Of course there are still problem areas, one being the Barrio of Comuna 13 high up in the hillside. Due to its position and relative isolation it enabled guerrillas and drug lords to rule the area. The police did not enter as each gang had their own lookouts and could easily escape into the hundreds of narrow and over crowded alleyways.
The guerrillas, FARC, ELN and CAP were evicted by the governments military in 2002 during the controversial ‘Operation Orion’ which not only drove out the guerrillas, but also killed many innocent people, many still unaccounted for today. Many locals still bear the physical and indeed mental scars from this bloody event to this day.
It was the most dangerous area in the most dangerous city in the world with shootings so abundant it was common for kids to step over dead bodies on their way to school. However when the state initiated community projects which included music, art and graffiti, a regeneration budget and provided places for children to go, ie a library it had amazing results. When a 384 metre outdoor escalator complete with an orange roof was installed over six sections of the hillside it absolutely opened up the community. Now it takes just six minutes to reach the top instead of a 35 minute arduous walk.
Peace came along with a sense of pride throughout the neighbourhood, further initiatives have seen improvements bringing a new emerging hope. It is a major tourist attraction now but we would advise going with a guide. Unfortunately the violence has been increasing over the past year as we found out on our rather interesting visit.
A bimble round (granted on our own was not a particularly sensible idea) had my senses triggering those trusty hairs on the back of the neck. We kept getting waved away and told in no uncertain terms not to go down certain streets by the drug dealers (recognisable by natty Nike caps and trainers). They all seemed uneasy, agitated and nervous as they went about their business, their body language was creating huge unease and the tension in the air was palpable. (Almost enough for us to think about being sensible with a U turn and egress). Cautiously back on track and moving on up the escalators joining the other tourists, tensions eased slightly.
For obvious reasons there were not many opportunities for photos in Communa 13 that day (or to actually get the camera out). Driving away and through the equally dangerous Barrio Antioquia, stopping was not an option. It did feel a bit odd that 5 minutes later we found ourselves in another world of modern high rise luxury flats, shopping malls and high end restaurants. Sally spotted a Juan Valdez Cafe that do a most excellent fruit infused tea and we sat reflecting on one of our more random days.
At the top we managed to find a semi relaxed gang banger who informed us there was a gunfight last week leaving 7 dead and they were waiting for the reprisals.