Colombia! Oh, I always wanted to come here soo badly, and finally im here! After selling Psyrema I had a decision to make.. do I want to go home, continue traveling on land in Asia, or in south America… or basically in which order… 🙂
So it seemed an easy and logical decision to buy a ticket to Cartagena, Colombia. Why there? Well, Bogota would have been an easier target, but I really wanted to arrive to the hot and humid tropics and also between that two Cartagena seemed like a more user-friendly solution to spend a few weeks there until I continue. Why so long? I decided to enroll to a Spanish course and also I needed some time to rest… but I’m running forward with the story way too quickly.
The way there was quite exciting. It is a bit sad, that first I had to fly back to eu 😦 to Madrid, to came here, but whatever… From Cape Verde, first it was a ferry to Santiago, to the capital, Praia, which is comparable to Mindelo, so let’s not waste too much character on it, from there, I had to fly back to Sal, later Morocco and Madrid, from there to Bogota, but on the way we had an emergency landing of some sort to Baranquilla (watching the local news now and than, there is always something happening in Baranquilla, a flood, some killings, a gang war, an outrest…every day) and to Cartagena finally.
I remember when the airports sliding door opened and I first stepped outside, it was already quite late, around nine, but the humidity was still around 90percent and at least 32degrees. How long I was waiting for this climate! The real tropics. (at least for me, this humid hot air connects me to several nice memoried back in asia)
First night I went for a hostel, mentioned in the guidebook. Normally I would never ever do that, I try to avoid all the “suggested, recommend” places as usually they are overpriced, dirty and careless as they are in the guidebooks, so ppl will come anyway. But I do not really like to arrive to a new country at night, as you do not know how things work, where to find things, and what to expect, so I went for the easiest solution.
Well, I indeed did not expected this. A giga-hostel full with 18-24 year old young and beautiful fancy “backpacker” coming from allower the word. Naively I thought that with Colombia’s bad reputation only the old, seasoned travellers end up here. Bot no, as later I learned Cartagena actually has more tourist than London. Daytime, they flock in big masses on the streets, coming with crouseships or organized package deals.
As I was not soo keen staying for weeks in a room with 20 more young “neo-backpacker” next morning I went looking for some other options. What I immediately learned here is that ppl are extremely nice, even if I do not speak any spanish, everyone takes a big effort just to make sure we understand each other and when we do, they are even more happier than me. Also what I found very unique is that if you hunt for some room, you go to one hostel, check the room, and than say “ok, I still look around”, they will even suggest you nice places nearby . Ppl in a hostel actualy sugesting you the concurrence to check, and than you can decide which one you like more. I was shocked, I never experienced this before. Everyone is happy and friendly, ready to help the other with a big smile.
After a few hours of searching I found my place, a lovely family owned hostel, still 6 ppl in a room, but at least here instead of the backpackers the boys and girls are mostly living here for longer periods to teach english at one of the schools.
After a few days I was treated like family, every night we where siting outside the hostel with the owner Carlos talking about various things, Colombia, Cartagena, his life, my one. One night he told me his story, that he was a computer programmer for some bank systems I believe but after ten years of siting infront of a keyboard he had enough, and started working in a motel, here in Cartagena. It was good 10 years ago, when things where still very different… the motel was a hotbed for prostitution and drogs, every night he had to call the police at least once… prostitutes attacked him with knife or trafficers with guns… not easy start in the hotel business but by now he has his own place and anyway life is very different nowadays here.
I really enjoyed this nights! Ppl where passing by, stopping for a few minutes to chat… everyone is nice, quiet, relaxed. Carlos always made sure that I learn a few new words of spanish. I had a great time there. In the morning locals going to work singigng. Some of them are quite loudly 🙂 what a lovely place! Everyone seems happy. Also the city itself is quite nice, in the center, inside the walls old colonial buildings, nicely restored what you would expect from an unesco protected place… a bit too touristy for my taste, but still very enjoyable.
If Cartagena, the big touristy city is this good and friendly I was really keen to explore more, smaller places. Unfortunately I rolled in to some spanish school so I had to sit on my ass and wait until the course is over to travel more. Well… as everyone is always asking me about my spanish skill, I have to say: relax, it is still not existing. I can not blame the school, it is me, who is impossible to be teached. 🙂 anyway… I can solve things with my minimal dictionary. 🙂 I did the same in any other part of the word as well, so no difference here.
An other topic usually everyone is asking about is the safety in Colombia, so lets talk about it a bit. After almost 3 month I see it like this: Colombia is generally safe, very safe, but obviously if you are looking for some trouble you can find one for yourself. My oppinion is, that Colombia traditionally had such a bad reputation, that when the goverment started to clear up the situation around 15 years ago, they did such a good job that actually overshooted the southamerican standards. Which means, that if you stay in the green zones, where tourist usually fiddle around anyway, you will not face any problem whatsoever. Like here in Cartagena, seriously drunk 18 year old little tourist girls are walking home alone 3 at the night without any problem. Nobody ever insulting them. You can travel safely to many places… all the big cities are now a safe destination, and the rest of the country as well. Obviously you can find districts in cities where is not entirely safe for an outsider, even here in Cartagena, locals say that there are a few parts where you only go if you know some names there, but it is easy to avoid, or better, it is really hard to find. Also if you go to the red zones, like the one around the borders with Ecuador or Venezuela or the Dariem Gap between Panama and Colombia you indeed can find a lots of trouble if you do not know where to look and where not to. This areas are still hotbeds for drog smugling and paramilitaries and they are known to have the first shot than ask mentality. First I was not entirely happy about the idea that you can not just wander everywhere you wish, but honestly, Colombia is soo huge and diverse that you can spend years entertaining yourself before feeling the need to visit any of this areas.
It is not just me, but everyone else (locals and tourist alike) is convinced that Colombia is indeed one of the safest destination around this part of the world. Big part of the coca business is now happening in surrounding countries, mostly Peru and Brazil and obviously Venezuela. I’m not saying that Colombian droglords went saint, it is more like they just shifted their activity to somewhere else.
Although I really enjoyed Cartagena, and it was the most wonderful introduction for me to the southamerican part I’m not really a city-boy and after a month it was indeed time for me to see something else. .. let the adventure begin!