In December we met Nancy and her husband in a cafe at Bogota airport. Fellow travelers waiting for our connecting flight to the UK, we got chatting over our meals. As happens often we were asked about our journey and upon hearing that we’d traveled from Canada to Ecuador, Nancy asked which was our favorite country so far. That was so easy to answer: Colombia! She asked me why and as I explained her eyes welled up with tears, she was clearly moved by what I had to share…
During our lifetime Colombia had experienced many years of violence due to the armed conflict between the government, leftist guerrilla armies and right wing paramilitaries. There was also the emergence of the drug cartels, most notably the era of violence brought about by Pablo Escobar. Cities in Colombia such as Medellin were once considered the most dangerous in the world. As this is ‘recent history ‘ it is still a pervading perception of Colombia to this day. We experienced an entirely different Colombia.
Colombia was simply the most spectacularly beautiful place we’d seen thus far on our travels. Our journey took us from Cartagena on the coast, to zigzag across the Andes a few times, spending time in many beautiful towns and cities as we traveled South to Ecuador. The Andes mountains form the most populated areas in Colombia so daily we experienced the most spectacular and exhilarating riding along one magnificent mountain pass after the next. Apart from the amazing mountain passes we remember Colombia for its spectacular orchids, the most devine coffee. However, what touched us most about Colombia was not it’s magnificent natural beauty…
The Colombian people received us with an incredible generosity of spirit and showcased a united belief in the fact that “change is possible”. Many communities and tour operators reflected this motto (change is possible) in their marketing and the history and stories they chose to share focused on the transformation achieved in recent years as opposed to focusing on the fascination with Colombia’s violent history and drug lords like Escobar.
Each adult we met would have experienced those troubled times. We were curious to hear people’s personal accounts of living through that violent era and how they felt about the history of their country. The majority of people seemed to feel that tourists are keeping the past alive through their fascination with it’s history. Overwhelmingly people would say: “It is done. It is passed. We have moved on. We have made a better life. Change is possible. ”
We sensed the pain in those statements. We realised that everyone we met has lost loved ones through the violence, has dark memories of that terrifying time. Hearing how children in Comuna 13 had to carry white flags to avoid getting shot when out playing was just one hard hitting story shared. What touched us most in Colombia is how passionately its people celebrate moving on, making a better life, their strong faith and belief in change being possible. Colombia today is a little bit of paradise because of that transformation.
It turns out Nancy is Colombian and her tears were ones of joy. She too remebers the dark years and she was overwhelmed to hear that visitors to her country had been moved to see that yes, change is most certainly possible!