Back on the border between Ecuador and Colombia and the first words that I heard upon making contact in this county echo from the corridor of what seems a curiously distant past…
“They are going to rob you.”
In the backseat of the taxi, I hug my backpack closer to my chest and instinctively touch my moneybelt to make sure it’s secure and hidden. With all the naivety of a newcomer, fresh with the worries and warnings of a lifetime of “Colombia = Danger!” conditioning, I furrow my brow in fear and brace myself for the blow.
Though I can’t quite figure out what I lost in my translation of what he’s said in Spanish; “Does he mean HE’S going to rob me? Or that there are others involved and we’re on our way to meet them?”
The taxi driver throws a calm arm over the front seat of the car, turns around and smiles warmly, “Yes. One of our Colombian boys will surely steal your heart. And then you’ll never want to leave.”
Well he was partially right. Although I wouldn’t point at just one person, but an entire line up of men, women, children and in particular, one very special family of whom are guilty of claiming my admiration, love, affection and inspiring my wish to live here for a lifetime.
And I’m usually not much of a goodbye-crier, but judging by how many tears I left on the pavement of the road winding up and away from Taganga, I’d say Colombia is indeed, the hardest country I’ve ever had to leave in all of my adventures through the Americas.
And while we’re on the subject, I would just like stand up as a witness and clear Colombia’s terribly unjustified bad rap.
For it’s very much in the best interest of the American Government (who obviously must justify the making and selling of 1.3 billion USD in military “aid” to Colombia) to name Colombia as host to yet another famous “axis of evil” and therefore promote it as so, declaring anyone daring enough to stand up and speak out against the (terribly unjust) system as a “terrorist” and “enemy” and automatically devoid of voice or rights, but quite deserving of an American-made bullet shot by an American-trained soldier.
(Oh, just look at my bitterness get the best of me!)
Colombia IS a dangerous place for elite foreign investors and local executives on business trips scouting new ways to exploit and take advantage of the people and precious resources of this land. For these are the people that are targeted by the armed groups who have desperately resorted to violence to seek system change and revolution in this county.
But Colombia is NOT dangerous for petty backpackers carrying curious, open and alert minds. In my nine weeks traveling (alone, American and female) across the country and all overland, I never once felt my safety or security jeopardized. I have heard very few first hand accounts of robbery or violence targeted at backpackers. And strolling the streets of Colombia’s major cities was like a ride in Disneyland in comparison to some of my fright-worthy walks in downtown Quito (Ecuador), San Jose (Costa Rica) and Guatemala City.
Without reservation, I encourage anyone with basic travel safety wits to venture forth in Colombia. The county, the land, the cities, the sights, the food, the culture, and the people, the people, the people (because they deserve triple emphasis) guarantee an adventure that far outweighs the risks.
Now it’s time for me to cross the Colombian border. And what, might you ask, after all my fawning and flattering, could possibly take me away from this dream of a country?
Some very, very, very exciting news…