Pablo, Who? The Medellín tour that shows the B-side of Colombia’s “Narcos” story

“Colombia’s a paradox,” my guide Rubén Darío Gómez, a Medellín native tells me. I’d asked why Colombians are so welcoming—a characteristic at odds with a 59-year armed conflict that saw up to 450,000 dead, over 120,000 ‘disappeared,’ and nine million victims from related issues such as forced displacement. In Medellín, few escaped watching loved ones become collateral damage in the fight between notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar, the military, and armed revolutionaries.

“We learned that life isn’t guaranteed,” he continues. “If you went out onto the street, you could be murdered. It’s why we now dance and play and are passionate. No one wants to miss the present moment; there might be no future.”

In 1988, when it became ground zero for Escobar’s drug wars, Time magazine famously dubbed Medellín the ‘world’s most dangerous city.’ Escobar tours have become a dime a dozen since they first launched in 2011, taking foreign tourists on a dark pilgrimage to his grave and the rooftop where he was gunned down. Netflix’s 2015 series Narcos has further bolstered Medellín’s notoriety, controversially describing itself as “the true story of Colombia’s infamously violent and powerful drug cartels.”

But it’s a claim that many in Medellín contest.

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