As I stood on top of broken glass, sawdust, rocks and garbage, I rested my arms on a bar that was covered in dust, tree limbs and graffiti. I looked out at what was once the most popular nightclub in Armenia. I imagined black Cadillac’s escorting politicians and celebrities up the hillside to a resort that overlooked the mountains. I envisioned them walking in to a dimly lit club with live salsa music and waitresses serving fine champagne and bottles of Aguardiente. I could almost smell the smoke from cigars and marijuana cigarettes.
In less than forty years, everything had changed. The roof was caving in, the glass was broken out of the windows, the walls were stained black from fires that homeless people lit within the building and the air no longer smelled of herbs and tobacco. Instead, it smelled of urine and spray paint. This was the Hotel Posada Alemana of Carlos Lehder; a hotel built by one of Pablo Escobar’s partners.
On every mountain and in every corner of each city there is evidence of misery and corruption, of heartbreak and disaster, of war and evil. But like this hotel, the foundation of Colombia that was built by drug lords and murderers, is crumbling. In its place there are escalators and cable cars being built to connect the low income communities in the mountains to the city of Medellin. The graffiti painted along the walls tell stories of peace and healing instead of death and destruction. Police officers stand on the side of the roads and hold out their hands with their thumbs up to tell you that you are safe, they will protect you. You can feel change in every corner. You can feel hope.
I did not know what to expect when traveling to this country. People told me that it was dangerous, that I should be cautious and be on guard. I was prepared to get lost, be confused and even scared. I had no idea the kind of beauty I would find amidst all the wreckage. I did not expect to fall in love. The food, the coffee, the music, the different landscapes and especially the people were better than anything I could have imagined. I will return to this place because even though I just left, I can already hear Colombia calling for me to return.