Trip to Colombia
I would like to clear up a few things. I am not moving to Colombia. At least at this time. I have been planning to visit Colombia for several years. When I was making my decision as a place to live, Colombia was a hair breath from being the first choice. It is true with some changes in Ecuador, and potential future issues, Colombia could be my next move. However, I hate moving and I am very happy where I am so there is no plan to move. I have some friends (who can speak on my behalf) trying to sort out my situation and see if there are options for me. It was posed to me that I was looking for a reason to leave. Think about it… I am free to make whatever choices I want, and I chose to be here. If I wake tomorrow and decide to go somewhere else, I don’t need a reason other than that is what I want. So no, I am making no excuses. I am just sharing this process with you.
Some of you have asked me to describe Colombia, so I’ll try.
Colombia is a wonderful place. When I lived there in the past, there were several major issues. First, unemployment was nearly half the country. That caused a lot of petty crime. Second, the FARC, pseudo-socialist, actually criminals, ran free. In fact, in half the country they terrorized whole villages. My ex-wife, from Colombia, was held at gunpoint for 3 days by the FARC. She was doing a 6-month contract in a tiny country school with a friend of hers. Both were held with no food, with the children. They had no idea why, but on the third day, the FARC left. As you can imagine she was a bit traumatized over the event. She now lives in the USA and works as an educator.
Her experience is a microcosm of Colombia’s experience. They were held hostage for years by criminals. But that changed in the past decade. The Colombian government, with the USA as a partner, took back control. President Uribe began with a helicopter assault on the city of Medellin. In those days, the FARC and Narcos controlled the city. The residents couldn’t leave their block without a shakedown and a “tax”. It was hell on earth. Uribe flew in Colombian special forces and street by street, took back the city. Today Medellin is a world-class city, safer than most. It is a must-see.
I stayed near Pereira. I spent some time with a friend driving me around the Armenia area. I came very close to buying a house at that time but decided to see what the future would bring. I loved the area. It has a climate similar to Vilcabamba. I actually preferred Armenia to Pereira as it is half the size.
So what is Colombia like now? It is an economic powerhouse. The people of Colombia, with all the troubles they have had in their past, could have tried the socialist way as so many countries around them did. But Colombians are fiercely independent. They are a firm believer in independence and a form of Capitalism and the freedom that brings. The economic situation is so much better than it was a mere decade ago, it is difficult to exaggerate it. Unemployment is below 10%. Considering where they were, that is a near miracle.
They have great trade deals with Europe and the USA. They are very business friendly. They also make it extremely easy to move to and live there. It is one of the easier places in the world to obtain and renew visas. It is not expensive to do so, with many being only around $50. Americans are respected and welcomed. I must warn you though, they get quite upset and offended if you think they are about cocaine and cartels. This was a huge source of pain and suffering for them, and to associate them with something they despised, and likely lost loved ones over, it is understandable.
The people of Colombia are very unique, although Venezuela at one time was similar. They are extremely social and outgoing. They will party at the drop of a hat. If you bring any form of music, they will start dancing. No, seriously. They will dance. Salsa, Bachata, it doesn’t matter, it is quite amazing. They will also look out for you. Total strangers will give you advice about your wallet and cell phone. Buying coffee? Don’t be surprised if they clue you in on areas to avoid, and how to stay safe. Complete strangers will walk up to you and include you in their plans. Just being there to visit as a tourist is enough reason for them to arrange a party. I am not much for bars, but even that is a social event. Ordering individual drinks isn’t as common as the group buys a bottle of Aguardiente for the table and everyone share. There is a gusto for life similar to Russians. Not uncommon for a people that go through major suffering. But in Colombia, even at that time, they would smile and party together. They never lost sight of what life is about. Friends and family. They have amazingly strong family bonds. Estrangement is a rare thing there. Mom is the last word!
Colombia is a great place and if you have never been I highly recommend it. If you are actually living in Ecuador (as 17% of my readers are) you should treat yourself to a week trip. Hostels run from $5 to $15 a night. By the week often 15% off. A bus is about $80 each way. There was a time when Ecuador and Colombia were part of a larger country called “Gran Colombia”. You would think they would be nearly the same. However, you will find a world of difference. It is almost like Ecuador has been isolated from the world, and is primarily original people with some mixed race sprinkled in. The Ecuador Andes has retained much of its past, and indeed even today has strong elements going back hundreds of years.
Colombia has a much larger mixed and European culture, and as social as they are, it is no difference in their interactions with the world. They embrace anything that will make their life better or happier. They retain their heritage but live in the present. The contrast is fascinating, and if you can be objective, one is not better than the other.
So that is my Colombia story today. I am leaving Monday night and will return in about 10 days. I will be doing a few videos, as much as possible. But I really want to relive a few moments that hold a place in my heart so those may not include cameras. I might even be able to hit the “Parque de Cafe”! Or return to “Panaca”, and get on a horse and save a damsel from a runaway horse again!
Email any questions you may have or want me to explore and I’ll try while I am there. Keep an eye on the videos!