Yesterday we experienced Colombia’s iconic jungle, complete with cave creatures. Today we experienced Colombia’s iconic history, complete with drug lords. Pablo Escobar’s legacy is available for viewing (for $15 per person) at Hacienda Napoles. As we rode the moto into the park on the rough dirt road my overwhelming first impression was awe. Colombia truly is beautiful and the hill country that Escobar chose for his rambling estate is breathtaking: incredibly green fields and trees in front of tall dark mountains.
The ranch begins with Jurassic Parky gates… which match the random plastic dinosaurs sprinkled throughout the grounds but don’t quite align with the African safari theme that starts at the information center. No matter, because I (well, Justin) got to buy tickets over the enormous crocodile-counter (crocounter?)
The first stop was, of course, the hippo lake… I mean, all I really hoped for in Colombia was to see a feral hippo. Behind this little restaurant is a path with a sign that promises a hippo observation point. Justin and I were quite dubious that such a point would readily offer hippo viewing, but since I’d talked of almost nothing else for the previous week we had to give it a chance. Better than in any zoo – EVER – was the HERD of hippos that were so considerately chillin’ directly in front of the viewing hut…!! Their cute little hippo ears were flicking water as they stomped and dove and generally hippoed around. Two of them even started playing… which was basically bonking their giant mouths on each other and periodically snorting. BEST DAY EVER. (**Justin’s note to readers: Liz might have a hippo problem**)
Anyway, since I’m not five and Justin wouldn’t tolerate staring at a pack o’ hippos all day, we climbed back on the bike (after the obligatory picture from inside the replica hippo) and made our way past the strange suspended pterodactyl to the animal enclosures.
Large pens contained capybaras, tapirs, elephants, ostriches, zebras, and meerkats. In the middle of Colombia. Weird. Again, better than any zoo I’ve seen in the States, you can get right up on the fence and pet any of these creatures, if they’ll tolerate you. The ostriches were curious, the zebras were indifferent, and the capybaras were just creepy ROUSes. We rode past large strange plastic dinosaurs and one mammoth… I have no idea whether those were an Escobar thing or a theme park creation, but they were kind of dopey (poorly proportioned and awkward) so I’m attributing the blame for those to Escobar.
The tiger cage was by far the most impressive enclosure; it was eerily reminiscent of the Jurassic Park raptor cages with barbed wire, prison gates, and an electrified fence. We passed a male lion in another fence… I was quite excited when he was patrolling his domain but quickly disappointed when he decided he needed to nap under the one tree in his yard shortly after we pulled up. Sometime in all of this we also passed a giant octopus water slide water park thing. Magical.
Most importantly (though the hippos were a pretty close second), was the memorial at the end of the park’s trail. Escobar’s bombed-out mansion now serves as a museum to document his atrocities.
The walls are covered with large photographs detailing his rise and demise and, while my Spanish isn’t great, it was enough to grasp the extensive destruction he wrought on Colombia. I appreciated that the captions describing the history were blunt and opinionated; no one even needs to pretend to objectively interpret the years of violence and death he was responsible for.
By the end of our three hour trek we were hot, dehydrated, educated… and maybe a smidge overwhelmed. Colombia has creatively taken advantage of a dark period in its history and, while the parque tematico was incredibly odd, I’m glad we took the time to experience the icon.