CHAPTER TEN

THE TIME THIEF

Colombia

Bogota cannot claim to be the most attractive city in the world, nor the most passionating, but here I have been able to catch a glimpse of this creature called ‘Colombia’. A little preview of what awaits me on its road, as well as a small window into its complexe culture and politics


Three flights and a night sleeping on the floor of the International Panama Airport are the price I have paid to reach the International Airport of El Dorado, in Bogota. Soon after having discussed my missing luggage with the airline staff, I find myself in a taxi, driven by a man who warns me of the many precautions I ought to take in the Colombian capital. Between millionaire rides and sketchy motel that “are not for sleeping,” the man abounds of examples. Eventually, we reach a quiet street on the edge of the lively neighborhood of El Chapinero, and I thank the man.

Bogota is not the warmest place on earth, nor the driest. I spend the afternoon under the covers, cursing myself for having left Nicaragua in shorts and flip-flops. Eventually, the phone rings and I am informed that my luggage has made it with the following flight. It should be delivered by early evening! I take this small victory to the common area, where I meet a middle aged couple on their last day of travelling. They will fly out of Colombia on the next day, and “how great have the holidays been!” The man explains with passion how their three month trip across South America has turned into a three month tour of Colombia. “The people have been so great,” he says, “and the landscape! There is so much to see.” Strangely, he mentions how stray dogs are not aggressive in Colombia because people treat them well. I pay him half attention and ponder how unreal it would seem that I extended my stay by a two months…

My first visits are to a few museums. The National Museums displays pieces and informations ranging from the Indigenous culture of the pre-hispanic period to the late twentieth century. In between of course, the Spanish invasion and the struggle for independence led by Simon Bolivar. Next, I pay a visit to the well renowned Gold Museum, where I learn about the cultural significance of gold and emerald for the ancient Indigenous groups of Latin America, as well as the different crafting techniques that were used across the continent. It doesn’t come as a surprise that gold has a special place here, and yet I am taken aback by the beauty and details of the artefacts. Colombia is to day much richer in gold and emerald resources than I suspected. Both hold a special place in the traditions of ancient Indigenous tribes, especially those who lived in the region where Bogota is. Convinced that these two precious resources were the seeds of the sun, they made ritual offerings to a sacred lake which was considered the womb of the earth. Finally, I visit the Fernando Botero museum, where I can observe some of the pieces created by the famous Antioquian artist. If the artist’s work on volumes and proportion is not for everyone, one cannot deny he ranks amongst the greatest prides of Colombia.

My week in Bogota goes fairly fast, between a coffee here and a visit there. On one afternoon, I take a cable car to Monserrate where I catch great views of the city. Later, I realize the striking disparities of the country’s economics whether I walk around downtown, around the luxurious Parque Noventa-y-tres area, and around more ‘run down’ neighborhoods. My stay is nearing its end when I decide on the visit that will turn out to be the most informative of all: the graffiti tour. It is a free walking tour around the Candelaria and downtown, focused on the street art of the Colombian capital. However, the guide punctuates it with anecdotes on Colombian history, culture and politics. He explains how the street artists of Bogota have once organized a weekend of painting -the longest art protest in the world- because Justin Bieber had been escorted by the police to paint over a wall in front of his camera crew. He explains how, at the time, the police was breaking down on street artists and had even murdered a nineteen year old painter. “The people supported the artist with food and water” -he explains, insisting that street art is important to the great majority of Bogotanos. Later, he explains how the political sphere of the country is dominated by always the same corrupt families that make up the Colombian elite, and how one of the most active art protester is a university professor whose real identity was long a secret. When he informs us of the farmer protests to take place in the city the following day, the guide mentions the nasty impact of the multinational Monsanto in his dear country. The company is suing the government because of a nationwide shift to more traditional techniques. Techniques which, of course, do not require the company’s activating chemicals. In the midst of a lawsuit for patent infringement, what with Monsanto owning the seeds, the government had to send the military to destroy an unimaginable amount of crops. The guide gives us an interesting overview of Colombia, which is not nearly as dangerous as the image it unfortunately carries. He asks us to pass on a more positive image of the country upon our return to whichever country we come from.

