People back home have lots of ideas about Colombia. When we told our friends and family about our plan to drive the pan-American, Colombia topped the list of countries they were worried about in terms of safety and security. It has been interesting to travel in a place I previously thought innaccesible, and to set some of the stereotypes straight. In terms of preconceived ideas, I was preoccupied with safety concerns involving narcotrafficking, guerrilla forces, land mines, and kidnappings. We decided that it would be too limiting to beleive everything we hear about the risks of traveling in Colombia, but also unwise to completely dismiss it. As we entered Colombia, our strategies for dealing with security risks were the same as always: don`t drive at night, ask and trust the locals about safety risks, don`t park on the street overnight, and trust your gut instincts.
As we stepped out of our lancha into the first Colombian town of Capurgana, we noticed that everyone seemed incredibly happy. There was music.. LOUD music. People were drinking in the street, and there was a soccer match on in the middle of town. This had nothing to do with the images I`d had of a shady little border town in an innaccesible part of the Carribean coast. In fact, all through our time in Colombia we were constatly taken aback by the overwhelming friendliness, and hospitality of Colombian people. One time, I went to take out the trash at our campground, and ended up in a 30 minute conversation with an older couple that ended in a photoshoot and an invite to their hometown which was 100 kms away. People were super excited about the sole fact that we were traveling in and enjoying Colombia. At a routine military checkpoint we were pulled over, and the only questions asked were: how long have you been in Colombia, and how do you like it. The extent of my surprise and enjoyment of Colombian hospitality need not be confused with naivety. Simply watching the news, or looking at the paper reminded me that I was in fact in a nation still very much in the midst of political turmoil. It is very hard to decipher facts amongst news stories that are so sensationalized. It is very difficult to gauge the real risks from the perceived ones. What I do know experientially is that tourism is definitely on the rise in Colombia, and that the beauty and divesity it has to offer are unbeatable. People are not yet worn out or jaded from the constant flow of foreigners through their home towns, and are still excited to talk to tourists about their lives, and yours. It is inspiring and refreshing to be around people so passionate about their country.
The parts of Colombia that we were able to visit were incredibly beautiful and diverse. We went from 34 degrees and sticky humid on the coast, to cool weather at 4000 meters above sea level in a national park which hosts the headwaters for three rivers heading to three different drainage systems. We checked out the nation`s capital, a city of 8.5 million, and spent 100km on our way out of town in stop and go traffic. We spent Christmas in the quaint mountain town of Villa de Layva, and New Years in the southern city of Pasto where local people burnt manequins in the street at midnight. In total, we spent just under a month in Colombia, but exploring it to the extent that it deserves would take years. It is a place I could easily see myself returning to again and again, and always finding something to surprise me. Here are some photos from our few weeks in Colombia.