From the various must-visit lists online about Medellin, Comuna 13 was very close to the top. This area came about from people fleeing oppression from the rural parts of the Antioquia and started building their homes on the hillside in the unique manner in which westerners will quickly recognize from any drug related movies about Medellin. Unfortunately, what was at first a peaceful working class neighborhood, later on became one of the most dangerous areas in the world as the drug cartels took hold of it. For many years police presence was non-existent and its citizens were at the mercy of their occupants and constantly at risk of being in harm’s way as they could be caught in the middle of gunfire at any point in time.
My brother showed up in town a few weeks after I arrived and so it was time to start crossing off things from my list that I had waited to do with him. First thing planned on Saturday was a tour of la Comuna 13. According to the website the tour is free and tipping is highly encouraged based on how you enjoyed your experience.
We almost missed the tour because our Uber drivers kept canceling our trip to the metro station where the tour would begin. Eventually one picked us up and texted the tour guide letting them know of our delay. Fortunately, the group that consisted of the tour guide, 3 people from Spain, and a couple from Costa Rica waited for us. They offer this tour also in English, but I chose the Spanish version since we both speak the language.
The tour started at the busy San Javier Metro station, but we immediately took a crowded bus to go into la Comuna 13. At first I was a bit surprised that this place just a few decades ago was so dangerous. The streets were filled with people speaking in all different languages. All the walls are colorful with beautiful graffiti. Groups of kids dancing and stands everywhere selling food and popsicles. I had a passion fruit popsicle for fifty cents and by the time I finished it I regretted not getting a few more even if my hands got completely sticky.
There was a group of guys entertaining their audience with rap and dissing at the members of the crowd. Unfortunately, they spotted my curly blonde hair all the way in the back and I got called Valderrama. If you do not know him look him up and I am sure you will get a good laugh. I even have a video of when it was my turn for the smoke. Not sharing it though lol.
At my core I am a very shy person and hate attention so in situations like the one above I just feel like fading into nothing. Luckily, I am a bit better than I used to be. In the past every time we went to a Miami Heat game as soon as they started putting the fans on the big screen I started to crumble. I was scared to death of showing up on that big board, but this time as everyone turned their head towards me I just did my best to smile and laugh along without turning too red. However, I did not ask my brother to let me know how I looked. I did not want to know.
Anyways Comuna 13 in this time and age is THE place to be and that made me think of a neighborhood back home in Miami that in my opinion shares a few similarities, Wynwood. Both areas were neglected by the government, but within a few decades they both became primary tourist destinations in their respective cities. Both have lots of beautiful graffiti that cover just about every inch of the wall, with those in Comuna 13 sharing the stories of pain that the turbulent years of the past caused for its citizens. Our tour guide explained in detail some of the art work and it was amazing to see how many stories were packed into each piece of graffiti. While Wynwood is certainly gentrified, Comuna 13 for now still has many of its long-time locals still present in this neighborhood. Hopefully the boom in tourism does not take away from its natural beauty.
Our tour guide grew up during the turbulent years in la Comuna 13, but after receiving a stray bullet while playing with his friends, he dad decided to send him elsewhere as he was anyways approaching an age when they start recruiting the kids into the gangs. Despite the innocent look of the playground depicted in the picture above on the far left, this site was often used for executions to display in front of the citizens what their fate might be too if they did not obey.
Out of all the places I have been to in Medellin, Comuna 13 is #1 on my list. The unique architecture of the area, the history lessons through our great tour guide and the beautiful graffiti that cause a mixture of all kinds of emotions, the performances and food of the locals, the views of Medellin, the great vibe in the air, and so much more make this once very dangerous place to be, my first place to come back to when I return to Medellin.