Bogota cannot claim to be the most attractive city in the world, nor the most passionating, but here I have been able to catch a glimpse of this creature called ‘Colombia’. A little preview of what awaits me on its road, as well as a small window into its complexe culture and politics. More than once in the week, I have learned of a place that, if it has an undeniable history of crime, is generally a lot more safe than one assumes. I have also seen how the Colombians hope to part ways with this cued image. It would appear that the country is a lot more complex than one would expect. I think of the few people I have talked to, as well as the information provided on the tour, and I realize Colombia might be made of a duality. For better or worse policies, especially. And what better time to be visiting the country? The peace treaty has been implemented and the FARC are slowly disarming. And yet, I have been told of a corrupt police, and paramilitary groups that have committed the most gruesome of deeds. Surely, grasping it all will take time but for now, I have to say goodbye to the Bogotanos. Or as they are called here, the rolos.

A six hour bus ride North East of the capital is San Gil, a medium sized town in Santander. I find myself on a vehicle that shoots through the many curves of this mountainous region. I look out the window with surprise, at a lush green landscape and the many cows that remind me of some of the agricultural parts of Europe. By late afternoon, we reach our destination. The town is famous for its river and its rafting opportunities, as well as the paragliding tours from the nearby mountains. More importantly, San Gil is a traveler’s stop due to its proximity with Barichara, considered the most beautiful town of Colombia!

Unfortunately, I reach the haven of Santanderino heat with a cold I owe to the weather of Bogota. The rafting is definitely off the table. As for paragliding, it has never been on the table, what with my vertigo. But hey, I still have Barichara, and a few days to rest.

On a hot afternoon, I join a couple from the hostel on a bus headed to Barichara. We drive over a few hills and soon reach the famous little town. The street are paved with light brown stone and the houses seem to be painted an equal white in a concern to make the place into a real postcard destination. We walk around the ascending and descending streets, passing by the many vintage cars that seem to be arranged for scenery as well. Besides the few squares and the one church, I quickly realize that, as beautiful as the town looks, it has little to offer. We reach the miradores where we can observe the valley in which the couple is supposed to hike later that day. A short, one hour hike, against which the heat eventually convinces them. Instead, they spend some time relaxing at the mirador with me, until we decide to head back for the main square and take a bus back to San Gil.

The following day, I am content with my visit to Barichara but decide I needn’t return. The town has shown me all it had to offer in a short afternoon. And besides, it feels ‘too clean’, it seems to be catering to tourism. Instead, I decide to walk around San Gil and observe the more rural crowd with ‘cowboy’ hats. I find my way to the local market. Inside, I look at the fruits that seem typical of this part of the world. The tree tomatoes, lulo, guanabana and granadillas. I remember having ever seen tree tomatoes and granadillas in one place only: Munnar, India. Later, I make a quick research on granadillas. This sweet, yellow-and-white cousin of the passion fruit seems to be growing in high, wet places. That would explain their plentiness along the cordillera. In Munnar as well!

After a few days in San Gil, my health hasn’t improved, on the contrary, and the intense heat is not helping. I have to decide on a return to Bogota affording me a rest under cooler temperatures, even if it doesn’t allow me to claim I know Santander. Another time surely.

On a hot afternoon, I join a couple from the hostel on a bus headed to Barichara. We drive over a few hills and soon reach the famous little town. The street are paved with brown stone and the houses seem to be painted an equal white in a concern to make the place into a real postcard destination.

As soon as I reached this part of Colombia, I had noticed I was in macho territory, but little did I know the man driving the jeep would make such a show of our racing through the desert. In the middle of dense cactus fields, we drift left and right on a curvy path with no visibility; across the flat expanse of desert beyond, we shoot like a rocket; and eventually, we reach Cabo de la Vela in triumph


My return to Bogota has been unsuccessful. I had planned on a three week break to rest, write, and cook more vegetables. The first two weeks were fairly uneventful but eventually, I ended up being the victim of an extortion attempt. I took matter in hands with El Gaula, the elite police who fights kidnapping and extortion, but our efforts proved fruitless. Needless to say, when it was all over I was more than ready to go. By then, my cold/bronchitis had gone and so I decided to take a next-day flight to Santa Marta. Upon arrival, and at the sight of the seafront row of ‘skyscrapers’, I decided to travel a little further. I reached the quiet village of Palomino, hippie destination turned tourist spot. The week I spent between the beach and the nice hostel, or tubing down the river, put Bogota and my misadventures behind.

