Indeed, for every colonial mid-Atlantic inn that claims to have provided shelter to General Washington, there’s a ranch that was raided by Jesse James. I’ve drunk shots at a hotel bar where Butch Cassidy supposedly carved his name after robbing the Telluride bank, and fed quarters into a jukebox at a Long Island motel where the Stones stayed while recording Black and Blue. And what trip to New York’s Sparks Steak House is complete without noting that Gambino mob boss Paul Castellano was gunned down on the street outside?
Gangsters’ life expectancies may be short, but they do know how to live while they're still living. Vacationing in Escobar’s villa comes with a lifestyle seal of approval, an endorsement by a man who had no budget to stick to and who knew no limits. The man who had everything built these houses, chose this stretch of land. The appeal—and the irony—is just how well-suited the place has turned out to be for its reincarnation as a small resort hotel. The secluded location. The slightly decadent ambience. The grandiosity, the thick, bullet-proof walls. The privacy and quiet, the amazing views—or are those lookout turrets?Come to think of it, might there not be an essential correspondence between the life of crime and the lap of luxury?
What is clear is that the government documents Perlman received when they finalized the lease described the villas as “narco-trafficking seizures,” but, she adds, “We get mixed stories.” And though the Casa Magna Web site strikes a note of certainty—“Originally built by the Colombian Pablo Escobar”—Perlman concedes that the history is a bit murky. One local, she says, claims that he was an ice deliveryman in the 80’s and remembers celebrities arriving in helicopters that landed on the roof.
It’s true that the houses share some curious features: a tunnel that runs the 100 or so yards between the two structures, and an unusual roof. While a bit too narrow to act as a reliable heliport, it offers many natural lookouts, and one could imagine it being patrolled by armed guards on the alert for federales traveling by sea or plowing their Jeeps down the jungle road. U.S. authorities, however, seem to have no knowledge of the properties.
Javier Peña, an agent at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration who was the agency’s main liaison to the Colombian national police during the years it sought Escobar’s capture, has no knowledge of the drug lord owning any Mexican property. Neither does author Mark Bowden, whose Killing Pablo is the definitive book on Escobar, though he acknowledges that it would certainly have fit his character. “I know Pablo was given to excesses,” Bowden says, “and building himself grand homes was something he enjoyed.”
Some locals, however, are happy to provide alternative theories as to the ownership and origins of the houses. Some say that they were built not for Escobar but by Escobar, as an expression of gratitude toward then president of Mexico, Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who looked the other way as Escobar’s smuggling operation deployed speedboats offshore. Others believe that the homes were indeed built by drug dealers, but none that went by the name Escobar. They were criminals of lower profile and less renown. But perhaps it’s better not to mention that theory, because believing that, well, that would just ruin everything.