Medellin & The Escobars
Updated: Mar 31
The home of Pablo Escobar, or rather one of them, is now a tiny museum and sits atop a hillside with a clear view of the airport, chosen strategically for Pablo to communicate and watch his airplane cocaine shipments coming and going. I'd been fascinated by the war started by Pablo Escobar back in the 80's against the Colombian government and his outrageous behavior as the world's biggest drug cartel. Being in Medellin, I wanted to find out more about the entire story and when I found out his home was now open to visitors, I simply had to go.
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 off a main street in the middle of the city. I volunteered to walk from the bottom and he was happy to let me. At the midpoint of the driveway, at a sharp right 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 a huge steel gate, then through a second 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 a 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 in the driveway and the open garage behind it.
For the next hour or so, Victor led me from place to place, telling interesting stories and showing bullet holes in the house and windows from attempted assassinations, Pablo's desk with hidden compartments where he kept $1,000,000 cash, 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 Escobar cartel characters, describing their demise or incarceration, pointing out those he was close with, what their jobs were and their personality traits. I did not ask Victor what his role was, however I'm sure it involved many things I wouldn't want to know about.
Pablo's red Chevy Z71 pickup, modified to be bulletproof and similar to James Bond's car, had the ability to dump billowing clouds of black smoke from the rear for pursuers and also the ability to dump spikes to flatten tires. The other vehicles included 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 kidnapping police and for delivering drugs I think.
The red pickup sported several bullet strikes in the bulletproof glass windows from when Pablo and Roberto survived a military hit team.
The motorcycle was used to escape an ambush. He rewarded the guy who gave it to him $250,000 and restored and returned the motorcycle to to the man. His family donated it to the museum recently.
Pablo's chair and table used just before he was killed on the rooftop by Los PEPE's
Grenade attack on his LandCruiser in the jungle
I actually enjoyed the experience, though morbidly I guess, but it was interesting to touch history so intimately, primed with my memories from the 80's and 90's of the incredible violence and challenge Pablo mounted against an entire government and nation.
Victor was a part of the operation and hearing stories from the Escobar 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 quickly back to the limo. 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
As the tour ended, Victor asked if I wanted to meet Pablo's brother, Roberto. I was sort of dumbfounded but said yes, not knowing Roberto was even still alive much less at the house I had just toured. Victor said "Ask him anything you want to know and he'll answer." I couldn't think of anything whatsoever.
Victor led me to the rear porch and introduced me to Roberto Escobar, Pablo's brother and partner in the cartel. Roberto was now almost totally blind and mostly deaf due to a letter bomb exploding in his hands when he was in prison, an assassination attempt by the government according to Victor. Roberto was nice and welcomed me to the home. It was a very odd feeling to be standing in the house of one of the most wanted men in recent history. Roberto said "Mi casa es su casa" and slowly walked away answering his cell phone.
My mind was already blown. Victor was actually intrigued to hear that I was traveling solo by motorcycle from Alaska to Ushuaia. He told Roberto after he got off his phone. 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 in history was totally surreal. I still don't know what to do with it. I'm a student of history, so meeting a figure from history intrigues me... despite my mixed feelings.
When it came time to pay and tip Victor, 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 fished around all my pockets frantically and found it in a back pocket where I never put cash. Crisis averted, blood pressure lowered and money was 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, then closed as I walked out.
What a surreal, bizarre, mental memory moment that afternoon was!