Posts Tagged ‘Bogota’

      That about sums up Colombia so far.  We have been here now for a little over a week.  First, we spent about 5 days in the capital city of Bogota, and we have since adjusted to life as beach bums in a little fishing village called Taganga on the beach in the Caribbean.  We are seriously contemplating spending our remaining 2+ weeks making our way from beach town to beach town along the coast.  And while the scenery and beautiful weather has been fantastic, it’s the Colombian people that have made our short time here so great.  It is easy to see why we have heard the same advice over and over from other travelers while in South America,

“You CAN’T miss Colombia.”

“You HAVE to go to Colombia.”


“The people are just sooooooooooo nice.”

“Go, now, you have to.  Don’t miss it.”

                Let me back up a little here.  While initially planning this trip and deciding to start in S. America, Colombia was never even on the initial radar.  Why?  Well, just like everyone who lives in the United States, I knew that Colombia was filled with drug dealing, machete wielding, machine-gun carrying, kidnapping, violent people.  I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it now. 

                When we first looked into Colombia, we were definitely hesitant because of our stereotypes of how dangerous a country it was.  But as we researched it more, the more we realized that maybe we should start listening to travelers who have actually been there instead of the doom and gloom media of the United States.  We were met with the typical questions and statements from family and friends when telling them we were thinking about going to Colombia,

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll get kidnapped?”

“See you on the news when they are asking for ransom.”

“Gonna smuggle some coke back to the US?”

Again, all absurd when looking back at it now.  We have not felt the least bit in danger at any point in our time so far in Colombia.  In fact, one of the most ironic things to happen here in Colombia happened shortly after arriving in Bogota last week.  We were in the kitchen of a hostel sipping on some coffee and started chatting with a man  (not sure where he was from, but it wasn´t the US).  We found out that he spent some time living in St. Louis (in Webster Groves, no less) close to a decade ago.  Small world, we thought.  We talk more and he told us a story about visiting downtown, near the Arch.  Well, he reveals that he got mugged while in downtown St. Louis.  So here we were, in Colombia, one of the most “dangerous places in the world”, talking to a man who got mugged and robbed in our hometown. 

Colombia has had its share of violence in the last 30 years, there’s no way around that, and there’s no way to hide that.  It was a very dangerous place, even as recently as five years ago.  And there still are some dangerous areas in Colombia.  But times are changing, and the Colombian people are embracing that change, they want that change, and they are doing everything in their power to expedite that change. 

It all started when we got off the plane and started asking the usual questions, “Where’s an ATM?  Where can we change money?  Where’s the best place to get a cab?”  We have asked these questions more times than I can count now.  Normally we get some icy responses and pointing, usually not very many smiles.  Now I don’t want to paint Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile as being unfriendly, because they weren’t, but just like home, asking questions like these at airports and bus stations usually isn’t met with friendly enthusiasm. 

But we were in Colombia, where everything is met with a smiling face.  Every question we asked we were greeted with a huge smile and friendly directions to help us out.  After arriving at our hostel and finding out that there was a problem with the room we reserved (which we were aggravated about at first, but quickly changed our tune as she worked so hard and fast to find us a new place, all the while apologizing over and over), we moved.  The people at the new hostel could not have been more helpful and friendly.  One of the workers has a house in Taganga (where we are now) and when he found out we were coming here, invited us to his place, not just to hang out, but to stay.  Anything we needed, they helped with, and they always did it with a smile.  That’s the thing about Colombians, they are ALWAYS smiling.  It’s contagious.  How can one not be happy in a place like this?

And it continued in that way.  Cab drivers, servers, bartenders, EVERYONE who worked at our hostel, people we met in the streets, police officers, guards, literally everyone.  It was almost surreal to see this kind of friendliness.  Everyone was patient with our Spanish.  Everyone was willing to help.

After learning more about them and their culture, I think they are just embracing the chance to be happy.  After living under so much violence, after their country was torn apart over the last several decades by drug cartels and paramilitary groups, they are rejoicing.  While sometimes as a tourist and traveler I have felt not wanted and as though I was a burden to the local people, it has been the complete opposite here.  We have been welcomed with open arms, and not just because we have money to spend.  They are genuinely happy to see us visiting their country. 

One of the first nights we were in Bogota, I was in the hostel bar with the guy who worked there and three of his friends (all Colombians).  We sat and talked for several hours, and it was a fascinating conversation.  These were all fairly young people, all in their early twenties in college.  While I can expect the older generations to really care about their country’s image and care about what others think about them, it’s not terribly common for college-aged kids to make international image a priority, much less in a bar on a Friday night.

But that’s what we talked about.  We talked about politics and stereotypes and international images.  They were adamant about wanting the world to see the real Colombia, not the one that we see on the news.  They expressed their anger when they get young foreigners asking them to get them some blow when they find out they are locals (yes, this does happen, and often, strangers asking locals for drugs). 

“Like we all are just born with a straw up our nose,” one of the girls huffed (one of the only times I saw them not smiling).  They hate that the world thinks that all Colombians are a bunch of cokeheads walking around with semiautomatic weapons.  She made it a point to say that no one she knows does cocaine, and while it is a problem in their country, it’s the manufacturing of it that is the problem, not use.  Ironically enough, the VAST majority of the cocaine made in Colombia goes to the United States and Europe.  Not much actually stays in Colombia.  If it wasn’t for our rampant use, it wouldn’t be the problem it is.

One thing this trip has done is open my eyes.  Just three or four years ago, I never would have thought to travel in the countries I have traveled in over the last five months.  It just wasn’t something I ever thought of.  But now, I am fascinated by the way different cultures live their lives.  I want to do away with that wall of stereotypes that have been built up over the years.  I want to make my own conclusions about a country and its people.  And while those stereotypes and barriers have been slowly crumbling and deteriorating the more places we go and the more people we meet, Colombia has taken a sledgehammer and knocked a huge hole in that wall.



Read Full Post »