28 April 2013

Uncover Colombia Interview: Erin’s experience in Colombia

Posted in Travellers Experiences in Colombia, Blog

This week we bring you another edition of our monthly interviews. 

We would like to thank Erin for taking the time to answer our questions and share her photos of Colombia with us and our readers.

Erin’s proverbial travel bug had a little nibble years ago while she was exploring Thailand, before well and truly biting her in 2007.  Since then, she has found the idea of returning home very difficult to stomach, at least in any capacity not allowing for a quick departure to a far-flung land.  After living in Spain and traveling through Europe for four years, Erin was most recently found following her feet through South America in a twelve month odyssey from Ushuaia to Santa Marta and back again.  She now calls Chile home.  Travel tips, stories and guides can be found at soulsofmyshoes.wordpress.com

Happy travels!

The Uncover Colombia team


Tell us something about yourself (Where are you from? who you are and/or what you do?)

I’m an Aussie girl who in 2007 went to Spain and accidentally fell completely in love with it – sparking three years living in Barcelona, Sevilla and Madrid.  The fact that most of the friends I made during those years were South Americans lead to many chats about their homelands.  All of them spoke so passionately about their countries that it lit a slow-burning need to go and travel to those great lands.  This slow-burning need became a full-blown obsession which I finally fulfilled, spending twelve months exploring the continent over 2012-13.
Why did you decide to visit Colombia?
I’d always thought Colombia would be amazing, though due to its unstable history harboured a slight worry in the gut.  But soon enough, I started meeting other travellers who’d gone and had an amazing, entertaining and also safe time.  Later, Colombian students who I used to teach basically convinced me to go by being so ridiculously fun and friendly.  I was hooked on the idea.
What sort of things did you like?
The people and food first and foremost.  Colombians are lovely, pure and simple.  I found them to be chatty and helpful and always interested in us and whether we were enjoying our time in their country.  The food was a highlight too – lots of fish, crazy looking fruits, fresh juices and my all time favourite; patacones.  Another vivid memory is how green it was in parts – my hilly bus trip from Popayán to Cali was unexpectedly beautiful.
Street food – Copyright soulsofmyshoes.wordpress.com.
What didn’t you like?
Well it wasn’t as cheap as I’d imagined!  Food was definitely affordable, but bus transport rivaled Chile’s prices.  Other than that, there was nothing that stands out as a negative.  I would go back tomorrow.
What was your favourite experience?
I did my scuba-diving certificate at Taganga, near Santa Marta and found the experience of sleeping in hammocks and diving for three nights and days just divine.  Who wouldn’t?!  A close second was spending time in Salento and Santa Rosa de Cabal – the paisas are the loveliest of all lovely Colombians in my opinion!
Scuba-diving at Taganga, near Santa Marta – Copyright soulsofmyshoes.wordpress.com.
Did you have any problems, finding accommodation, transport, food, etc?
I speak fluent Spanish so wasn’t intimidated by going right in there and asking, however dozens of other travelers I met got by with only English.  I only had accommodation issues in Cartagena, which I expect is always stuffed to the gunnels with tourists.  Otherwise, we’d show up (in groups of two and three) and easily find spare rooms.  We also used Couchsurfing, which is truly God’s gift to travelers.
Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and how does Colombia compare with these countries?
I spent twelve months traveling Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia.  Colombians score points for seeming truly interested by travelers and willing to chat: a trait which can be lost in other countries which have enjoyed high levels of tourism for generations.
Cost wise, the country was third only to Chile and Argentina (though Argentina’s peso dropped dramatically after I’d left, which would have pushed Colombia up to second place).
In my opinion, other countries win for dramatic natural wonders (think Peru and Chile) but Colombia’s scenery was always beautiful, and often varied.
Which image did you have about Colombia before going there?
While I’m a very aware traveller  I thought that if I was going to be robbed during my trip, it would definitely happen in Colombia.  In the end, I never experienced anything of the sort (in Colombia or anywhere).  I did hear from other tourists that they or others in their hostels had been pickpocketed or mugged – though those stories were few and far between.
In general, I expected to have to exercise a very high degree of caution at all times, though I also imagined the people would be wonderful as I’d only met hugely entertaining Colombians before.
Did this image change after your trip?
Definitely.  I never felt unsafe, though of course I didn’t wander around back alleys or through cities while not in control of my wits – ie, tipsy after too much aguardiente!  We were surprised by the number of police officers patrolling the roads, and military personnel on busier arterials connecting towns and cities, but never felt that their presence was indicative of a high degree of risk.  It all seemed preventative.  In fact, many of the police officers were very young men completing compulsory placements!
Would you like to come back?
Without a doubt, and to spend more time.
What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as a destination?
The zona cafetera, the coffee district for sure.  The people were wonderful and the surroundings gorgeous – not to mention all the good strong coffee!  Another surprise favourite was Santa Marta and Taganga.  Popayán in the south was also very pretty, very quaint with a rocking market quarter!
Valle de Cocora in the Zona Cafetera – Copyright soulsofmyshoes.wordpress.com.
Any final thoughts?
I’d recommend Colombia now and forever, though especially now before it explodes as a tourist destination!  Go there if you’re a traveler who likes good coffee, good chats and good friends.  Not only were the Colombians always ready for a laugh and a chat, but other travelers we met were too.  We made amazing friends there who I bet I’ll be catching up with for many years in different corners of the world.  I really did love it.
Colombian Flag – Copyright soulsofmyshoes.wordpress.com.