The rebirth of Medellin?

You’ve probably already heard of the Colombian city of Medellin, but not as a tourist attraction. Once the infamous stomping ground of “Cocaine Kingpin” Pablo Escobar, this Colombian city boasted a murder rate of 380 per 100,000, earning it a reputation as the most violent in the world. But as the writers at Blackbook recently discovered, these days Medellin’s tourist prospects are looking up.

Life in Medellin has changed dramatically since the dark years of drug violence. Blackbook found a city blessed by “verdant beauty, its residents’ hospitality and gregariousness, its rich artistic heritage, and its richer cuisine.” Painter Fernando Botero was born in Medellin and a new art museum bearing his name opened here in 2004. In addition, the city offers a wealth of delicious foodstuffs including sancocho, a stew of plantains, yucca and potato, as well as local moonshine aguardiente. Even the travel world’s chosen son, Anthony Bourdain, visited Medellin in 2008, giving the town rave reviews.

So is Colombia destined to become the world’s next great hot destination? It’s not quite there yet. An uptick in violence last year again has residents and visitors on edge. But Medellin’s beauty, friendly citizens and unique culture will not go undiscovered for long. A secret this good was bound to get out sooner or later.

Greyhound driver tips off cops to half million in coke

When’s the last time a Greyhound passenger had half a million dollars’ worth of anything? Usually it’s a tattered duffle bag and maybe an iPod. Well, police in Sherman, Texas, acting on a tip from a Greyhound driver, discovered $500,000 in cocaine in a passenger’s unmarked suitcase. The police officer was waiting at the bus stop, thanks to the info. After sniffing around, so to speak, he found 12 pounds of coke in the lining of an Austin, Texas man’s suitcase. And, the guy’s day got even worse: in addition to the powder, he’s being held for immigration reasons.%Gallery-14657%


Dulles customs agents arrest man for his coke and chicken smuggle trick

Washington Dulles customs agents arrested a man last week for trying to smuggle cooked chicken into the US stuffed with cocaine. The haul was just 60 grams, but that is still worth $4,300 on the street.

While smuggling cocaine isn’t too rare, customs officials do come across new methods every week.

Of course, smuggling your stash in cooked chicken is particularly stupid, as department of agriculture cops are always on the lookout for meat in your luggage. You might as well wear a sign telling them you are a smuggler.

Some other wacky finds at the border we’ve covered here on Gadling:

Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda popular with tourists

Visiting the former home of a famous person is pretty common. Tourists flock to Elvis’ Graceland and who wouldn’t love a look inside the creepy world of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch? But exploring the former compound of a Colombian drug lord….well that seems a little less likely. Yet aparently Pablo Escobar’s Hacienda Napoles, located outside of Bogota, Colombia, is a hit with tourists.

Though Escobar was shot to death sixteen years ago, he lives on in infamy in the country. Tourists who have an affinity for over-the-top tacky “narco-deco” style or who can’t resist a look at Escobar’s lavish estate (which is now owned by the state) can visit the compound for about $10 US. The ranch is considered an “anti-crime museum” and sells replica guns and fake Escobar mustaches.

The compound is being re-purposed as an eco-tourism park, though many of the eccentric features added by Escobar remain. Nearly 30 hippos still wander the property, which includes Jurassico Park – a park featuring life-size models of dinosaurs – plus a go-kart track and private landing strip.

The compound also features horseback riding and hiking trails around the large property, butterfly and bird sanctuaries and a wildlife reserve.


American Airlines employees busted for drug-smuggling

22 people were arrested Tuesday amidst allegations of smuggling drugs from Puerto Rico into the US on American Airlines planes. Nine of the people arrested were employees of the airline, who allegedly sent over 9,000 kilograms – almost 20,000 pounds – of cocaine to US destinations that included Miami, Orlando and New Jersey. According to the US Justice Department, the ring has been operating since 1999.

The workers are a mix of ground crew and baggage handlers who are suspected of using suitcases to smuggle the drugs onto the planes. According to the AP release, Puerto Rico is a popular entry choice for drug traffickers, as once the drugs reach the island, they don’t have to pass through customs in the US.

Agents from the FBI and DEA arrested the suspects at locations in Miami and Puerto Rico in a joint effort cleverly named “Operation Heavy Cargo”. If convicted, the suspects face life in prison and fines up to $4 million.

American Airlines issued a statement saying, “As a company, we hope that the actions of a few employees don’t reflect negatively on the tens of thousands of ethical American Airlines employees who work hard to serve the public daily.”