I was going to include the day trip to Guatapé in the Medellín blog post but there was just too much to say and this fun day out!
I had reluctantly agreed to a day trip to Guatapé which included paintballing – I typically bruise like a peach so it was not really my idea of fun but I decided to push myself in to the unfamiliar and go anyway! I mean, who doesn’t want to play Cali Cartel vs Medellín in a drug lords mansion?
We set off early in a bus, along with 30+ others on our day of adventure and drove about 1.5 hours out of Medellín to a replica village perched above the lake. And now for another history lesson …
In 1970, several villages were flooded when a hydro electric dam was built – this now generates power for much of the region. Guatapé itself, was relocated to the shores of the new lake (Peñol-Guatapé reservoir), that has now become a popular weekend get away for people from Medellín. As part of this, the Government built a replica of one of the villages submerged – El Peñol to keep the memory of the village alive.
After 10 minutes here (which turned in to 30 minutes as we waited for some of the group to drink their second beer at 9am – the joys of a group tour!) we jumped in to jeeps and in some cases on to jeeps as they allowed people to sit on the roof, we headed down a dirt road to Finca La Manuela – I am pretty sure some of those on the roof regretted their decision to get up there as it was hot and the road was very bumpy!
Finca Le Manuela was once a holiday home of Pablo Escobar though it is thought that he only visited it a handful of times. Unfortunately, most of the main home was destroyed when it was bombed by the Cali cartel (allegedly) in 1992, however it was not hard to image how wonderful it must have been in its prime.
In his prime, Escobar was earning in the region of $60m a day from his cocaine empire. He was bringing in so much cash, that among his monthly business expenditure was $2,500 on rubber bands for wrapping his money. He was the 10th richest man in the world and more powerful than the Colombian government.
Like one of his other properties, Hacienda Nápoles, which he has filled with exotic animals, this property he had planted many exotic trees and plants and trees native to Australia, Canada, and Japan still grow around the property.
Some of the other areas remain intact, including the bar area down by the lake and the pool. Now the story goes, the man who know ‘owns’ the place had started out washing cars for Pablo Escobar and worked his way up to being in- charge of this property (one of the many houses owned by Escobar in his prime). After Escobar’s death, he stayed on and Colombia has what I would interpret as a ‘squatters’ rights law which means as he has stayed on the property for more than 20 years (although some people seem to think you only needed to be there for 10 years) you owned it! So, basically the former house keeper now owns this massive sprawling property in a prime location.
He now runs tours as well as the paint balling and is happily serving drinks and having his photo taken with guests. I am sure this is not where he expected to be when he started his car washing career for the Medellín cartel don many years ago.
Escobar always tried to keep his business and his family separate. So, he bought his sister a house across the lake from his own home. It was there he would conduct his business but still have sight of his family and home.
After a tour of the property which included much information about Pablo, his life and his homes, we headed back to the bar area for lunch before donning our gear for the so-called highlight of the day – paint balling. The overalls, breast plate and full-face mask required to play were not really suited to the heat but sadly a necessary evil – we were soon all dripping in sweat.
First up was capture the flag, cartel vs cartel. I must admit I played it pretty safe in the first game. Hiding in one of the abandoned buildings and only poking my head out to shoot a couple of rounds at the approaching opposition. The opposition team was made up of some of the people from our group, as well as 5 Israeli guys, who we all assumed had done military service so were pretty good aim but took no notice of people surrendering and trying to get out of the game when they were already ‘dead’. They frustrated everyone, including the guys running the game! It just gave us more incentive to try and hit them!
We played two games before switching to ‘kill Pablo’ where one team had to protect him and the other team had to attack and kill him. By this point I was pretty trigger happy and ran out of bullets part way through the 3rd game. You could buy more but I decided against it and sat out the last game. I managed to escape the games fairly unscathed with only minor bruising though I am clearly not cut out for the cartel life!
From Finca Manuela it was onward and upward and our next stop for the day was El Peñon de Guatapé, a giant monolithic rock that basically looks like it fell out of the sky, and the stunning view of the manmade lake and small islands surrounding the rock. It was a challenging 650 step climb up the side of the rock in the afternoon heat, but the amazing views was worth it.
Our final stop for the day was the town of Guatapé. A colourful, holiday town recreated after the flooding of the original town. It is well known for its brightly painted houses with depictions of people, animals and activities covering the lower half of many of the buildings.
We had time for coffee and a quick walk around the town before jumping back on the bus for our return journey to Medellín and our final night in the city before we moved on to the coast.