I cross again the Colombia and I reach Panama passing through the archipelago of San Blas (Kuna Yala)

Hello friends, here I am. Sorry for the delay, but I couldn’t access the internet for several days, apart from Panama City.

These two weeks were very intense, with many voyages, often by sea with speedboats. I quickly crossed Colombia and arrived in Panama on the Atlantic side, passing through a fabulous place: the archipelago of Kuna Yala (or San Blas). From there, I went on the Pacific Ocean in Santa Catalina and Coiba National Park. Now I’m back on the Atlantic in Bocas del Toro, near the border with Costa Rica.

I tell you quickly about my last few days. From Pasto, I returned to Medellin, where I stayed one day. After, I went to Turbo, a sinister place where I took a speedboat that reached the sea after a stretch of river and arrived in about 3 hours in Capurgana, a beautiful village on the border with Panama.
I would have stayed there at least a week if I didn’t find an excellent opportunity: for only $ 200 a boat tour of three days in the archipelago of Kuna Yala in Panama.
An opportunity because it was almost the same price I had to spend anyway to reach Panama (by sea or by air), without including the tour in Kuna Yala, that would have cost much more from Panama.

So, I joined the tour organized by Fabio, a Neapolitan guy that runs a posada in Capurgana, and from time to time organizes these tours (link: www.capurgana-sanblas.com).
In the tour group, apart from me and Fabio, there was a Brazilian guy, Aparicio, a French couple, and eight Israelis. On a long narrow motorboat, we reached Caledonia, an indigenous Kuna village, where we remained for three days while visiting the deserted islands around.
After, the others returned to Capurgana, while Aparicio and I stayed two more days in Caledonia. Then we went to an island at about 4 hours by speedboat, Franklin’s Island (or Tuba-Senika). There we met a Colombian couple very kind that, once we reached the Panama mainland in Cartì, offered us a ride car to Panama City… but from that I will tell you the next time.

In the village of Caledonia, besides us, there was a group of South Korean Christian missionaries completely crazy and rude, the worst kind of scum. It is even possible that they pretended to be missionaries to cover some sort of shady business.

Ok, I tell you with the photo story, but until Kuna Yala (San Blas), otherwise the post comes out too long. Very soon, I will write the second part.


Colorful boats in a village by the lagoon de la Cocha, near Pasto in southern Colombia.


The lagoon de la Cocha, under the misty.


When the weather got better, I took a ride on a boat. The only problem was that filthy little dog (look at the legs) jumping continuously on me, making my jeans totally dirty. It makes to think that there are people in the world so weird to prefer dogs to cats. I’ve never seen a dirty cat in my life (apart, a little, Rasputin). In fact, cats spend most of their time cleaning themselves.


As mentioned in the previous post, I pleasantly re-passed through Colombia, from the spectacular cliff roads around Pasto to those in the charming Zona Cafetera


…and again in Medellin which, I repeat, it’s a pleasant city, despite its bad reputation. It is, though, still a bit ‘dangerous: in 2009, there were 2899 cases of violent death. However, the district where I stayed both times, El Poblado, is tranquil.
This is Botero park. Botero was born in Medellin.


Sweet candy seller.


Girls in the university district.


Finally, I reached Capurgana, on the northern border with Panama, on the Atlantic side. As I said, I reluctantly left it after only one day to join the boat tour with Fabio in the archipelago of San Blas or Kuna Yala, in Panama.
Behind Fabio (ahead), Aparicio, the Brazilian guy I am traveling with now, and an Israeli guy.


Reaching Caledonia, a kuna village with about 1000 inhabitants, where I stayed 5 days. The islands of the archipelago of San Blas are property of the Kuna people.

The Kuna (also spelled Guna) is an indigenous group of about 70,000 people who live in the archipelago for centuries with very little interference from the Panamanian government. They prefer to inhabit only a few of the nearly 400 islands belonging to them, leaving the others uninhabited.
It was the first group in Latin America to achieve such independence. However, it seems to me (but I could be wrong) that, right now, they are doing the reverse path to most of the other indigenous groups in Latin America. If these, which seemed on the verge of disappearing, are rising back from their ashes in these last two decades, claiming their origins, cultures, and languages, the Kuna, after having for centuries preserved their customs, are in recent years dangerously losing them.
A big challenge for them is resisting the pressures from the multinationals of the tourism industry that offer astronomical sums for having the permission to build holiday resorts on their islands.


Kuna people watching us between suspicion and disgust in their village :D


At sunset.


Children locked out in their own village by the South Koreans. In fact, they used to close with a padlock the passage leading to the pier near their rooms because they didn’t want around children and other visitors. Aparicio and I, that the last two days had our backpacks there, sometimes had to use a canoe from another dock to take our stuff!
South Koreans treated the children in a disgusting way. However, at a specific hour, they transformed from Mr.Hyde to Dr.Jekyll. Maybe, in their schedule at that hour, there was: “play with children”. So, they moved to the central square with balloons and strings to play with the kids. They were unwatchable, with a constant hypocritical smile on their face. Even a non-violent pacifist like me felt a desire to punch their faces.