On the advice of the family running the hostel in Palomino, I am now in Cuatro Vias, the crossroad of two important roads of the most Northeastern part of the country. From here, I meet two other travelers and we are soon ushered into a car that takes us into the Desert of La Guajira. Once we reach Uribia, we change into an overpowered jeep and the real fun begins. As soon as I reached this part of Colombia, I had noticed I was in macho territory, but little did I know the man driving the jeep would make such a show of our racing through the desert. In the middle of dense cactus fields, we drift left and right on a curvy path with no visibility; across the flat expanse of desert beyond, we shoot like a rocket; and eventually, we reach Cabo de la Vela in triumph. The town is really more of a settlement, and I find a hammock to rent in a hostel that smells like fish and hosts a great number of flies. I am told the generator would provide electricity between six and ten in the evening, and I should not count on fresh products. Regardless, Cabo de la Vela really seems like something different. A forgotten corner of the world. As the sun begins to set, I decide to sit near the water and observe the typical show of this place, famous for kitesurfing.

The following day, I decide to head for recommended spots on foot, and under an intense heat. A few kilometers take me to El Pilon de Azucar which offers access to a beautiful beach on one side, and views over great cliffs on the other. After a well deserved bath in the sea, I walk up the Pilon, where I can observe a great deal of the coast further East and the desert falling into the sea. Later, I walk to the Ojo de Agua. The endless walk takes me passed the humble settlement of local Indigenous Wayuu people. I walk and walk, over hills and down again, until I reach a beautiful beach. I have it for myself only. I swim a little more, rest and read. After a while, the sunset crowd starts showing up, and having no ride back, I decide to complete the last leg of the forty eight kilometers triangle I would have walked that day. On the way back to Cabo de la Vela, I come across three little girls who are on their way to the shop. The eldest is holding on to a few coins she has been entrusted with to buy her father’s tobacco. We walk together for a while, the youngest holding my hand, as they negotiate what will I buy them. Or rather, they tell me what I am going to buy them. Sodas and candies, of course, and I blame the tourists. Before I came here, I was advised to buy bags of water and candies to give the children. Which of course is not biasing their relations to tourists at all! But more importantly, this ‘gesture’ doesn’t seem to be very sustainable. It is no secret that the local population suffers poor access to water but sugar dehydrates you. For this reason, I have decided to bring bags of water and no candy.

On our journey back, we race through the desert again, and up onto the road that leads to Uribia. The road goes along a train track which leads, in the opposite direction, to the mine of El Cerrejon. Suddenly it takes me back to a photo exhibition I have seen in Bogota. El Cerrejon, the biggest coal mine in the world, is finally under light for the immense impact it has on the environment and the local Wayuu communities. They are left with the little water the mine doesn’t capture, and that little water is now polluted. As a result of this lack of water, the livestock dies and over ten thousand people have perished of malnutrition in the last years. I remember leaving the exhibition with someone I had met in Bogota. He left feeling ashamed for the government failing to take issue, I left feeling ashamed because surely the company operating the mine must be a Western company whose shareholders already have more money than they could possibly spend. One thing is sure either way: the minority always seem to be paying the price.

Upon my return to Santa Marta, I arrange to join a four day trek to the Ciudad Perdida, or Lost City. The monument has been discovered deep inside the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in nineteen seventy-two, though it was never lost to the local Indigenous tribes. The once inhabited place, believed to have been founded around eight hundred CE, remains a sacred site for the Arhuacos, Koguis and Wiwas. These Indigenous groups live within different territories in a jungle that hosts snowy peaks, including the highest mountain of Colombia.

