Even though they were different men with entirely different motives, Pablo Escobar has nearly achieved the same stature in pop culture as Che Guevara has. He killed and hurt a lot of people on his way to becoming the king of cocaine and wealthiest criminal in history, but is also seen by some as a Robin Hood figure, someone who stole from the rich to help the poor. In Colombia, you see his image emblazoned everywhere.
The second most popular tour in Medellin is the Pablo Escobar one. Here they pick you up, take you to the neighborhood where he grew up, to another where a famous car bombing took place, to the cathedral where he allegedly went to bless his bullets, to the building where they finally shot him to death, on a rooftop, and lastly, to his final resting place at the Cementerio Jardines Montesacro. I asked my roommate, the African living in France, if he’d been on the tour, but he wasn’t interested in that kind of thing. I was only a little interested. All the pictures I saw of the tour showed the tour members posing like they were the real gangsters. Now that I knew something about the Metro system, I figured I could make it to the cemetery on my own. That would be enough.
The cemetery was not difficult to find. It was just taking the A train, the blue line this time, to the Sabaneta stop and then walking a quarter of a mile. I could see the cemetery from the platform. Once I got inside, however, I had no idea how to find Escobar’s grave. I asked a security guard and he led me over to a chapel where a service was taking place. The grave was right beside it, not only that of Escobar, but those of some of his family members as well.
Two guys from Bucaramanga approached me as I was standing there. They were in town for a Daddy Yankee concert and dressed in hip-hop fashion. I didn’t know if that meant they were down with gangsters. Apparently, not. When they asked to take a picture with me, and I jokingly flashed a gang sign with three fingers, to represent the three of us, they solemnly informed me that Escobar had been a terrorist. I asked them if they liked Bad Bunny. They didn’t like Bad Bunny either, only Daddy Yankee.
When I got back to the hostel, there was a girl lying down in bed, already hungover. She’d had to transfer from another hostel and didn’t get up until the next morning. By now I’d established my space as being the chair in front of the reception area. People thought I was very serious, perhaps sitting there writing business proposals. What I was doing was looking through old pictures, starting at the beginning, trying to find matches for the song and poem galleries I was working on.
Some of the pictures I knew well and had used before, the Haunted Rock one from Machu Picchu, the Li River and umbrella in China, the image of Kali in Kathmandu. It was easy to track those down and file them away. Others were not so obvious, not at first. I had to keep all the pieces of writing in mind and then recognize a match when I saw it. After too long, none of the pictures looked good anymore, and the words began to sound uninspired.
It was the rainy season, so every afternoon it had rained, long and hard, and then cleared up in the evening. That continued to be the case. When the rain finally stopped, I went out looking for something to eat. There was a place with broasted chicken on the corner. I ordered a quarter chicken, which came with two small potatoes, and arepas, which are something akin to tasteless biscuits. After I’d finished eating, I was approached by a homeless man, who basically demanded whatever was left on my plate. I had no problem with that. He took a few bones and started crunching them between his teeth.