2016, Personal, Travel

Riley Goes to Colombia – Prologue

I spent most of the last two weeks in Colombia; it was my first visit to South America.

Why we went to Colombia is a long story. The short version is that I wanted to go on vacation – it’s been two years since my last trip abroad – and the GF had heard great things about Colombia. And so we went. We went despite lots of people expressing their shock that we would choose to go to Colombia, and others expressing their fears. (What we found was that, if the person had been to Colombia or knew someone who had been to Colombia, they thought it was a great idea. If they didn’t know someone who’d been, they expressed shock or horror that we were going, especially once Zika began to dominate the news cycle…) We went because I had never been to South America, because Jenn had already been to Argentina, Brazil and Chile – all places high on my list – and because we got a great deal on the flight.

Over the next few days I hope to put up my edited and expanded diary entries to give you some idea about both my trip and the wonderful country. I will place an index in this post.

But at the moment I just wanted to say a few brief words about Colombia:

  • Colombia is beautiful: The parts of the country we visited have stunning natural scenery, often combined with stunning Spanish colonial architecture or, in some cases, quite stunning more modern architecture. Yes, the country has a poverty problem. And yes, it has a pollution problem. But these issues do not normally get in the way of the natural or historical beauty.
  • Colombia is (relatively) safe: Obviously Colombia is not as safe as Canada. I shouldn’t have to say that. But the idea that the entire country is a drug-war-destroyed, guerrilla- and crime-infested wasteland is way out of date – specifically, it is at least 14 years out of date – and, frankly, ignorant. Yes, there are dangerous parts throughout the country. There are even dangerous parts of the cities we visited. But it takes very little research – both ahead of time and on the ground – to find out where you can go without issue. And we were never once afraid for our personal safety. Not once. (To give you some idea of the change: the homicide rate today in Medellin, one of the cities we visited, is 1/12th or so what it was when the city was considered “The Most Dangerous in the World.” And that average doesn’t really tell you how safe the areas we spent time in are, because it’s an average of the violent and safe parts of the city.)
  • Colombia is diverse: Once we got to Colombia, we realized we were seeing only a tiny part of the country. All three major cities we visited were both geographically and culturally distinct from one another and we came to learn that there are numerous “micro nations” within the country, so that a more thorough tour of the country would require stops in maybe 3 or 4 more regions, at the very least. The point is that there is a lot to see and do. And you need to go to more than one place to get even the vaguest sense of what the country is like.
  • Colombia is cheap (for the moment): This was a very affordable holiday for both of us. To give you an example: I brought almost more than my customs limit of booze into Canada and I paid roughly CAD$25 for it…and I bought that booze in one of the richest neighbourhoods of Bogota. A roughly hour cab ride from the airport to the hotel in rush hour traffic cost under CAD$20. Our nicest meal of the trip – which included the best ceviche I have ever eaten in my life – cost between CAD$60 and $70 total (not per person). Tipping is included at most restaurants, cabs and public transit are cheap (and, usually, safe), nice hotels are affordable and museums are dirt cheap and sometimes free.
  • Colombians love modern art: Not only were Jenn and I introduced to a new favourite painter/sculptor, Fernando Botero, but we found a great appreciation in every city we stayed in for modern art – an appreciation that I would say is far greater than Canada’s. Colombia has a rich tradition of modern art that I was wholly unaware of. They are proud of it and the major cities we visited have galleries galore – as well as public sculptures – celebrating that tradition. In North America, we often think of ourselves as more sophisticated than much of the rest of the world…maybe not as sophisticated as Europeans, but more sophisticated than everyone else. Colombian modern art is a useful corrective to this view. You’d be hard pressed to find this same reverence in most of Canada.

So there you have it. More to follow:

| Day 1 – February 10, 2016 >>>


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