In a jeep headed for the entrance of the national park, I meet the other two members of the group, and soon we reach the town at the beginning of the trek. In Machete, we sit down for lunch with the guide we have just met. Juan is a young Wiwa guide who lives and study in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. He wears the traditional outfit of his Indigenous group, dressed in white with a hat on and a handmade bag with bright pink, blue, green. He wears long hair, which I learn symbolise the lianes and therefore the jungle, and for this reason it cannot be cut. Soon after lunch, we set off on the forty-six kilometers round trip to the lost city. Juan explains how we have to cross through a bit of farming land before we reach the jungle. He walks enthusiastically and shows us different plants. Soon enough, we reach the jungle and cross into Kogui territory. The vegetation is a lot denser and our guide is definitely in his element. We walk for some time and reach the first camp where we are joined by two larger groups for a night I would describe as eventful. After a short hour of heavy rain, we are being evacuated to a different dormitory, higher up the hill. The dormitory, which is open, still shelters us from the heavy rain, and we are offered the spectacle of a raging river. All is going well and we are having dinner, when suddenly the cook seems to be beating the floor with a stick. He explains having just killed a deadly snake headed into the dorm. We are truly amazed, and have barely any time to ponder the dramatic outcome, had he not spotted the snake, that an enormous spider makes its appearance on the foot of a fellow trekker. It made for quite a buzz among the group, now ready to take refuge under the mosquito nets.

The following day, Juan shows us his world, explaining what plant is used for what, explaining the significance of different bird sounds. He catches cicadas to make them sing, and offers a dip in the river at lunch. The day is punctuated by fruit breaks and the sights of birds or spiders. At some point, we come across a large snake, close to which the guide insists we are not to step. As we walk around, the snake recoils, ready to attack. Juan puts a name on the animal: the mapana, also known as bothrops atrox. This type of pit viper can jump a distance of two meters in order to deliver its deadly kiss. Needless to say, we resume the walk quickly, further into the forest. We are caught up in heavy rains for the last hour, and reach the settlement completely drenched. That night, I sit down with Juan, who mentions his project to go to university and gives me his real name: Kankuemaku. He goes on to explain the social customs of the Wiwas. Notably, the importance of their shaman and their passing knowledge by voice only. I inquire about the object he carries around and learn about the importance of Poporos among the Indigenous groups of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. The object, which resembles a gourd holds a seashell-made powder they bring to mouth when they chew coca leaves, in order to trigger the agent of the plant. Symbolically, the shape of the poporo represents the three layers of nature and more importantly, it serves the Indigenous men as identification.

On the third day, we walk an hour away from camp, cross a river, and ascent countless steps until we finally reach the Lost City. We are greeted by soldiers, and Kankuemaku explains they are here to protect the sacred site. In fact, upon the discovery of the ruins, and given the assumed presence of ancient artefacts, criminals began raiding the place. In exchange for sacred artefacts which are now exposed at the Gold Museum in Bogota, the government of Colombia has pledged to protect the monument. Our guide shows us how to observe the tribute ritual, at the entrance of the sacred site, and we are granted access. We walk up some of the many terraces of the ancient city and Kankuemaku explains the importance of the site for the Indigenous tribes of the region. Every fifth of September, he says, the monument is closed for visits in order to allow the pilgrimage of the three Indigenous communities. He shows us the dance rituals of the event, and mentions the role of the three shamans. We stop by ancient stones and try to decipher the maps of mountains and rivers carved centuries ago. We tour the site, encountering the other groups at times, and learning about medicinal plants or earth-made oil.

The journey back takes a day and a half during which I try to make the most of my encounter with a member of the Wiwa community. I make do with my shaky Spanish in hope to learn as much as possible and, more importantly, to share a moment with that young man. Never have I met a people who felt so pure, so harmless, as I have here, and Kankuemaku is the best exemple. He is humble, discreet, patient. And his smile, it is the most sincere I must have seen. One night at the camp, Kankuemaku showed me the video games on his phone. He turned into a child then and I swear, his smiles almost light up the entire room. As for the Ciudad Perdida, the sacred site and the trek to it will undoubtedly remain one of my dearest memories.

