Salento in the “zona cafetera” and the sculptures of San Agustin

Hello my dear friends! I’m in San Agustin, almost on the border with Ecuador, where I should arrive in the next days. Heading south I crossed the “zone Cafetera” , where the coffee is grown. In fact, Colombia is the third world coffee producer after Brazil and Vietnam, the very famous Vietnamese coffee.
There I stayed 5 days in Salento, the name comes from a southern Italian zone (located on the heel of the boot) because for some reason in the “zone Cafetera” the cities took the names from around the world, as I realized with some fear on the bus when, after waking up, I saw signs as: Jerico … Damascus … Palestine and I thought fuck, I must have missed some stops!

Salento is a small town between the mountains and in those days there was a paradox: despite drinking constantly coffee because I always found it around, I could not stop sleeping! It did the opposite effect. I mean, I didn’t wake up late, but after there was always a nap after lunch and at night, a couple of hours after dinner, I went again to bed. Maybe one of the reasons was also the “April sweet sleeping” as we say in Italy, but anyway those mountains made me lazy. To be precise: it is not that elsewhere I grab a pickaxe to run down in the mines to dig, but there I was feeling particularly lazy. Maybe I needed a little ‘rest, and probably also influenced the change in temperature and climate in general. It’s only been a few days, but it seems so far the warm sun of the Caribbean coast. Salento and St. Agustine are at almost 2000 meters. They are chilly, humid and it is raining a lot.

The mountains and valleys around here are particularly spectacular , with canyons and waterfalls. Until a few years ago, the tourists could not come because of the high risk of being kidnapped by guerrillas.
Perhaps for this reason there are many roadblocks of the police and once in the stretch between Armenia and Popayan, they stopped and searched all the people on the mini-bus where I was, and especially me, perhaps because foreigner, Italian and friend of the nephew of Escobar.
They found 4 or 5 secret pockets in my photographic backpack which I didn’t know existed but they didn’t check the two main pockets, those in front, where I had 3 kilos of cocaine! Joke of course :-)

On the coaches and in the streets there are posters that invite to denounce, in exchange of money, guerrillas guys or suspected and some of these posters are, rightly, riddled with bullets.

Now I’m in San Agustin , where there are beautiful and mysterious stone carvings of a civilization of which we ignore almost everything. We know that they lived in these parts since at least 3300 BC, and then vanished a little before the arrival of the Spaniards.
I’ve seen a hundred of statues and they don’t have anything to envy to other extraordinary pre-Columbian most famous art as the Incas or the Mayans.
Their discovery is fairly recent, and many of them have come to light only in the last century. Even the fact that, as I said, these areas have been until recently off-limit due the guerrilla, it has probably slowed down their knowledge in the rest of the world.
The sculptures represent sometimes men and women, sometimes animals, and often a mixture. They were usually in front of the tombs, as a guard, and were covered with them under the earth.
It ‘s really difficult know the society that created them because it seems as they had no contacts with other civilizations and apart from these sculptures, around 500, were found just a few tools, jewelry and the usual broken pots (after many travels I have come to the conclusion that the main hobby of the ancient people of all the world was doing pots, breaking them and inserting them in graves :-) )
As always, the grave robbers over the years have done a lot of damage, destroying and taking away valuables.


Coffee plantation in Salento.




Pool table saloon.


People in Salento.


Salento street.


Pool players.


Football in tv on the street.


Big coffee machine.




Salento by night.




Cow nose.


San Ibrahimovic, the patron of all the Champions League eliminated teams! :-)


Friday before Easter procession.


Night before Easter fire.


Strange tree.


San Agustin.




Grave near the Magdalena river, maybe of a guerrilla.


San Agustin sculpture.


As I said, often they were as guarding the tombs, covered with them under the ground.


And often have traits both human and animal….


“And indeed, they care more to make and decorate the grave where they put the dead then the house in which they must live.” – From “The Chronicle of Peru”, 1550. Text written at the entrance of the museum of the archaeological park of San Agustin.


From the images on the sculptures it has been possible to trace some of their characteristics: clothes, ornaments, weapons and some food, but for all the rest, there are just guesses.


Ok, that’s all for now! And please put some comment, don’t be shy. Shyness is not good. :-)

Mompos, Medellin and Pablo Escobar.

Dear friends, be happy: here is in fact a new episode of Dekaro Diary! This time I’ll talk about Mompos, Medellin and Pablo Escobar, one of the most famous drug dealer of all time, head of the Medellin cartel. I also personally met his nephew, Nicolas.

More or less half way between Cartagena and Medellin, there is Mompos , a city that, as Villa de Leyva, seems to have stopped in time. This is probably because it was always a bit isolated. In fact it is difficult to reach, and at some point there is also a stretch of river to do by speedboat.


It is the city where is set “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Marquez.


A square at dusk.


Colored chicks for sale.


Procession of Palm Sunday.


Woman with donkey.


One night, in bars around a square, I met Javier, left, with whom I had a few beers. Then I met this gentleman on the right, but it was a bit weird.


Indeed, very strange.


But basically nice, here is about to smile!


The speedboat for the stretch of river from Magangué in Bodega.


Guys in Magangué.


Medellin is located in a valley surrounded by hills full of houses. Arriving at night it feels like to be wrapped in hundreds of thousands of little lights.
From a metro station there is a cableway that goes up one of these hills.


