Locombia – hold up a second…
Colombia (various parts)
Like any person from North America, Europe, Australia – all right, the world – I had my sincere reservations about traveling into and thru parts of Colombia. Just hearing ‘Locombia’ in reference to Colombia is a bit unsettling in itself (referring to the land as ‘crazy’). True, I did hear from two Colombians themselves before I entered the country that I should only travel by air and never by bus (as I am a gringo tourist) due to rebels and hijackers on the roads. But after spending some time traveling around South America in the other countries stories had piled up enough in Colombia’s favor. I was of course hearing of Machu Picchu, the salt plains of Bolivia, the rain forests of Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, but then also hearing a bit about the wonders of Colombia from a select few who ventured into the country. So even with these warnings from Colombian locals, I had just heard a bit too much about the beauty of the land and the greatness of its people not to start getting thoughts. So I did what any [in]sane backpacker would do: I took the cheapest bus into Colombia that I could find.
I first want to say that I write this little spiel with a definite portion of my mind not wanting to share my feelings on Colombia as it remains somewhat off the ‘Gringo Trail’. But, it is just too much of a good thing to not be discovered soon by people – so a few of my thoughts are written here. Upon entering, the sheer niceness of the people in Colombia was apparent with the border police and immigration officers. They seemed to have refreshing friendly air about them without any foreseen ‘strings’. These officials took a true interest in me and helping me out in finding my next mini-bus once inside of their country. This was a reassuring entry into the rebel army filled nation as I was admittedly still a bit petrified, but faking my calmness like a champ…right. But sure enough, I met more locals at the bus station and on my actual bus that gave me advice to be careful and had an honest sincerity about them. This turned out to be the theme of my travels through Colombia: the friendly locals heeding their warnings about the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia [the main rebel army]) and petty thievery – to which I never encountered in my month of Colombian times. On the flipside of receiving numerous heartfelt warnings, the Colombians have a saying about their lifestyle that I feel sums up their general attitudes with one another on the streets, in stores, restaurants, etc. – ‘All is good.’ It was nice to be around a culture that does not worry about the trivial situations in life and tries to relax and enjoy each moment as much as possible – not unlike some other parts of South America as well. It was a great lesson to learn being from a country like the States and working in a career where everything is rush, rush and it is easy to forget what is truly important in life sometimes!
But when talking of the people of Colombia one cannot skip this topic: pride. I never expected to continually and frequently meet people with so much blatant and unabashed pride for their country; people who are enthralled in talking about the beauty of the land and the people alike of their nation to anyone who might be interested. Yes, they would speak of the problems Colombia is having, but there lives a visible hope that this will be ending in some near time. Here is how the conversation usually unfolded, started by numerous Colombians with me:
‘So what did you think of Colombia before you entered?’
“Well, I was a little terrified before and when I entered Colombia after all I had heard on the news.”
‘And how about now, since you know Colombia through your own eyes?’
“I love the people here, so open and friendly. Plus the land is gorgeous as well!”
‘Yes, this is Colombia. We are full of great people [if I was speaking to a guy he would also include, "full of beautiful girls, especially in Cali and Medellin], and such wonderful land. It is a shame how our country is portrayed to the rest of the world and that we do have some problems now, but now you know the full truth so you can tell your people!’
This didn’t happen a few times, but seemed to be almost a norm for me. And the glowing faces were always present when they heard how much I was enjoying myself in their land. Amazing stuff, full of rich feelings.
Colombia is also a land of plentiful beautiful landscapes with its engulfing coasts, the Andes mountain ranges (including the Cordillera Central, Oriental, Occidental), and its stunning rivers/foliage/lakes in between. From the colonial towns of Popayan and Cartegena, to the metropolises such as Bogota, Medellin and Cali, to the beautiful little villages like Salento, Colombia seems to offer it all. While this country is blessed with all of this, the tourist crowd has not completely developed there hence the feel is more of a real one. Yes, there are abound in the touristy spots, but not nearly on the level with a Buenos Aires, Argentina or Cusco, Peru for example.
Instead of danger, my times there were filled with laughs and smiles. Memories are full of the welcoming gestures of the town of Popayan, the fiesta of the salsa in Cali with a brother and sister who wanted to see a gringo have a go in their favorite club, an intercity fellow bus passenger in Medellin who got off the bus with me and walked me to my hostel because he felt I wouldn’t be able to find my way in the dark, the lush green mountains and flowing river of San Augustin and the family that invited me into their house for a local drink of their homemade chichi there, hiking through a gorgeous valley such as the Valle de Cocoa near Salento, the numerous smiles in the big city of Bogota that has an unusual warm feel to the streets, or hearing of the beauties of other locations that I did not have the chance to visit such as Cartegena or Santa Marta with ‘The Lost City’. Colombia is a place waiting to be truly discovered with all of its treasures and diversions. I feel lucky to have experienced this culture and land now before it is affected too much and would recommend doing the same to practically anyone. If you don’t believe me, just ask someone who has traveled South America to see what their favorite country is down there. If they had the urge to go through Colombia then you are very likely to hear about this paradise!