Our guide shows us how to observe the tribute ritual, at the entrance of the sacred site, and we are granted access. We walk up some of the many terraces of the ancient city and Kankuemaku explains the importance of the site for the Indigenous tribes of the region


The place is undeniably beautiful. Each street of the old town bears beautiful colors as well as the landmark balconies of Cartagena. I spend the afternoon walking around the very beautiful -and very bankable- city, realizing that a day here will be enough until I move on to more authentic places


After a quick stop in Santa Marta, to wash the shoes I have now forgotten on the roof of the hostel, I arrive in Cartagena for a short stay. On a first impression, the city seems to be a charming destination for a relaxed weekend. The streets are edged with colorful colonial houses and squares hold lively gatherings. Friends and families have met to eat on the tables at the front of cozy restaurants.

It takes no more than a few hours before I am offered cocaine on the street, from a man who also sells water bottles. Because, you know, one goes so well with the other. It gives me little enthusiasm for the nightlife of Cartagena, and instead I spend a quiet night at the hostel. Well rested, I pay a visit to the very center of the city the following afternoon. From the docks, I observe the newer Cartagena, made of skyscrapers, and continue inside the oldest part of town. Something is striking. Cartagena seems to me like the number one destination for wealthy Colombians. The shops are somewhat fancy and the whole center seems to be catering to weekenders on a shopping trip to the picturesque colonial city. However, the place is undeniably beautiful. Each street of the old town bears beautiful colors as well as the landmark balconies of Cartagena. I spend the afternoon walking around the very beautiful -and very bankable- city, realizing that a day here will be enough until I move on to more authentic places. Only when I leave does someone raise the point that Cartagena is one of the most socially unequal place one can find in Colombia. And probably the most visited. On the one hand, it has some of the prettiest scenery of any city or town in the country, and a wealthy center. On the other hand the outskirts are home to serious poverty.

After Cartagena, I took a short break in Rincon del Mar, further South on the Caribbean coast. This little-known village is considered the most quiet/safest place along any of the Colombian coasts. Between games of cards, I join my fellow travelers for a tour of the nearby islands. We circle around Santa Cruz del Islote, the most densely populated island in the world, and later we snorkel among breathtaking reefs. When the night falls, we join another tour to a laguna, where we swim amongst luminescent plankton. The experience is magical.

After a few days on the beach, I am now arriving in Medellin. My night was a twelve hour ride in the freezing cold of long distance Colombian buses. As soon as we reach the city, I am taken aback by the landscape of Medellin, which is surrounded by small mountains. Humble neighborhoods seem to have grown on the slopes, giving the city its unique landmark. When the sun sets over Medellin, the view becomes, in my opinion, even more impressive. The mountains circling the center of the city light up in thousands of lights.

I was told that Paisas, the inhabitants of the Antioquian region, are the most amable people you can find in the whole of Colombia, and it does not take long for them to prove their reputation. My interactions with them are really warm and polite. On the other hand, my experience among fellow travelers soon proves to be more laborious. Having escaped a hostel where they seemed to have seen more of the light-up end of a joint than they had of the city, I find myself into another hostel, who turns out to be the opposite. The place is a mecca for parties and vegetating days on the couch. Still no interest for Medellin. When I inquire about all the cocaine I have seen passed around, a fellow traveler answers that “Medellin is Medellin.” Any interest in the local culture, or a simple conversation with a local, would have informed them of how eager the Paisas are to detach from this very idea.

