Jay and I, the Airbnb, suitcase travellers always in need of a change, gave up the suitcases and also our jobs, things and comfort in search of a new adventure.
Colombia has been on my bucket list for ages, so we bought the one way (today huehue) ticket and boarded the plane.
Colombia has its reputation, cocaine, narco cartels, robberies blah blah blah. We’ve seen only 2% of this (I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on what part we’ve seen). The most dangerous thing in Colombia was traffic because a three-lane road will have 9 cars lined up. Once we learned to navigate the chaos, the feeling of being in danger faded away.
Except when that one guy drove half an inch away from my foot but OH WELL.
Bogota was an adjustment to Colombia, so we spent the days there being tourists you can sell overpriced souvenirs too (and we ended up losing them lol).
Medellin was a gorgeous city that we fell in love with (I have a post about Medellin coming up on One Day Itinerary; I’ll update here once it’s published), but the real travel started when we truly stepped away from the usual Bogota- Medellin -Cartagena route.
Bus Travel in South America is an experience for itself.
Honestly, even if you don’t see anything, just getting from city to city in Colombia by bus will be enough to see the real ways of Colombia (and for that matter, most of South America).
North American/ European bus travel
Buy a ticket
Put your luggage in the luggage compartment.
Stop for a break once and stop at a few stops along the way, if any.
South American Bus Travel
Go on the bus station – deflect people pulling you by the arm to go with their company.
Wait in line that’s not a line but more of a survival of the fittest, lose all sense of politeness, cut off an old lady because you’re fuckin sick of waiting.
Buy a ticket, cash only, do you have any smaller bills? No, I don’t the ATM only gives out the larger bills. Wait an hour for them to find change.
Finally, get your ticket, find the bus.
Deflect the people still trying to get you to travel with their company.
Get to the bus.
Fight again to get to the driver to leave your one backpack.
Wait for the driver to play Tetris with people’s stuff because he needs to fit a couch, a couple of tires, a live animal, a bag of hay and about 4 suitcases per person in the bus.
Your one sad backpack gets thrown in. Hope you sealed the shampoo and conditioner well. Did I have coconut oil in there? That’s gonna get greasy.
Alright, we are on the bus now, ready to go. Let’s go! No? Not yet? The driver is still playing Tetris because someone needs to fit a stove down there.
The sad backpack is under a stove.
That coconut oil was a bad idea.
Alright, we are GOOD TO GO.
Ok, he just needs to film us all with a camera for a second? Ah, it’s a security measure. Ok, cool cool cool.
Leave – finally.
5 mins in – stop. A vendor gets on the bus to sell chips. Sure, I’ll have a bag of lime Doritos – they’re so good, why don’t we have these anywhere else?
Alright, on the way again… traffic. Cool cool cool. Oh, there’s another vendor on the bus selling water – sweet, I need water.
The guy behind me is a self-designated bus DJ, he plays reageatton on his phone. I guess he didn’t like the traditional Colombian music that’s already playing on the bus.
The girl in front didn’t like either so she’s playing Ed Sheeran, also for everyone else to enjoy. How wonderful, a wide selection of music genres – all playing at once.
Where the fuck are my headphones? NO, MY PHONE IS DYING!!! Is there a plug? No, no plugs.
The lady next to me calls her second cousin to discuss recipes, the cousin is on the speakerphone, of course.
Another stop, couple of people flagged the bus to stop. Lose 10 minutes getting their bags sorted out. There’s no more room in the luggage compartment, so we have moved on to fitting suitcases in the bus now. Please, let’s just go!!!
Half an hour of actual driving, the scenery is beautiful, Colombia is a gorgeous country.
Police check stop. Army check stop. Who the fuck knows.
Wait for half an hour.
The lady next to me is still on the phone, the guy in front busted out an extra set of speakers so EVERYONE gets to listen to his music. You’ll learn to like it, bitch.
On our way again, stop again, two vendors come in. No, gracias, I already have chips from the last guy.
No, I don’t need a hair straightener!
On our way, oh no no no, wait – another vendor needs to sell chips again. I DON’T WANT CHIPS !!! I don’t want plantain chips, I don’t want lime Doritos, I don’t want best of Top of The Pops 2004 CD. I just want to go, please!
That lady is still on the phone.
Police check. This one was quick, only 5 minutes.
Alright, we are on the way! The speed of the bus is a bit over the limit and you love it because you are actually going! Go driver go!
Movie time – Taken 3, dubbed in Spanish.
Someone else is playing music, now there are 5 people playing music, headphones are not a thing I see.
Stop again, someone needs to get off, they live just there.
Stop again, someone, 3 mins down the road, got on. Wait for all the luggage to get sorted out again.
Another stop, someone else is getting off. The driver loses 10 minutes getting their couch out. Three people get off to help him.
The bus can’t start.
The men go out to push it.
Alright, on our way ag… oh oops, there’s another vendor. Agua? Agua?
Give up even saying no, just stare through the window. We should’ve been there according to the fake ass schedule.
Look at maps, we are halfway there.
Realize you can’t change this, accept your destiny, relax and look at the scenery because this is Colombia.
Colombians can PARTY
I’ve lived in Croatia, travelled through Bosnia and Serbia and I’ve seen my share of drinkers. From morning shots of Vodka to the bottles of Rakija that go down like water, but Colombians… they drank me under the table.
