The Terribly True Story Of How I Almost Died In Colombia

From the moment I stepped off the plane at midnight, I knew something was wrong.  Something undefinable.  Something just out of touch.  But something just, very wrong.

The look on the face of the immigration official said it all.  Criminal.  He scowled.  Questioned my integrity.  Questioned why I would set foot in a country like Colombia.  Questioned why an American would dare come to his country.  I was shocked when he let me through.

I made my way to the luggage belt and waited for my suitcase.  As I picked it up, the national police officer and his drug dog made their way to me.  The dog went crazy over my suitcase, and I was subjected to two hours of strip search and my luggage being torn apart in a crazed search for contraband.

Finally let go, I exited, where I immediately found myself in an unlicensed taxi whose driver drove me to an abandoned corner of the city, pulled a gun, and demanded my money and valuables.  It was only after heavy pleading that he left me with a small amount of cash and my passport.

Managing to wave down another taxi, I made it to my hotel.  Ahhh… sanctuary.  Sleep at last.  But alas, it was not to be.  The overnight employee attempted to prostitute herself on me, not letting me sleep.

The next day, after a long sleep and a terrible breakfast, I purchased some clothes and went for a run through the streets of Bogota.  At every corner, I felt threatened, waiting to be attacked, kidnapped, or shot.

Leaving Bogota the next day for the small town of Villa de Leyva, I suffered more indignities.  After a poor dinner, I went to a bar for a drink.  And that’s all I remember.  It appears someone drugged my drink.  I don’t know exactly what happened, only that I was out even more money and clothing.

And so it went for 18 days.  In Medellin, I observed gun battles between rival street gangs, desperate for primacy in their drug war.  It appeared Pablo Escobar’s legacy was still terribly in place.  Horrible event after horrible event continued, culminating in my final nights in Cali, a city so fearsome even Colombians warned me about it.  I was cheated by taxi drivers.  Robbed in the street again.

Flying home, I have never been so grateful to set foot in the USA.

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And then there is reality.

Never in preparation for a trip have I had so many people question my decision in terms of safety.  Never had I experienced so many people genuinely expressing concern.  I have had people wonder at my destination choice (“Romania?  Why Romania?”).  Friends and family often express concern at my solo travels (“is that safe?”  “What do you DO alone?”).

But never have I experienced so much misinformation about a country.

Here’s a few things I did experience in Colombia:

The country is beautiful.  Some of the scenery I witnessed could bring tears to your eyes.  Mist-covered mountains.  Rolling hills.  Picturesque coffee plantations.  Waterfalls.  Colorful towns that rival far more famous European counterparts in beauty.

The food is incredible.  Remembering some of Colombia’s neighbors like Panama and Ecuador, I was expecting a mostly bland diet of rice, beans, and chicken.  Wrong. I had some truly spectacular meals, even in moderate establishments.  In fact, I had the best sandwich in my life in Colombia.

The people are typically amazing.  I knew that already though, as I have met and worked with more than a few Colombians in my life.  They were all friendly, outgoing, and fun.  Colombians typically are excited to share their country with you, and happy to talk to strangers.  Store owners invited me in, not just to shop, but to talk.  Strangers in parks said hello and to talk for a minute.  When I left a tip in a cheap place, the owner’s child chased me down the street to try to give me my money back. (yes, that really happened!)

It’s safe.  OK, mostly safe.  Yes, the country has a tragic history, and  I heard lots of scary stories from people I met.  Sadly, there are still some “no go” zones.  But I typically felt safe and secure.

I need to return.  I only got a small bite of the country, and much of what I wanted to seee I didn’t.

So.  Stay tuned.  Here’s a few pictures to preview what’s coming.

I was going to let this blog end.  But lots of people keep asking me to resurrect it, so… ENJOY!  (and please comment, forward to friends, share, etc…)

 

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