I could witness firsthand the tragic influences of the neo-colonization. One evening, the South Koreans assembled a canvas, like a cinema. I thought they wanted to show a movie, but no… it was for karaoke! Luckily, after, the same indigenous people said that it was crap.
Another time, the missionaries distributed crosses (as to the guy on the right). The kids loved this gift and after were repeating excited “Christians!”, “Christians!”. So I told them nooo… Christianity is a religion for losers! You have to become Buddhists! They liked the name, so they started repeating amused “Buddhism,” “Buddhism”. So, it’s a really globalized world, with South Koreans who convert people into Christians and Italians that re-convert the same people into Buddhists a moment later…
But nothing can describe my deep discomfort when I saw that kid on the left converted into an Inter football team fan! We need to do something! :D


Another example of the harmful influence of contact with the neoliberal civilizations: until 1990, so 12 years ago, the currency used by Kuna people was … the coconut! Yes! And, of course, they were happy: no tricks from shady banks that “create” money, no inflation, and every year it was reproduced naturally.
But now they only think of dollars. So, one evening a kuna man told us that their primary task now is to look for loads of drugs that traffickers threw overboard when they are intercepted, by land or by sea, by the police. In fact, that is now the main route used by cocaine traffickers from Colombia to the United States.
A few months earlier, they found a load that after, through some contacts, they sold to the same traffickers for $ 50.000, divided by the whole village.
All the sea around there has therefore become a sort of mega slot machine. Jackpot: it’s said that once a village nearby found a load of cocaine that paid one million dollars!

By coincidence, right the day after hearing this story, as we were going to that delightful desert island, we saw from afar a large container, like a thermos, floating. At that moment, I really thought I had finally solved all my life problems. And everybody on the boat was feeling the same. But the euphoria was short-lived because it was just a floating buoy used by a scuba diver. Even on the way back, we saw something similar. We were all a bit skeptical this time, but the Colombian driver, Marcellino, still wanted to go to check. It was a broken bucket floating upside down. Never a joy.


From time to time, we saw dolphins, manta, fish jumping, flying fish. At one point I saw one very big near the boat, I don’t know which one was. And many when snorkeling.


At the village.


Little girl runs away because she doesn’t want to be photographed.


After, she changed her mind.


Other little girls.


And boys.


Fisherman returns after sunset.


Drinking rum in the shed where we slept in hammocks. From the left, Fabio, Mary, Daniel, Aparicio and Ory.


A trunk on the beach.


A beach.


There are other interesting photos of Kuna Yala, but that’s enough for now. Maybe, next time, I will add more, along with those of Santa Catalina, Coiba, Bocas del Toros, and Costa Rica, where I should arrive in 3 days. Unless I don’t move back permanently to a San Blas island to become an anarchist missionary.

Mompos, Medellin and Pablo Escobar

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

More or less halfway between Cartagena and Medellin, there is Mompos , a city that, like 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 travel 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, a bit weird.


Actually, very weird.


But basically graceful, here is even trying to smile!


The speedboat to cover 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 being wrapped in hundreds of thousands of tiny 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.


MedellinIn the little streets.


Small square.




Football field.


In Medellin, to my astonishment, I found the existence of the “Pablo Escobar Tour”, a tour of the sites linked to the history of Escobar. It concludes at his house, where it’s possible to meet his brother or his nephew.
We visited various places, including his tomb.

I give you a very quick summary of his tragic life because, in addition to fascinating, it’s an integral part of Colombian history.
When he was still a small drug dealer in South America, he 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.
In a few years, he becomes the 7th richest man in the world, giving, in the meanwhile, a good chunk of his earnings to the poor, especially in Medellin, building hospitals, schools, and entire districts where homeless families went to live.
For this reason, becomes loved by the poorer classes , namely the vast majority of Colombians, and decides to enter politics, even to gain parliamentary privileges.
He is then elected in Colombian Congress, but soon after expelled under pressure from the Minister of Justice. From this moment, the war between him and the state gets rough. He 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. In the meantime, it also started the war with the Cali cartel. The dead, including many innocent victims, are thousands.
Increasingly cornered, Escobar accepts to get arrested, but on the condition that the constitution is changed to prevent the extradition of Colombians because he does not want to end up in the U.S. When he gets it, he goes to a prison built by himself: the Catedral, one of the most luxurious places 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, he is found and killed on a rooftop in Medellin.


The headquarters of the Medellin cartel. After been confiscated, it was blown up by the rival 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”.
It is now the house of Robert and his son Nicolas, nephew of Pablo, and is a sort of museum.


Me with Nicolas, the nephew of Pablo Escobar.


The tour itself was not exceptional, but it was fascinating to meet Nicolas, an educated and intelligent person.

He said that 90% of the things we are told about Pablo Escobar are false.

He said that regarding 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 dies (and Nicolas hopes soon), he will tell about it. He apologized for not saying more about it, but apart from this, he responded fully to all questions, always with great sincerity and dignity, using “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 hold since ever by just five Colombian families. Also, instead of just promising, as all politicians do, he was really helping people, which is a fact.

About the United States, he 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 to be stopped. It reminded me of Chomsky when he said that many more Colombians die every year because of U.S. tobacco than Americans because of Colombian cocaine.

Looking back at his past, he still feels a great love for his uncle, described as a brilliant person, always ready to help the poor. However, he realizes that despite all the money he had at those times, it was not a good life. He could hardly move around, and when he did, he had 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, are reminded more like a senseless folly than something pleasant.

He told many interesting stories of life with his uncle:
Pablo one day decided to learn French for business reasons, and after only 3 months he was able to speak fluently in French to Nicolas that, after years in Switzerland with the best professors, still couldn’t!
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 professional teams inside.
The increasingly complex ways and means to bring the drugs in the U.S. At the beginning with small planes, after with ships, and now the Cali cartel mainly using submarines.
The many international airports that made them pass through without controls in exchange for 25% of the value of the carried drugs… and so on.

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. Twenty-five 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 also moved on the football field, with Independiente Medellin against America of Cali. And when the Cali drew a game thanks to a somewhat suspicious refereeing, Escobar killed the referee! The hidden dream of every football supporter! :-)

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