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Tour du monde en autostop - Jeremy Marie

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 Travel Diary : The Heart of Colombia

Often, the question comes back. From my drivers, my host or people I just meet randomly on the road, it ends up in the middle of the conversation:''Have you ever considered to give up on your journey and to come back home?''

My answer didn't change from the beginnin of the trip, this is:''No''.

However, from now on, I will add this:''But I didn't say I have never considered to stay in one country''. Indeed, Colombia made me feel this. My journey in this first country of South America was supposed to take me a month. My stay has been multiplied by two, my shoes has been stucked on the floor of Colombia for one more month.

Colombia has a very bad reputation, from the outside. From the inside, it has many assets. From the inhabitants to the culture, the landscapes or the feeling of never-ending movement.

Let's start from what we know of Colombia, from the outside point of view. You will surely notice that it doesn't make you want to go there. Guerillas and narcotrafics has been way more exposed to the world than the local touristic sentence:''Colombia, the only risk is to stay there!''

Yes to stay there, but not in the cemetary. At the end, Colombia almost made me stay there. I didn't want to leave.

On the second part, we will see what are the assets of the country. From its cultural diversity, its way or partying and so its way of living.

Follow me on the steps of my colombians drivers, who helped me to cross the country from the North to the South.

My way in Colombia



The FARC and the problems of guerillas

You surely heard about this. That is than 50 years that the problem remains. Like in many countries of Latin America, many guerillas started with the goal to build a new government. Of course, their ideologic views weren't shared by the current powers at that time. Indeed, the guerillas were often ending in bloody civil wars, that were funded by the countries interested in those conflicts, or by something else.

In Colombia, the idealitic ideas for a better world have been forgotten. The guerilla, mainly led byt eh FARC (Fuerzas armadas revolucionarias de Colombia) exists today only for the Will of Power of some wannabe-dictators. His funding is coming from different kind of felony. We are talking about kidnappings, murders and of course narcotraffic (especially cocaine).

I had the opportunity to meet a french woman in a village in the south of Cali, who has been kidnapped few years ago. The guerilleros, who thought she had an interesting bank account, didn't hesitate to take her to a camp hidden in the mountain. This french woman has been extremly lucky that the guerilleros have been stopped at a police check-point. They have been arrested and this french woman sent back to her freedom. She is still living in Colombia.

We can find police and military check-point almost everywhere in Colombia. Here I am checked on one of them.

The guerilla lost a lot of its power. A man is mainly responsible for this improvement. His name is Alvaro Uribe. He has been president of Colombia for 8 years between 2002 and 2010. He has been elected, promising that he would fight the guerilla. His way of acting can be disputed. Indeed, he used the strengh with the military, who didn't hesitate to kill if they were threatened. However, today the country is much more sage, even if the medias are still reporting some local acts.

The colombian soldiers, walking in Armenia for the bicentenary of the independence of the country.


Those soldiers didn't hesitate to help me to cross the country by hitchiking. At every check-point, I was asking if they could stop me a vehicle going in the direction where I was heading. Most of the time, in few minutes, they were finding what I was looking.

Many times, the soldiers were helping me to find vehicles

 

Hitchhiking in Colombia

To be honest, it has been a long time that I found so easy to stop the vehicles. Hitchhiking in Colombia has been a mix between Nicaragua, Egypt and France.

Here I am hitchhiking in the north of the country


First, Egypt.

As I said, I used a lot the help of the soldiers on the several check-points that I found on the road of the country. Like in this north-african State that I crossed in April 2008, where many check-point has been installed followed the events of the war for the Sinai, I just had to reach them. They were usually finishing the work for me.

France.

Because Colombia is full of paytolls, as in France. There are so many of them and they are expensive. I am still wondering how the drivers can afford them. For example, between Barranquilla and Medellin, far of 600 kilometers, I notices 12 paytolls. They were costing between 10 and 15 dollars each for a trailer. You can count and realize, knowing that an average income in Colombia is close to 250 dollars.

Here I am on one of the many colombian paytolls, hitchhiking with Jack a friend from Thailand


It has been easy for me to talk to the drivers in this kind of strategic place. From the moment they realize I was foreign, I had more chance to negociate for a lift.

Nicaragua, because the colombians were as hitchhiker-friendly as the the nicaraguans. Of course, the fear of years of guerillas is still there, but hitchhiking works pretty well today. I just had to chose properly the vehicles because some of them are driving crazily, as in so many places in this World.

At some moments, the danger was also coming from the pedestrians... or even the cyclists!


I used few times the vehicle with two wheels, but the one with engine. The difference and the intelligent side of driving a motorbike in Colombia is that it is necessary to wear a jacket with the registration on it. That allows everyone to be able to know the identity of the drivers, in a better way than the plates that we are used to.

The registration on the back of the drivers of motorbikes.


In Colombia, hitchhiking is translated by ''Pedir chance'', so ''put the chance on your side'' if you wish to keep going this way!

Good luck to stop the cars... or shall I say to ''pare'' the cars?

 
 

The colombian asset : ''Mixity and Diversity''

Out the racism.

Some countries seem to find limits on the colors of skin to understand each other, like in South Africa or even in France.

Certainly not in Colombia. I have been surprised to see that the mixity of colour is not a problem to share a culture at a national level.

Colombia is incredibly rich in its diversity. You can find it in its people, its climates or even its landscapes. Here the differences are assets.

To explain you a little bit better how the country is working, I realized a map explaining the important areas of Colombia.

The important areas of Colombia.


