On my jungle walk last week to Parque Nacional Tayrona, I met a very sweet couple from Bogota who just happen to be moving to Montreal sometime next week. They excitedly asked me many questions about Canada, most of them focused on how cold it actually gets in winter. I was happy to tell them about everything they could expect, and to reassure them that they would be very happy in my home country.
And then Andrea asked: "Do Canadians know Colombia? What do they think of it? Drogas y armas (drugs and guns)?" I unfortunately nodded.
When Pete and I added Colombia to our list of countries to visit, we got many concerned emails about the dangers. Yes, it is the world's number one supplier of cocaine. And yes, it has had a very troubled and violent past because of it. But Colombia also has some of the most beautiful scenery we have encountered, and definitely has the most friendly and generous people we have ever met. Forget everything you thought you knew about Colombia. Your opinion is wrong.
It won't take long for this country to move higher on every tourist's "must see" list (it is already a backpacker favourite). A marketing campaign on television stations across South America states: "The only dangerous thing about Colombia is that you won't want to leave." And while parts of the country are still to be avoided (same as any other country!), most of it is open and ready to serve a growing tourism industry.
We have had some misses on our 33 day journey thru Colombia - but can attribute most of it to bad timing, bad weather, and bad hostel choices. All of that aside, we can definitely say that this country ranks as one of our favourites. From experiencing Holy Week in southern Popayan to enjoying remote beaches in the north, our experiences here have been vastly diverse, but with one important thing in common - along the way we have met some very incredible people who successfully differentiate themselves from the troubled past of their country. People who have gone out of their way to welcome us, feed us, give us tours, and even just thank us for visiting their country. Colombians have opened our eyes and minds to what it means to truly portray pride for your country and have given new meaning to the word "hospitality". And even though our continuing travels must take us out of this beautiful country, we will make every effort to spread the word at what an amazing place it is to visit.
Diego and Andrea leave in a very short time to live and find new opportunity in Canada. I only hope that our country can be as good to them as theirs has been to us. I am sure it will.