A lot of people still feel a slight clenching of the gut after hearing the word “Colombia.” I guess the idea of being kidnapped and used as the sex slave of a jungle drug lord, or scooped off the highway by rebel militia of a late afternoon is pretty hard to erase. Even three years ago, I was dubious at the idea of travelling to such a country, and couldn’t believe it when I began meeting young people who’d not only gone there, but had managed NOT to be reduced to human minced meat and woven into a spaghetti bolognaise. All of them had had the time of their lives.
I decided I wanted to go.
Last year, when I could finally make my departure to South America public knowledge at the English language school I was temping at in Australia, my Colombian students couldn’t believe their ears when I said I had decided to go to their country.
“GO. GO. GO. GO!!! Things have changed. Goooooooooo!” they babbled at me.
The seed sprouted a few buds.
There are still people who in good faith wish to remind you to be on your guard – but often exaggerate or morph the truth in doing so. Arriving from Ecuador, a long-haired guy of Indigenous descent all but suggested that if we were outside after 9pm in Ipiales or Pasto, we’d certainly be shot by a sniper: “People die every night.” Whether he was correct or not – and I do imagine he exaggerated just a teensy tiny bit – we found that common sense was as valuable as a crash mat is to a trapeze artist on her first day.
As with any country on earth, there are zones in Colombia where you wouldn’t go alone after a certain time of night – back alleys and hang outs that exist in our own cities too. Of course, not all our countries were once dodgy enough to have experienced a clean up the scale of Colombia’s recent work. But this is not to say that you would frolick in each and every street of your home town at night, sporting a large amount of cash and shiny gadgets on your person.
When contemplating traveling to a country that could be seen as a little bit “iffy,” get a variety of opinions. Ask locals and other travellers about their experiences, and what you should expect. Use your intuition too. It’s clear that Colombia was once a place left well off the tourist map. No one will deny that safety was certainly an issue (the success of the Pablo Escobar drama recently shown in South America, and the presence of armed militia on highways throughout the country remind us of how organised the reclaiming of its arterials had to be).
But hell yeah, things are on the move – the country is changing. More structure and security measures are being put in place in order to improve the quality of life of its citizens; and tourists are responding by visiting Colombia more. There is way too much on offer in this gorgeous country. From mountains to beaches, nightlife, salsa and coffee stronger than a kick in the balls…colourful memories are waiting here to be made.
As its current campaign only too rightly tells us: