In August, I went to Colombia. It took me a long time to recover from this trip, which is why I have been reluctant to share it in a post. I dreamt of the perfect South American vacation 8 months prior. I have many friends that visited and a few that lived there, and was deep in a Netflix binge of Narcos. When I heard there was an annual flower festival in the former hometown of El Padrino, I roped my boyfriend in for the trip and booked our flights to Cartagena and Medellin.
We made our Colombian bucket list: architecture tour, visit a coffee farm, and a Pablo Escobar tour. I did none of those things. My imagination of galavanting around with my new DSLR documenting El Pais was disrupted by the reality that Colombia, although indisputably beautiful, is quite sketchy.
Upon arrival in Cartagena a local posing as cab driver took my luggage out of my hand and attempted to lure me into his car. Another man came to our rescue, then took my bag and proceeded with an identical scam. A legit cab ride later we arrived to our hotel in Cartagena.
My first question in my elementary espanol was “Is it safe here?!” The bellhop politely assured me it was, but advised “No dar una papaya.” I questioned my translation, wondering why he thought I would be giving strangers fruit. “It means,” he spoke in broken English, “don’t show nice things. Don’t wear jewelry, don’t bring out a camera!” Well shoot, there went my Instagram aesthetic.
Our first dinner, we went to Don Juan, an upscale restaurant where the El Presidente dines often. We finally relaxed from our hectic travel over bottle of wine. Three delicious courses, and decadent dessert later we were presented a bill for an astonishly low $90 USD. We made a tipsy cheers, and said “This is Colombia!”
After dinner, I returned from the restroom as my boyfriend settled the bill. I saw his big blue eyes pinned open in shock from across the restaurant in an I NEED TO TELL YOU SOMETHING way. I asked him what was wrong, and he slid a note to me reading “Hi! I’m Gabriella. I’m from Venezuela, here’s my WhatsApp number…”
I laughed aloud, “Holy Awkward!” as my two minute absence from the table left my boyfriend to be solicited by a prostitute. He kicked me under the table and shushed, “She’s next to us!”
I, not being a discrete person in any sort of the term, peered right at her. She did not notice by glare, as she was preoccupied with blowing kisses and winking at my dear boyfriend. I rolled my eyes, slugged my last drop of wine and uttered, “THIS… is Colombia.”
We had a lot of This is Colombia moments, for better and worse.
For better: the best food I ever ate, La Feria de las Flores, a breathtaking gondola ride through the Andean Mountains and shopping at my bikini Mecca: Maaji.
For worse: Our cooking tour in the middle of the slums, the feeling of watching over my shoulder, drug dealers shouting out offers, and the strawberries laced with amoebae.
Yes, all of those things did happen. Colombia is full of flavor and vibrance. It’s people smile widely and take pride in their country while being honest about it’s faults. Colombia is like a flower, it’s lovely but still in bloom.