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Published: January 2nd 2012
Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all my blog readers! Sorry my blogs are getting later and later, as my trip goes on it seems to get harder and harder to find the time to write. I will try and get better for the remainder of my trip, which seems to be fast approaching.
I will admit it, I was also a little scared to go to Colombia since it has consistently been ranked as one of the most violent countries in the world. The guerrilla organization FARC is the cause of many problems within the country and one of their main money makers is to kidnap tourists and government officials and hold them for ransom for many many years. Thus I will not be taking buses from city to city, instead I will fly which means I will be seeing less. Oh well. Everything turned out ok and Nicci and myself enjoyed a festive and interesting holiday in a new place, as you will hear.
From La Paz, Bolivia we decided to catch a flight to Colombia cause we heard Christmas is a big deal there. So now
we will work our way down from Colombia, through Ecuador, and into Peru where are flights home are from. Our flights were with Colombia’s airline, Avianca which has an unusual request on each ticket. You have to fill out emergency contact info on the back of the section of the ticket you turn in, just in case something happens. Thankfully nothing did and my first stop was Medellin, for many years the most violent city in the world thanks to Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, more on that later. I stayed at Saman Hostel, which turned out to be in the best and nicest section of town. Despite not having many people in the hostel, it was amazing. One of the best showers I have ever experienced with one of the best beds I have ever slept in. What I’m saying is that I fell asleep as soon as we got there and had a hard time getting up again. Eventually I did and good thing I did cause I saw the best Christmas lights I have ever seen.
Medellin is known as having the best lights in South America. Everywhere I went there were amazing lights, and
just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, you turn a corner and you are amazed once again. One of the nights, Nicci and I were walking near the river were they have many huge light displays that goes on for over two miles. Some of the lights were probably 50 feet tall with many displays to represent each section of the city. It really was unbelievable to walk through and was nice to see families really getting into the holiday spirit.
To my surprise, the people in Colombia were especially friendly and many spoke some English. This is another country that is now experiencing a tourist boom as the country gets safer to travel too, although the FARC are still causing problems outside of the major cities. Besides the FARC, Colombia’s reputation for being violent was caused by one man, Pablo Escobar. Escobar was a drug lord and the head of the Medellin Cartel into he was killed by the CIA and Colombian authorities. When he died, he was the seventh richest man in the world. Something like 90% of the cocaine in the world during the 80’s and 90’s was through his organization. He
is portrayed in many movies like “Blow” and many other movies base scenes off his stories, like in Bad Boys 2 when the rats eat the money in the safe houses, it’s said that Escobar lost over 10% of the cash cause of the rats. They spent $2,500 a month just on rubber bands to hold the money together, and that was in the 80’s. It is said he smuggled over 15 tons of the white stuff a day, thats about half a billion dollars.
The reason I am saying so much about Escobar is the one thing I wanted to do here was a Pablo Escobar tour. The four hour tour first took us to a site where his operation was running from until it was bombed by a group sent to destroy his organization. This bomb was one of many during those times but it didn’t kill or stop the whole operation. Our guide did tell us though that Pablo’s image of helping the poor was only a small section of the city and he did it just to portray the image as a legitimate businessman cause he was later elected into their government before
people knew about the drug operation. She told us that every family knows someone who was killed somehow related to Pablo Escobar. After that we went to Pablo’s grave where he is buried with several members of his family and also his body guard. The final stop on the tour was the highlight, it was a safe house they used when running from the CIA and authorities which Pablo’s brother Roberto now lives in. The rest of his family including his wife and children now live in Argentina under different names, but Roberto decided to go another route with his history and has made the home into a museum or shrine to Pablo and those times. Roberto himself was the number three in commend behind Pablo and a cousin of theirs so he knows everything about the business. He spent eleven years in prison for his role in the cartel, which is best described as the accountant. When released he wrote a book and for the last year or so allows tourists to come in and ask questions so he can tell his side of the story. Let me tell you though, he is very good at avoiding questions and
justifying things in his own crazy way. We saw two vehicles that they used to use before Pablo bought over twenty planes and helicopters and a whole lot more cars and motorcycles. We got to sit on one of the Harley Davidson bikes that once belonged to Pablo. Once we got into the house we saw bullet holes from when a group of people decided to try and kidnap Roberto and his family the year before which ended in them all being killed in a firefight in the house. We saw a desk where the back of the legs come off to hide cash, “it fits one million dollars in there exactly.” There were also secret hiding spots within the walls where they could go in a hurry. We sat in the chair at the table Pablo had his last meal in. I got the feeling that Roberto feels overshadowed by his brother cause he kept talking about his career as a professional cyclist before he got into the other business. We then got to sit down with him and ask questions which he never gave any good answers to but he is hard of hearing and can only see
out of one eye due to a letter bomb that exploded when he opened it back in the glory days. In the end, I had my picture taken with him and he signed a copy of the wanted poster of the top cartel members. Being a criminal justice major and an organized crime nut, it was interesting to meet a criminal with that type of history but now he is just an old man.
SANTA MARTA (CHRISTMAS TIME)
What better place to spend Christmas then a place that has Santa in the name. Santa Marta is in the north on the Caribbean coast. Since we were still questioning the safety of buses, we caught a flight up north to enjoy some beach time and work on our tans. Our hostel, La Brisca Loca, was a top rated one with a pool and a building with lots of character. Unfortunately, it was packed with a bunch of load and drunk 18 year olds which was fun at first but on Christmas you don’t want to be kept up till past 6am with blasting music and three bartenders that were doing cocaine in our
room every 15 minutes. It was a good time but maybe I’m getting old. Most of the city was closed the days we were there since we got there Christmas eve and stayed three nights. After exchanging the small gifts Nicci and I got for each other, we headed to the beach. The beach was very disappointing too and the water was freezing. Santa Marta was not what we were expecting and after a few run-ins with a the rude bartender, we were ready to get out of there. Luckily, there is a nearby fishing village that has become a stop on the “Gringo Trail” which we wanted to see.
I left early in the morning to head to Taganga cause I couldn’t wait to get out of Santa Marta. Although only a few minutes from there, Taganga is what I was looking for. I love cities and towns with tons of character that you can relax. Checked into Casa de La Felipe a great change from the last hostel although they spoke very little English. Went straight to the beach and chilled out before having dinner with Nicci and our
new Kiwi roommate Alana. The next morning Nicci did two dives cause Taganga is known for being one of the cheapest places in the world to dive. When she returned we walked over a nearby hill to get to a popular beach called Playa Grande. It was a nicer beach but was very busy. We didn’t get there till pretty late so we couldn’t spend to much time there. That night was filled with drinking, eating, and more drinking. This means the next day was spent chilling out again before we caught a flight to Quito, Ecuador where we will be spending New Years!
Colombia was nice but didn’t really live up to the higher expectations I had for it. I expected simple and colorful buildings with beautiful people everywhere. There were tons of beautiful women (none that come even close to how ravishing Nicci is) but for every beautiful women there were two that looked like tramps. If you want to be rich, become a plastic surgeon in Colombia. I am glad I saw Medellin and Colombia, but it wouldn’t be one of the top countries I would visit again.
I hope everyone
had a safe and happy holiday and new year!
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