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Colombia and Elsewhere in Venezuela

Greetings all from my final day in South America (NOOOOOOOOOOO!!) after
spending the last month in the beautiful Colombia and a last week here in
Venezuela.

In the last email I wrote a bit about how I´d found the people in the Andean
countries (Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador) in comparison to earlier on in the
trip. Pretty much everyone who´s traveled in this part of the world wrote
back echoing those thoughts and once I stepped over the border to Colombia
my word you notice the difference in the way you´re treated. There can´t be
many countries in the world which have a less deserved negative reputation;
whilst it´s true there are problems with drugs and paramilitaries, the main
thing everyone who goes there takes away is the warmth of the people. As
soon as I stepped over the border from Ecuador everyone was friendly and
wanting to help you, even bus drivers and cabbies.
For the previous couple of months most of my activities have been things like
hiking and sightseeing and have ltd interactions with the local people; as
an indication of how different I found Colombians I did very little
sightseeing and spent most of my time partying with my one regret being I
just wish I had more time than 3 weeks there.

After visiting a couple of beautiful colonial cities in the South I went to
the brilliant capital Bogota. Colombia has actually got one of the biggest
middle classes on the continent and I found the cultural life better than
everywhere barring Argentina. It´s produced the continents best known author
(Marquez) and artist (Botero) and by day I really enjoyed seeing the museums
and walking the Bohemian streets. But Bogota will best be remembered for its
nights. I planned to stay 3 days but ended up staying a week as I just
couldn't resist the nightlife, I was out every night til daylight partying
with the supremely happy and friendly people. It will have to be put down as
one of the best weeks of the yr in South America and was gutted due to time
restraints to have to tear myself away. Having said that as an indication
that Colombia is still a fairly dangerous country I witnessed a bombing
whilst in a club there. Whilst the party was in full swing all of a sudden
there was a massive blast and the entire club stopped moving. The police
came in and evacuated everyone a few minutes later and it turned out a bus
stop was blown up about 20m away from the club. It was something to do with
the mayoral elections that were going on at the time but no-one was hurt
thankfully. Still a pretty vivid memory.
After Bogota I went to Pable Escobar´s home town of Medellin b4 heading on
up to the Caribbean coast, the centre of black Colombia. My God it was hot,
after being in the Andes for so long to suddenly hit 35 degrees in Cartagena
was a shock. Cartagena is regarded as one of the most beautiful cities in
the Spanish speaking world due to its incredible colonial centre but
nowadays is perhaps better known for being the main jumping off point for
Cocaine from South to North America. Unfortunately in practice this means
there is lots of shady characters, homeless and more hookers than I've ever
seen populating the city but the nightlife was again just great.
By this stage I was really feeling gutted I only had 3 weeks in Colombia, I
know that might sound ridiculous if 2 weeks is August is the maximum you can
take off but I just wanted to spend more time in more places.
It was then time to head to Venezuela and was reminded that's its quite a
strange country, there are no supermarkets and there´s a dual currency
system on the $ which means it´s either very expensive or very cheap
according to whether you get the official or black market rate for your
money. It´s somewhat like Ecuador in that it seems to be no-one´s favorite
country in South America although it does have beautiful sights. The people I
found to be pretty unfriendly to start off with but if you can speak to them
for a couple of minutes they really start to open up, particularly when
they've had a few.

It might shock a few people but I´m actually very good at not getting that
drunk when I´m traveling but as a sort or goodbye to South America I drunk
a litre of rum 2 nights in a row with dreadful consequences. On Saturday
night I blacked out for a couple of hours and my first memory is being in
some sort of a favella (slum) getting kicked in the face by 2 black guys. I
somehow managed to scramble away but as I tried to ring a house for some
help they thought I was a burglar and called the police. The coppers showed
and gave me another mini beating including most memorably macing me. I
managed to look away at the right moment so didn't get it in my eyes but it
seriously hurt the skin on my neck and face for about 24 hours, they took
the money I had on me but gave me a lift back to my hotel. Nice. As I woke
up the next morning and checked my wounds I found I had nothing worse than a
bust lip and a few minor cuts and bruises. I was counting my lucky stars all
the time it was nothing worse on the 35 hr way up to the coast, which is the
end of South America for me.

It really has been an incredible year, I've found South America so rewarding
to travel in for a number of reasons. The ease of travel, ease of language
and friendliness of the people means you don´t have to put up with many of
the negative sides of traveling and the sheer diversity of the landscape
and available activities (in comparison to say Africa) means you just can´t
get bored.
I really am gonna find certain things difficult to live without, the music,
politics football and even speaking Spanish every day will be difficult to
leave behind. I´m sure it will surprise no-one to hear I´ve got another
tattoo done as a bit of a memento of what has been a year with virtually no
downsides.

But it´s not quite the end of the trip, this afternoon I take a ferry to
Trinidad and will spend the next 5 weeks or so island hopping in the English
Caribbean as far north as St Kitts (anyone been there?). I´m worried it will
be a little quick and it will definitely hit me hard in the wallet but am
still very much looking forward to it.
Hope you can still be bothered to read these emails....

From Guiria
Barney

Posted by carlswall 05:47 Archived in Colombia

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