Full Immersion into Colombia
In August 2015, never having been to South America, I decided it was time to go, alone. No one seemed to share my enthusiasm and I like traveling solo anyway. I can decide where, when and what I want to eat, do, go, and stay. I booked a flight to Bogotá, Colombia.
What drew me to Colombia? My love of Pre-Colombian art, visions of colonial buildings, churches and monuments, centuries-old houses with tile covered roofs, colorfully costumed women from Cartagena, the history of Simon Bolivar’s struggle to overthrow the Spanish domination, indigenous cultures, and the diverse countryside: the Andes, Caribbean and Amazon.
Anxious friends warned me about this and about that: “Taxi drivers will kidnap you”, drug cartels, “You don’t speak Spanish”, “FARC is hiding behind every streetlamp”. Every possible disaster that could occur was brought to my attention. Very few people said “That sounds like fun. When do you leave? How long will you stay?” Being the intrepid traveler that I am and knowing I had researched the current situation in Colombia, I felt comfortable about my decision and decided to stay for three months.
We laughed as we tried to use the machines, giggled at my Spanish, and those who were bilingual translated the Spanish jokes for me. By the time the course was over, I had a whole new set of friends bonded across cultures.
Bogotá is the capital of Colombia, and has a population of almost nine million. It sits at an altitude of over 8,500 feet. In the United States, only New York City surpasses it in size. It is a very cosmopolitan city: soaring skyscrapers loom over centuries-old cathedrals and original tile-roofed houses. Yet the city maintains a vibrant European feel. I immediately fell in love with the world-class museums; the historic old town where streets built by the Spanish are barely wide enough to accommodate a single car; the small out-of-the way cafés; the tiny plazas tucked into unexpected places.
I was invited by a young American woman or coffee at Arté y Pasión Café in the historic La Candelaria area. It was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had. The café is also a training school for baristas. Never one to back down from a new experience, I signed up along with two bilingual Americans to take the two-day course. It was the highlight of my entire trip. The class was mostly comprised of Colombians. We were introduced to every imaginable type of coffee-making device: drip, espresso, syphon machines, Turkish coffee makers, French press plus others I had never seen. It was part lecture, part hands-on experience, and we all stumbled through the course together. We laughed as we tried to use the machines, giggled at my Spanish, and those who were bilingual translated the Spanish jokes for me. By the time the course was over, I had a whole new set of friends from across cultures.
One of the fastest ways to learn about another culture is becoming involved in a local activity. Try a photography class or take a cooking course, whether you speak the language or not.
Colombians are a warm, gracious and lovely people. During my three-month visit I never felt a moment of uneasiness. My new friends took me under their wing, into their homes for meals, on tours of the city and to places I would have never found. This experience taught me that one of the fastest ways to learn about another culture is becoming involved in a local activity. Try a photography class or take a cooking course, whether you speak the language or not. This could be the most fun you have on your trip. You’ll learn something new, meet local people who are incredibly polite, helpful and kind. Along the way, you’ll have a memorable experience.
A smile can go a long, long way. It tells your hosts that you want to greet them on their terms. People appreciate that you have an interest in their country, history and culture, even if you don’t speak the language well. Get involved, you will make new friends, meet new people, find out about the culture and get recommendations for all the best places to eat and things to do. Become engaged in where you are, it is the best part of traveling. Don’t be too shy or intimidated, as you’ll miss a lot. Bon voyage and live your trip to the fullest. You’ll never be sorry for having tried. It’s what you missed that you’ll regret!