So as the story goes, me and my friend Jase were travelling through Colombia. We started in Bogota then went to Cartagena. Prior to arriving we heard mixed messages so weren’t really sure what to expect but excited for new adventures none the less. We had 5 or 6 days by memory - and by the 2nd or so day, we had enough of the sketchy street dealers, hagglers and prostitutes …not to mention it was humid AF (your entire shirt would be wet and stuck to your back within 2 minutes outside kind of humid). With it being peak season and super short notice we didn’t have many options but opted for what seemed to be a very low maintenance ‘authentic’ experience that was close by. Isla Grande was about 2 hours off the coast - and it’s essentially a local island that pretty much was made up of homemade brick and thatch homes and, I think, there were 2 or 3 tourist style resorts on the side facing Cartagena (which was next to the ruins that would end up being one of Pablo Escobar's mansions) but that was about it. It was very ‘basic’ living I guess you’d say - with barely any electricity or running water (I think only the resorts had it - we had an hour or 2 each day) - was admittedly what we wanted (until the fans stopped and we were ravaged by mosquitos).
Anyways, on our last full day on the island, we decided to jump on a local tour and go for a snorkel around the corner on the reef. It was cool, whatever. By this stage FYI, our Spanish still sucked so we could barely communicate and we had no idea what he said. He seemingly stopped in the middle of the ocean and signaled for us to jump out. Of course we did it without thinking twice. As soon as we put our goggles on and looked down - we could make out a plane that had evidently crashed into the ocean. It was then we found out it was one of Pablo’s cartel planes that didn’t make it and the big (and I mean…big) abandoned buildings was one of Pablo Escobar’s mansion. I remember feeling pretty, I don't know …moved by it. In Colombia, he’s loved and he’s hated so it’s somewhat touchy which adds to the weirdness. Anyways, it looked abandoned and the big white wall running along the length of the properly, right on the water, looked like a pretty damn good spot to paint. So we went back to our place and I asked “Anthony” our host right away if I was allowed and if he could help me get paint (bare in mind this is around 3pm, the day before we left).
Anthony said his friends live there (wait, what?) and should be okay. So we wander through the bush and enter through a broken down, back fence and walk through what used to be Pablo’s house, through to the pool area …and that's when we kinda realised, the first time, that it might not be a good move as we quickly found that the house was full of squatters - and they demanded money. Of course we didn’t have any so it wasn’t off to the best start …and we still couldn’t understand Spanish so it was pretty tense while Anthony was telling them whatever he was telling them. Anyways, by this stage the 5 people we were talking to quickly turned into 10, as one by one people would emerge from the house (probably to find out why Gringo’s are on their property) so it was getting a little weird …but we ended up getting permission from who we thought was the boss (he was the thug looking one).
So with permission, we were off to find paint. We followed our man Anthony through the local villages - which was as equally interesting as it was unsettling. I remember feeling very, very uncomfortable as everyone either had a machete in their hand or completely stopped what they were doing to stare at us while we walked through their villages. Understandable and very intimidating. I also remember pigs and chickens everywhere. Anyways, we get back to our place and Anthony calls his friend back in Cartagena. We couldn’t understand a thing she said either and think we arranged for her to ride around to all the shops and pick up black paint for us (there was no way colours were going to be an option) …and fair enough, the next morning (which was our last day) we had a box of paint delivered. WE WERE ON.
We had paint, we had permission and a few hours - so we went straight to Pablo’s. We thought everything was good to go ….but not so. It seems the thug looking guy with the chains wasn't the boss after all (but of course still wanted his money) and the boss didn’t want us to paint the wall. We had no idea what was going on and remembered starting to feel quite uncomfortable as the old man was getting angry and more and more people started to come out. Quite frankly, I thought we were fucked. Thank god, one of the girls that was living there knew as much English as we did Spanish so we kinda made out that I wasn’t allowed to paint the fence anymore - instead they wanted me to paint the house. It didn’t seem right …but I was already there, we had the paint so …kinda sheepishly walked over to the house and started to paint. Upon starting, it clicked that these HUSTLERS knew that if I painted the fence, tourists didn’t have to come inside to take the photo - and if they came inside to take a photo (which is why decided to make it a “tourist style piece”) …they could charge them money. Pretty clever and good hustle.
So, anyways, I started painting Pablo’s house. I was quite nervous as it felt very unpredictable and it was only me and Jase there and I had my back to everyone (by this stage, there was maybe 20 or so people) - all of which didn’t seem threatening …except for the thug guy (he hated me for some reason). I think what added to the situation was being essentially at their bedroom windows so I could see inside where they lived …and it was pretty rough which put it into perspective pretty quick. They didn’t have much and the entire place was stripped of everything (and I mean everything ie: switches, trims, doors, light fittings, cables etc). All there pretty much was (that I could see anyway) was some kind of bed, a few bits of clothes and some roosters in cages (we learned that cock fights is pretty much how they get by on the island).
So yeah, that said the locals didn’t appreciate me being so close either, so all and all was just super unsettling ….and fucking hot. Goddamn. It was hot. I think it was the hottest day that I’ve ever experienced. I remember overheating and Jase drinking all of the water really quickly and struggling to paint it was so hot. There was a couple of times where I felt like I was going to faint which looking back is kinda scary. Anyways, we done did it! By the end, everyone (except the thug) had warmed up to us and loved it. It was actually quite beautiful because once it was done, they really appreciated it (not the thug though).
While we were there, we went for a quick look around the house and noticed he had a little runway and helicopter to the side (obviously where the plane was aiming for) and a few tunnels. And plenty of pigs. Pigs were everywhere. The end.

Location: Isla Grande, Colombia

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