-The Atlantic and Pacific coasts

On the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the population is mainly black. The climate is hot and wet. The life is quite slow, even if the way of talking of the people is quite fast there. Adding to this, they are using a lot of slangs. It has been difficult for me to understand everything that has been said to me, because my spanish is still far from being good.

A shoe-maker in Cartagena, sticking my shoes. This one even refused that I pay for his service! After insisting five minutes, I succeeded to pay for his work. This is how the life is for a foreigner on the caribbean coast of Colombia.

The population is mainly black because she is coming from the african immigration that followed the slaves draft in the Caribbeans. There is even an african village called Palenque. To go in this place would be like coming back on the Old Continent.

A street vendor on the Atlantic coast.

The spanish immigration has been realized in a very different way. Indeed, at the time of the ''Conquistadors'', those ones killed almost the totality of the native population. However, it remains today some beautiful buildings, like in the old city of Cartagena.

A church in the center of Cartagena

 

-El ''Eje Cafetero''

The bright green area of the map represents the zone of culture of the coffee. Contrary to the coast, the population is mainly white, coming from the spanish inheritage. They speak more slowly, articulating on each word.

Here I am in Armenia, where I have been welcome by a local family.


The climate is colder because the altitude is higher. We are now entering in the cordillera of the Andes. This part of Colombia remind me of the mountains of Ethiopia, where the coffee was also cultivated.

One of the many coffee fields, near Manizales


 

-The Amazon rainforest

You can notice that most of the country is situated on the Amazon rainforest. This area isn't very nhabited and it is difficult to go there because the road system isn't very developped. I didn't go there, but I definitely consider to go to visit this rainforest in my tour of South America.

-The South

The south of the country is very diversified. It is possible to witness a mix of a back, white and native population.

A kid in Santander de Quilichao, without doubt coming from a native and hispanic inheritage


It is possible to see different kind of climate and landscape. First, this one is hot and wet around Cali, whith fields that are used for different kind of agriculture. The climate allows indeed to cultivate pretty much anything anytime in Colombia.

Then, more in the south, we can find the mountains, where it is colder and where we can find again the culture of the coffee.



Salsa, vallenato, champeta... A country that dances and likes to party

I quickly realized that the colombians like to party a lot. I arrived there in July. Three of the four weekends were extended to the tuesday. Indeed, as it was a non-working day in the week following, this one was moved to the monday. This fact was allowing the colombians to party or to spend time with the family the friday night, saturday, sunday and monday.

The colombians are constantly dancing. For this, Colombia organizes a carnaval in Barranquilla, in Pasto, in Cali or even some more other places. I arrived in Santander de Quilichao, in the south of Cali, during a feria. We could hear and see every kind of music and dances, and especially the famous salsa of Cali.

The feria in Santander de Quilichao


Also, I arrived during the bicentenary of the independence of the country. The country witnessed this day walks, concerts and many other kind of events.

In Salento, the decorations were at the colours of the country


While the musicians were at every corners of the streets


The colombians like to party. This allows to make the people closer and to create couples. This seems to be a very current activity in the country. Knowing that the colombians are without doubt part of the most beautifuk womens in the world, this is more than understandable.

The colombians like also to appear well. They are often very clean, well dressed. The women also don't hesitate to improve their sex-appeal by realizing cosmetic surgery. Well, I personnaly really don't think that it is necessary.


In my street

By constantly being in the character of the hitchhiker, I spend a lot of time in the street. I wanted to share with you a part of this daily life by making you meet the kind of people I constantly deal with.

My meals, if they are cheap, are also traditionals. In Colombia, every meal comes with a soup, which can be use as a starter.

The colombian meal, a soup and a dish

Also, the drink comes often with the meal. The country having a good fertility, we can have very good juices. You know, the ones that seem to have disappeared in the developped countries. Please don't tell me that a Sunny Delight or a Banga Manga I don't know what can be compared to a simple and normal orange!

The juice-seller and his tasty oranges in Barranquilla

At certain moment, it is also possible to meet very original people. In a village in the south of the country that I forgot, I remember having met this man who was lightning his fire with a hair-drier! He was without doubt fastening the cooking of the arepas, kind of corn-bread very popular in Colombia, but you could also enjoy the rain of ashes!

A cooker-drier friend

The street ends often in the markets. I like those very colorful places. It is possible to observe the tradition and the customs. The animation is created by the people screaming about the goods to sell and the last good prices. At the corner of a street, I am entering into a hall. There I can see the butchers. I come closer, I have at my feet... the former feet of horses. What an environment! The butcher seems to be nice, even if he is surrounded by dead meat. In the middle of this slaughter-house, he accepts that I take a picture of him.

My butcher, without the horses feet!

 

 

I am today in Ecuador. I finally succeeded to keep going from Colombia. What a heart they have those colombians! I haven't been always welcome that well. I just felt like at home for two months. Traveling in this country and learning a new culture has been a real pleasure. The smile has been on every lips and I witnessed a real will to know the Other.

Let's take an example on this little girl who was curious about my journey. She was asking questions about every places I had visited.

A little girl very curious about my journey


Of course, everything is never perfect and we always have to be careful where we go and to who we talk. However, I don't think we have to follow this extra-sensationalism about Colombia. This country is, like many others, inhabited by good people. I am convinces that they will give you back so much if you dare going in their Land.

Right, I keep going to the South. A new country is opening his door to me, Ecuador. Waiting for this, I shouldn't forget to give back those colombian clothes!


See you very soon,

Jérémy



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