Now, I’ve not written anything for over a month now. That’s not through choice: World Hangover, on account of some cack-handed internet company, died. It vanished entirely. It was only through having made a back-up, and having a very clever friend who invested a lot of his free time into doing all he could to save it, that the site now exists. So, like, hooray, but also fuck.
The second reason I didn’t write very much in December is that everything I wrote was shite. Everything I wrote was shite because I was in a pretty crumby place – emotionally all over the place, undergoing disaster after disaster. Some were my fault, others were not. I can’t write when I’m all fucked up – all that comes out is grumbling, and when I write all grumbly for an hour and then read it back, I screw my face up and go ‘ugh’ and delete it. I did this a lot in December. I wrote a lot of grumbly crap.
So that’s that. Let’s talk about Colombia
Actually no not yet.
I need to give two pieces of very important context to my feelings on Colombia. It was, to begin with, a unique and not entirely pleasant experience in this country, and if I plough on with writing about it without giving context, you’ll think me a moody oddball.
Context 1: Colombia was the 17th country I visited in 2022 (I know, right? Jammy get I am) on a journey that by its end will have been nine and a half months. I’ve been away travelling for longer than this in the past – 14 months between 2018/19 – but during my previous mammoth stint away, I didn’t travel constantly. I lived and worked on the blueberry farm, and in Melbourne, and in Tasmania. Only four months of that trip was actual on-the-move backpacking. This trip, however, has been nine months of moving non-stop.
This meant, inevitably, that I was jaded by the time I reached Colombia. I felt very guilty about it. People always say ‘you can get used to anything’ when times get tough. They usually mean, like, adapting to having no hot water, or being skint, or living in a shit apartment. People don’t ever say it about positive experiences, however.
But think about it: if you can get used to prison cells and eating gruel, and these things eventually don’t feel so awful anymore and instead become the norm, it stands to reason that you can get used to beautiful sunsets and mountaintops and electric nightscapes and all that woo-hoo backpacker freedom. After nine action-packed months, you’re not so easy to shock anymore. You need boredom again – normal life, monotony – to allow your baseline wow-o-meter reading to reset, or else to constantly chase bigger and more dangerous highs.
So yeah, that’s my very convoluted, not really clear, ‘he definitely has ADHD and just hasn’t been diagnosed yet’ way of saying: I was tired, man. And it’s hard to excite a tired man, man.
Context 2: That bastard Gabo. Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the beautiful socialist Nobel-winning author hero of mine, painted Colombia as a magical place in his novels. His works are filled with shipwrecks, clay roof tiles, ornate wooden balconies, rocking chairs, donkeys, treasure chests, smoking pistols, green parrots, mango trees, palms, merchant vessels, yellow butterflies, raining flowers, derelict colonial mansions, dusty shacks, banquet tables, leaky roofs. These novels are populated by sultry widows, foolish generals, lovestruck poets, conflicted priests, doomed rebel leaders, mysterious gypsys, passionate servants, overbearing patriarchs, wise old grandmothers, svelte piano teachers, hairy-armed brawlers.
This is what I had in my head when I arrived here. I pictured myself playing guitar beside straw-hatted men as we relaxed in the shade to avoid the midday sun. I imagined arm wrestling sailors at the docks (and losing of course, as always). I imagined watching lovers sending paper aeroplanes from balcony to balcony, high above streets packed with fruit stalls and donkey carts. Rustic, romantic, magical, perfect.
That… isn’t the Colombia I found. Or at least, it wasn’t the Colombia I found in December. But that’s all I’ll say about that for now. I’ve given you enough context to be getting on with.
So: I had two nights in Bogota. Bogota was weird – everyone had guns, and you weren’t meant to leave the hostel alone after dark (7pm), and at one point I went hiking up Monseratte and from the top of the mountain I heard distant gunshots far away in the city: unmistakable gunshots. There were two police officers near me at the time, and they didn’t bat an eyelid. The area I was staying in was very antiquated and pretty, but yeah: weird.
After Bogota was Salento.
I was supposed to meet a friend there but it didn’t work out, so I was pretty bummed about going there alone. That said, it wasn’t all bad. A very friendly Colombian girl at the bus terminal understood enough of my shit Spanish to guide me to the correct bus, and she was really incredibly smiley and sweet and she lifted my spirits.
