Five years ago I started hearing rumblings of Colombia.
I was living in the ancient Inca city of Cuzco, Peru at the time and I would hear murmurings of secret jungles, and beaches few have seen. In the back corners of the South American Explorers Club in Quito, an old lady fixing the coffee machine for the members told me, “Colombia is a dream state, it is not fixed or of this earth.”
I thought she had been reading too much Gabriel Garcia Marquez, so I laughed and told her any place that has the motto “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay” needs a bit of work in its PR department.
Someone must have been listening, and although their new motto, “Colombia: Magical Realism,” may not exactly jump off the page, word has gotten out; there’s something special happening in the crossroads of the Americas.
Despite its geographic standing as the puzzle piece linking the northern hemisphere with the south, and access to two oceans, Colombia has been little explored, leaving huge tracts of land unknown, ungoverned, and unmapped. It should have been the centre of the new world, a bright and shining example of what could be done in the Americas.
But as history unfolded, this didn’t prove to be so. Pizarro and the boys stopped in on their way to Peru in search of glory and gold, the coca crop business brought a lot of pain and suffering to the country, and miles of jungle made the land hard to inhabit. So, when I landed in Bogota on a recent research trip, I expected an ancient world.
What I found was a country emergent, with brand new buildings and bike lanes in Bogota, a restaurant scene that rivals some of my favourite New York City neighbourhoods and hotels that blew me away.
There are a few places in Bogota that tip their hats to the old world, but on the whole, the place is buzzing with modernity.
Outside of the city, a tough domestic policy on the cocaine trade over the past few years has cracked down on cartels who were once more powerful than small European countries, making it much easier (and of course, safer) to move from region to region.
And since the Spanish only made it to Cartagena, Bogota and a few other locales, the majority of the places I went on my recent trip had not been peopled for a couple of hundred years—making for some truly exceptional exploring!