Colombia is often a trigger word for cocaine, guerrillas, or kidnapping, so when I told people I was backpacking through Colombia to start my trip to Central America, some people expressed concern. Actually, Colombia is getting much safer, politically stable and tourism is being supported from all directions by locals and officials as a good thing. So far I haven’t been kidnapped or seen any drugs or guerrillas, but I have tasted the most delicious Colombian coffee, danced to cumbia, enjoyed some of the friendliest and helpful locals, traveled without trouble by buses, and swam in some of the most scenic beaches imaginable. Its truly a beautiful, under-appreciated country by backpackers too cautious to make the trip, but not without reason – a friend of mine got robbed six times in Turbo, a Taiwanese tourist got robbed in Bogota and harassed by immigration officers for 6 hours for her passport stamp that she couldn’t produce, and one of the most protected parks on the Caribbean Coast (Parque Tayrona) is a main drug traffic center by park officials and the police protecting them.
About an hour or two north of Bogota are two of the more common touristy destinations. First is Zipaquira, a town with huge salt deposits that they mine for export. One of the exhausted mines was turned into a salt temple, with all the blown out canals dug out into hallways and rooms dedicated to the Catholic Church and Jesus’ Christ life, death and resurrection.
Even further north is the Caribbean coast of Colombia, also a tourist friendly place and home to Parque Tayrona. We are spending most of our time in Santa Marta and around, near beautiful beaches and hot, tropical sun, and love the cheap food, fried street treats and cold cervezas keeping us going. Prices are a bit strange here – using a toilet costs about as much as a delicious empanada, beer is cheaper than coca cola, and bus fare is always negotiable.
My family’s main concern was why I was starting in Colombia to go to Central America since there is no passage by land between Colombia and Panama. Actually, there is a ‘road,’ its just extremely dangerous, difficult and lucrative so going by Sea seemed safer. I still haven’t quite figured it out but I’ll probably go by private sail boat – just gotta make friends with a sailor. As my dad politely put it, ‘dont trust those middle american people,’ but I haven’t met any Colombians with sail boats so hopefully the pirates of the Caribbean aren’t disguised as nice, Canadian couchsurfers since I’m now surfing with a Quebecois on his Chinese junk rig… and a trip to Panama looks promising.
Oh, and today’s my sisters 20th birthday – Happy Freaking Birthday, Ruth 🙂