I’m in Colombia! Yeah!! Not that getting here wasn’t fraught with its usual disasters, of course.
For a start, there’s the minor detail that I don’t actually have a flight out of Colombia yet. I’ve got one from Buenos Aires in ten weeks (which I’m obviously now changing to be around 6.5 weeks earlier), but nothing booked and paid here from here. When I reached Madrid, I was told that this would be a problem.
I found the counter (almost a miracle in itself, the airport was huge!!) to check-in, and wondered if I’d done everything properly. Almost every single suitcase of every person in line was wrapped up in some kind of security cling film, as well as having padlocks: whereas I don’t even bother locking my bags. For starters, I always figure that locks can be cut off; for second, who smuggles things into Colombia—did I really have anything to worry about? So I asked the check-in assistant and she just about rolled her eyes as she said “yes, they like to do that.” I used my hostel padlock to lock the main section of my bag, in a half-concession to Colombian airport fashion.
Next, the lady checked my ticket, then asked to see my return flight. I said that I didn’t have a flight from Colombia, just from Argentina: and she said that wouldn’t be enough for them to let me into the country. Omg. (Reliable information about entry requirements for Colombia are very hard to come by: even that of the Consulate in Australia is all over the show). Happily, I then remembered my travel agent’s incompetence, and the million ‘practice’ itineraries he’d sent through. I found one which said that I was confirmed on a flight to Lima, and off we went.
The flight itself was fine, if lengthy. It had a random stopover in Cali (also Colombia), where we landed after our connecting flight was due to take off: but more on that in a sec. The only bad thing about the flight was that, yet again, my travel agent hadn’t told the airline I was vegetarian, so I didn’t have much to eat. It was only a twelve hour flight, but I hadn’t been hungry the day before so hadn’t had a meal in about 36 hours. By the second meal-time on the plane, I was ravenous. They didn’t have anything for me, but I asked if they had any of the cakes extra, or anything like that. The next thing you know, the Colombians around me are having a discussion in Spanish about this hungry English-speaking girl, and food starts to appear in front of me from all directions. There’s cakes, nuts and snacks. It was so sweet!
The other thing that bears mentioning about the flight is the clapping. Russians do this, too: when the plane lands, they break out in a round of applause. I like to think that it’s because they’re so surprised they’ve survived (Russian airlines don’t have a strong history of safe flights). As it turns out, Colombians do it too: but to a much greater degree. The plane landed and there was applause, cat-calls, whooping, and yelled congratulations. It was so great! On the one hand I caught myself thinking why on earth they do it. Then all of a sudden, I started wondering why we Westerners don’t do it. Is safely flying hundreds of people across the world not worth some recognition? We clap at plays and performances to show our appreciation; we thank our doctors or surgeons; we give a token ‘thank you’ to stewards as we depart the vessel, but we don’t thank our pilots. Why is that? Do we take them for granted, or are we just weirdly reserved? Are we just too cool to clap?
Anyway I finally made it to Bogota, where I could see my friend Laura in the arrivals hall. My baggage then took ages, so by the time I could walk out to greet her, she and her father must have been waiting a couple of hours in the middle of the night. They then took me back to their villa, in a town called Chia (meaning ‘moon’ in the local indigenous tongue). Omg their house is amazing: it’s all wooden flor-boards and features, white walls, huge ceilings and the best of everything. Minimalist perfection. I’m sitting in the room I’m staying in, and it has its own bathroom; and a freaking loft. There is a loft above my head right now, with one of those little pull-down ladders you see for attics in American horror movies. A loft. Even the shower is awesome, allowing you to select where you’d like water to come from. There are water options? And did I mention the maid? I’ve never even seen a maid before! She’s lovely, and her name is Consuela. She doesn’t speak English of course, and I don’t speak Spanish, so we’ve had some pretty hysterical conversations thus far. Incidentally, I’m beyond stoked at the passive knowledge of Spanish I seem to have acquired. I’ve studied a grand total of 5 hours of Spanish in my life, so it feels like magic when I can understand things. Too much time reading all the languages on the back of labels, perhaps?
I got a little side-tracked there (how un-like me). I meant to say how I know Laura. I met her when I was in Athens in March ’12: I went on a free walking tour from my awesome hostel, with a guy called Vangelis. I heard her introduce herself as Laura, so walked up to her and congratulated her on having a cool name. We chatted a little during the tour, though I spent a lot of the time discussing ancient Greek literature and philosophy with the guide: geek for Greek. Later on, we went to the New Acropolis Museum, then went for a girl-date at a restaurant, where we bonded over ex-bf stories. As you do! At some point during the day, not long after we’d become acquainted, she said to me that I shouldn’t go to Russia; I should go to Colombia instead. I said that no, I was going to Russia at this point in time, but would try to make it to Colombia at some point later on: and here I am!
I know less about Colombia than I did about Russia when I arrived. Which you’d think would be difficult, really. There’s the cocaine, of course, and coffee. Drug dealers and civil war. Jungles and guns. Plus a sort of “Latin America”-ness. I’ve put as the featured image today the current Australian travel advice about Colombia, and obviously it’s generally “don’t go there!”. Laura seems to think it’s not very dangerous however: maybe ten–fifteen years ago, but not so much now. I’ll be careful of course. I mean obviously I’m not going anywhere near the coca farms etc, and as I understand it my main other danger is kidnapping: there’s a roaring trade in kidnapping and ransoming US citizens. But I’m sure it’ll be fine. Either way, I’m going to go to the Australian Consulate while I”m here to check in, and I’m sure they’ll give me suggestions.
Time to do some work on the book: I’m having a sort of recovery day today, following the epic flight and time difference. I’m in the middle of an important scene, and over halfway through! Hurrah 🙂