My family and I went to Colombia for the holidays. Not Columbia, but Colombia. Yes, the country where drug cartels ruled and kidnappings once regularly occurred. When I told people what we were doing for the holidays the common response I got was, “Why?” I then would explain that our daughter was teaching there and we wanted to see her. So, we made the family pilgrimage. Little did I know, I’d also come away with some powerful insights.
The trip there was about as smooth as a cracked cell phone screen. We grumbled and complained due to missing our flight because of mechanical failure. Our irritation grew as we were rerouted in the opposite direction. We actually lost an entire day scurrying from airport to airport piecing our arrival together. Then, the requisite cherry on top was the loss of luggage which ensued days of misery for one of us.
Our general misery subsided however, as we arrived to this land overflowing with abundant fruits and generous foliage. The lush, green canopies of aged, coffee plants, towering, wax palms and unidentifiable flora were breathtaking. Of course, seeing our daughter was the real prize. All six of us together on a family trip and we would have unknown memories yet to make.
Arriving during the Christmas season was extra special. My daughter had indicated that Colombia was its most festive around Christmas. The towns were lit up like gigantic, twinkling, tree ornaments. I noticed dancing lights every square inch from our aerial view during our flight from Bogota to Cali. I also noticed something odd- dressed up, lap dogs on our plane. Then street dogs, shop dogs, and personal dogs in just about every place of our first city, Salento. That was where we toured the coffee plantation and horseback rode up a mountain. For the record, most of us did not know how to horseback ride, much less on a narrow path on the side of a mountain.
Colombia is known for their flavorful coffee. I will never drink coffee irreverently again knowing all that goes into it. The back-breaking labor of handpicking ripe red, “cherry” beans (on a steep hill) and sorting through all the beans is impressive, intentional work- especially for the smaller, old fashioned farms that prefer to keep their coffee “pure.” We learned the process and that the country itself drinks the rejected beans and exports their best to the likes of us. “We are spoiled,” I thought more than once on this trip.
Another day, we took off on a Jeep ride to the base of the greenest mountain I have ever seen. There we mounted horses (without any education on riding- instructors couldn’t speak English anyway) and made our way up to the aged, wax palm trees. The trees looked straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. They were approximately 60 meters tall and 200 years old. Standing in their natural arbor, the panoramic view was pure art. Speechless, we took it all in.
At this point of our journey we learned a few curious things about Colombia. First, it is NOT a poor country. Second, you can’t flush toilet paper ANYWHERE in the country and third, people are extremely nice but you can’t expect anyone to speak English. Our most pleasant surprise was how incredibly affordable everything was. Our family of six could eat out for less than half of what we paid at home.
After Christmas, we headed to Cali and attended “La Féria.” It’s a traditional celebration parade of the peoples of Colombia dating from the indigenous through modern times. Each was represented with floats, music, and elaborate costumes. It was quite a site. Next, my daughter and I had a girls day and the boys tried kite surfing. I was thankful to eat a fabulous meal in a spa-like restaurant and shop Colombian designers instead. Custom clothes abound there. Many have the seamstress connected to their showrooms. I’d never seen boutique couture like that before.
New Years is a family event in Colombia, unlike the US. So, most everything was shut for the holiday. We ended up at the Marriott (notably the nicest and most expensive hotel in Cali) for a sushi dinner and people watching. It did not disappoint as people cascaded in wearing ball gowns and international flight crews arrived in their stylish, European uniforms. It was a feast for the eyes.
For our last stop, we headed to Bogota as our daughter headed to Medellin. We had one last day to see sights. A few of us headed up to Montserrat- named for the same in Barcelona- for good luck, per tradition, while others retreated from the rain.
Sadly departing, we immediately said we were coming back. Colombia we found, is NOT the TV show “Narcos,” nor is it a dangerous, third world country. As the small hotelier stated in broken English, “We Colombians don’t have access to everything but we appreciate more because of it. We have peace in our hearts and that comes from inside.”