After I escape the grip of Poblado, the ‘hype’ neighborhood of Medellin, I find shelter in a decent hostel at last. My visits of the city have so far shown me the fruitful efforts of politics to turn things around ever since the end of the narcos conflict. The city proudly owns the only metro in the country, making commuting much easier. My visits to different parks, as well as to the Parque Explora -an interactive science museum- testify of the city’s commitment to become the nicest place to live in Colombia. Everywhere, I see family-friendly activities, education, democratic transportation. Yet again, the visit that teaches me most is a free walking tour. Our guide Juan makes an excellent job of showing us the city center. We learn about the peculiar history of this region that definitely stands out from the rest of the country. The population, issued of Basque and Jewish Europeans, was the first in Colombia to seize the opportunities brought in by the coffee boom of the nineteenth century. The location of Antioquia wasn’t optimal in trading coffee, and so they built the only train line in the country (along with the current mine line of La Guajira). Juan goes on to explain how the region became industrialized long before the rest of the country. The Paisas take pride in being very entrepreneurial, he claims. They are known to talk pretty, he admits. Further on the walk, we come across many of the art pieces Fernando Botero has offered to his beloved Medellin, including one which was bombed at a concert, during the narcos conflict.

Medellin is showing me a very dual side of the country as well. When I visit the Comuna Trece, I come face to face with a beautiful part of the city, but a very precarious as well. The typical architecture arranged in steps along the side of the hill, the outdoors escalators, the street art, they merely soften the striking disparities between richer parts of the city and the comunas. Later, I pay a visit to Guatape, the must-see weekend break for most Paisas. As much as enjoy the views over the lakes of Guatape that La Piedra offers, I find the that the opulence is really out of scale. It is no secret that having a hacienda in Guatape is a common dream among Paisas, but I find it unsettling to find billionaire houses here when Medellin is circled with barrios.

Medellin is a nice place to be, I find. The weather offers a compromise between warmth and fresh rains. The people is welcoming. The metro makes my commuting easy. For these reasons, I decide it is a great place to undertake a course of Spanish, which requires me to stay an additional week. Besides, I have made good friends here: Daniel and Mateo. They have both shown me around a few places in the city and I am more than happy to have an extra week of opportunities to meet for Colombian coffee and beer.

As soon as we reach the city, I am taken aback by the landscape of Medellin, which is surrounded by small mountains. Humble neighborhoods seem to have grown on the slopes, giving the city its unique landmark. When the sun sets over Medellin, the view becomes, in my opinion, even more impressive. The mountains circling the center of the city light up in thousands of lights


The Antioquian landscape is really something. The mountains wear an eye-catching green and a river usually runs into the valleys. The finca offers us soothing quietness and breathtaking views


On my first week in Bogota, I had met an interesting man named Brandon. Thirteen years ago, he left the United States to live in Colombia. In Bogota at first, then on the Caribbean coast, and now in Antioquia. He has recently bought a small finca -or farm- between the towns of Concepcion and Alejandria. Taking him up on the offer he made me to visit, I join him on the bus that will drive us two hours out of Medellin. We soon leave the highway and find ourselves on mountainous roads, until we finally reach our destination. From the side of the road, we begin the forty-five minutes hike to the higher part of the mountain. We cross through different fields, among the many cows and mules of the valley, and pass by other fincas, as well as the ruins of one.

The Antioquian landscape is really something. The mountains wear an eye-catching green and a river usually runs into the valleys. The finca offers us soothing quietness and breathtaking views. We decide to take a trip to Concepcion in order to buy some food. The town is a charming Colombian place off the beaten track. We chat with the local police, pass by the many men in cowboy hats, and encounter absolutely no other foreigner. Upon our return, I put the meat, beer and rum we have bought into a nearby stream that will serve as a fridge. And when the night comes, we make a fire and cook an improvised meal of beef, sausages and platano. The night brings a whole new universe to the finca. The clouds pouring over the mountains now become grey silk over the dark blue sky, and on the horizon, the lights of thunder flash in silence.

My short break at Brandon’s is showing me the authentic country side of the Antioquian region, between scarcely supplied shops, rare buses, and men riding horses. We walk up across steep fields and along muddy paths, coming across horses that chased each other at times, simply enjoying the calm of the mountain on other occasions.

I am headed West, into the coffee region. It wasn’t easy to leave Antioquia but how is one to visit Colombia without seeing the production of coffee? I reach Salento late in the afternoon, after seven hours on mountain roads, swerving from left to right and right to left. Happy to have arrived, I walk into the streets of the town, in search for the hostel. Upon arrival, I realize that it will not be the most comfortable accomodation I have encountered on my trip, nor the cleanest, but the family running the place is the loveliest.

