Friday, April 8, 2011
Colombia and why you should go
Colombia is one of those countries that seems to get over looked, passed over by a lot of people on the basis of misplaced notions of how safe the place is. Mention to anybody in England that you are off to travel around Colombia and you are greeted with a “are you serious?” face.
Won't you get kidnapped? Held hostage by FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia)? Forced to become a drugs mule? Be held deep in the jungles and be made to work on a cocaine refining plant?
Well, no. Actually you won't. At least I, nor any of the other travellers I met who visited Colombia did. And there was one recurring theme running through all the comments heard from people had had been to Colombia, “it is my favourite place in the whole of South America”. And you know what? I'm inclined to agree.
On first arriving in Colombia, after travelling through Argentina, Chile and Peru, I did experience a renewed sense of culture shock. Where were all the gringos that are synonymous with backpacking through South America? Maybe they had heeded the uneducated warnings received in their home countries about how dangerous Colombia is. Where are the buses catering for travellers that make life so much easier, such as Andesmar in Argentina and Cruz del Sur in Peru? And my first lunch stop highlighted how different and relatively untouched Colombia is from the tourist trail. Of all the food on display in the outdoor cafeteria, I could only recognise rice. I later discovered that the meal on offer was a Bandeja Paisa. A traditional dish from Medellin, a dish that I also discovered to be beautiful, cheap, plentiful (on every side street cafe menu) and filling.
South Americans do not speak much English. Why would they need to? But I also noticed that in Colombia, even the few words that were spoken in other, more visited countries, were missing. I really was on my own here, just me and my Spanish dictionary. And it times it was very hard which led me in the early days to feel that Colombia wasn't as friendly as the other countries I had visited. How wrong could I be? Colombians turned out to be probably the friendliest of all the people I met. You couldn't pass anybody without getting a friendly “hola amigo”, or a “que tal”, enquiring how you were. And always accompanied with a large beaming smile. I suppose they have a lot to smile about, they live in an awesome, beautiful country, one that I will definitely be returning to at some point in my future.
From the culture and numerous museums of cold, chilly and wet Bogota, through the beautifully preserved colonial towns of places such as Villa de Leyva, San Augustin and San Gil, upto the coffee zone and to amazing little places like Salento in the mountains, and further north, to the Caribbean coast where there are gems such as Cartagena and Santa Marta (home of Tayrona National park). Colombia really does have it all. In spades.
Yes, there is a gritty side to Colombia, how could there not be? Colombia still provides some 80% of the world's cocaine. There is still a large, underground drugs trade which brings its obvious associated issues. There are police with large machine guns almost on every corner. I should know, I spent half an hour on one such corner one day, under the glare of about 8 machine gun toting police whilst I tried to explain in Spanish why I didn't have a nice little identity card like all the Colombians had! That was fun!!!
And the drugs are plentiful. But if you go to a beautiful country like Colombia, and can't have an amazing time drinking rum, taking in the sights and enjoying the glorious sun without the need for illegal drugs, then you are inviting trouble on yourself.
Looking for a holiday unlike any other? Somewhere you will never forget? Go to Colombia, now.