The hospitality I received in Barichara was not unique to this quaint little town. All the articles from travel blogs I had devoured before arriving in Colombia were not exaggerating: not only was Colombia safe but its people golden. From my hosts in Bogotá who made me feel at home to strangers on the street, Colombian hospitality rivaled that of Turks and that’s not something I say often. I can tell you about the poet we met on a local bus from Aracataca (hometown of Gabriel García Márquez) to Valledupar, who gifted us a copy of his recent book of poetry, treated us to a bottle of aloe vera water, and waited with us under the rain until we got a cab to our hostel. Or the staff at the hostel in Valledupar, who went out of their way to help me as a serious case of food poisoning got me in a very unpleasant state I won’t detail here for your benefit. Well, maybe I will but in another post:)
Meanwhile, there is one question that almost every Colombian asked me: “Why did you come to Colombia?” In the beginning, when I was still a novice traveler in Bogotá, I wanted to give a more profound answer than “it is on the top of the continent.” So I mumbled about all the articles I had read revering Colombia’s unparalleled wonders. But most didn’t seem convinced by my answer, or so I thought. Did they think I came to Colombia for the cocaine? I certainly wasn’t there for the women… The question was making me uneasy.
Why had I indeed come to Colombia? The question, which I later learned does not expect any profound answers but is just something South Americans ask foreigners, was causing an existential crisis. I couldn’t fashion any answer that satisfied me. It didn’t help when the Israeli guy I met in Villa de Leyva lectured me about how Colombia is supposed to be the end of the South American journey, not the beginning. “Colombia is the cherry on top, you can’t appreciate it if you haven’t seen the rest,” he said in his obnoxious, know-it-all Israeli attitude. “That the tourist infrastructure is less established than the rest of South America is what makes Colombia special but also hard. Colombia is hard… and dangerous!” he said. That I was a novice traveler probably unequipped to handle this country was implied in his little speech.
As the whirlwind of whys fed my insecurities, more questions bombarded my confused little brain from why Colombia to why South America? Why travel at all? Traveling all alone? Are you crazy? Won’t the wolves and the bears eat you? And what if you get sick? And what if you are stranded with no passport, no phone, and no credit card? What if they rob everything you own and leave you in the street with your underwear? Don’t you know that is exactly what happens when you travel in Colombia? Thankfully before I considered flying to Argentina to set my itinerary straight or worse, lock myself into a room to hide from the big bad world, I remembered the golden rule of travel: Avoid Israelis!
And here I am doing just that in Tayrona National Park, where I threw myself into the Caribbean after arriving in Santa Marta following a 12-hour overnight bus which turned me into a human popsicle (bring a jacket or three on South American buses!) before ejecting me into this coastal town’s 40- degree heat.
So why Colombia you still ask? Well, why not?
Up next: Sleeping in hammocks in Parque Tayrona, getting my advanced open water license in Taganga, and trekking into Ciudad Perdida.
P.S. Of course, avoiding Israelis is impossible… They are just too irresistible and frankly, everywhere! And if I didn’t love them and their obnoxious ways I wouldn’t be living in Israel.