I never had a dream about living in Colombia. I mean for some strange reason I always wanted to travel there, but actually live in the country.. I had never imagined it! My dream had always been to travel the world like a nomad for 2-3 years, not staying for too long in one place… after all moving keeps you alive as physicists say. One of the reasons life exists is the movement of the atoms, if you think about it. Having lived in Ios-Greece for 4 years had an impact on me. We met so many people from other countries on their gap year(s), travelling, working, having the time of their lives. Then it was CouchSurfing, a travel social network full of people with great ideas. I guess I started to feel jealous of them. If I had followed the marked road I chose at the age of 18, I wouldn’t have had the time to do this. And I must say, it feels so damn good!
I see my short stay in Colombia as a small part of the process of becoming a new person, a person that fully lives his life and is capable of making choices. It’s going to be 4-5 months here and then something else. Although, they say that the true danger about Colombia is falling in love with the country, or a Colombian woman :), and stay here forever. But as a complicated personality, I can say that I don’t fall in love that easy!!
I remember my first days in Bogota. I was so jet-lagged, I was waking up in the middle of the night and I had the feeling of being on the other side of the Atlantic so far away from home which was disturbing and exciting at the same time. We stayed in a well known hotel, in the north part of the city, part of a big compound with restaurants, cafeterias, a swimming pool and in general anything we could need. In addition, we had a full schedule every day. . So there wasn’t enough time to go out and explore, at least for the first few days. I remember the first 3-4 days I hadn’t seen anything but the airport and the enclosed area around the hotel. We were isolated and well insulated from the outside world. Of course our teachers kept telling us how dangerous Colombia can be for foreigners and that we should always keep our eyes open. Do not flash your jewelry, your phone or your money, don’t walk alone after it gets dark, don’t get a taxi alone etc. Some of the true stories they told us were really frightening such as about a special powder that criminals use to drug you and have you under their command. I admit I was scared and suddenly long term stay in an environment like that didn’t seem like a pleasant experience. In fact, the first time I left the hotel alone to meet for dinner with a Colombian, I was so terrified. I was walking down the street and kept looking back anytime time I sensed someone behind me. And imagine it was just a 7 minute walk from the hotel. Of course nothing happened that night and neither the following nights. I started thinking that it might be possible that not every single person wants to harm me. I’m here for 1,5 months and thank God no one has tried to kidnap or rape me just yet. Although they have tried giving me less change in restaurants or buses which is annoying. Furthermore, there’s absolutely no sign that the country used to be in a civil war and I haven’t met with a single terrorist… yet.
The people are so happy here, and if you take into account the country’s problems such as poverty, the lack of services, corruption etc. THAT’S SO STRANGE! We have a lot to learn from Colombians! How can they be or simply appear so happy? I guess the key is to be satisfied with what you have, provided that your basic needs are covered of course.
To be honest how can they be sad when they live in such a beautiful and diverse country. Bogota, the capital is a huge city of 8 million people. The strange thing about the city is the altitude. At 2,640 meters is almost as high as mount Olympus. It’s mostly cloudy there with temperatures between 17-20 C. The sun is a rare sight, but when it comes out you can really feel the heat. The single day the sun came out, we got sunburned in just half an hour! Then there is the Caribbean coast with cities like Cartagena, Santa Marta and Baranquilla which probably has the best carnival in the country. On the west there’s the Pacific ocean, which is THE PACIFIC OCEAN, just to be there for me is something amazing. The center of the country is mountainous with forests, palm trees and cities like Medellin, Cali, Pereira, Armenia. In the south we have the big boy, the Amazon river with all types of exotic animals and of course.. Jungle!
Surprisingly the orientation in Bogota was well organized, helpful and full of new experiences, foods and acquaintances. I learned to eat soup with every meal, I saw fruits I’ve never seen before, I learned what empanada, arepa and papaya is, I learned about the difference between platano and banana or banano, I danced limbo and I learned that Colombians “Cogelo Suave” the same way as Greeks do.
Cogelo suave means to take it easy or Χαλαρά as Greeks say!
In Greece I think I have the reputation of a Χαλαρός τύπος (Chalaros). It was so funny the fact that for Colombian standards I’m not that Chalaros as people have been telling me to Cogelo suave many times.
We had such an international group and that’s what I love about those programs. You got the chance to meet people from all around the globe. We had people from the USA, Canada, Jamaica, Brazil, UK, Russia, India and of course Greece!!
In Bogota I met with Tilemachos, a crazy Greek madafacker from Ptolemaida who has been in Colombia for more than 3 years as an exchange student, volunteer! Tilemachos is a coordinator with the program and is going to be my boss for the next couple of months. When I first saw him it was so obvious that he was from Macedonia – Greece too that I started laughing. “Two Greeks here.. we are going to drive them crazy” as Tile said. To be continued…