Saturday 4 May 2013

Colombia: Mission Accomplished

The time has arrived for me to try to sum up what an incredible time we've just had in Colombia and persuade you to pack your bags and head off there soon.
I'm sitting here daydreaming about the country that ranks third in the world in biodiversity. It has every possible landscape, from glittering Caribbean beaches to lush green hills, deserts, and of course, the staggering Andes mountain range. It's a beautiful place with friendly people, delicious food, diverse music... so if the first thing you think of when I say Colombia is cocaine, then I urge you to think again.
To those who never fail to make idiotic drug-related jokes around me when I mention my husband is Colombian, please accept a firm but necessary slap on the cheek and let me redirect you to a suitable airline which will sort out a route to the country that has stolen a piece of my heart.
Our Mission in 5 Steps:
Step 1 - Makeover
Mum showing off new nails!
Colombians are a glamorous people (none more so than my elegant mother-in-law) and looking good there is inexpensive. On arrival in the capital of Bogotá my Mum, Auntie and I headed straight for one of the many beauty salons for a makeover. A manicure and a blow dry will cost you as little as five pounds, and you'll feel so pleased with the result that you'll obviously tip all the lovely people involved.

I convinced my Mum (easily) and my Auntie (more resistant) to dye their hair and we all had our hands and feet done. It felt brilliant and my Auntie, who arrived grey, and left dyed and highlighted, looked at least ten years younger. Right now, I must share the feelings of the many Colombians living overseas... Seriously, how will I surive without the pampering?

Step 2 - Meat the Family
While on our travels, my family met a diverse range of relatives many of which we joined in the eating of meat presented in baskets, on plates and even wrapped up in plantain leaves. Other recurring delights were 'plátano' (sweet plantain) 'patacón' (fried plantain) 'frijoles' (beans) and I must mention the traditional Bogotano soup 'ajiaco', which my husband's grandmother insisted on cooking even though she was in great pain at the time and should have been in hospital being treated for a stomach infection - Thank you!
Step 3 -  Say Goodbye to your Comfort Zone

Sancho Panza and Don Quijote
My Dad and Uncle soon earned the nicknames Don Quijote and Sancho Panza respectively, though neither of them had ever ridden a horse or a donkey in their lives. The opportunity to change that came when we reached Valle de Corcora in the Quindío department, where wax palms, the symbol of Colombia, soar up into the skies.

Neither my Mum nor my Auntie could remember the last time they'd ridden a horse, or were entirely sure they ever had either. I'm proud of all of them for stepping out of their comfort zones! It was a picturesque journey through the valley and there was no trouble as the horses were on automatic and knew exactly where they were headed.

Of course, that wasn't the only time comfort zones were left behind! Did I tell you about the time we were on a raft sailing down a river and a thunder storm broke out?

Rafting down El Rio La Vieja, Quindio 

Step 4 - Shopping Made in Colombia
By all means go to Colombia with a half empty suitcase, but don't expect to fill it with clothes as clothes are far more expensive there than in Europe and North America. We mostly shopped at artisanal markets stocked with beautiful handicrafts.
These Coffee Pickers wouldn't last long!
We also bought lots of coffee after an interactive tour on a coffee farm, where we donned typical coffee picker outfits and demonstrated to the guide our lack of talent for the job in hand. Sad Fact: Coffee pickers earn less than ten pounds a day, and a third of that is subtracted for their lunch. Support them by buying fair trade Colombian coffee!

At one point we were followed by a man selling hats... is it obvious?

 Step 5 - Grow as tall as a Wax Palm Tree
There were tears at the airport. My in-laws had been the most generous and enthusiastic hosts and we all felt sad to be leaving them. In my last post I said the mission was to bond with our Colombian family and create happy memories, and in that the sense our mission was definitely accomplished.
But I think we went far beyond our mission and in our own different ways, personally and collectively, we've all grown through our experience. In fact a little bird tells me my parents have caught the travel bug and are considering visiting my cousin in Nepal next year... Don Quijote on an elephant? Well, I'm sure Cervantes mentioned it somewhere...


Lindsay said...

Glad you had a wonderful time. My daughter visited Colombia 3 years ago as guest of her boyfriend's parents (his mum is Colombian). She would agree with all you said about this country and its people. Damn, she and the boyfriend split up or I might have been going as her dyed haired mum to meet the family there! (They remain good friends, though, and his parents wouldn't bat an eyelid if I turned up.) She too got the snidey drug references! Not least when coming back via Miami.

Shop Girl said...

Thanks for reading Lindsay! Pity about the boyfriend, but there's no reason you can't still go over and get a hair dye in the process!

It's funny because my Welsh Mum now takes it personally if people make drug jokes about Colombia to her face - I guess the whole family has adopted a new country and want to share all the wonderful things about it! X

Anonymous said...

Love it! Very glad you had an awesome time. Ur sisinlaw

Anonymous said...

Sounds fantastic. I went to South America for a few months about five years ago, but I never made it as far as Colombia.