Photo: Pablo Escobar Tour
Pablo Escobar’s family has organized a tourist excursion of Medellin similar in style to the Gangsters of Chicago and which idealizes the biggest drug trafficker in the history of Colombia.
The tour route traveled in school buses brings Escobar’s last days to life, with tourist guide Natalia Buitrago telling the story of the Medellin drug cartel’s founder.
First stop on the tour is the house in the Los Olivos neighborhood where Colombian National Police gunned the kingpin down as he and his bodyguard tried to escape across adjoining rooftops - or where the drug trafficker “shot himself,” as the guide suggests, thus bolstering the legend about how Pablo died.
The tourists then continue on to Montesacro Cemetery, passing along the way the ruins of the Dallas Building, the so-called “Business Center” where the drug lord founded his empire.
The inscription “Pablo vive” (Pablo lives) on a wall of the building, abandoned since 1993 following an attempt by rivals to murder him, strikes the perfect note for tourists seeking to go back 30 years to the days when Medellin was the drug traffickers’ mecca.
Then on to Montesacro where the wish of “Don Pablo” was granted - to be buried in Colombia - as the gravestone says under which he was laid to rest beside his parents, a brother, an aunt and his bodyguard.
And it was with the saying “Better a tomb in Colombia than a prison in the United States” that Escobar launched a war against the government in the 1980s to avoid extradition that left a trail of slaughtered victims.
But the climax of the tour is neither the house in Los Olivos, nor the lonely family mausoleum, not even the ruined building, but the chance to meet in person Roberto Escobar, alias “El Osito” (Little Bear), brother and sidekick of Pablo in all his adventures.
This is the tourists’ true delight, usually young Europeans or Americans who believe that Pablo Escobar was more like Robin Hood, as some Colombian media once described him, than the powerful, murderous drug trafficker that he was.
Before arriving at the house, the cautious guide warns visitors: “Roberto justifies everything his brother ever did.”
Half-deaf and half-blind from a package bomb sent him while in jail, El Osito, as if speaking of some heroic exploits, recounts his adventures with the brother he so sorely misses.
Bullet holes in the walls and windows from a kidnapping attempt, the dining room where Pablo celebrated his last birthday the day before he was slain, secret places for hiding and storage, and a speedboat the family had at their luxurious Hacienda Napoles estate are some of the memorabilia on view at the dwelling.
“Are you sorry about anything?” a young Irishman asked him, to which Roberto Escobar replied, “Every human being makes mistakes in his life and has to be sorry about them - what’s important is not to make the same mistake twice.”
“What do you think now about all they did?” a Canadian asked him, and Escobar answered, “The cartel did some really good things, and also made some mistakes.”
On the way back, a Swiss named Mark who is touring Latin America told Efe, “Pablo did good things, he gave homes to people who had nothing, but in the end he wanted everything for himself.”
During the tour, which cost 55,000 pesos (about $30), the Swiss bought all the films about the drug trafficker and a portrait of Pablo with a dedication by Roberto with his signature and thumbprint.
The Escobars say that today, without the lucrative business of the Medellin cartel and with most of their goods seized by the government, they have no money left, even though in the 1980s they possessed one of the largest fortunes in the world.
The tour is not viewed favorably either by the authorities or by Medellin’s inhabitants, dumbfounded at how the birthplace of the Colombian drug trade is advertised on social networks and to tourists staying at hostels and hotels around the city.