Narcos vs. The Colombia I Know

Welcome to my Colombia!!!


Wait. Let’s start from the beginning.

So I’ve been watching Narcos lately. I’m way behind, only about halfway through season two. I have to watch it in small doses, because the Wagner Moura’s paisa accent is terrible and drives me up a wall. Well, a lot of the fake Colombian accents get on my nerves. They can be so bad I have to watch with Spanish subtitles to make sure I heard correctly.

The Medellin I know.

Watching this show has been particularly interesting and eye-opening for me. I guess I didn’t realize how much of Pablo Escobar’s life overlapped into mine and how dangerous Medellin was in the early ‘90s.

You see, my mom and her family are mostly from Medellin and mostly still live in Medellin. Yes, the same place Pablo Escobar is from. Growing up, we went there a lot. I don’t have specific trip dates, but I know we went between 1990 and 1995, when narcos were tearing up Medellin. That’s the crazy part. I don’t remember a thing, not about any danger anyway. Sure, there were lots of rules when we used to travel to Colombia, even through the 2000’s. As soon as the plane touched land, no more English. Nothing shiny, fancy, or anything that could make us stand out as Americans. Physically you couldn’t tell, but there were always small cultural differences that we did our best to hide. We weren’t allowed to wear watches when driving and my family drove cars with bulletproof glass. Normal, right? My dad says we used to have cars surrounding us when the family drove around, for safety. Road trips most places were out of the question, and the ones we did take were very well-planned and monitored. There were some cities we had to take a small plane to back then, where now it’s safe enough to drive. But I never felt unsafe.

Yes, I actually took this picture.

Watching Narcos now kind of blows my mind. My family doesn’t live in the comunas but it’s crazy to think that is the environment they lived in. Daily. They had opportunities to come live in the US, but no one did. I’ve never really talked about that time period with any of them, not in detail anyway. I don’t quite know the level of fear (or lack thereof) they lived with.

Family ‘cabalgata’ which is basically a 5+ hour trail ride through the mountains and coffee farms of Antioquia. That’s me second from the right.

This whole thing also kind of saddens me. When I watch Narcos, I know I’m seeing a semi-historical account of things that happened in Medellin and Colombia, but I’m able to separate from reality because this is not the Medellin / Colombia I know. And while I know Colombia is known for its coke, I don’t have that association either. So it’s sad to see that people watch Narcos and have this singular reference of Colombia and her people.

Scenery during a cabalgata.

Stayed back to take this shot.

Don’t judge my hat! I had forgotten my straw hat.

Yes, so far I am truly enjoying watching Narcos. I think the show is well done, honest and is doing great to shed light on something people have avoided talking about for so long. So, if you haven’t, go watch it. But also, watch Colombia: Wild Magic, also on Netflix. Try and catch the episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on his recent trips there. There is so much more to Colombia than Narcos, and everyone should go see it. The photos I’ve posted are from the two most recent trips I’ve taken, in 2011 and 2016. It’s time to go back!

[Update: I finished Narcos after writing this post and am so glad they are moving to Mexico next year!]


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