Inside the cableway, which runs just above one of the many neighborhoods.


These districts are composed almost entirely of bare brick houses.


Posters on the houses.


MedellinInside the little streets.


Little square.




Football field.


Also in Medellin, to my astonishment, I found the “Pablo Escobar Tour” , a tour where you visit the sites linked to the history of Escobar, up to his house, where you can meet his brother or his nephew.
We visited various places, including his tomb.

Let me give you a very quick summary of his tragic life because, in addition to fascinating, is an integral part of Colombian history.
Small drug dealer in South America, was the first to export cocaine to the U.S. in the 70s when this drug, although already classified as illegal, was virtually ignored by the police and the security of airports.
Becomes in a few years, the 7 richest man in the world, giving meanwhile a good chunk of his earnings to the poor, especially in Medellin, building hospitals, schools and entire districts where homeless families go to live.
For this reason, becomes loved by the poorer classes , ie the vast majority of Colombians, and decides to enter politics, even to gain parliamentary privilege.
Is elected in Colombian Congress but soon after expelled under pressure from the Minister of Justice and from this moment the war between him and the state gets rough. It kills the minister of justice and gives a bounty of $ 1000 for every policeman killed. The policemen of course leave Medellin that becomes the most dangerous city in the world. Also, in the meantime began the war with the Cali cartel. The dead, including many innocent victims, are thousands.
Increasingly cornered, Escobar accepts to get arrested, but on condition that the constitution is changed so as to prevent the extradition of Colombians, because he does not want to end up in the U.S.. When he gets it, he goes in a prison built by himself: the Catedral , one of the most luxurious place on Earth.
But when the government, perhaps under pressure from the U.S., decides to transfer him to another prison, Escobar escapes.
On December 2, 1993, the day after his forty-fourth birthday, is found and killed on a rooftop in Medellin.


The headquarters of the Medellin cartel. After having been confiscated, was blown up by the Cali cartel, known as “Los Pepes”.


“Wanted” manifest with his brother Roberto. It is inside the house where he lived in the early ’80s, before moving to a country estate about 4 hours from Medellin, called “Napoles”.
The house is now a sort of museum and is home to Robert and his son Nicolas, nephew of Pablo.


Me with Nicolas, the nephew of Pablo Escobar.


If the tour itself was not exceptional, really interesting was instead meeting Nicolas , a very intelligent person, with whom we could discuss at length.
He said that 90% of the things said about Pablo Escobar are false.
On the death of his uncle no one knows the truth apart from him, his father and a third person. As soon as this third person will die (and Nicolas hopes soon) he will tell it. He apologized for not being able to say more about it but apart from this, responded fully to all questions, always with great sincerity and dignity, using the “we” even for the bloodiest actions of the Medellin cartel, such as the murder of the minister of justice.
He noted that the war waged by politicians against his uncle never had anything to do with moral issues, because the Colombian politicians have never thought in those terms. The problem was political, Escobar was the first person coming from a poor family to challenge the power managed by a cast of five Colombian families. Also, instead of just promising, as all politicians do, he was really helping people, and this is a fact.
On the United States said that the real problem for them is not so much the harmfulness of cocaine, but the flow of money going from there to Colombia and that must be stopped. It reminded me Chomsky that noted that many more Colombians die every year because of U.S. tobacco then Americans because of Colombian cocaine.

Looking back at his past he feels still a great love for his uncle, extraordinarily intelligent person and always ready to help the poor, but he realizes that, despite all the money he had, it was not a good life . He could hardly move around and when he did, he need to be escorted and armed to the teeth. Now he finds himself with 75% of his family and 99% of his friends killed. Even the three years in a hotel in Switzerland for $ 55,000 a day in the early 80s, were more like a senseless folly than something pleasant.

He told many interesting stories of life with his uncle:
Pablo deciding to learn French because he preferred to know the language of the people with whom he does business, and after only 3 months, when he meets up again, he speaks fluently in that language while Nicolas, for years in Switzerland with the best professors, still can’t do that!
The surreal luxury of the Catedral, the prison that Pablo self-built for himself, where almost every night there were parties and sometimes even football matches with entire teams inside.
The escalation of ways and means to bring the drugs in the U.S. beginning with small planes, after with ships, while now the Cali cartel is using mostly submarines.
The many international airports that made them go without controls in exchange for 25% of the value of the carried drugs… etc. … etc. …

Nicolas was arrested only once with a friend, immediately torn to pieces with a chainsaw by Colombian police in front of his eyes. Fortunately for him, in the meantime uncle Pablo knew of the arrest and personally called the president of Colombia, saying that this was a war between them and if they began to put in relatives then he would start to kill the sons and the nephews of all highest military and political men. 25 minutes after the call, Nicolas was free again.
After the death of Pablo, the family decided to stop. Now the drug trade is controlled mainly by the Cali cartel, their eternal rival.

One last curiosity. The war between the Medellin Cartel and the Cali moved also on the football field, with Independiente Medellin against America of Cali. And when the Cali drew a game thanks to a somewhat suspect refereeing, Escobar killed the referee! The hidden dream of every football fan! :-)

A big hug to the many new friends of the facebook page of Dekaro Diary!