The Papaya Principle: Surviving Medellín, “Safest City in the World”

Ay Guey! Restaurant

Medellín, Colombia

6° N, 75° W

A summer day in equatorial Colombia; the weather is gorgeous. Goldilockian perfection. When they called it the city of eternal spring, Izzy says, I thought by spring they meant cocaine. But now I see. It’s like San Diego!, Izzy says with an unsure bravado, adding, San Diego with car bombs. 

Oscar Vélez stands up from our table to face all three of us remaining seated. The better view is behind Oscar, out at the plaza the restaurant overlooks. Instead, he stares at us. Arms folded over his chest ¿Cómo así pues?, he asks Izzy. Medellín is the safest city in the world, Oscar says. Captain Dick and I laugh at Oscar, assuming he is joking. Izzy is silently smirking. He knows, we all know, at the end of the last century, Medellín was one of the murder capitals of the world. Oscar is not joking. It is very safe!, Oscar insists. But there are rules.

Our driver, a former policeman, Oscar Vélez is a lifelong paisa and fierce defender of his hometown. He wears a luxury brand golf shirt tucked into slacks, tied together with a leather belt which matches his Italian loafers. His pastel clothing is offset by heavy forearms, darkly tanned. Oscar’s busted face has been kissed by four decades of high-speed soccer balls. His thinning hair is as slick as my empanada-greased fingers. He lectures Izzy, waving a matronly finger at the man of leisure, no dar papaya… 

Que que, ‘ombre?, Izzy asks. What if I’ve no papaya to give, eh?

Above Medellin: Isy, Vic and the Captain

Papaya, Oscar says, pointing at Izzy’s face. He then points to me, saying, papaya. Oscar finally points to my uncle, Captain Dick. Papaya. Captain Dick is surprised to be categorized as fruit. My uncle says, Yo también, ome? No soy papaya! Yo soy el capitan! Oscar shakes his head and doubles-down, calling Captain Dick papaya again. Papaya. Papaya. Y papaya.

You are dressed like Yankees, Oscar says in explanation. You are like prostitutes. You give up the papaya, he says. Look at me, look at me, Oscar says in a high pitched voice, cupping his breasts. Look at my papaya, Oscar says while performing a little dance. Please come and fuck me. Rob me. Take my money, please.

Oh, that papaya, Izzy says and takes a sip of beer. 

I think what Oscar is trying to say, Captain Dick plays mediator, is we are so damn pretty, even Colombian men want to play with our ding-dong.

No!, Oscar rejects this interpretation. No dar papaya means do not bring attention! You!, and you!, and you! You dress lazy, barato, you give papaya and the streets will take your papaya.

You want us to dress like you, Oscar?, Izzy asks. Dress like a pimp? Is that the secret sauce, ‘ombre?

Oscar Vélez’s scolding lecture is briefly interrupted by a waitress bringing another round of beer. She is like many of the other young women serving food and booze at the tourist-trap bars of Colombia. All the waitresses at Ay Guey! are wearing skirts short enough to fear they might catch-cold. Half of the servers are wearing orthodontic braces. Half of the servers (there is some overlap), have silicon-enhanced posteriors. As Captain Dick warned us, these inflated backsides mean a gentleman has to hold the door a little longer in Colombia. 

Isy Badger foraging in the woods outside Pablo Escobar’s notorious Catedral Prison

Oscar Vélez orders another round of empanadas, sending the waitress off before returning to his argument. Mira!, he says, sitting back down at our table, but waving his hands at Parque Lleras. It is the safest city in the world. 

Izzy asks, how can you say that when an hour ago we were stepping around landmines outside Pablo Escobar’s cathedral prison in the mountains? 

Porque, Oscar says, there are rules for surviving Medellín:

Primario, you must be straight. Or you must be crooked. If you go crooked, you can never go straight. If you go straight, you must never go crooked. You cannot play both sides.

Squish like grape, I say. Mister Miagi, I explain. Left side of road, okay. Right side of road, okay. In middle, squish like grape. 

Or papaya, Izzy says.

Vic Neverman sneaking about the customized prison Pablo Escobar once inhabited.

Oscar’s Rules for Surviving Medellín:

  • Do not look at Colombian women. They are the most beautiful women in the world, yes, but they are not for you.
    • If you must look at a Colombian woman, do not speak to her. If she says hola, you say adios. If she is drowning and says ayuadame, you say vaya con dios.
    • If you must speak to a Colombian woman, do not make friends.
      • If you must make friends, stay in public and do not be alone and do not accept drinks.
      • If you must make friends, do not accept invitation to go home with Colombian woman. Especially if she is from Cali.
      • If you must make friends, do not invite a Colombian woman to your hotel room. Especially if she is from Cali.
        • If you must invite a Colombian woman to your hotel room, she must wait in lobby as you put money and documents in safe.
        • If you must invite a Colombian woman to your hotel room, absolutamente do not have sex. 

If you must have sex…, Captain Dick interrupts Oscar, wear a condom! Trust me. It’s an international crime to knock-up a local girl and high-tail it back to America. The Hague will hunt you down and make you take a paternity test. Trust me, yo so el capitan

  • Never travel anywhere alone.
  • Do not dress like a tourist.
  • Do not get drunk.
  • Do not leave hotel after dark.

But as in the game of Hearts…, Captain Dick says, you can “shoot the moon”. If you fail at every single rule it means you’ve won the game. 

And if Capt’n Dick drinks aguardiente after midnight, he turns into the world’s largest gremlin, Izzy says with mild perturbance. Come on with your commandments, Oscar. You’re being too Old Testament; Cojones Viejo, eh? I mean, who potty-trains their dog at the butcher shop? I hate fucking papaya, we might as well go home! 

Or go to Cartagena…, Captain Dick says with a wide-faced grin.

Follow Captain Dick, Izzy and Vic in their journeys through Colombia:

Blood, Wine and the Body-Snatchers of Cartagena

Devil’s Breath and Angelita de Bocagrande

  1 comment for “The Papaya Principle: Surviving Medellín, “Safest City in the World”

  1. Sue
    May 12, 2023 at 8:00 pm

    No words only 😆


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