Exploring Pablo Escobar's mansion at Guatape...then paintballing in it - Colombia
UPDATE: A more extensive version of this story is available on The Road Untold - Paintballing in Pablo Escobar's Mansion.
If you have seen Narcos, you will be aware that Pablo Escobar played a pretty significant part in Colombia's recent history. Even if you haven’t, you will probably be aware that he was a rather wealthy man with countless luxury properties scattered around the country. These days, many of these properties have been re-purposed or demolished. One of them however, sitting in the stunning surroundings of Guatape lake just outside Medellin, provides visitors with a decidedly unique experience.
Arriving by boat, it is clear that this property was once an incredibly luxurious space. Now however, it sits as a somewhat eerie reminder of Colombia's dark past. We are given a tour of the main house’s exterior which appears barely standing. The pool is a swamp like green, parts of the roof have collapsed and the walls are covered in graffiti.
While I stood looking over the cracked, slime filled pool, one story that came to mind was that of a lavish party Pablo threw in one of his picturesque properties. The guests were all high ranking players in the drug world, corrupt politicians and other powerful leaders. While they mingled around the pool, the sun shone and live music played. Suddenly the music stopped and Pablo appeared dragging a bound and gagged worker from one of his farms. “This man stole $10 of coca from me” he said. Then he pushed the helpless man into the pool. Everybody watched as he struggled to save himself. “Let this be a warning to you all”. A short silence was followed by the music starting up and the party continuing, the farmer now floating dead in the pool. Could it have been this very pool where that story played out?
At the time of this story, Pablo 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. As I managed to break off from the group and explore the inside of the building, a wry smile came over me. There was some sort of poetry in the state of the place. Slowly rotting in the surroundings of the beautiful lake. Nature reclaiming it, healing gradually like the people who suffered so horribly during Pablo's time.
Of course a tour of a derelict mansion belonging to such an infamous man is not exactly unusual, but what we did next was a little more unexpected: In a small complex of now crumbling buildings set back from the main house, where Pablo's extended family would have stayed, we suited up and played a series of epic games of paintball. I’ve played paintball plenty of times before, but here, slipping between crumbling buildings, shooting from windows and teaming up as the DEA vs the Narcos, never has it felt so real and yet totally surreal at the same time.
As the fun came to a close, it's difficult not to wonder what a proud man like Pablo Escobar would have thought to a group of twenty gringos shouting, laughing and shooting yellow paint all over the building that might well have housed his mother. Given the horrors he unleashed on this country, and the scars that are still healing, we can only hope he's turning in his grave.