Medellin. Colombia. A living city under the shadow of the infamous drug lord Pablo Escobar. Long gone but not forgotten, Escobar’s ‘Medellin Cartel’ made this city the most violent in the world during the halcyon days of Cocaine cowboys up until his death in ’93. But times change right? Now it was all tourist buses and Cerveza, cheap bears and cheap thrills. If there was a place to find love, this was it.
Her name was Laura* and she was from Canada. Having just spent 6 weeks driving from Vancouver to Halifax and seeing the wonders of Canada first hand, it felt only natural to arrange a date with a girl from the Great White North. As the sun set over the bustling city our plans were set. I would walk the 10 minutes or so from my hostel to hers, pick her up, and walk her back to the main street which would give us our pick of bars and restaurants. Medellin, having the violent history it does, has a hostel culture of locked doors and wristband entry, you need proof you are a paying resident or you are not getting in.
And so, like a modern day Romeo and Juliet, cursed by our respective houses, my green wristband and her pink wristband were destined never to be together. Thanks a lot Escobar, still wrecking lives from the grave.
In any case the walk to hers was about as relaxing as you’d find anywhere in this great wide world. Friendly Colombian smiles were flashed my way, the air was fresh and the mountains surrounding Medellin came to life as the sun set, turning a sea of suburban sprawl into a dazzling symphony of lights. There was a real fairy tale vibe in the air which made me hope that maybe, just maybe, my Tinderella was waiting.
I watched the security process from outside the front gate of her hostel as she was checked out by the on-site guard. It felt like overkill to be honest but it was soon forgotten on the walk back to the main drag. Conversation scurried back and forth like rats in a gutter, an odd metaphor but apt for the number of rats that live in Medellin, it was like that scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where they go in the catacombs below Venice.
Soon enough though we found ourselves at a small bar at the far end of the main drag. Beers were cheap and the night was young. We compared tattoos, speculated on whether Colombian dogs were any more or less happy than dogs from other countries and played ‘Never have I ever’, a real cracker of a night.
Let’s get real for a moment though, we’ve all been there, you have a few beers and suddenly you start thinking of ways to break into someone else’s hostel to stay the night. That’s the point we found ourselves at. Again, just like Romeo and Juliet, our respective houses would not let us be together. If I’ve learned one thing Googling ‘Inspirational Quotes’ at work it’s that quitters never win, and winners never quit, so I did what any self-respecting young man in my position would do and offered up the idea “do you want to go chill in the park?” Romance, clearly, is not dead.
We found ourselves, as time rapidly ticked towards 1am, finding a long stretch of park, 5 or so minutes from the main drag. High on life, and buzzing from those bottomless $3 beers, we stumbled off the path and into a dappled darkness. The moon struggled to pierce the cover of the trees and just like that the vibrant nightlife of Medellin was replaced with darkness and almost total silence. As we wandered over the grass looking for somewhere to sit we walked by a group of four men. I didn’t stop to think why four men would be standing in a dark and deserted park and some might say that was my first mistake. Others would say my first mistake was much earlier in the night while still others would speculate my mistakes started piling up well before the trip began, but I digress.
One of the men stepped forward and spoke directly to me in Spanish, of which I understood none. Being the Aussie tourist I am my Spanish was limited to “where is the bathroom” “how much is” and “I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish”, an altogether useless collection of phrases. Especially in the current environment. With an evening’s worth of Liquid Courage fuelling me I very derisively dismissed this bloke out of hand despite having no idea what he was saying. Picture, if you can, an out of his depth Aussie brushing past a Colombian man with “No no, we’re fine mate, you have a good night, you’re sitting in the park so clearly you’re having a cracker time hahaha”. If you don’t know where this story is going yet, you soon will.
Taking Laura by the hand we walked past them and, several minutes later, found a spot of our own. I’ll spare you the finer details of the next few minutes, needless to say we got a lot closer than we had been up until this point. If I had a voiceover that trailed my whole life it would have been at this point he would have pressed pause and said “it was at this moment Alex knew he had fucked up”.
It was the sound of police sirens cutting the still air that instantly sent terror surging through my body. Laura quickly pulled her dress down and we attempted to make ourselves as presentable as possible as two police bikes swerved from the road and roared across the grass towards us. One of the cops jumped off his bike with his flashlight in hand and disappeared into the darkness. The other stood before me, a full foot shorter than me but in every other way more dominant, raised his flashlight to my face to trap me in blind confusion, and yelled that word you just don’t want to hear in South America, “GRINGO!”
Tune in next time for Part Two…
Alexander Porter is a 27 year old with a degree from Sydney University. Getting it in a frame is on his 30 before Thirty list. He has a Back to the Future tattoo and is available for party hire. When Alex isn't writing he is watching his beloved St George Dragons let him down, drinking flavoured milk and planning new travel adventures. You can follow him on instagram @alexander_le_great