By Tracey Tullis
There is an electric type of energy in Colombia. We felt it every time we stepped out the door or opened a window.
It made us excited and a little anxious every time we went out. It felt like a crush; my heartbeat would quicken and stomach would churn. Yet I felt a strong pull at the same time, to go out and see things.
Moth to a flame kinda thing.
Colombia is one hell of a beautiful flame.
That electric feeling wasn’t present in Ecuador for us.
It’s been over a month since we left Colombia and all three of us really miss it. After our longest travel day by bus, right after crossing the border into Ecuador we noticed a difference in the people and the culture. Ecuador was calmer, more reserved, quieter.
In Colombia we felt, at time, outside our comfort zones. We needed to be aware of our surroundings more. We took more precautions before we went out to explore whatever city we were in.
The Spanish in Colombia is spoken fast and emphatically, the cities were crowded and busy, noisy. Alive.
So here is the truth about Colombia. The greatness and the challenges, and why we miss it as much as we do:
What was great?
Hands down, the best part about Colombia was the people.
The people of Colombia are really the most beautiful, inside and out, of all the places we’ve traveled.
Their zest for life, for friendships and for helping out their fellow man, and sharing, they live to share all that is loved and revered in their country. These qualities seem to be in every one of them.
They are truly generous people, and let’s not forget their infectious passion for futbol!!!! We were so lucky to be in Colombia for the world cup. Rob has started to love futbol almost as much as hockey. Almost. Colombianos have team spirit and passion like I have never experienced before.
The environmental diversity
There is such a wide range of climate, elevation, humidity, wildlife and things that grow within Colombia’s borders. There are five distinct regions in Colombia and they are like five different universes. We had time to visit two.
•The Caribbean: Stretching from Cartagena to Santa Marta there are swamps, bays with white sandy beaches and coral paradises with islets of mangroves. The highest coastal mountain peak plunges down in a wild jungle crash to meet the surf. This region is hot! Everything was super hot, the air, the people, the music, the food and the jungle.
•The Pacific: This region also has a wild coastal swathe of a jungle. This humid coast is one of the wettest in the world with 10000 mm of rainfall a year. We didn’t see a lot of rain the month we stayed because of weather due to “El Nino”. In stark contrast to the Caribbean region, this coast also has cooler, drier mountain cities.
There are snaking mountain roads that deliver pristine lakes, waterfalls and architectural beauty that we did not expect to find in Colombia.
Tayrona National Park
Colombia has tropical rainforests, snow-capped mountains, sultry Caribbean beaches and desert dry savannas. With such a range in altitude, you don’t need to travel far within Colombia’s borders to experience different climates. We traveled mostly by bus in Colombia and I am so glad we did because we got to experience dramatic climate changes.
In Cali, we took a day trip to the mountains outside the city with our Air BnB host. Senor Lopez was so proud of the diversity in Colombia. He watched our expressions as we climbed the first mountain saying to Makai, “just wait, it’s going to get cold”! And it did. The temperature and humidity dropped dramatically just 45 minutes outside sizzling Cali. Another benefit to such a range in temperatures is the stuff that grows. Oh my goodness….
With such lush fertile landscapes, a variety of deliciousness grows in Colombia. The papaya, mango, pineapple, avocado, bananas, plantains, the list goes on and on, all so plentiful and cheap! The cultural influences in cooking are as varied as the climates in the country.
In cities we had the opportunity to eat regional specialties. Our favorite Colombian dishes were sancocho (chicken soup with root vegetables), ajiaco (potato and corn soup with cream and capers), patacones (fried, smashed green plantains), arepas (fried flat bread made from corn) and chicharrones (fried pork rinds). Mmmm yum.
We fell in love with Colombia. As madly and passionately as you can about a country.
We think about Colombia every day. Why didn’t we stay in Colombia another three months?
The challenges we found in Colombia:
•Accommodation is expensive made more so for us because of our painful lack of Spanish. We didn’t have the language to negotiate effectively, and furnished rentals for a few months at a time were uncommon. We did use Air BnB Sublets to find accommodation that was furnished and in good locations but the cost was at the top end of our budget. We had heard rentals in Ecuador were cheaper and more plentiful than in Colombia.
• Colombian Spanish was tough for us. Colombians speak fast and with a lot of emotion which added a little more excitement every time we went out and not always in a good way. We had learned that Ecuadorians spoke slower, clearer Spanish. There are also a lot of opportunities to take good, less expensive Spanish classes throughout Ecuador.
These things made us decide to move on.
Three months is not enough time to experience all Colombia has to offer. In Ecuador we will focus on the language and be better prepared for the interior of Colombia our next visit.
Tracey is a writer and co-founder of Expat Experiment. She and her family have been traveling nomadically since April 2014. This story originally appeared on her website Expat Experiment and has been reprinted here with permission.