Medellin & The Escobars
The home of Pablo Escobar, or rather one of them, is now a museum and sits atop a hillside with a clear view of the airport, chosen strategically for Pablo to communicate and watch his airplane shipments coming and going.
The Uber driver had never driven anyone there, and was freaked out at the narrow, poor, easily missed, steep driveway leading up into the trees in the middle of the city. I volunteered to walk from the bottom and he was happy. At the midpoint of the driveway, at a sharp turn and gate, an old truck was coming down and I asked the driver "Casa Museo?" He signaled for me to get in and then turned around and drove me back up the road, through two steel gates and into a parking spot next to a small white house.
I got out and was approached by Victor, who spoke English with a very heavy accent and deep, gravelly voice. He had lost the use of his arm and limped badly from a stroke, but he was to be my guide. A few people were wandering around a red pickup and the open garage. Victor introduced me to Roberto Escobar, Pablo's brother, now blind and mostly deaf due to a letter bomb exploding in his hand when he was in prison, an assassination attempt by the government according to Victor. He was nice and welcomed me to the home. It was an odd feeling to be standing in the house of one of the most wanted men in recent history, myself leaning against Pablo's pickup and being told I could ask him any questions. Roberto said "Mi casa es su casa" and slowly walked away answering his cell phone.
Mind already blown.
For the next hour or so, Victor led me from place to place, telling some interesting stories and showing the bullet holes in the house and windows from attempted assassinations, Pablo's desk with hidden compartments where he kept $1,000,000, the false wall for hiding men and whatever, photos, memorabilia, stories of many things. It seems Pablo loved James Bond movies and attempted to buy the original water bike and the tiny jet from a couple of the movies. The water bike came into his possession after an offer of any price, then a threat to the original prototype builder and it now sits in the garage. Many interesting stories and objects.
Victor paused at the enlarged FBI Most Wanted poster showing the main cartel characters, describing their demise or incarceration, pointing out those he was close with, what their jobs were and their personality traits.
Pablo's red Z71 pickup, modified to be bulletproof and similar to James Bond's car, capable of pushing a button to dump billowing clouds of black smoke from the rear for pursuers sat in the driveway. The other vehicles include the original family car from his youth, a motorcycle given to him by a rider so he could escape an ambush and an old delivery truck used for either a police kidnapping or for delivering drugs I think.
Several bullet strikes from when he and Roberto ran through a military hit team
The motorcycle was used to escape an ambush. He rewarded the guy who gave it to him $250k and returned the moto. His family donated it to the museum recently.
Pablo's chair and table used just before he was killed on the rooftop
Grenade attack on his LandCruiser in the jungle
I actually enjoyed the experience, morbidly I guess, but it was interesting to touch history so intimately, primed with memories from the 80's and 90's of the incredible violence and challenge to an entire government and nation.
Victor was a part of the operation and hearing stories from the other side put a new spin on some political things. I liked the two photos of Pablo and Roberto in front of the White House posing like tourists. They'd flown to Washington at the height of the search for them, were picked up in a limo and driven to the White House where they got out and had pictures taken at the fence, then the driver not knowing who they were, suggested a tour of the FBI Museum. Roberto said no but Pablo said no one would know who they were. The limo delivered them to the museum and waited outside. Pablo and Roberto went in and immediately saw a huge wanted poster of themselves, got spooked and walked back to the limo quickly. The driver didn't understand, but they told him to take them away quickly. Lots of stories.
One of Pablo's desk panels - this side held $500,000
Victor, my interpreter and guide, part of the organization
Victor was actually intrigued to hear that I was traveling solo by motorcycle from Alaska to Ushuaia. He told Roberto. Roberto told me to travel slowly since it was dangerous, but said I was a brave man. Victor took a shot of me with Roberto. Roberto then shook my hand again. Shaking hands with the man who was responsible for laundering billions and head of the hit men for the biggest cartel was just totally surreal. Still don't know what to do with it.
When it came time to pay and tip the guide, I had a momentary panic when the money I'd pulled out for the museum wasn't in my wallet. I could just imagine trying to convince the Escobar family to let me go find an ATM. Nothing like owing money to the Escobar's. I'm serious. I fished around all my pockets frantically and found it in a back pocket where I never put cash. Crisis averted, blood pressure went down, money paid. Victor walked me to the gate, patting me on the back, shaking my hand and sending me out with a "God bless you!". Not sure what to think of that blessing, but oh well.
A buzzer sounded and the first electric gate opened, closing behind me and trapping me between it and the second. Walking through the kill zone to the final gate was weird, and it opened magically under the eye of the security cameras and closed as I walked out.
What a surreal, bizarre, mental memory moment.