July 14th, 2017
Known around the world for the infamous drug war that left the country devastated, Colombia is rising from the ashes and becoming a highly sought destination. Soccer, music, art, and gorgeous landscapes are making more news than the violence that is slowly becoming part of the past.
When I went back to Colombia after eight years, I was jittery with excited nerves. After living and working there for a year and a half, I have countless memories. Some are awful, most are great, and all of them are special.
I’m more of a “save the best for last” kind of gal, so let’s get through the worst experiences first.
My worst experiences in Colombia:
1. Having to always be on the lookout
While the idea of getting kidnapped and whatnot is a bit ridiculous, you do have to rely on your street smarts 100% of the time, especially in a big city like Bogota. While this is true of most cities in the world, it is still exhausting to have to always be aware of who’s around you and where your belongings are. From little kids to grandparents with walkers, everyone is suspect, and it is pretty tiresome.
2. The corrientazo in front of the main plaza in Zipaquira
Zipaquira is one of the best day trips you can take from Bogota. It has the impressive Salt Cathedral, the town is beautiful, and it is a nice change of pace. However, do not, for the love of all that is holy, trust the local lunch place in front of the main plaza. It was literally the worst meal I have had in my entire life, sometimes I still have nightmares about it. *Shudder*
3. Rush hour madness in Bogota
Rush hour sucks in any city, but in Bogota it is like the Hunger Games. If you’re taking the Transmilenio, you will have to fight to the death to be able to get on one of the buses. If you’re on a regular bus, you will have to kick, push, and bite to be able to get off. If you survive, wear your battle scars proudly.
4. Getting caught in a knife fight
I joined a cultural collective to interview people at a hip-hop concert in one of Bogota’s most marginalized neighborhoods. The experience of covering a community based event that transformed a dumpster into a park was incredible, but it got soured by a knife fight that happened right.in.front.of.me. I was so shocked it took me days to be able to talk about it.
5. Street harassment from the military
My best friend lived closed to President Santos’ family house. Because of this, there were always soldiers in the surrounding streets. You’d think this would make you feel safer but the constant “hello beautiful” or “where are you going, heaven?” remarks coming from armed men made me feel the exact opposite.
No country is perfect, we all know this, which is why when I think of Colombia I rarely think about the bad experiences. Instead of focusing on them, I rather think about the amazing things that happened to me in this beautiful land.
My best experiences in Colombia:
1. Meeting incredible people
Most of the people I met were interesting, smart, funny, and motivated. Everyone had an idea of something to create, of a movement to start, of an organization to make, of a change to enact. Obviously not everyone is like this, I was just lucky to run into people who were. Even in my travels, however, Colombians make the country proud by being warm, open, caring, and friendly. One thing is for sure: You’ll never be bored with them!
2. Being surrounded by the Sea of Seven Colors
Not many people know that Colombia has two Caribbean islands, and that they are breathtakingly beautiful. San Andres is the most popular one, but Providencia stole my heart with its authenticity and chill vibes. Once overrun by pirates, these islands are surrounded by the Sea of Seven Colors, which is unlike anything I had ever seen.
3. Randomly ending up at the Festival of Lights in Villa de Leyva
There’s nothing better than planning a random trip somewhere only to find out you’ve gotten there on a special day. Villa de Leyva is the country’s most famous pueblo, and definitely one of its most beautiful. Getting to be there at the Festival of Lights was a truly magical experience.
4. Learning about street art in Bogota
At the risk of feeling like a tourist, I took the Bogota Graffiti Tour, and it was seriously one of the best experiences I had in the city. The work found throughout the city are incredible, and the tour took me through parts of the center I hadn’t even been to before. Afterwards, I could show off by pointing to graffiti around the city and identifying the style of a specific artist.
5. San Pedreando in El Huila
Three days of non-stop dancing, great food, and limitless alcohol basically makes el San Pedro the best party of my life. This regional festival is the most important one celebrated in the region of El Huila. On our last day, the people from the town insisted on giving us a shot of aguardiente every time we sat down (one of my friends had a finca there), which basically made us instant friends.
Of course I’m extremely biased, but I will forever be proud of Colombia. Wondering whether you should go? There’s only one right answer, and I hope this list makes the choice clear!
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