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In Colombia, Tourists Flock To Drug Kingpin's Ranch

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In Colombia, Tourists Flock To Drug Kingpin's Ranch


In Colombia, Tourists Flock To Drug Kingpin's Ranch

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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We go now to Colombia to hear about another kind of home. This one belonged to Pablo Escobar, who was the richest drug kingpin in history until people shot -until the police shot him dead in 1993. He used his wealth to create an eccentric ranch in northwest Colombia. He stocked it with life-size concrete dinosaurs and African big game.

With his death, the hacienda fell into ruin, and much of the wildlife died or wound up in zoos. But the hippos remained and multiplied. And today there's a new twist to Escobar's legacy.

NPR's Juan Forero reports from Puerto Triunfo.

(Soundbite of music)

JUAN FORERO: Jungle music piped from loudspeakers greets visitors. They pass through an archway mounted with an old plane. The Cessna that carried Escobar's first load of cocaine to the United States. Welcome to Hacienda Napoles, the theme park. Brainchild of a group of businessmen, what once served as the playground for Escobar, now offers guided tours, horse back riding, a swimming pool and a zoo. And there's also the hippos.

(Soundbite of hippos snorting)

FORERO: Tourists on a bus hear the hippos snort like tuck boats on a narrated recording. That recounts how Escobar had brought a couple of them from Africa. One that had escaped years ago and was living in the wild was recently shot dead on government orders over safety concerns. Eighteen now live at Hacienda Napoles. They lounge in murky ponds. Visitors usually just see the bulbous eyes and fat snouts poking just above the water.

(Soundbite of visitors)

FORERO: Tourists melt at the sight of Vanessa. She weighs hundreds of pounds but is still a baby.

Ms. LOUDA ROYA(ph) (Park Worker, Hacienda Napoles): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Louda Roya talks baby talk to Vanessa. She is a park worker, a teenager responsible for Vanessa's care.

Ms. ROYA: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: She says Vanessa is a top attraction. People love to pet and feed her. But visitors, 50,000 of them, came last year after the park opened also come to see what's left from Escobar's heyday. After his death, the mansion and the collection of vintage cars were left in ruins. And looters busted into the enormous triceratops, T-rex and brontosaurus that Escobar had erected. Park management repaired them.

(Soundbite of train whistle sound)

FORERO: Adding sound systems to give life to each, growling and loud pounding, as if the reptiles have come alive. German Marchan is an electrical engineer who came to visit.

Mr. GERMAN MARCHAN (Electrical Engineer): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: He said he wanted to learn more about Escobar, whose Medellin cartel dominated narco-trafficking in the 1980s. The cartel made Colombia synonymous with cocaine violence. A museum dedicated to such a man may seem out of place in a country that suffered so much from the scourge of drugs. Escobar's hit men killed a presidential candidate, government ministers and policemen. His henchmen even blew an airliner out of the sky. Oberdan Martinez is the administrator here. And he says the park doesn't want to glorify Escobar.

Mr. OBERDAN MARTINEZ (Park Administrator, Hacienda Napoles): (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: But he says Escobar's place in Colombia's history is undeniable and shouldn't be forgotten. Much of the history of Escobar's bloody career is on display in what's left of his mansion.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Amid the photographs and framed newspapers of the day, visitors learn how Escobar first found acceptance from Colombian society. The state only declared war when it was clear Escobar threatened to bring Colombia to its knees.

(Soundbite of bullets firing)

FORERO: But of course, it was Escobar who lost. Police cornered him on a rooftop and shot him dead, the famous picture of his lifeless body now hangs on a wall of his mansion.

(Soundbite of music)

FORERO: The message, at the end of the tour, is plenty clear: Crime may pay, but not forever.

Juan Forero, NPR News, Puerto Triunfo, Colombia.

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