If this Latin country is at the bottom of your bucket list, don’t blame yourself. However, I hope that the lines below might influence, even if just out of curiosity, your future flight searches.
Colombia… beloved land. If I could teleport you to this land even for just one day, you’d blush at the thought that your mind immediately goes to scenes from Narcos at the mere mention of the word: Colombia.
My journey here extended far beyond the usual and certainly beyond what was planned, and my return ticket was fully dishonored on one of the days when, instead of heading to the airport, I chose the warmth of Cartagena.
Not many can contradict me when I say that people make the place… or at least the impression and influence a vulnerable visitor retains after knowing a place. And speaking of Colombians, I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say I’ve never felt such a strong “I want to be like them” for any other population! I want to be like them, dance like them, speak like them, blend in with them as easily and naturally as ink seeps into blotting paper.
Colombians are too confident, too proud of what they are, too beautiful from head to toe, and their kindness disarms you. Why hurry when you find yourself caught in a conversation that, from the first words, you suspect will be one of the memorable moments of the day? And the interlocutor could be anyone: from the Uber driver, the cleaning lady at the hostel, the woman selling arepas, the young man selling sweets, or the young woman styling your hair at the salon (we’ll discuss this later).
… and when I say “everything”, I’m not referring to the already established “mountain, sea, and plain”. While the most anthropological among us will be fascinated by the locals’ ease, naturalness, flirtation, and probably their delicious accent, lovers of beaches, exotic vegetation, mountains, lagoons at their peaks, waterfalls, and deserts… hold tight!
The beauties of Colombian nature are endless, and no region is like another. Bathed equally by the waters of the Caribbean and the Pacific, lined with Amazonian vegetation, covered by the paramo (an ecosystem found only in Colombia and Peru, over 3,000m altitude, said to be the fastest evolving on Earth), pampered by seven-colored waters and unique palm trees.
It’s impossible to forget the linguistic cliché of the “great geographical discoveries”, force-fed from a young age; let the first one throw a stone who can claim they didn’t get by with the minimum score by mentioning these “great discoveries” when asked about humanity’s genius from the 15th century. Were details omitted when, in history class, these bloody episodes, best described by words like “rape”, “theft”, “mass murder”, “enslavement”, “destruction”, “disaster”, were taught as “great geographical discoveries”? Oh yes. A lot.
I don’t recall any mention of the demographic disaster that the “discovery” (discovery?… as if America didn’t exist before Columbus’s arrival) by Europeans of the New World represented. Some voices say that 95% of the indigenous population of the entire Americas was annihilated during the conquest. A mad rush for gold and riches that made the great “discoverers” forget all traces of humanity and leave behind exterminated civilizations, entire populations killed, women violated, and ancient cultures of which only a few pitiful remnants remain.
All of this and much more I learned in Guatavita Park, absorbing the local guide’s words breathlessly (and, without any reason to seem tougher than I am, with a few tears in my eyes).
These historical gems have nothing to do with what you think of when you imagine a village. Admittedly, many are rebuilt and adapted to the tourist’s taste, but that doesn’t detract from their architectural beauty, the hospitality of the locals, or the deliciousness of the “homemade” dishes (of course, if “home” was named Dulcemaria, Paola, Luisa, Fernanda… Rodriguez Garcia).
Most of these rural settlements wear colors that guarantee photos with the potential for many likes and are surrounded by natural beauty that promises a return. Some boast coffee plantations, others the terrain for extreme sports, others hikes that you’ll tell your grandchildren about.
There are many who have been there and have fallen head over heels for this city and everything it encompasses, and I would be lying shamelessly if I said I’m not seriously considering going back there and staying for a while.
We’re talking about the birthplace of P.B. and the city once considered the most dangerous on earth. But don’t back away like a timid mouse because what awaits you there now is the most innovative Colombian city… the most “developed” you might find yourself saying, in a moment of serious linguistic creativity.
Much cheaper than Bogota, with an impeccable transport system, with entire areas regenerated and transformed from obscure, dangerous, and infamous neighborhoods into true masterpieces of urban architecture, Medellin offers evidence upon evidence that its inhabitants are fighting with all their might to change the world’s perception of their city.
I’ve been going on about how Colombians dance, but I haven’t mentioned how intimidating the image can be for a non-Colombian. The most egocentric among us might shiver at the mere thought of the dance floor and the idea of exposing themselves to such public humiliation (because, believe me, the robotic chicken moves or the up-and-down baggage moves you pulled off at every house party don’t fit here).
These and many other complexes will be resolved, with a little effort and diligence, by salsa lessons (during the day) and local partners more than willing to share with you the secrets of Latin rhythms (at night). And there’s no better place than Cali to start working on those hip moves.
After a stroll through Colombian markets, no other market stroll will ever satisfy you again.
Cookies, chocolates, cakes, and other sugar boosters? Goodbye and good riddance because the wealth of exotic fruits and flavors that you wouldn’t believe the earth could produce are found in this country, with the second-highest biodiversity in the world (Brazil is first, in case you were curious).
Guanaba, granadilla, lulo, guayaba, maracuya, tree tomato, and so many more; consumed as they are or in delicious smoothies, bought from the market or directly from the street, cleaned and packaged (although, for the sake of nature, I would lean towards less packaging).
I can’t think of another place under the sun where you can meet so many types of people belonging to the same nation. Go to Medellin and you won’t feel any noticeable difference in appearance between you and them; you’ll be melted by the way they pronounce words, elongate sentences, and give utmost importance to every shouted idea, which, from start to finish, can reflect the most diverse feelings.
Head towards a pure-blood indigenous tribe and notice that they look nothing like what you’ve already known, perhaps only distantly, vaguely reminiscent of the landscapes from Winnetou; now imagine that there are currently over 80 indigenous groups throughout Colombia, each with their own language and customs. Then venture towards the Caribbean or Pacific coast and discover Afro population groups, who carry dance and music in their blood and speak a Spanish that’s hard, if not impossible, to understand for a foreign ear.
And yes, members of all these groups of people who speak, dance, look, and behave differently are all called… Colombians, and this is just one of the undeniable proofs of national diversity.
… and this can be deeply moving when talking about a nation that, until recently, was known mostly as a kingdom of drugs, crimes, and corruption. Tourists from all over avoided it without a second thought, and just the news that you bought a ticket to Colombia would have given any parent a heart attack.
We live in times of profound change and, although things are far from perfect on this earth, we can no longer allow prejudices and SENSATIONAL news with a hint of tabloid to hinder the desire to discover. It would be a shame. Especially when there’s so much to explore in this remote corner of the world, where open arms and wide smiles await you as soon as you exit the airport.
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