Colombia: Drug lord's
|The swimming pool at Pablo Escobar's former|
holiday mansion Photo / Amy Rosenfeld
Standing on the second-storey balcony of the crumbling, charred lakeside nightclub, it's difficult to imagine this was once the playground of one of the world's most notorious drug lords.
Pablo Escobar's bar - or remnants of it - jut out onto the abandoned dance floor. What was built to be the center of the party, where Colombia's underbelly cooked up drugs and plots, now rests under layers of dust and graffiti.
Over the hill, Escobar's holiday mansion is in even worse shape.
The swimming pool, inlaid with an elaborate mosaic pattern, is filled with rainwater and debris, the domed roof of the entranceway lies cracked on the earth, spindly trees fighting to grow through the rubble.
But the mansion's key draw card remains virtually unchanged from when Escobar and his entourage ruled these shores: a glittering, panoramic view of the expansive Lake Guatapé.
The solitary difference is that the lake surface, once used as a landing strip for drug-laden planes, is now heavy with holidaymakers on powerboats and jet skis.
Since Escobar's getaway was bombed by his rivals, the Cali Cartel, in 1992, the site has been left to mold and decay.
But one of the world's richest and most-wanted men once called this place his paradise. And it's not hard to see why.
Known as "the town of Zócalos" after the brightly-painted square tiles that skirt each cottage, Guatapé has a quaint, small-town feel. It's only two hours away from the party-haven of Medellín, but very far removed in all other respects.
The town of 11,000 people offers the perfect spot for any traveler looking to enjoy some time on the water, while avoiding the suffocating heat and hustlers that plague Colombia's coastal towns.
Midweek, the stalls selling snacks and souvenirs are quiet, and the lake-spanning zipline is closed. But on long weekends, which seem as common as arepas and coffee in Colombia, guests spill out of the few hostels and hotels and into the welcoming arms of tour guides.
Unlike tourist hotspots like Tayrona or Taganga, however, the majority of holidaymakers come from no further than Bogota or Cartagena.
Somehow, Guatapé seems to have avoided becoming part of Colombia's 'Gringo trail', but the increasing numbers of foreign day trippers from Medellín suggest it may not stay this way for long.
The lake, in reality a huge hydro-electric dam, encompasses dozens of islands, endless hidden coves, and one underwater town.
The story goes that the residents of Viejo Peñol, less than thrilled with the government's decision to flood their homes to build the dam, were only convinced to leave after a bomb was set off in the town church.
Now regular boat tours take travelers to visit a solitary cross peeking above the lake surface, marking the place where the church once stood . . . .
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