Tuesday afternoon, about 2pm. Cali, Colombia. I haven’t written in a while, and I apologize. I haven’t felt like it. I’ve been having so much god-damn fun. And when I’m really, really having fun, I don’t much feel like writing. Truthfully, I don’t much feel like writing right now, but this has more to do with the fact that I’m fasting for Yom-Kippur (first time ever!), and I have a headache. And I’m hungry–that too.
I don’t feel like writing, but the readers want to read. All of the words that follow will come straight from my head; I probably won’t pick my fingers off of the keyboard much, and I don’t envision myself doing much more than spell-checking this post. My tone seems negative, we can say, but fear not: Colombia has been unreal. My favorite country so far, for a while, was Argentina, but at one point on a bus in Medellín, when this guy boarded with a guitar and maybe a harmonica and started playing and singing, I decided that Colombia had edged it out. The battle at the top was fierce, for a while, a raging bloodbath of alfajores (one of Argentina’s most prized offerings–google it) and Aguila (Colombian beer)–a titanic clash of the Latin American heavyweights. But Colombia won. It might even be my favorite foreign country I’ve ever been to. It might even beat New Zealand.
I started Colombia in Bucaramanga, WWOOFing on Orlando’s granjita, cleaning coffee plants and moving bricks. Then, I went to Santa Marta, and worked in a small elementary school for a month, teaching in Spanish and at times losing my mind. Kids. Now I’m in Cali. I was in Medellín last week. I’ve been in Colombia over 2 months, and there’s a lot of things I could write about. But I’m going to keep this post short enough. I just want to talk about the theme park, the theme park that is Colombia. To do this, I’m going to tell a few short stories from last week. The theme of these stories will be why you should curb every single apprehension you’ve ever had about Colombia, park your car at the nearest airport, and get on the plane. In the last week:
1. Amber and I were riding a gondola-type-metro-thing up to the top of Medellín. We met a Colombian family on vacation. We became friends. Once we arrived at the top, they treated us to obleas. An oblea is like a big sugar wafer sandwich with caramel spread in the middle. Popular in Colombia.
2. I was meeting up with my friend Simon, that I met in Buenos Aires, and I was lost. A guy stopped me on the street, asking if I was looking for hostel accommodation. I said no. He probably said this because I’m white. Then I asked him if he knew of Simon’s building. He said yes. He went out of his way to walk with me, waited while I got pizza, and then took me to Simon’s doorstep. Maybe 20 minutes altogether.
3. Amber and I were looking for a vegetarian restaurant. We asked a girl working behind a counter. She knew of one, left the counter, walked us about 4 blocks into a mall, down to the first floor, and dropped us right at the counter of the vegetarian restaurant.
4. I got in a cab to go to Carolina’s house, my first CouchSurfing host in Cali. I asked for an estimate, at the outset. He said 15,000. We talked the whole ride–he was kind of a whacky guy. The topics ranged from the meaning of happiness, whether Americans or Colombians are better at achieving happiness, why some people are materialistic, if we believe in God, and stuff like that. When we arrived at Carolina’s house, the meter read something like 21,000. I said “hey, maybe I can just pay you 20,000, since we agreed on 15,000?” He said “no, it’s cool, I told you 15,000, so 15,000 is perfectly fine.”
5. I was buying an avocado and water (there was no running water in her neighborhood for a few hours) and chips for Carolina and I. I was about 40 cents short, in Colombian monies. The guy said “Hey, you can just pay me back next time–you’re staying around here, right?”
6. Simon and I deboarded the spanking-new metro in Medellín, and were discussing how to get to the bar. Some girl overhead us, tapped us on the shoulder, and told us we were going the wrong way. She then pointed us the right way.
7. I dropped 1,000 pesos in the mall yesterday. Two people, within about two seconds, alerted me to this fact.
8. I went to buy this like liquid oatmeal type stuff yesterday, on the street. I first asked what it tasted like. He said here, take half a cup, for free, for real, I won’t charge you, see if you like it!
9. Amber and I inquire at a fruit stand about what a granadilla tastes like. The guy says, here, take one, my treat, see for yourself!
10. I say hi to a lot of people on the street. 90% smile back. But it’s a special kind of smile. It’s this really warm, genuine, genuinely welcoming, comforting smile, where their eyes light up, and they just seem really pleased to have you in their country, and eager to show you all that it has to offer. It’s almost like that smile you’d see on the front of a brochure for some big American corporation–that far overdone, just-has-to-be-bullshit smile. But that’s kind of the one I often get–except it doesn’t seem like bullshit at all.
That’s 10 things, and that’s in the last week. I’ve been here over 2 months. Extrapolate, would ya?
One thing I’m definitely learning is that life is about people, and is better shared with people. People ask me all the time if I get lonely when traveling alone. Sometimes, sure. But then again, you do too. But in Colombia, maybe because I was living with a family, and then volunteering with the same people every day, and now CouchSurfing a bunch, I’ve been incredibly un-alone. I ate by myself yesterday, and immediately thought “wow, I just haven’t done this in a while at all.” I’ve been incredibly un-alone. And man, I feel really at home here–really well looked after. Colombian people are tremendously lovely. Like the kindness almost isn’t real. Most strangers in my country just aren’t like this. Colombia has had a relatively rough history, but now, it’s relatively peaceful. And there’s this very strange, delightful, tangible cohesion you feel when walking down the street. And on the bus, and everywhere. The people are lovely. And now we move towards the final part. The best looking girls on the planet, as far as I know.
They were really pretty in Australia, really pretty in Brazil, and really pretty in Argentina. Pretty in Israel as well. But Colombia wins. We don’t need to go too far into this. But these girls are everywhere. Just everywhere you turn. And yea, it’s just nice. And coupled with the fact that they’re, well, Colombian, it means that they exude the same unreal hospitality and warmth as the rest.
So I walk outside every day. And it’s just a theme park. Who’s going to go far out of their way for you. Who’s going to ask about your home, your family, your country. Who’s going to drop that smile-bomb and make you thank every backpacker that ever urged you to come to Colombia. It’s just a whole different level of pleasantness, here. Colombia. The theme park of awesome that refuses to end.
Cooking Yom Kippur dinner tonight,