Colombia is a magical place. I have a great appreciation for both the people who live here and the people who choose to come here. I love the people who choose to come here because they’re not afraid. This isn’t the typical “upper class American goes to Europe with their friends” trip. A lot of these people are here alone. Many of them have been on the move for months at a time. They have real stories, real experiences, and real lessons learned.
I don’t want to use anyone’s real name without their permission, but the people are the most interesting thing about this adventure, so I’ll change the names but keep the stories. We’ll call the first character Kevin. A strikingly handsome British lad with suave, style, and charm, he’s the closest thing I’ve ever met and probably ever will meet to a real life James Bond.
His father worked for the UK’s version of the Navy Seals, and Kevin now works in surveillance to prevent terrorism. He knows how to talk to women like nobody’s business, bringing over the sexiest Colombian girls in the club without a problem. He told us how he once made whoopie with two separate Colombian girls named Valeria, the second whom he met because he thought she was the first Valeria. Same name, amazing results.
It sounds like folklore but I could see it happening. Just last night I met a girl named Jen and then two hours later I started talking to her in the hammocks. Turns out it wasn’t her, but another girl named Jen who looked much like the first Jen. I thought it was funny so I wrote her a poem called “Jen #2” and slid it under her door.
I only talked to Jen for a few minutes, but I’ve been lucky enough to get to know several people more intimately over the first few days. What’s interesting about this type of traveling is that you get to spend days at a time with the same people and make these incredible memories and bonding relationships and then poof, they’re gone. It’s a constant sway between love and heartbreak, whether it’s romantic or platonic.
You can’t help but be enamored of these people. We met a French girl in the pool today who was almost like a cartoon character. Smiling ear to ear and bobbing around telling stories and making jokes, she would say things like “sorry I make a really big smile there” and start laughing. “Oh I have a story to tell you,” she’d say. “It’s a half sad and a half funny but I make it mostly funny, okay? Okay!”
She told us a story we’ve heard many times before in just the past few days. Guy wants to get laid, goes with some Colombian girls, a taxi shows up and already knows where they’re going, then he gets drugged and robbed and wakes up in the morning not remembering any of it. It’s always the same type of guy in the story, and I’ve heard it four or five times in just a few days.
There was one guy at the first hostel (we’ll call him Craig) who went with four Colombian girls, got drugged, had everything stolen, blah blah blah. Then we see him the next morning at the pool. He’s already got a new phone and says “dude one of the girls from last night is texting me again, she wants to hang out! Hell yeah.” Uhh, what? I don’t know why I called him Craig, I should have just named him NumbNuts.
A lot of people were concerned about my safety when I told them I was going to Colombia, but what I’ve learned in life is that, first of all, safety is never guaranteed no matter where you are. Whether it’s other people, natural disasters, or your own incompetence, we’re never truly safe. And that’s probably a good thing, because people don’t grow when they’re safe. They sink into the cushy couch of comfort and slowly get lost between the cracks for the rest of their lives. Regret isn’t safe either, and everything comes at a cost.
Secondly, most of your safety is within your own control by the actions you choose to take. If you do things that are unsafe you’ll probably find yourself in an unsafe situation. Some parts of Colombia are safer than others, and there are definitely areas you want to stay away from, which is something I learned last night. It’s no different than any other city with a lot of poverty. It’s hard to blame people for turning to crime when they see no better option. Of course people are going to be scheming to rob you, and if you make yourself a target, you’re probably going to get robbed.
I’ve never felt like my life would be in danger here, because most of these cities rely on tourism as their main source of income, and if a tourist gets killed that becomes international news and nobody will want to travel to that city, destroying the potential income of thousands of locals. The locals are extremely friendly and helpful people, and they’ll warn you themselves about what do and what not to do. It was a local last night that helped me, telling me not to go down one street but to take a safer route the other way.
Kevin sought out some trouble at dinner the other night, which made for a great story. My intention is to take all of these characters and these stories and turn them into a book, which is a project I’m really excited about. Anyways, Kevin was saying that if he came across some cocaine, he would be keen for it. He wasn’t going to look for it, but if it happened, it happened. 30 seconds later as we are walking to dinner, a man on the street asks him if he wants to buy some cocaine. Kevin took it as a sign, but even if the cocaine is pure, sometimes our intentions are not; and like I said, everything has a cost.
The man gave 5 grams to Kevin and said to hold onto it. Kevin tried to give it back but the man said “no, no, you hold onto it. You can pay for it later if you want it.” Kevin knew something was a bit off, but it was already too late. They had him handcuffed from the start.
They exchanged numbers and Kevin told them he only wanted to buy a gram. Then they told him they’ll meet up with him soon. They showed up at the park while we were eating outside and sat down 30 or 40 feet away from us. “Do I go over there?” Kevin asked. “It looks like that’s what you’re supposed to do, yeah,” we replied.
So Kevin went and sat next to the two dealers. They very calmly explained to him that he had to buy the full five grams. One showed him a gun and a tattoo to demonstrate he was a cartel member while he politely explained to Kevin that this is his block and he runs it. He told him how the whole thing works, who is paid off and who is keeping an eye out. Kevin said they were very nice the whole time. This was a well-oiled machine. No fuss. No scene. Just another transaction.
While Kevin is having this conversation with a gun pointed at him, two girls from the hostel see him and come up to him and start talking to him. It looked like he was just sitting there having a conversation with two Colombians, so the girls had no idea what was really going on.
The dealers left when the conversation was over and Kevin went to go withdraw the large sum of money from the ATM. They met him there and took him into a car, where they explained more about how the whole system worked, this time with somebody sitting in the back seat holding an automatic rifle on him. Kevin said they were very nice throughout the whole situation. Everyone nodded at the dealer, even the two police on the corner. It was his block, and this was just how it worked.
Kevin comes back to the table ten minutes later looking as cool as ever, but a bit flustered. He tells us all of the story, and then we pile it on by notifying him that they forgot his food order. “Surprisingly, I’m more upset about the food to be honest,” he said.
I admire his ability to accept things when they happen. He admitted he was quite frightened but also understood that’s just how things work if you buy illegal drugs when propositioned by a stranger in a foreign country. A bit of a scary lesson learned, but ultimately they were just after the money and everyone understood it. Legal or not, everyone has their own way to get by in this world.
I’m not telling this story for any particular reason, only because it happened. I know some people are going to read this and get worried, but as I said before, you’re as safe as you seek to be. Thankfully, I’ve always been a very cautious guy, so I feel safe here. Most people feel safe here, and most of us are having the time of our lives in this beautiful country.
I hate that it has the reputation it has from the past, and I feel a bit like me telling this story only enhances that reputation, which isn’t what I’m after. Part of me just wants to delete the story, but it’s just a true thing that happened. It’s really someone else’s story, I just happen to be here to tell it. Maybe that’s how it’s meant to be. I came here looking for stories and experiences, and I’ve found them.
Everything has worked out so smoothly so far for me, Jordan, and Ben. We’ve met amazing people and have had nothing but positive experiences. We can’t believe this country is real. The locals are so nice, the food is great, and the environment is a constant mix of party, dance, fun, and life. Colombia is full of life and culture, and I wish every American could see it with their own eyes. I’ll highlight some more of the great times we’ve had in the next post, but right now I have to go make some more memories. Cheers!