Of course, with that headline everyone immediately thinks of cocaine and Pablo Escobar, public shootings and kidnapping, robbery and the FARC. And all the other crimes – sorry to disappoint you – that didn’t happen to me while I was in Colombia.
Pretty short post then, huh?
Sorry, I need to correct myself: Actually there is a danger in Colombia – or let’s call it a risk – that probably everyone faces while traveling this underestimated and misjudged country with – fun fact – three times the size of Germany: The risk of wanting to stay.
True story. Google that! Now! I’ll tell you mine – thefeldstudien-style:
So, Colombia isn’t as dangerous as it used to be 10, 15, 20 years ago. In fact with all the policemen around I felt quite safe though the ubiquitous rifles puzzled me till the end. The policemen didn’t appear overly frightening, most of the times they seemed relaxed. For instance when bus drivers went on a strike in Santa Marta and all public transportation went down. What did the local policemen with helmets, shields, batons do? They had ice-cream. Duh!! And on my last day, good story, too, when I was at Exito – one of the major supermarket chains in Colombia – to buy some liquor as a souvenir and grabbed one pack of Aguadiente, a policemen doing some shopping himself suddenly stood next to me began to laugh. I asked him why he was laughing, we started to talk and in the end, he recommended the good stuff for me to buy. That’s what I call safe drinking!
If for the policemen or not, I don’t know, but as a matter of fact: I was never robbed and was never offered any drugs (so of course I couldn’t deliver any special packages to all my hard-working creative friends, sorry). Maybe because I don’t look like the usual drug consumer and never asked for any either. Also, I still own my camera, my phone – and most importantly my life! I wasn’t harmed by anyone or anything at any time. I even used to stick to my friends‘ advice of how to keep cash safe. So I used to hide most of my daily cash in an inside-wallet inside of my pants/shirt and kept only a few bills in my pockets to quickly give something to people who would try to mug me. But after about one week of zero attempted raids I gave up on that for whenever I wanted to pay for something it became a big and weird hassle to pull out my cash from inside of my pants/skirt – especially on the hotter days, when I was dressed more summerly – like in a summer dress. You know, as for now – another fun fact – I haven’t gained any skills in lasciviously pulling out bills from my underwear. So….
…I just went with the flow and used a regular wallet/handling daily-cash habit. I tried to act normal and to imitate the local behavior – as far as possible as a tourist who would stop once in a while to check out the street art for instance or check the correct pronunciation of „Excuse me, how do I get to the Museum XXX“ in the pocket-sized travel dictionary or take a selfie in front of this really cool building.
So, by all means „local behavior“ did not mean that I would hide indoors for two months to avoid any potential assaults. Au contraire! Because, you know what else? Colombians spend a lot of time outside of their homes, either working, running errands or enjoying the sociability on their patio. Maybe Colombians aren’t naturally scared people either. From what I’ve seen, they are naturally very relaxed folks. A nice quality that I may have adopted a bit – at least for the time being in Colombia.
Thus, I went outside – whether it was raining or steamingly hot. I wanted to explore and that way I got myself into situations I had never been in before. Pretty risky at times, thrilling, heart-racing situations. I’ve had moments of contemplation of whether or not this was such a good idea, like when I went for a walk on New Year’s in Cali, a quiet day when most of the tiendas were closed and most of the locals were on holiday. At one point of my walk I found myself in a pretty rough area which I sensed by all the pretty miserable looking people sitting in the alleys, and by looking at the city map later that day when I learned that the red grumpy face-icons symbolize „don’t go there“. The pretty miserable looking people however didn’t even try to follow me – they just looked miserable for whatever drug they had taken and lack of drinking water, food and sanitary installations.
Another time I thought whether or not this was such a good idea, was when I found myself on top of a purling, 70 meter tall waterfall I was about to rapell down. I am not afraid of heights in general – and this waterfall near San Gil wasn’t even the tallest for abseiling-activities. This one was just for beginners. And the rappelling turned out to be so unbelievably, incredibly cool that I would have loved to go for a second turn although I was dripping wet from head to toe. In German we would say: Leider geil!
Call me naive or careless, no risk no fun says it all. You can either hide inside for two months and avoid risky chances like getting robbed or stabbed or offered anything illegal – which can happen in the „don’t go there“ areas in the middle of the night, on your own – male of female. But ask yourself, do you normally hang out in those areas in your home town? Or, you can keep calm, have ice cream and trust your travel insurance that you hopefully covered before setting foot on that airplane to Colombia (or wherever you traveled to). Mine actually offered support in case of prosecution. So I felt pretty safe. I felt invulnerable.
So was I never scared?
Of course my travel insurance didn’t cover the feeling of being scared. That’s something you and your therapist can work on. Since I don’t have a therapist right now, I dealt with fear myself. And hell yes was I scared at times. Of course I know I’m vulnerable – look at my knees and scars I collected from a young age. What is life like if you don’t feel (pain, fear, happiness, love…)? My guess: boring.
But every time I thought „uh-uh“, I still didn’t pull back. I went for it. I trusted the people in charge – the guides, the instructors, the night bus driver. Again, call me naive but what option did I have? Pulling back, not going on the night dive, the down-hill bike tour, the rafting, only taking airplanes for getting to places and always wondering what it must have been like?
That is a risk I wasn’t willing to take. I’d rather die young with scars and memories of all the adventures and pretty naive things I’ve done than die old and not have anything to tell. Traveling is dangerous, because you can’t stop. Especially when you’re in Colombia and you learn that all the prejudice people who have never been to Colombia aren’t factual. Exploring the versatility of this country, adopting the general feature of tranquilo (one of my favorite vocabularies in Spanish), meeting strangers who turn out to be helpful without self-interest, who connect you to other German-speaking people just because you are German, feed you with chocolates and take care of you with sunscreen, refreshment spray and life tipps like you’re family, and finally with every new day and new life lesson learned have doors opened to you is an addictive experience. The risk of wanting to stay in Colombia – I’ve heard of it before I set foot on that airplane. It’s a fact that I learned with every day closer to my departure.
Yes, for this risk, Colombia should be known.