“You bleed too much,” said my doctor as she stitched up my hand in the Emergency room of the San Rafael Hospital in Pacho, Cundinamarca. I had arrived just 20 minutes previously, making the 80km journey from Bogota in good time. All I wanted was to kick back with a cold beer, forget the stresses of the city and put my feet up and enjoy some warm weather all the while learning a little more about this town famed for being the birthplace of the infamous Narcotraficante José Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, otherwise known as El Mexicano.
So, in a particularly Colombian turn of events we found ourselves – on the highway with thousands of other city-dwellers making a break from Bogota – invited out to “veranear” in the countryside at a friend’s finca in the town of Pacho for the puente long weekend. Within seconds of our arrival, the two dogs declared their intentions to remain at odds with one another and in an attempt to separate this struggle of canine egos, I was rewarded with a fairly unpleasant bite to my left hand. Fours hours later, I emerged from Urgencias stitched up and fully innoculated for rabies.
When the brouhaha had subisided we were able to relax and enjoy this retreat from the capital. Despite, my obvious discomfort, Pacho delivered.
I cannot write with authority about the town as I only saw the inside of the Hospital San Rafael, and I cannot speak of the warmth of the locals since I was attended to and stitched up by a Barranquillera rather than a Pachuna, but, within the confines of the finca, and hearing the telltale crack of the mechitas exploding in the distance in multiple games of tejo, I was most content.
There are times when all I want to do is to slip on a ruana and sit in a streetside bar and knock back multiple Pokers and nothing more. Pacho would have been ideal for this. Maybe next time.
Now, I don’t watch soap operas, not least Colombian ones glorifying the lives of the narcotraficantes of times past and I switch off the television as soon as the farandula sections are broadcast so I was unaware that recently there was a telenovela dedicated to dramatizing the life of El Mexicano.
As soon as our weekend away was confirmed, as is the norm, I started to investigate a little more about Pacho and of course, rather than learning of a prehispanic settlement I ended up reading all about El Mexicano, the son of humble pig farmers from the neighbouring town of Vergara who became an extravagant multi millionaire gunned down and killed in Tolu in 1989.
To this day members of the Gacha family still hold significant sway in the town and perhaps unfortunately for Pacho there are still many references to El Mexicano‘s excesses. Stories abound of bundles of dollars washing downstream in the Rio Negro, of raucous parties in Gacha’s nearby narco finca of Cuernavaca, there is also the church still referred to as “la Capilla de Gacha” and the football pitch in front where Gacha famously paid to have the El Clasico game between his beloved Milionarios and Santa Fe played. There was talk of El Mexicano even trying to buy Maradona for Milionarios too.
Gacha’s finca is falling into ruin and is now home to some displaced families, his name is uttered alongside that of Pablo Escobar and the stain on the Colombian psyche is indelible. Colombia and Pacho – I assume – are trying to move on. But, this wound is open and continuous in Colombia and will take generations to erase. We can argue that these soap operas glorify the past inasmuch as they inform, so I remain divided on the subject. I did smile knowingly when I was told that the inhabitants of Pacho refused to permit the filming to take place in their town.
From our viewpoint on the finca overlooking Pacho and the Rio Negro a single road leads out to the mountainous northwest to La Palma.
“How is La Palma?” I ask.
The reply: “Zona de Guerrilla“