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02nd Jul 2016

JOE Backpacking Diary #13 – My incredible meeting with Pablo Escobar’s brother Roberto, the key man in the Medellín Cartel

Joe Harrington

This week’s diary is about coming face-to-face with Pablo Escobar’s brother, seeing his holiday home and visiting the suburbs of Medellín.

My name is Joe Harrington; I’m travelling through Central and South America for the next eight months, here’s what happened on week 12.

Medellín, Colombia (continued)

There are loads of Pablo Escobar tours in the city of Medellín and the surrounding areas but I got wind of one that included a possible meeting with his brother Roberto.

Roberto was the money man in the Escobar empire and he was Pablo’s closest brother so a chance to meet him is something I was interested in.

We booked the tour at Happy Buddha hostel (€30) and in the description it included a visit of Pablo Escobar’s grave, a visit to his office and access to his mother’s house where he was in the days before he died.

The meeting with Roberto is also advertised but we heard from a lot of people that he rarely turns up. I said I’d take a chance.

The first stop was the graveyard in Jardine where Escobar is buried. I was told that local and international people visit it everyday to pray to Pablo and leave him flowers.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BG9tdZ2GHYs/

The tour guide gave us a lot of information about Pablo’s rise, reign and demise and the freaky part of our tour was that our driver used to move drugs for Escobar back in the day.

The man was polite and friendly but I couldn’t help thinking about what he’d seen and done in the 80s and 90s. Surreal.

The next stop was the Dallas building which was boring but then we got to his mother’s old house and the tour transformed.

We drove through a huge electric gate where we were greeted by a short man with a blue shirt, beige slacks, brown shoes and a beige hat.

I hopped out of the van, said hello and the guide interrupted with, “I’d like to introduce you to Roberto Escobar Gaviria, the brother of Pablo Escobar.”

WTF?! I was shaking hands with the man who basically made Pablo Escobar’s Medellín and Colombian drug cartel work. A crazy experience.

Roberto left shortly after the handshake and we were taken to the garage and shown this infamous vehicle.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BG9tCAImHWz

The next move was to go into the house and the first thing we were shown were bullet holes in the walls and the windows.

Our guide explained that there was an attempt on Roberto’s life just six years ago in 2010 and the bullet holes were from then.

He arrived at the house earlier than usual that day and suddenly an alarm went off indicating that there was someone on the premises. He looked at the CCTV and saw six men with guns trying to get in. Roberto called the police and it all ended in a shootout and arrests.

Bull

A bullet hole from a shot that went through a painting of Pablo

I was given a tour around the house and shown the panic room, the Al Capone-owned gun Pablo bought, his office and the room where he celebrated his last birthday in December, 1993.

Roberto returned to greet us again and you could feel his presence immediately. Despite his slight frame, the man was still pretty intimidating.

He asked where I was from and then went onto explain why he’s involved in the tour. All the money from it goes to helping local disadvantaged people in Medellín suffering with HIV.

Then he posed for a photo. Me, a young fella from Kerry standing with the right hand man of one of the most notorious criminals in history.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BG9sXRXmHUo

You can see Roberto’s photo on the top right of that wanted poster beside Pablo. A $10 million reward offered for their deaths back then, it was hard to comprehend it all.

We said our goodbyes andI hopped back in the van. I’d to pinch myself because it was hard to believe that it really happened.

If you’re interested in the Pablo Escobar story, I’d highly recommend the tour. It’s full of information and the house is modern museum that puts you right in his shoes.

The next few days were spent partying and pottering around Medellín and of course watching Ireland beat Italy 1-0 at the Euros. Robbie Brady, you beauty.

Myself, Floris (Dutch), Blair (Tazmania), Nora (New Jersey), Kieran (Wales), Rumi (USA) and Suz (Dutch) went out to watch the Colombia vs USA game in Copa America.

It was a good night so Thursday was a bit of a write-off to be honest.

Friday was amazing though, myself and Floris went on a day trip to Guatapé which is two hours outside of Medellín.

The first place we visited was The Rock which is this gigantic… erm, rock… in the middle of these beautiful man-made lakes.

This is me on top, I look so happy. I was to be honest, I just hate smiling in photos. Look at the scenery in the background though, absolutely stunning.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHDTCLXBuA4/

Here’s a quick video to give you a 360 degree view from the top of the 740 steps.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHEPQGZB205/

The next stop was the actual town of Guatapé which the one of the most beautiful and THE most colourful town I’ve seen in my whole life.

Our group stopped off for a coffee, which was bueno, and then we went for a stroll around the town.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHDTPLUhxhu

After the coffee, a bano party and the walk around the town we jumped on a boat and set off across Lake Peñol in search of Pablo Escobar’s old holiday house.

We passed James Rodriguez’s gaff, it’s swish, and around the corner was Pablo old party house. Well, it was a shell of a building.

We had lunch in the bar where himself and his cartel buddies had huge parties, Paradise.

Pan

After a fine feed our guide took us up to the house and straight to Pablo’s bedroom where he told us what happened to the place.

When Pablo was on the run in 1993, Los Pepes were bombing everything he owned and the beautiful palace on Lake Peñol wasn’t spared.

housee

The guide took us through the remains and explained the layout of the building, it must have been stunning back in the day.

