Hospitality and homesickness in Colombia

On the 19th of December, at 3.30 in the morning, I took a cab to the airport of Rio de Janeiro. It had been good, though with mixed feelings. Changed planes in Lima, which was a bit like familiar ground to me, since I’d been there in 2009. On both flights I managed to get a seat with extra legroom, thanks to seatguru.com. Meanwhile, the ‘mixed feelings’ hadn’t changed, in fact, I had to admit that I just felt like crap. I was homesick and tired of traveling. I just wanted to be done with it, and wanted my family and friends, Dordrecht, winter, whole-wheat bread with ‘hagelslag’ and good cheese! And I couldn’t think about much else. But, for now, not much else to do than to carry on and see how things go.
A Colombian guy who I’d met in the Twelve Tribes in Argentina had offered me to stay with him and his family in Bogota, but I hadn’t heard from him in a while, so I wasn’t counting on it. What a surprise it was to find him waiting for me at the airport, awesome!
So there I was in Colombia. My first impressions of Bogota: a huge and modern city, and cold! It took us more than 1,5 hour to get to my friend’s house by bus, and later I saw we had only crossed part of the city. I was welcomed warmly by my friend’s family and got a hug from his little sister. The ‘Christmas spirit’ finally started setting in here, since it was quite cold here and they had a big Christmas tree.

with my friend and his family in Bogota

It was amazing to stay with this family and it made me forget about my homesickness for a while. With my friend I checked out Bogota the next day. I wasn’t that fond of this city, but there are a few cool spots, like the gold museum, the old town and a funicular you can take up a mountain Cerro de Monserrate, from where you have an amazing view over this city. I had to remind myself several times that I was in Spanish-speaking parts of the world again, and I caught myself saying ‘obrigado’ (which is Portuguese) a few times before I switched back to ‘gracias’.

view over Bogota from Cerro de Monserrate

IMG_1111.JPG Catedral Primaria - Bogota

La Candelaria - Bogota's old town

My first impression of the Colombian people is that they are incredibly nice and hospitable, more than in any other country I have visited in South America. Example: I visited my friend’s grandmother and aunt for an hour or so before my bus left from Bogota. One of the first things his grandma said was that I was welcome to come back and that they would be waiting for me. Also, they served me lunch, even though there was hardly time for me to eat it. I followed my friend’s advice: just eat fast!

After an 8 hour busride or so I arrived in San Gil, in the north east of Colombia. This small town is in itself not that spectacular, but there tons of things to do in the area, especially a lot of adventure sports. I didn’t have time to do it all, but I did go paragliding, rafting and on a canopy tour, which was a combination of different activities like canyoning, zip lining and rock climbing. I loved it all, except my stomach didn’t like the paragliding that much, so that may have been the first and last time.

Paragliding

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nice view during paragliding

the Chicamocha canyon in the distance

Rafting

adrenaline rush!

Canopy tour

Like!

with a nice Colombian-Russian couple that I met

better than bridge jumping?

Meanwhile I was still struggling with homesickness and being weary from traveling, up to the point where I found myself peeking at earlier flights back to the Netherlands. But it wasn’t all bad, it helped that I met some cool people from Australia, Russia and Colombia during the activities I did, and I did have a great night on Christmas Eve. I didn’t have to worry about being alone, in fact I had to choose between two invitations. One for a dinner party with the people from my hostel, another one from a girl who I had met on the street, she had invited me to spend Christmas with her family. Another example of the amazing Colombian hospitality! I ended up going to the dinner party, which was really cool. I cooked and ate together with people from Colombia, Australia and France. Funny was that at midnight, everyone wished each other “Feliz Navidad!” (Merry Christmas) and fireworks were lit. Like an early New Year’s Eve.
Besides that, it was a strange Christmas. First, because of the warm weather (it was in the high 20s in San Gil). Second, because on Christmas day, sitting alone in my hostel, I had a little breakdown, which was probably the lowest point of my trip so far. But during this time I found great comfort in the words of King David of Israel, in a song he wrote to God:
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.

Moving on, some shots of San Gil and surroundings:

some cool Christmas lights in Parque El Gallineral

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view over San Gil by night

valley close to San Gil

From San Gil I took a nightbus to Barranquilla, a big city on the Caribbean coast, to visit another friend. We used to work for the same company, and he stayed with me 3 years ago when he was in the Netherlands. Ever since there’d been an invitation to his home in Colombia standing, and now I was finally able to accept it! He lives in one of the newest neighborhoods of Barranquilla. While walking around, I thought it was just like Florida: modern apartment buildings, fancy malls, palm trees and freaking hot and humid weather.
Barranquilla doesn’t have much to offer for tourists, although they are fixing the place up. We took a fun little ramshackle diesel train to the very tip of the coast where the Rio Magdalena meets the Caribbean Sea. Quite the adventure. It was once again great to be able to stay with a friend in another country!

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with my friend and his family

IMG_1297.jpg took this little ramshackle train to the tip of the coast, where the Caribbean sea and Rio Magdalena meet

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On the 28th I took a bus to Minca, a little village in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an area of mountains covered in rainforest on the Caribbean coast, to work there in a hostel. I was still feeling the same as when I took the plane to Colombia, over a week ago. Tired of feeling like this, I wondered if it would go on through the end of my trip.
But finally, things were about to get better.

More pictures at https://picasaweb.google.com/112053475507360621124/LatinAmerica201112Colombia

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