Colombia (1995 + 2008)

Colombia (1995 + 2008)

A Country of Carnivores and Carnival…

Unfortunately this lovely country still struggles with it’s bad image. Thankfully the humorous Colombians are battling this image. When you arrive at Bogota airport, you’ll see posters advertising “The only risk is not wanting to leave…” And it’s true! This not-so-touristy country has everything you could wish for!

Colombians are very proud of their country. During a folklore show in the coffee park (Colombia’s version of Disney World) I could feel that people were not only enjoying the show, but also sharing their pride. Songs were about Colombia and every time the country name was mentioned, the audience applauded spontaneously.

An engraving on a mirror in the bathroom of a fancy restaurant said: “YOU ARE UGLY when you talk bad about Colombia. Let’s do our country a favor and be proud”.

Colombians know how to party! Andres Carne de Res restaurant serves great food in an unusual, inspiring environment. Think of Wild West meeting carnival, Cirque du Soleil and Gipsy. You go there from 13.00 hrs to have lunch, dance, drink, talk and dance some more. Don’t be surprised when you leave the place only after midnight! And when you finally do leave, just before you reach the parking lot, you’ll be tempted by yet another party, with a bonfire, live music and little bites to eat… Best party ever!

Colombia (1995 + 2008)

Sometimes Colombians have a weird sense of humor. During a grueling 17 hour trip to the coffee area, with many traffic jams due to mudslides and car breakdowns, we paused at a roadside restaurant. To my amazement I saw they had lined the wall with… Accident pictures of all the accidents and car crashes that had happened on that road in the past years! And there were many…

Colombians, and especially the women, take very good care of themselves. Many men and women in their thirties or forties have braces to make their teeth even more perfect. Every other shop in the street is a beauty parlor. Also men will have massages, manicures or facials there. A up-market parlor like Norberto’s employs 150 people to take care of the upper class of Bogota. It is quite an experience to go there and to be treated like royalty.

There is a lot of police, army and private security in the streets. This provides a sense of security, but sometimes it makes you wonder…

One night a colombian friend and I got stopped by the police. One of the insurance papers for my friends car was missing. The officers gave him a warning and let him go. As we drove off, relieved, my friend told me that last week a Dutch guy was put in jail because he had tried to offer money to a Colombian police officer. I admitted that I would probably have done the same thing. He explained that in the past it had been a custom, but now the colombian police was really OK. Ten minutes later we got stopped by another police patrol. This time they were not so understanding about the missing paper. The police officer said they would confiscate the car and threatened to make a lot of trouble. When the police officer walked away to check the drivers license, my friend told me “now, this one wants money”… What followed was a half hour ritual of negotiation in hushed terms, checking of my friends identity to see if he wasn’t undercover police or army, secretly offering rolled up money in a cigarette pack etc. Finally we could continue our trip. We both had to smile about this experience with the Colombian police. Poor jailed Dutchie! He wasn’t wrong in offering money to the Colombian police, he just offered it to the wrong guy…

A totally different impression of the police I got when I landed in the small airport of Leticia, Amazonas. At the baggage section there was music playing. As I walked in, I found it was live music, played and sang by …. Two very serious looking police officers in uniforms, who welcomed us to Leticia!

Waiting for a domestic flight from Bogota to Leticia in the Amazon region, I was surprised to find that about half of the passengers carried boxes of Dunkin Donuts. When I looked around the airport and asked around, I found that most people on domestic flights from Bogota had also bought boxes of Donuts, some even 3 or 4 big boxes. It turned out that there are only three Dunkin Donut outlets in Colombia, and one of them is in Bogot airport. So apparently everybody wants to take these rare delicatessen home with them!

Colombia (1995 + 2008)

Leticia is the state capital of el Amazonas, but no more than a village. The town is surrounded by rainforest A relaxed atmosphere and hardly any cars. Where should they go? The nearest road is 500 km away! The river Amazonas is the main “highway” that links Leticia to the rest of the world.

Every other shop in this small town is a telecommunications shop, and the other half is moped shop. There are so many mopeds in the streets!

People are very friendly and helpful. My Dutch phone wasn’t working (wrong frequency), and a woman at Movistar Telecom just lent me a phone for two weeks! Where in the “Western world” would that happen?

From Leticia I took a boat to a remote nature reserve in Brazil, 5 hours by fast boat to a side river of the amazon: the Rio Yavari. The Palmari reserve is a beautiful spot, in the middle of nowhere, overlooking a bend in the river where grey and pink dolphins gather every day just before sunset. From a kayak or even from the terrace you can see them surface, jump and play.

On walks through the jungle with a local guide, you find that everything can be found in the jungle. Want to sit down? Chop-chop and a bench is constructed from a few branches. Things to carry (like a recently caught Pirarucu – a delicious 3 meter long local fish)? Weave tho palm-fronts together and you have a recyclable backpack. Are you hot or do you want to keep the mosquitos at distance? Just weave a fan from palm-leaves. Thirsty? Find one of the countless fruits of the Amazon, or tap some kind of milky resin from a tree. Mind you, only the guide knows which fruits and trees are not poisonous….

Swimming is a relief of the heat, mosquitos and humidity, but then you’ll find little fish nibbling your toes and skin. If you are not so lucky, a piranha might actually bite you! And when at night you’ve seen the Alligators by the side of the river, you might not feel so relaxed in the water after all…

But the best part of the Amazon is the pure, fresh, green air!!! This place IS really the lungs of the earth. It took me a long time, and many deep wonderful breaths, before I figured out what the air smells like: it resembles the rich flavor of freshly boiled Pandan rice.

Everything here is five times as big. The butterflies, the frogs, birds and, unfortunately also the mosquitos. I’ve seen butterflies and birds in all imaginable colors and then some that you couldn’t imagine. The sounds of the jungle are deafening: so many birds and insects communicating all day and night. Spending a night in a hammock in the jungle I felt humble underneath a jet-black night sky filled with millions of stars.

Colombia (1995 + 2008)

Just across from the river is Peru. One day I visited a tiny peruvian village where a Yagua Shaman lived. I had always wanted to try Ayahuasca or Yahe. That night was weird. Four friends wanted to come and together we gathered in the shamans house. His whole family was there and everybody went to sleep while we drank our first cups of a juice that tasted like grass water mixed with nettles. It numbed our tongue. After a while, everybody started to feel dizzy and nauseous. No big hallucinations, but time and space got mixed up. When we were back at the reserve around midnight, some of us thought we still had to go and see the shaman! Language was difficult as well. I could hardly talk and did not know what language to speak. We all saw certain indigenous patterns when we closed our eyes. When we talked about our experiences afterwards, it turned out we had seen the same patterns!

Que Bonita es la vida!