Reflections on a Month in Colombia

It’s really hard to believe that I’ve been traveling for a month and that my time in Colombia has come to an end. I can feel myself standing in my parent’s kitchen the night before I left, semi-freaking out about what I was about to do. Now a month into my trip, it feels like no time at all has passed.

Maps.me is a very cool app with downloadable maps that work offline and you can leave pins in all the places you’ve been!

 

One of the most memorable things about my time here is the people. Colombians are some of the most open people I’ve ever met. They’re so excited to know where you’re from and share a part of their culture with you. If you walk into a store, the shopkeeper will happily chat for as long as you want and never once hassle you into buying things. Everyone is so helpful when you stop to ask for directions or recommendations. They only thing that never made sense to me is their sense of time. If you ask 5 people how long it will take to get from A to B, you will receive 5 very different answers. I was once told it would take four and a half hours to go to the same place that someone else told me would take 45 minutes. Among the chaos of traffic patterns and bus stations, every single Colombian is super tranquilo and never seems to be in a rush.

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Learning about the cacao plant

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Maruja teaching me about the Páramo ecosystem

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Chatting with a local butcher in Villa de Leyva about the cow head in the case

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Teaching this sweet girl how to braid her pony’s hair while enjoying some coffee in her mom’s café

I stayed at a place called Macondo Hostel in San Gil, and when it opened in 2006 it was the fifth registered hostel in Colombia. Now just 11 years later, hostels are around every corner in just about every place I visited. That’s some seriously fast paced growth. But despite the ease in finding mochilero-style accommodations, Colombia doesn’t really seem prepared for the amount of tourism it’s getting, especially when it comes to transportation. I mostly traveled by bus around Colombia, and even the long distance buses are more like vans that hold anywhere from 10-18 people. That doesn’t mean that’s how many people actually ride in them. I saw lots of kids sitting on the floor, people standing for long periods of time – all while driving rather quickly around windy bends and crossing the yellow line to pass cars, motorcycles, and massive trucks. These busquetas stop constantly to let people on and off regardless of how long distance the bus is supposed to be. There are no bus stops so people get on and off wherever they want. There doesn’t seem to be a system to distinguish between intracity and intercity buses, which is very frustrating when your 4 hour trip becomes a 6 hour extravaganza. On top of all this, outside of the main cities of Colombia, there aren’t really any major highways. All travel is done along windy mountain roads which further extends travel times. From what I’m told, bus travel throughout the rest of South America is very different, and even sometimes luxurious. I’m interested to see how it compares.

Colombia is a very Catholic country and evidence of this can be seen in the religious symbols on every bus I rode throughout the country. Here are some of the saints that kept me safe around every cuerva peligrosa I passed.


For the last four weeks I’ve been living on a schedule where I didn’t know what day it was and I mostly had no idea as to where I was headed next. In my nervous preparations before leaving the US, I booked a few hostels in advance in various places around Colombia based off some vague ideas of where I thought I would be and when. With the exception of where I stayed my first two nights, any hostel I booked in advance I ended up cancelling for somewhere else on a different day. I’ve learned that I am definitely a planner and that it’s so hard for me to let that go. On the road, it’s cool not to have a plan, and in fact when you have nothing planned, that’s when the best things happen. This was my experience with Minca, which is the highlight of my month in Colombia. It’s also the reason why I had so much extra time to go to Santander and Boyacá, two regions I’d barely heard anything about before coming here. When you let go of planning it allows you to truly live in the moment. You don’t have to worry about what’s coming next, so the only thing to focus on is the here and now. The reality is that you meet cool people and sometimes it works out that you all want to go to the same places around the same time. Other travelers are constantly sharing information about their favorite places and activities, which is how I ended up in Monguí. And occasionally having no plan backfires, and what you thought you could do today (take a bus to somewhere else for example) needs to wait until tomorrow for whatever scheduling reason. In these moments it would be so easy to get frustrated, throw in the towel, and book an all-inclusive resort package where you don’t need to make a single decision. Or you can shrug your shoulders and bask in the moment. This is life, in this moment now. Speaking for myself, I get so lost in thinking about the next thing that I can never fully appreciate what I’m experiencing. I’m very thankful to Colombia and to my friend Adrien whom I traveled with for 3 weeks, both of which taught me on a daily basis the importance of letting that go. This lifestyle is amazing, it’s freeing, and it’s definitely addicting.

4 thoughts on “Reflections on a Month in Colombia

  1. Kelly.first of all, thank you for sharing your story. I look forward to each new post. I’ve traveled quite a bit, but always in the traditional way. I’m jealous of your experience, but lack the courage to set out on the same journey you did. I guess the Key is to do it while you can, while you are ioung and have fewer responsibilities and obligations.

    Take the time to notate your photographs because time erodes the clear definitions of your clear memories. I see a book opportunity in your future. What you are doing is the dream of so many. Keep notes of the details and publish a book of “how to” and , “what not to do.”Describe the expectations and the realities. Describe not just the places and routes to choose but the gut instincts you followed that directed your decisions as well as the choices you did not make and how you feel about that. Not everybody that will embark on this trip has your experience and your instincts. Write your book with 2 goals. Educate the traveler and provide support to their loved ones. You get that.! Use your tone and exoerience to educate and influence future adventures and their loved ones.

    Hopefully your book can preserve forever your experiences, the people you met and the photos you collected. (Consider asking for photo releases now in case you write the book and want to publish their photos)

    The benefits of publishing your adventure could be felt in a number of ways. First you document this amazing adventure to your friends, family and strangers that share your or support your dream. Second, you have the opportunity to promote the safe areas and hostels that treated you well and report on the kind people you came across, positive comments about different locations and local folks that made a difference in your trip is worth reporting. Third. If successful, the book may fund your next adventure, which could launch your secondbook. Wait, could this be a cycle? There is a great deal of this world left that even you have not explored.

    Where is next ? Asia, Malaysia the Pacific Rim? Stay out of PNG, don’t make me follow you to ensure your safety. The skies the limit and you have the keys to the plane. So proud of you. Stay safe Kelly. ♥️

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  2. Awesome Kell!! Great adventures for a great woman. And Jack you are never to old to be adventurous, try it you might like it more than you could imagine!!

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  3. Hey Kelly.. I’m on my way to San Gil and staying at the same hostel. What you have captured, I have captured too but the windy road often prevents me from writing down my thoughts. tell me more about minca!

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