Image: La Mujer Elefante/Flickr
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a lovely Colombian woman asking for a bit of advice regarding tours in Colombia. She said she had an Australian friend travelling to Colombia and he had asked her if he should visit Pablo Escobar’s hacienda. “I am a bit ‘mamada’ (translation: sick and tired) of the whole Escobar thing,” the Colombian woman said in the email, adding that she wasn’t sure what kind of advice to give him. “I haven’t been to Medellin yet,” she went on, “and you probably know more about Colombia than many of us.”
First of all, thank you so much for getting in touch. Second of all, I’m kind of in two minds about this.
I am just as sick and tired of the Colombia drug trade narrative as the next person. I used to work for a great travel company in Colombia that offered a tour in Medellin about Pablo Escobar, and a lot of people, especially locals from Medellin, got quite upset.
They too had had enough of the city being overshadowed by this larger than life character who had made such an impact on the city’s, and the country’s, history. The man who revolutionised the drug trade was once the seventh richest person in the world, had offered to pay Colombia’s $20 billion foreign debt and this drug lord and gangster even made it into congress.
The local government and the numerous creative and commercial initiatives taking place in Medellin have done a lot to change the image of the city – it was named the most innovative city in the world in 2013 for goodness sake. But that cloud from the past does loom over the city, and foreigners who have never visited the City of Eternal Spring, or have only come to know about the place through film and television, continue to have this one point of reference about the city and the country.
As you can imagine some locals say that these Pablo Escobar tours are doing nothing but continuing the drug cartel narrative that the city is so eager to put behind them. Instead of focusing on the city’s past, they say they are looking towards its future.
And I can understand that viewpoint. But I also think it is important to take a good look at the past, square in the eyes, and acknowledge it, to make sure things like that never happen again. Isn’t this a way of celebrating how far a city has come? By becoming empowered and owning the story that has caused so much grief?
I too am mamada with people only having one thing in mind when it comes to Colombia (that’s the whole reason behind Sarepa, after all, changing people’s view of Colombia), but at the same time I think it is a part of the country’s history that should be looked at and understood.
If someone wants to go on a Pablo Escobar tour, or visit his Hacienda because he or she wants to learn about this one part of Colombia’s rich and complex modern history, then sure, go for it. If they just want to visit because it’s cool to visit a notorious drug lord’s former home, then, well, if that means they take a step into Colombia and experience it firsthand, then okay, that might be okay too. Regardless of what people initially go to Colombia for, there really is so much to learn about the culture and the people while they’re there. Pablo Escobar is just a tiny part of it.
And, just in case you’re wondering. Yes, this woman’s friend did go to Colombia, yes he did fall in love with the place, yes he did learn more about the country beyond Pablo Escobar and yes, he will be back:
“Gonna miss Colombia. Beauty wherever you look. The scenery, landscape, the friendly people and beautiful women. Off to Costa Rica tomorrow. I will be back to find my future wife here. Perfect inspiration to learn Spanish.”
What do you think? Would you visit Pablo Escobar’s hacienda or do a Pablo Escobar tour? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments section below.