The 4 oz tequila shots, aguardiente (closest to Ouzo in my opinion) and Medellin Ron (it’s a rum, but deadlier) nights (and mornings) left me feeling like I’ve just worked a 2 for 1 night at a local brothel – destroyed.
While I was crying in the corner from a massive hangover they were up and jolly ready to go to work.
The aguardiente pong night was one of those.
Our hosts Diego and Monica and their friends Dayro and Jennifer invited us over for dinner that ended in a Colombian version of beer pong — cups filled with beer, aguardiente and a mix of the two.
Monica, the cute little button of a girl, was pouring drinks down our mouths and the picked us up the next morning for a trip to her parents’ farm.
The rest of us gringos looked like a knock-off version of our originals selves, but Diego and Monica were untouched and ready to take on the day.
Colombians have the gift of rhythm, I don’t. I usually only dance when I’m really drunk and think I look good, but in Colombia even at the drunkest stage, I knew I looked like a baked potato with legs.
Look around the club and you’ll see people of all ages just killing the dancing game. The beauty of movement and energy is everywhere. If you ever want to feel self-conscious about your dancing – just go to Colombia.
I made the mistake of going to the dancefloor once, it was like an old lady in a mosh pit.
I sat down defeated and tried to play the instruments that people are table had, I was defeated once again. I felt like a block of cheese, but Colombians didn’t judge, or if they did they didn’t show it to my face, so I’ll take it. In the end, you give up, relax and accept your destiny because this is Colombia.
The Bathroom Situation
Who would have thought I’d spend time writing about the toilets – a true writers dream.
This was the only thing I have truly missed. My bathroom.
You can’t throw toilet paper in the toilet, it has to go in the garbage can next to it. While they are mostly closed with a lid you still get a glance when you throw out your own toilet paper of everyone else’s shit, period and fluids you don’t want to think about. I have learned to appreciate a toilet at home so much more. I never thought I’d spend so much time thinking about a bathroom.
The big cities and tourists destinations have hot water, it was when we stepped out of those that we lost the privileges of a 45 min hot showers we used to have. Those where you argue with someone in your head or wonder who was the first person to try chocolate, you know, life stuff.
The first touch of the cold water was in the city of Riohacha – a place close to the desert where not much happens but everything happens at the same time. We spent a month on the terrace drinking with our friends Johana and Cagri as well as all the passerby travellers.
Johana is the most flexible person I’ve ever met, as my flexibility of a sofa doesn’t get me around other flexible people she was fascinating to watch. How can a human body do that shit?
Cagri hitchhiked from Turkey to South America (yes, even over the ocean) so he’s a crazy motherfucker that never sleeps.
Riohacha was easy to deal with, it was always hot and the water itself wasn’t too cold because it was in the well, outside, in the sun.
Florencia‘s shower was as cold as Canadian winter. I don’t know where the hell it came from but it felt like it came from Winterfell. (Winter-well? huehueh)
My usual routine of turning the shower on and finding that sweet spot before I step in was replaced by just going in, counting 3, 2, 1 and screaming. OH WELL.
I tried the Jesus bath by heating up hot water on the stove, but that only gives you one wash. I tried staying in there longer than 30 seconds to “toughen up” but I guess I’m a weak ass loser because I could never. Finally, I gave up, relaxed and accepted my destiny because this is Colombia.
I still cried when I had a first hot shower after three months. I wept like a newborn, and put that hot water to the scorching hot burning setting. Burn me my sweet hot water, burn!
Let’s play a game – what can you fit on a motorcycle?
Well, in Colombia, you can fit anything.
There are neighbourhoods where people live without washing machines, so they rent them out by the hour (!). You will see guys carrying washing machines on bikes to these places.
You will also see a five people family – the parents have helmets but the kids usually don’t LOL.
You will see mothers carrying their 2-hour old infants and riding a bike like it’s no big deal.
You will see beds, chairs, people, animals, food. You will wonder how the hell does this work anyway?
And then you’ll get numb to it and accept it because this is Colombia.
The Beauty of Nature and People
With all the stories you hear you’d think an average Colombian is waiting in the bush and plotting how to rob and/or kidnap a tourist.
The average Colombians we’ve met were positive, fun people ready to show you the best their country has to offer.
Are there bad neighbourhoods and people? Of course, but we have spent almost five months in South America and never once felt uneasy.
Bad things can happen anywhere, and with Colombia’s past, it’s hard to feel at ease right away. These thoughts crawl in the back of your head, but the amazing people prove you wrong.
The nature of Colombia is a collage of mountains, beaches, a desert, jungle and everything in between. You can find your own sources online and explore a bit about the beauty of its nature so I won’t bore you with technical stuff.
Welcome to the Jungle
How many times have I hummed this song while in the jungle? It was a rhetorical question, you know I did every minute.
The jungle is a fascinating place, and we weren’t even in the REAL deep jungle.
While we worked at the academy I asked the kids if they’ve ever seen an anaconda?
“Oh yes, many times, but it’s ok, they’re not fast!” One kid said nonchalantly.
I’ve been stung by some kind of a flying asshole because everything is a flying asshole.
I’ve had red ants take over my shoes while I was enjoying the beautiful natural swimming pool.
The bridges are shakey, nature is untouched and you truly feel like a nothing when you see the things nature is capable of creating – and you learn to appreciate the beauty of our planet we take for granted.