Why Colombia is my favourite country
I once got my heart broken by a boy who left the country, he’d had enough of England, and wanted to go to Colombia because people were so nice there. At the time there was an advertising campaign on the London underground stating ‘Colombia, the only risk is that you wont want to leave’ this just seemed like a joke being played on my wounded heart. But, after 2 months cycling through the country I get it… I can confirm that it is true. I could have so easily just turned my bike around and done the whole thing again.
I know Colombia has a reputation that precedes it- kidnapping, cocaine and coffee is what most people at home imagine. And before I lament about my love for this place I should add that some parts of the country that are still precarious and unsafe and sadly whilst there we did learn about some cyclists who were robbed and killed in a risky part of the country.
So then, Why did I love it so? This land has everything… Swamps and Farm lands in the north are hot and sweaty, burnt golden grass and rancheros making you feel like you’re straight out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel; then there is the stunning Caribbean coast; the coffee zone with it’s rolling mountains and coffee plants as far as the eye can see. The Andes begin in Colombia, making for the most dramatic descends and full on days of climbing. You can be sweaty in the morning and freezing on top of a mountain by night, the changes are thrilling. We discovered a bit of magic in the sacred land of Sibundoy staying with and indigenous family and cycling through the unpaved roads which hugged the amazon. If you were to choose one country to do a shorter tour for month or 2 tour then I think Colombia would be perfect, it has it all.
Colombians love bikes- in no other country so far have I met so many touring cyclists from within the country. These guys usually had panniers made from old buckets and battered up bikes but always had huge smiles on their faces, making me feel like such a brat. Then there are the lycra clad racing cyclists who buzz up and down the mountains in some towns so many of them I thought there was a race on. There is a big mountain bike culture too, making the most of the countries almost never flat terrain. Oh, and the roads have been some of the best tarmac we have had so far, and usually plenty of space.
I could talk more about dancing, fried cheese snacks and Colombians insane love of cheese with sweet food (grated cheese with fruit salad or on a banana split, I am not kidding) but the #1 reason is the people, Colombians are unbelievable. You know in normal life when you are doing something cheeky like taking another sweet at the counter of a cafe, and you expect the waitress to give you a scowl? Well in Colombia they give you the bowl and tell you to take a handful. There are coffee urns outside petrol stations, we would ride up and take a few cups, initially we were sheepish, thinking that the attendants are going to tell us off, but they’d just come over and want to chat to us.
Countless times we rocked up at some village and asked for a place to put our tents, instead we were welcomed indoors, given dinner, a bed and most likely extra blankets, and then breakfast the next morning. Always we would leave somewhere being told we could come back when we wanted, or being asked if we could stay another day. There were a few times eating food in a cafe that we got up to pay and found that someone had already paid our bill.
And then there was the time we were looking for a place to sleep and running out of options, we asked the police commandante, he insisted he pay for a hotel for us. Were we hungry? Yes of course we were…. So he organised dinner in a cafe for us.
People often stopped in their cars to give us drinks and food, and to chat to us, their smiles and greetings of ‘Mamisita’ or ‘Mona’ just warming our hearts. Not once did we encounter any sarcasm, smart arses or moodiness… ask for directions? Someone will take you there. Ask for a refill (napa) of the juice you bought at the roadside stall… of course you can! There was the time my rim cracked in the middle of nowhere, the guy who picked us up ended up going 60 km total detour out of his way to take me back to a town to get it fixed.
(Mum and Dad- I am sure you are reading this worrying that I’m going to hitch hike or sleep in the house of any random stranger…of course we always trust our instincts… this is primal and often the only tool we have, and something that we don’t often have to use in modern life… More that my thigh muscles have grown on this trip, our ability to tap into instinct has grown too.)
Before I came on this bike tour I thought this trip was about riding my bike, adventure, landscapes and learning a language… But it’s the people more than anything that keep you going, and influence your experience. This energy is symbiotic, we were constantly happy, we smiled at everyone, I forgot my usual English cynicism and worry, I was truly happy. I think if academics want to work out a formula for human kindness then they should come to Colombia.
Already it’s nearly 2 weeks since we left, and the other countries have hard acts to follow but thanks to Colombia this trip feels brand new, I have energy in my pedals and my heart is heavy. And now I vow to make like a Colombian and open my heart, give our smiles and throw away the cynicism…. All the way to the end of the world.
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