My first day of visits is compromised by relentless rain, but eventually I can catch a decent opportunity to go around. On the following morning, I take a jeep to the valley of Cocora, home to the tallest palm trees in the world. The mountains and hills are covered in them, and it is truly peculiar. I spend some time walking around the hills, surprised by the beauty of this one-of-a-kind place. And this place, it seems to be casting a similar spell on the other travellers I meet.

Later, I take yet another jeep, deeper into the valley. I reach a small farm producing organic coffee and ask for a tour. As we walk around the fields, the man explains that the plant can only grow above a certain altitude. It is only cultivated on rugged terrain as well, because it needs receive very little water. We pick some beans, and soon the man shows me through the sorting, drying, and roasting processes. After he explains the different organic fertilizers and repellents they are using on the farm, the guide shows me the low quality coffee sold to the big companies that make the instant coffee we drink in the West. Fortunately, the beverage I am offered at the end of the tour is top quality!

The Eje Cafetero is central to Colombian landscape and culture. For me it has been an interesting, though really wet, experience. On my last night in Salento, I return to a food truck where I had met a friendly woman cooking Middle-Eastern food. Like the other day, I show up for a quick meal and end up spending hours chatting with the owner and her nephew. It is a nice end to my visit of Salento, and I am now ready to leave. I am preparing myself to leave Colombia all together.

I am headed West, into the coffee region. It wasn’t easy to leave Antioquia but how is one to visit Colombia without seeing the production of coffee?


What can I say about Colombia, except that it is indeed large and diverse? What can I say except that it is indeed welcoming and so uniquely captivating? I am leaving now because other adventures await me, and because one only gets a visa for so long, but Colombia made me wish I’d never have to go


After a short break in Cali, the capital of salsa dance, I am on a bus headed to the Ecuadorian border. Another night bus with the air-conditioning button turned to the max! I cover up with what I can find and try to sleep through as many of the twelve hours as I can. This is my twelve-hour Colombian breakup.

Under the warm blanket that my seat neighbor offered to share, I look back on the first day I spent in Colombia. I talked to a man then, and he had overstayed a holiday. “Never will my five weeks here turn into three months” -did I think to myself. And yet, almost. I have been in Colombia for two-and-a-half months. Anyone would try to argue that the country is so large and the landscape so diverse. That only Brazil beats Colombia for natural riches, too. They could argue that the people is welcoming and the culture so uniquely captivating. I for one would agree on all of their claim, but not only. If I am being honest, after so many months of travelling, I must also call Colombia the land of a reclaimed sense of stability.

What can I say about Colombia, except that it is indeed large and diverse? What can I say except that it is indeed welcoming and so uniquely captivating? I am leaving now because other adventures await me, and because one only gets a visa for so long, but Colombia made me wish I’d never have to go. This time thief, it really has had me under a spell. The greatest heist has been happening on my clock, and I never saw it coming.

Colombia may very well be a simple story of best and worst. It was gifted incredible landscapes and beautiful people, but just as much was it given a history of violence and the plague of corrupt politics. And in all this, something really catches my attention. The corruption, the paramilitary groups, the drugs, it reads like a story I have been told before. And it’s Myanmar that Colombia bears resemblance with in this context. They tell me of an intriguing but sad pattern, that greater resources go with greater conflicts.

As for me, Colombia has also given me the lowest of lows and the highest of highs. From the experience of an extortion to beautiful places, unique learning experiences, and unforgettable human encounters. I leave now, with the relentless desire to shout it out on all the roofs, that Colombia is not anything like people think. That it has indeed turned things around for the most part, because its politics has two faces and one is maybe not so bad. And, above all, Colombia might be on the path to greatness simply because its people will always be unbeaten.

I have wandered along Colombia’s roads longer than I could have imagined. Sometimes it was a desire I followed, sometimes it was simply a whim. Both beared equal weight and I think now: "Maybe this is what Colombia had to teach me." If you think of it, has time really been stolen on account of the thief, or has it been given?

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