Colombia… I was looking forward to discovering that country. Strangely enough, it is the one that generates the most fear from anyone who hasn’t been there, in terms of violence and drug dealing, and is, from what I have heard until now, the most loved by anyone who has travelled South America. Though I must admit that, after my experience in Argentina, I was wondering how anything could be more beautiful or how people could be more welcoming.
But let’s start with the beginning. Which didn’t start the happiest way it could have. First the trip itself. My flight was from Buenos Aires to São Paulo, where I had to do a stop over and take one that would bring me to Bogotá. I bought the cheapest ticket I could find. And therefore the least convenient one. You always think you can handle it, until you are actually stuck in an airport from 1.00 a.m. to 8.00 a.m. without any possibility to sleep. That was oooooone loooooong night.
And then the arrival at destination. I waited next to the conveyor belt. 10 minutes. 15 minutes. 20 minutes. Obviously, everyone else had found his luggage and had left already. I was imagining the worst case scenario. What happened to me a few years ago. That they would just not find it back. I figured I should apply the same philosophy as the one I used when I realized I had forgotten my money in Mendoza and was already wondering where I would be able to find strawberries with cream. Luckily, I did find back my belongings. In the “oversized luggage” department… I was happy to have my backpack again but was wondering how oversized it would be at the end of my trip. I wasn’t even halfway yet and had refrained from buying a lot of stuff.
My first hosts in Bogotá were Felipe and his family. And I couldn’t have wished for a warmer welcome. Or a more comfortable place to stay. Private room and bathroom. Complete luxury! But also: great food, wonderful company and interesting discussions. I even got introduced to the larger family: some aunts, uncles and cousins. And then Felipe’s brother Juan and his French girlfriend Camille. The latter happened to work for one of the most important competitors of my company. Just as I seemed to be really disconnected from work, it flew back into my face like a boomerang.
Felipe’s mother, Lorenza, was also very helpful in orienting me in the capital.
– So. What cardinal point do the mountains indicate?
– East, Sarah. East.
The third time I got it right.
I did a bit of tourism on the first days, together with Felipe as it was week-end. He took me to the Gold Museum – too bad my budget didn’t allow me to take a little souvenir from there -, the Simon Bolivar Square, the Candelaria neighbourhood, and we had some chicha – a drink made from maíz – at the Chorro de Quevedo, a square where Bogotans like to meet and share a few relaxed moments. And so did we. We had interesting conversations, during which I learned, amongst other things, that you’d better not talk about drugs the first time you meet with a Colombian. Understandably, they are not very pleased with the reputation they have. Many of them afterwards told me that’s also why they are so nice to foreigners. They want to prove them they have it all wrong. You have to be careful, as anywhere else in South America AND the rest of the world. But, above all, they are warm-hearted and welcoming people. And asking a Colombian if he has any cocaine, even as a joke, is not a very clever thing to do.
I also got enlightened about the whole problem with the guerrilla and the paramilitaries. The FARC – Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – appeared as a left wing revolutionary group, as it did in many Latin American countries, around 1950. As such, they were oriented against the rich people: farm owners and industrials. To protect themselves, the latter formed their own defence group, which became the paramilitaries. Right winged, as opposed to the FARC. The guerrillas forced the civilians to help them with money, food and sheltering. If the paramilitaries knew someone had been helping them, even against their will, they would take their revenge on them. The whole thing therefore got out of control. The guerrillas got involved in kidnapping and drug dealing, as a way to finance their revolution. But soon, the original cause behind their fight disappeared and it became unclear what they actually were after, except for the money. From what I understood, the current government is negociating with both guerrilla and paramilitaries to put an end to the violence in Colombia, which has already caused a lot of damage. In any case, there have been no kidnappings in more than ten years and they are only active in the South of the country.