Travel report 14 Colombia.
According to most people, the most dangerous country of my trip, but when is a country to dangerous to visit? With their drugs problem, all those (military) police on the streets, guards with mirrors and dogs who search the cars of people who want to park them in
the garage of an important building (bank) or even a big public building, a lot of inhabitants who are more afraid to travel in their own country than we are to travel in their, the presence of the guerrillas (FARC) and last, but sure something not to forget, the circulation, between thieves, of the drug Burandanga. They use it on objects they give to you or put it in food, drinks or even cigarettes and when it gets into your blood/body, you will lose
your will or even consciousness, be warned...
If you read all this above you will perhaps think: "This country is to dangerous to visit". But I will give you two stories of travellers who will not agree with that:
They both have a more dark skin and hair colour than I have, but the first is from Sweden and the second is even from the USA. In the end of September, the first got almost robed by 3 men with machetes while climbing the San Pedro Volcano in Guatemala in a big group. Luckily they had police escort, so nothing happened to them, but at least one of the thieves got shot badly. A few weeks ago he spend more than a week in San Augustine, that´s surrounded by the FARC and nobody did anything to him...
The second traveller went a few weeks ago even to the Lost City, the part in Colombia were those travellers last year got kidnapped. He felt no danger at all, but I still think that that wasn´t a smart thing to do...
So when is a country to dangerous to visit?
Even I can´t give a neutral opinion about that. With my big, blond and white appearance I look to much like a (rich) American and attrac a lot more attention and sure not always positive... I got used to it and don´t care much about it, because I´m on holiday and
have a much better live than most of them, so not much to complain about. However in Colombia I think it´s the first time that someone spit on me while I was walking on the street. Luckily the opposite happened also to me in Colombia, sometimes they treated me so helpful that I got shy and almost felt uncomfortable with it.
But should you visit Colombia?
I´m glad that I did it. It´s a special country with it´s own culture and it has a lot to offer. From the modern, Western way of living to abandon jungle and mountain areas. It´s a country of drugs and guerrillas, but also of one with the best coffee in the world and with a lot of good looking people (especially the women ;-) And people who like art and architecture will sure like to visit Colombia. So yes, I can recommend to visit Colombia, but be only a little more careful than you already did.
Oke, what did I do and have I seen this last 2 weeks:
After a long, but special bus ride, which some locals didn´t recommended to do (what was probably also te reason that there were only 6 people in the bus?) I arrived without any trouble in Medellin.
Medellin, after Bogota the biggest city in Colombia. It´s more modern, but also more chaotic, only the metro, which is above the ground, solves most of that last problem. Medellin is the only city in Colombia with a metro and it´s a very easy, cheap and friendly way of travelling through the city.
In the centre Medellin has still some culture, history and architecture, but thought of Medellin that´s more a city to go shopping in one of the many different shopping centres or other places. if you do this, be sure to visit The Palacio Shopping Centre. In this old palace you see a special combination of colonial architecture and modern escalators.
Cali, south of Bogota. The 3e biggest city and also the most hot and least attractive to see. Except its square and surrounding there´s not much to look at, but I visited the city for its known night-live. I think this city offers the best and safest "Zona Rosa" (night-live area) of Colombia. It has plenty of everything to choose from. From bars and cafe´s till discotheque
and salsa places, the supply is even that big that I wonder how they can all survive?
Beside nightlife Cali offers also the opportunity to make a daytrip to San Cipriano, a small village in the middle of the jungle and next to a crystal clear river. It´s also a popular weekend destination for Colombians and not only because of this location or the river. No, a big part of the reason that makes the village popular to visit is the way to get there. There´s no road and the only transportation is a train that goes ones in a while, over
the railway of a few km´s to transport cargo. However when there´s no train, the locals use their own transportation. The use small and flat wooden cars, with small iron wheels on and between the railway and mostly they push themselves with a wooden stick between the rails. Sometimes they´d even attached a motorcycle beside the car with the backwheels on the rail for propelled. When tourists are sitting on those cars the will mostly be pushed
by the local men (women, you have to see the bodies of most of them...) or even boys and especially when you go down-hill it´s a lot of fun.
Unfortunately we never made it all the way to the village. One km before we had to turn back, because they told us that there was guerrilla around! Maybe 2 hours later it will be more save?
But after an hour waiting suddenly a lot of people, who were already there, came back from the village, because they heard shooting around the village! So we were close and will not go back anymore, but I never felt afraid.
I felt more afraid when we went back with the bus and the person who was sitting next to me started to ask for money, while he was cleaning his nails and playing with a very sharp knife... Even with his mother sitting at the other side of me! But i kept pretending that I didn´t understand him and in the end got away with it, luckily.
After this I wanted to visit the archaeological site and surrounding of San Augustine, but at the tourist office the told me literal that it was not save for me to go there unless I paint my skin and hair a little darker.
Ok, something more save than.
Cali offers also the possibility to go parapenting (paragliding) above the city, so that´s what I did together with an other traveller. We jumped, together with an instructor and with some kind of parachute, from the mountain next to the city. Whow, this is a great experience! Silently hanging in the air, between the birds and with a great view around! We were
also lucky that the weather was very good for parapenting and that we could use some turbulence to fly in circles higher and higher. At 2100m and more than a kilometre above Cali, we stopped and went down again.
Back on the ground we went to the coffee area of Chinchina. But before we got there we first had a small adventure at the bus-terminal of Pereire. In a short moment of thoughtless someone stole the small bag of my fellow traveller and it was because of the attentive police that he didn´t got away with it. The police was also very helpful with the necessary
paperwork after. They did a very good job for us.
Chinchina, a small town that has not much more to offer than a few churches and a coffee factory that even supplies coffee for Holland, but which you´re not aloud to visit. Only it´s not the town but its surrounding, with the many coffee finca´s (farms) that makes it worth to visit. We were lucky that we could stay at one of those small coffee finca´s on the
top of a hill that looks down on the town and the coffee fields. The owners are very friendly and also very helpful with giving information about coffee and the area. They told me that coffee grows best on an altitude between 1300 and 1700m and that its better for the ground and coffee to not only grow coffee, but also change between beans, corn and even banana trees. Unfortunately they also told us that the rivalry between the big coffee-companies has become so strong that the small coffee farms in the area have problems to survive and are looking for other things to earn money. One of them is Eco-Tourism. So lets hope that that works and that they don´t have to grow sugar-cane instead of their delicious coffee.
Back again and then even more south. Popayan, it looks to me a little like Leon in Nicaragua, but only then in the mountains and with more renovated old buildings. It´s a friendly colonial town that invites you to walk around for hours, even after dark. It
felt to me like the safest place I´ve been in Colombia.
After again a long (8h) but very beautiful bus ride, past mountains, along and across very deep canyons (be sure to sit at least the last 2 hours at the left side for a better view), I arrived at the border crossing and was surprised that I could go so easily into Ecuador. With all that drugs in Colombia I expected more searching? I felt a little sad to leave Colombia without seeing everything I wanted to see, but I´m happy that I didn´t skipped the whole country.
Ibarra, Ecuador, a nice colonial town. A little similar to Popayan, but more tropic and dry and, only during the day, more noisy. O, you do can go out here on Saturdays, unlike the Lonely Planet tells you...
Today, before I started to write this story, I went walking in and around Ibarra and the closest, quiet village of San Antonio. I enjoyed it, especially after the long bus ride of yesterday. And if you visit San Antonio be sure to have at least a look at the beautiful and not expensive woodcarving which they sell there!