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Colombia: Fear factor


Here we go again! If I’m going to embark on a new adventure, might as well try a new continent, right? Holà Latin America. It's a part of the world that I’ve always found a little intimidating, overwhelming and maybe a bit scary. Of course, there is everything you hear in the media and the stories they tell to scare people. But as soon as I started doing my research, I realized that there is an infinite number of beautiful places to visit and so many captivating cultures to discover. Most of the people I talked to or read stories of, fell in love with the region the first time. A few weeks of Spanish lessons on my phone and a lot of preparation later, and thank you goodbye winter.


First country: Colombia. Don’t panic! Colombia is actually the # 1 destination in the world right now. The country has come out of the darkness and has become the new destination for backpackers. This time I'm not alone, I have a travel partner with me for the ride: Daniel. We have to endure each other for 3 months; a stubborn (me) and an impatient (him) together, a match made in heaven for some crazy stories



Cartagena.

Cartagena welcomes us with a beautiful hug of heat and humidity, the smell of the south giving the finger to the winter we left behind. As soon as we passed the interminable customs, we head to El Centro; the historic colonial district surrounded by fortifications. We are floored! It's so, so beautiful. Every building is more colorful than the other, flowers and music everywhere, wooden balconies, the small streets forming a labyrinthine ... It's a step back in time, in a time when people had taste! It’s love at first sight.

The sun sets early so we have just enough time to walk around and enjoy the beauty surrounding us. Then, cocktail on the top of the fortifications to enjoy the sun going down, local band as the musical background and a view over a lively square. Seaside also means: delicious ceviche for dinner! We finish our evening in the clock tower square with live music band and Colombian dances.

Our second day begins with a walking tour of the city under the blazing sun. The guide walks too slowly for my taste, but we learn a lot about the history of the city and the area, while discovering other parts of the old city. We then move to an airBnB in the adjacent neighborhood, much more authentic, but just as charming, colorful, vibrant and lively. Angie, our host welcomes us in her apartment with her two cats. We return to watch the sunset over the sea while sitting on the old town walls. Our evening consists of strolling down the streets, eating street food (arepas, empanadas, fried plantains ...) being sang at by street musicians, and enjoying a cocktail on a balcony.



Back in our neighborhood, we discover a more local vibe, with graffiti on the walls, street art, the enticing smell of food stalls, and the famous Plaza de la Trinidad. In front of a church, people gather peacefully, they play music, games, it's warm and welcoming. We meet three Colombians girls and a German guy in a convenience store and spend the rest of the evening with them on the plaza. It’s 2am in no time!

Good morning Colombia! Angie is waiting for us with a nice homemade breakfast and fresh squeezed juice. We have a beach day ahead of us. We take a taxi to the departure point of the boat, to bring us to an island. The car hasn’t stopped, and already 10 or so people chasing us and banging on the windows. Short moment of panic. They obviously want to sell us tours or their boat services, but we feel a little trapped inside the car. We run away from the crowd and walk further, pretending to just want to walk on the beach. Then we see two German tourists who seem to try to negotiate with the boatmen. We ask them where they are going, but they don’t seem to know much nor how to deal with the situation. Mini flashback: Remember I said I’ve been learning Spanish with an app for 2 months? I may know ... 200 words? But since we arrived, I speak to everyone and my few words helped us a lot. So, back to the bargaining. I pull out my less than accurate Spanish, negotiate with the 3 boatmen who are talking over each other, translate to others, mix a little German through all this, and manage to get us a reasonable price to bring us on the island. How did I do this (considering that I understand 5% of what they say)? No clue. But we made to the island!

We spend the day lazing on the beach. I had to negotiate again for food at a restaurant, but with much less success. Back on land, we say bye to the couple, before returning to our favorite Plaza for a giant pizza.


So, how is Colombia so far? It's wonderful. I would lie to you, if I told you that the sellers of bracelets and sunglasses on the streets sell only that; it often comes with a whispered offer for a green grass and a white powder, but a ‘no gracias’ suffices and they don’t insist. There is a strong police presence everywhere in the touristic areas; locals, guides, taxi drivers are all watched closely. So the subtle unease sometimes floating in the air comes more from our own preconceptions than from a real danger. We are told to be scared, but people are actually lovely.

We are ready for our next destination: the mountains of Minca.




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