Medellín, Colombia: Pablo Escobar’s Home Turf

posted on September 23rd, 2015 in Colombia, Life and Death in the Andes (New Book), Pablo Escobar

Botero sculptures


Journal Entry: Medellín, Colombia:

Walking towards Botero plaza from my hotel, men selling plums and avocados and pears on wooden carts, each with a microphone and speaker system, each competing for air space: “plums at 15 pesos the kilo!,” the street median strewn with vendors selling shoes and knickknacks, amid the exhaust and cacophony of sounds—like being in a giant stadium—the smell of urine, the occasional strong smell of marijuana, a man with vestigial arms wearing a blue t-shirt, homeless people stretched out, dozing on cement using plastic sheets as ground cloths, people coming and going, buses careening, taxis and trucks honking, the colossal metro structure pure brute cement arching overhead and sweeping past, the occasional roar of passing trains, then the giant Botero bronzes appear, set in twin rows in front of the red-bricked church: life-sized bronzes of men and women, a horse, a dog, a reclining nude, the women heavy haunched and solid, everything heavy-haunched and solid, as if made from bags of pulverized squash, yet their skin finely finished and smooth; people leaning against the staring sculptures reading newspapers, others looking in wonder if a tourist snaps a picture of one of them, as if discovering that the sculptures exist for the first time, first looking at the tourist, then looking puzzled at the sculpture, rains washing and streaking the bronze patinas, old men sitting on the cement steps leading to the metro, taking in the crowded streets, like old birds flocking together, young girls with long dark hair and cardboard signs strapped to butts suggesting “200 pesos/min”—the going rate to make a call on one of their cell phones, everyone milling, milling, chatting, reading, eating, the cafes full, the streets full, the curbs full, the sidewalks full, the plazas full, hordes of pigeons abruptly swinging into the sporadically and then zooming back down again.

Twenty years ago, Pablo Escobar’s sicarios roamed this city, imposing with revolvers the will of a single man and the illicit empire that he’d created. Today, I’m off to find the prison that at first he turned into a luxury residence, despite being incarcerated there, and then that he escaped from. Only to become a target again of the Colombian police, the army, and even the CIA.

Next up: a visit to La Catedral Prison