The swimming pool out the back survived the bombing but I wouldn’t be inclined to go for a dip.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHDUOIYhmPc

There’s an option to do the tour with paintballing at the house for €50 while the tour without paintballing is €35.

We got back to Medellín and we had our last dinner with Blair, Nora and Suz. I spent so much time with those three in the last few months so saying goodbye was tough. Happy trails guys.

The following morning myself and Floris said goodbye to Medellín. What a city.

Accommodation: Casa Kiwi. €10 per night for a good dorm room.

A great location, lovely local staff, cinema room, kitchen, rooftop terrace.

Food: Al Alma, The Grill Station Burger, Lenteja Express,

Drink: Lots of bars in Parque Lleras, Happy Buddha for backpackers and it’s a different club every night so ask around.

Highlight: Meeting Pablo Escobar’s brother. Weird, unsettling but fascinating.

Lowlight: Saying goodbye to Blair, Nora, Suz and the city of Medellín. Ten brilliant days.

Next stop: Salento, Colombia

Myself and Floris got the 9:30am bus south to Salento (€14). I was wrecked, he was loving it.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHFskllBwS1

We arrived in Salento at around 5pm just in time to catch sunset at the Mirador at the top of the town.

Salento is a peaceful town in the mountain with some of the best views in Colombia.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHGJ4U8hYFu

After all that time in the city in Medellín, some time in the country high up in the mountains was exactly what we needed.

Day two was action-packed with horseback riding, a coffee tour and a trek on the horse to a waterfall booked in.

I rode horse a lot as a kid so I thought it’d be like riding a bike. Hop on and I’d be grand, it wasn’t grand, not at all.

My horse seemed lively when I hopped on but I thought it was jitters because of a new person on it. I soon found out that the horse was insane.

The way I found out was when it took off like a rocket and I was in trouble.

The horse, named Monaco, was galloping as fast as it could. I was roaring “slow down, you f**ker,” a real horse whisperer, but he just went faster.

My feet came out of the stirrups at top speed, I was out of control. I eventually pulled back the reigns as hard as I could for the 19th time and it stopped on the spot.

My crotch rammed into the stump of the saddle and I fell off the side onto the ground. Easily one of the scariest things that’s ever happened me.

The local guide thought it might be a good idea to get another horse, no shit, and I was given a tranquil dream. Too late though, damage done.

The coffee tour was intitially a perfect reason to get off the horse and it turned into a really interesting 45 minutes.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHI0_XKBflv/

We were given a step-by-step guide on how coffee is made from start to finish.

We picked the fruits, extracted the beans, went to the drying rooms, and were shown the process and it all culminated in a cup of first class Colombian coffee.

The horseback tour continued after the coffee and it were riding (cop on) for two hours solid through the forests of the Cocora Valley.

Here I am crossing a river not fearing for my life. Damn, Monaco.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHJHtP-B7Qi

The tour finished at a waterfall deep in the forest and we were told we could dive into but the water levels were too low.

It was still beautiful to see it after a day of riding (seriously, cop on).

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHI0aa4hiae/

It’s super-chilled in Salento and after an amazing meal in BetaTown we hit the hay with another big adventure planned the following day.

Salento and the Cocora Valley are best known for being the home of the tallest palm trees in the world. Floris and I got to see them today.

The trek through the valley isn’t easy and there are some pretty interesting bridges along the way.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHLHRrrhlWR

The main route takes you to a cool hummingbird sanctuary at the top of the valley.

It’s a nice rest point for a drink and the hummingbirds are fleeting about the place as if there was nobody there.

I captured this cool slow motion video of one of the birds.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHLEog0B2Jq

The rest of the hike was about getting close to the palm trees and after a bit of exploring myself and Floris found a great spot to take a few photos.

The landscape with these enormous trees dotted in it is incredible. I’m 6’3″ and this is what I look like standing beside them.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHLEUlzh8oR/

The walk back to where we started is up there with the most scenic places I’ve seen solely because the palm trees are so unusual.

We took some time to soak in the view and to comment that there’s nowhere in the world like it. A real privilege to be there.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BHLLnWWhGKS

Incase you were wondering, I’m walking like John Wayne and I imagine I will be for at least a week. Monaco, I’ll never forget him.

Accommodation: La Luciernaga. €10 per night for a dorm room.

A great location, the beds and duvets are the best I’ve been in, they have a downstairs restaurant.

Food: BetaTown. The food is fresh and incredibly tasty.

Drink: I haven’t drank here.

Highlight: Seeing the tallest palm trees in the world.

Lowlight: The incident with Monaco. I thought I was dead.

If you’ve any tips, advice or questions, let me know on Twitter at @ImJoeHarrington or Instagram/ImJoeHarrington.

Talk to you next week.

Read more:

Diary #2 – Miami, Guatemala City, Antigua
Diary #3 – Antigua, Lake Atitlan
Diary #4 – Entering El Salvador
Diary #5 – El Salvador, Leon, Nicaragua
Diary #6 – Volcano boarding in Leon, Laguna De Apoyo, Granada
Diary #7 – The volcanos of Ometepe and Sunday Funday in San Juan
Diary #8 – Monteverde and Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Diary #9 – Bocas del Toro, Panama City
Diary #10 – San Blas Islands, reaching Colombia
Diary #11 – Exploring north Colombia, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Punta Gallinas
Diary #12 – My first week in Medellín

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