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

Ay Guey! Restaurant

Medellín, Colombia

6° N, 75° W

Oscar Vélez has been kissed by four decades worth of high-speed soccer balls: his face is busted; nose broken in three directions. His thinning hair is as slick as my empanada-greased fingers. He has the confident, indulgent, satisfied smile of a car salesman who peddles dirt-lot lemons as a hobby, out of love for the game. He wears a luxury brand golf shirt tucked into slacks tied together with a brown belt which matches his Italian shoes. Accessories include a golden necklace he keeps under his collar and a wrist watch with a face large enough to be confused for a Pre-Columbian sundial. Oscar is an absolutist when it comes to morality in Colombia. You play it crooked or you play it straight, says Oscar, you do not play it both ways. Not in Colombia. And he believes Medellín is the safest city in the world, absolutamente, but with conditions. “No dar papaya…”

How’s that?

“One does not simply give papaya…” Captain Dick interprets, providing a wizened head-nod as if Oscar’s survival principle made any more sense in English. Isy Badger looks up from editing his scribbled poetry on napkins; he’s been paying more attention than he’s letting on behind cheap sunglasses. “What if I’ve no papaya to give, eh?” asks Is.

Above Medellin: Isy, Vic and the Captain

“Papaya.” Oscar responds pointing at Isy’s face. Oscar’s index finger moves to me, “papaya.” Oscar hooks a thumb at the captain sitting at his shoulder and issues a third, “papaya. You are dressed like Yankee prostitutes. You give papaya. ‘Look at me, look at me…’” Oscar does a little dance in his seat, speaking in a feminine squeal, cupping imagined breasts. “‘Look at all my papaya. Please come fuck me and rob me; take my money please’.”

“Oh, that papaya!” Isy Badger realizes and returns to composing poetry to at least one of the women we met back in Bogotá.

“I think what Oscar is trying to say…” Captain Dick scratches his beard stubble, “Is we are too damn pretty, even the Colombian men want to lay with us.”

“No!” Oscar denies. “No dar papaya, do not bring attention! You one, two, three bring attention.”

Oscar Vélez’s scolding lecture is briefly interrupted by a waitress bringing another round of beer. This restaurant is in the heart of Parque Lleras, a very popular plaza in Medellín frequented by tourists, especially those trying to give up papaya. Ay Guey! is the equivalent of the American “breastaurant”, but unlike the Hooter’s Girls of North America, the Colombian waitresses wear skirts instead of shorts, have silicone implants in their posteriors and many of the adult waitresses have smiles equipped with orthodontics. I haven’t been attracted to a woman in braces since my awkward formative years and when this Colombiana smiles her metallic grin towards me, I regress back into pubescent shame and promptly begin hiccupping like a tree frog after a spring rain.

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 Medellín is the safest city in the world. Medellín, once murder capital of the world… Medellín, home of Pablo and Gisela, the notorious latter-century drug lords whose graves Oscar took us to… Medellín, where in Parque Lleras, yards away from us, there is a recent memorial to the victims of a car bomb… this is the safest city in the world? How do we accept this when hours earlier, Oscar snuck us into an unauthorized tour of Pablo Escobar’s cathedral prison in the mountains? Because, Oscar explains, you must follow my rules to make it true.

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 or The Hague will hunt your ass down and make you take a paternity test.” The captain shrugs, confiding, “It’s in the Geneva Convention. Trust me, guys, I studied international law.”

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

“But in the game of Hearts…” Captain Dick explains, “You can ‘shoot the moon’. If you fail at every rule, you actually win.”

“And if you eat after midnight you turn into a Gremlin.” Isy says with mild perturbance. “Come on, Oscar, you’re being too Old Testament, Testamente Viejo, eh? It’s like sending a scout troop into the woods and telling them not to experiment giving themselves sleeping-bag hand-jobs with melted-marshmallow. Hog nog roggin’ roy, man! We might as well go home!”

“Or Cartagena…” Captain Dick posits with a wide-faced grin.

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