When we arrived in Retiro at 2:30 p.m., Olga was nowhere to be seen. We stood around in the town square for about 10 minutes second guessing our decision. What had we been thinking? We meet a stranger in an airport in Bogotá, Colombia and then drive out to the countryside to meet her in a small town? But, our gut told us we were still doing the right thing. It was an opportunity to have a unique experience. One of life’s “wow” moments! Finally, we heard a horn honk, and there was Dr.Olga!
Here is a photo of the town square of Retiro:
Germán was a little nervous about what we were getting into so he didn’t want to leave us until he met Olga. He spoke with her and her sister for a few minutes and when he felt everything was fine he gave us the “thumbs up” and left. We piled into her SUV, luggage and all. Olga drove us a couple of miles through beautiful countryside where there were a number of what I would call very nice, “weekend country homes”. When we got to their house, they introduced us to the other 2 family members: another sister and their 82 year old father. They showed us around the house, walked outside with us on the beautifully manicured grounds while explaining about the different types of plants. Then we all went inside and for 2 hours drank Colombian coffee, ate cookies, and had very stimulating conversation about the economic and political climate of South America and the relationship with the U.S. It helped to have done a little research on Colombia before our trip. The family was all very highly educated and well-read. They knew all about what was happening on the campaign trail in the U.S. Presidential race It was a great experience to spend those 2 hours with such a nice family.At 4:30, Olga and her sister drove us to the airport for our 6 p.m. flight to Cartagena where we would spend the next 5 days in a very different kind of life.Next-Cartagena and my new family
We were up at dawn on Sunday morning. I gorged myself on a big buffet breakfast while Jay went to Sunday mass. We had agreed to meet Germán at 8:30 for the big tour and he showed up right on time.
Here is the breakfast buffet:
First stop was the house where the final battle occurred when Pablo and his driver were killed in a hail of gunfire. I had seen photos of the house on the internet so when we drove up we recognized it immediately. I had to have my picture taken in front of it! This is now a quiet neighborhood and many people were on the streets walking to church while I am having my picture taken in front of the house. I am sure they thought “crazy tourists”. Germán described the battle in detail and it pretty well matched up with what I had read. It was unbelievable, just having finished the book, and now I am standing in front of the very house! It was like living the story.
Next, it was off to the cemetery to see the tomb of Pablo. Again, as soon as we walked onto the cemetery grounds I recognized the tomb after seeing pictures of it on the internet. Quite an impressive little plot of dirt! Several family members are buried right there next to him. Germán told us that Pablo was considered the “Robin Hood” of Colombia and that people still bring flowers to his grave every day.
Here German is giving Jay a little history of the events surrounding the burial of Pablo:
For the next 4 hours Germán drove us around Medellin visiting various sites which were major points of interest including many of the buildings that Pablo used to own and some of the apartments where he lived. We finally got our fill of Pablo.
One more thing I wanted us to do was to ride the cable car that is an extension of the metro system in Medellin. The cable car is part of a transit system that serves a rather large, lower socio-economic neighborhood that is built up into the hills. It is the main system of transportation for this neighborhood and connects with the metro for travel throughout the city. It is a series of 3 different cable car stations; each one located a little higher up the hill than the other–similar to a ski lift. We jumped on a car and rode it through all 3 stations and back while Germán waited on the street for us.
It was quite interesting to go over the top of the neighborhoods and see how people are living below you. Each car held about 6 people. The other passengers were all very friendly so we chatted with them a little in Spanish.
As you can see, it is an interesting way to travel through your neighborhood:
(click on the photos to enlarge them)
By this time it was 12 noon and we still needed to call Dr. Olga. Germán dropped us off in the park where we had dinner the night before. We used a pay phone to call Olga. Olga wasn’t there but her sister answered and said she was aware we might come by the farm. She said Olga would return in an hour and suggested we call back then. We used the hour to have lunch at an outdoor restaurant. Great cheeseburgers!
When we returned to the hotel we called Olga again and this time she answered. She suggested we get Germán to drive us to the little town of Retiro which she said was on the way to the airport (sort of). She told us to have him drop us off in the town square and she and her sister would pick us up at 2:30. So, on a wing and a prayer we told Germán…”It’s Retiro for us, Amigo”!
Next-Retiro and meeting the family of Dr.Olga
When we arrived in Medellin, our driver was waiting with a sign. He was a friendly chap. His name was Germán. He knew a few words in English and seemed to welcome the chance to practice with us even though his vocabulary was quite limited.
The drive from the airport to our hotel was about 45 minutes so we had plenty of time to talk with Germán about our plans for the next day in Medellin. We needed to maximize our time in the city because our flight would leave for Cartagena at 6 p.m. the next day.
You probably know that Medellin was previously the drug capital of the world when Pablo Escobar was alive and ran the famous Medellin drug cartel. Before we had left OKC on our trip, Jay and I had both just finished reading the book “Killing Pablo” by Mark Bowden. It is a riveting story about the life of Pablo Escobar and how they finally tracked him down and killed him. Colombia has a violent history, and reading certain parts of the book made cold chills run up my spine. But, it also made me want to learn more about this fascinating story. As luck would have it, guess who had met Pablo, knew his story well, and also knew many of the places that Pablo had lived? You guessed it……our very own driver…..Germán!! At that instant, Germán became our designated driver for the next day in Medellin. He agreed that he would not only take us on a tour of Medellin but would take us on the Pablo Escobar tour of Medellin!! What a stroke of luck! We were elated.
It was already 8 p.m. when we checked into the Park 10 hotel in the El Poblado area which is supposedly the best area in which to stay. The weekend rate is $100 per night and includes a buffet breakfast. As you can see from the photos it is a very nice hotel.
By now, it was dinner time so we got directions to a popular restaurant area in a park near the hotel. We walked about 8 blocks through some fairly dark streets, but never felt unsafe because there were a few other people out on the streets. Around the park were tons of open air restaurants and bars. We found a table on the sidewalk and just sat there and watched the people. It was Saturday night in Medellin!!
To celebrate surviving Bogotá we decided to splurge on the food. We both had steak and dessert. The steak was about $18. After dinner we walked back to the hotel in the dark in a light rain. We had a big day ahead of us. The excitement was building.
Next-Medellin, the Pablo Escobar tour.