Sunday, September 25, 2011

Colombia. Forget what you heard.

"Stay away from the coke." That's the response I'd get when telling people I was going to Colombia. They said it because that's all they knew about the country. 

You like hugs? If you answered “Mama” “You smell nice” or “Yea” you may want to consider visiting Colombia. On a scale of 1-10, my Spanish is a -3 on a good day. It doesn’t mattero. They'll smile. Then you’ll smile. Then they’ll smile bigger. Then you’ll smile even bigger. Until a bilingual passerby eventually translates with real words.

New familia

Four years ago, my sister visited Colombia and ended up falling in love. So I was actually headed to Bogota for my her wedding. My new family embraced us with open arms (literally), always eager to explain their rich culture over a home-cooked meal of meat, potatoes, and arepas. They are proud of their country and eager to show it off. New friends were quickly filling our week’s itinerary and making sure we always had interesting places to explore with good people to guide us.

One of these trips led us 600 feet underneath a mountain in Cundinamarea, to the Catedral de Sal de Zipaquirá. It's an underground Roman Catholic church built within the tunnels of an old salt mine. Whaa? Si. Besides being a tourist destination, it's still a functioning church that gets up to 3,000 visitors on Sundays. 

Hand carved icons in the halite rock

Oh, and...

1. Turn off your phone as you enter the mines. Our guide warned us at the beginning of the tour that ions in the salt will drain phone and camera batteries. (My Science is just as bad as my Spanish, but that was the gist.) And he was right. I walked in with a full battery and left with 5%. There’s no reception down there anyway, so powering down is the way to go.

2. Bring a sweater. It's damp.

3. There are limited English-speaking tour guides, so call ahead for times.

I spent a week in Bogota and it wasn't enough. Stepping off the plane, I never expected to feel so comfortable in a place seemingly so foreign. You'll most likely see more Colombian write-ups here as my time in Bogota was one of the most memorable trips I've ever been on. (Next up: Cartegena, anyone?)

Until then, I’m contacting Colombia's tourism board to pitch a new campaign slogan. "Colombia. For hugs, not drugs."