Sunday, September 19, 2010

a Colombia overview

People tend to pass judgment on Colombia and stereotype the entire country for 4 things: mountains, coffee, drugs and violence. After my (relatively short) time in Colombia, I can say that two of these things are true and the other two not. The terrain is indeed striking. The mountains are vast and they are everywhere, it felt a bit like Colorado, minus the attitude. Kidding (sort of). The hills are lush due to the climate of the country and the capital, Bogota, is the highest city of its size in the world. The Andes dominate Colombia, and I didn’t even enter the Amazon region of the country, so I can only imagine how prevalent the peaks are there.

Unfortunately for the sake of coffee lovers here, most of it is produced for export, so you are more apt to find instant coffee in general restaurants. However, when you order a cup and receive a strong smelling little glass, you know you’ve got some of the world’s best coffee in front of you!

As for drugs and violence – all the local people that I was fortunate enough to get to spend time with more or less said the same thing. They all resent the hell out of the fact that people believe their country to be filled with drug users. It is true that in the 80’s the drug cartels in parts of Colombia were out of control and flooding the world’s market with cocaine. And of course it’s true that there are still drugs being produced and exported out of the country today (what country doesn’t?). However, it is not the norm, by any means! Almost 20 years have passed since the fall of Pablo Escobar and the cartels he controlled, and during those 20 years Colombia has seen the rates of drugs and violence drop drastically.

I am not suggesting that Colombia is perfectly safe, because it definitely is not. There is always that lingering feeling of peril in the air, whether it’s real or just imagined. It is best to keep eyes wide open at all times, no matter where you are. You shouldn’t walk around at night in many places – just as you shouldn’t walk around in certain parts of Los Angeles, St. Louis, Madrid or Paris at night. To travel in Colombia only requires that you take precaution and don’t be a dumb ass.

General tips:
- As with anywhere, never separate yourself from you backpack. Take it with you on the bus (unless they have a system which they give you a ticket stub for it and the company is reliable) and absolutely never put it in the trunk of a taxi! Someone can pop the trunk while you’re stopped, the driver can pull away when you get out, the possibilities for bad things happening are plentiful.

- Bring layers of clothes to wear while in transit. The buses either have no AC and are like a boxed in sauna, or, they try to freeze you out for some unknown reason, but there’s rarely a happy medium.

- If you want to get on a good bus company (Bolivariano, Expreso Palmira/EP), you should book on line in advance. If you turn up at the bus station without a ticket, you are likely to have to wait for hours for an available bus from one of these companies. You can always find another bus available; it just likely won’t be as nice. Also, booking on line will help you avoid getting ripped off because you’re a gringo.

- You can drink the tap water in Colombia. Always wipe off the tops of bottles and cans before drinking out of them.


seabass43 said...

Ahhh, I so want to go back to Colombia. Everything you said is so true, and I love seeing one more person getting the word out about the safety of this beautiful country. The people are what put Colombia over the top for us, and we can't wait to return someday. Glad you're having such a great time. Looking forward to reading more!

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