time), an interesting visit to Comuna 13 (formerly the most dangerous part of town), hanging out in Colombia & Envigado district and the cable car to the top of the hills surrounding Medellin. 

Spanish classes: Week two of my Spanish education is already over and things are looking up. Our new teacher Lorena is a quite cheerful person and, more importantly, speaks 99% in Spanish. Really helps and I feel the progress is really good across the class (even though top marks on my weekly assessment didn’t materialise). Key issue for me grammatically is the lack of past/future tense (just makes it awkward to tell stories) though most challenging remains to understand spoken Spanish. It’s just so fast. Friday we went to Minorista food market and practiced our fruit & veggie pronunciation skills. I guess we ended up more chatting away, but it was fun.

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Comuna 13 – looking back at Medellin’s dark past: Before the rise of cocaine in the US in the 70’s & 80’s, this area of Medellin was not a bad place to live. However, once drug lords around the Medellin cartel took over this changed drastically. Worse still, was the period after the assassination of pablo escobar on 2 Dec 1993. With the head of the hydra removed, fierce power struggles made the place the most dangerous area in the city (with the city being the most dangerous globally). So going to Medellin included a free pass to hell back then.

This changed for the better after the government intervened with force on the 16 Oct 2002 with operation ‘Orion’. 1,500 police men supported by helicopters. It was pretty bloody, but eventually paved the way for a peaceful period lasting now some 15y. Crime hasn’t gone completely though, as the mafia still extorts protection money from local businesses. Yet, it’s perfectly safe to visit if you follow some simple rules. I went with zippi free walking tours. Naturally, loads of Germans including two ladies from Hamburg & Cologne who I had the pleasure of sharing the final bit of the tour. We even visited the guides house in the comuna. So good insights over all.

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Germany is never far away in Colombia …

Another step in the recovery was the installation of a 384m escalator route up the steep hills in 2011. This enables better access to the city and was welcome by all our walking tour participants. It’s certainly has become a landmark of the suburb and Medellin by now. I liked most the many graffiti’s you find in comuna 13 – be it those that were created over time or the ones added during a graffiti contest in recent years. Most of them reflect to a high degree the troubled past and the revival now.

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Metrocable: Right from San Javier station (where you stop for comuna 13 tours anyway) departs another means of transport that connects the city with poorer areas. There are two such cables in Medellin – I went up to La Aurora station to take in some great views of Medellin at sunset. Recommended. Safe. Cheap.

Mercado del Rio: Located in the district of colombia, it’s a great venue to go for an evening meal or drink. You have many stalls offering all varieties of food though come naturally a bit pricier than your standard colombian restaurant. Thanks Claudia.

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Envigado: This neighborhood is located some 6km from central poblado. I had heard about it from Uri, my Israeli fellow student, and wanted to see what its like. First up a visit to the park (where some Saint was honored that day) and, following Claudia’s advice, then off to calle 30 (calle buena mesa) for dinner. It’s a really great area and significantly more local than gringo-Poblado. Probably the area I like best so far.

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