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Breaking Borders

El Calabazo

El Calabazo, a member of one of four gangs that control parts of Bogotá’s Barrio Egipto neighborhood. Photo by Kevin Raub.

Exploring Colombia's Barrio Egipto—a neighborhood that foreigners are warned not to go anywhere near.

Meandering up a steep incline through Bogotá’s notoriously dangerous Barrio Egipto neighborhood—just steps from the city’s tourist-flooded historic district La Candelaria—I found that things seemed relatively normal. Kids are playing. Oldtimers are milling about. Women are carrying the groceries home. It all seems so mundane until motorcycle police come whizzing around the corner and down the hill toward our group. I see a policeman’s eyes light up. He hops off the back of the motorcycle even before it comes screeching to a halt. “You’re foreigners?” he exclaims in not only amazement but also genuine fear (for us, not himself!). Our brave leader, rife with tattoos and healed bullet wounds, dressed in a ball cap and button-down denim shirt sealed to the top, is nicknamed “El Calabazo” (“The Pumpkin”). He is a member of La 10ma, one of four gangs that control parts of this crime-ridden neighborhood. He tells the police not to worry, that we are safe with him. The police balk at the idea. El Calabazo insists. “OK, whatever… “ the policeman relents. “You’re responsible for their safety.” …

Kevin Raub is a Lisbon-based travel and entertainment journalist and author of nearly 50 Lonely Planet travel guides. 

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