The night bus was only eight hours, and an old man from Bogota sat beside me and showed me photos of his children for about three hours, until I apologised and told him I really did need to sleep since it was 2am. He asked for my mobile number, bought me a coffee in the morning when we arrived off the coach at Pereria (closest city to Salento) and helped me find the right local bus to finish my journey. He waved goodbye to me as he put me on the bus, and as soon as we pulled away I received a text from him asking how I was doing and if I liked Colombia. Nice guy. Nuts and nice.
I felt adventurous arriving in Salento. The bus dropped me off on some random hillside in the midst of a town that was very much still asleep; the sun had barely risen. I asked an old man leaning on his windowframe ‘donde esta la hostal Yambolombia, por favor’. I don’t know if ‘hostel’ is masculine or feminine. He told me he knew the hostel, and it was up the road: veinte minutos. Well, I walked diez minutos, and the next woman I asked told me the same: go straight for twenty minutes. Rats.
It was a nice walk anyway: a lot of cows and green hills with misty tops, a few palms here and there. Salento is smack in the middle of Colombia’s coffee region, and the land is very fertile and healthy. The air is fresh, and the cows are spotted black and white. Yambolomia is located some 30 mins outside the town, walking down a groovy little mud track that offers you some great views of the greenery. I felt light-hearted on the track, like Bilbo Baggins hopping his way out of the Shire (before the shit hit the fan with all those goblins).
The hostel was a trippy place in the middle of nowhere: a main little lodge and collection of small wooden buildings, very exposed to the elements with all doors and windows open in the morning sunshine. I walked in and found a lot of people eating breakfast and talking about hikes. I nodded ‘buenos dias’ to the man I sat down next to, and he poured me a cup of black coffee with sugar.
I talked to the owner – Latino, don’t know where exactly – and an American guy with oily black hair, and an Israeli girl called Tom who wasn’t wildly friendly. The hostel has a resident Alsatian, as well as a smaller, shittier dog that yapped a lot. The Alsatian barked a lot too whenever somebody came up the hostel path, but its bark was so beefy and impressive that I actually quite enjoyed it.
There was also a horse. Yambolombia, for some reason, has a resident horse. It’s a browny-orange horse that lives on the grounds and comes and goes as it pleases. It liked to stand in front of the bathrooms, for some reason, and chew vegetables all day out of a bucket. Any time I went to use the bathroom – to shower, brush teeth, move bowels – the horse was there: chewing quietly and staring at me.
My arrival in Salento was the 18th of December. The was the day of the World Cup Final. Because of this, everybody in the hostel was in a hurry to head out into the town and find somewhere to watch the game. I attached myself to a French couple (after a quick post-night-bus teeth scrubbing, in the bathroom behind the horse) and we walked back up the mud track into town.
I watched the first half of the match with the Frenchies in a crowded bar, but then the Frenchies met even more Frenchies and ceased speaking any English whatsoever and their French became rapid and unintellible, so I left them without saying goodbye (it’s travel – it’s fine) and went off to sit in the sun-slapped town square and watch France-Argentina on a giant screen with hundreds of Colombians. I bought one beer around the 80th minute, thinking it would last me until the end of the game, but I was three beers deep by the time it ended, around an hour later. The crowd was mostly supporting France, it seemed, which I found odd. Maybe Colombians dislike Argentinians, I dunno.
I walked back to the hostel alone, a little drunk, and there was a downpour in the afternoon – a real ‘holy shit’ downpour. I lay happily in my bunk, like Bilbo all snuggly in Bag-End (I’d reading the Hobbit at the moment), and when the rain finished and the horse was thoroughly soaked, I went up to a sort of greenhouse building at the top of Yambolombia’s hill, where dinner was served. I made three very lovely friends: Maude, Netherlands, very bubbly, Padraig, Ireland, amazed that I pronounced his name right the first time, and Jet, Netherlands, very competitive at Shithead.
We ate dinner together and played cards for hours, and we told funny travel stories and bonded quickly and closely. I had only one night at the hostel, but I found myself wishing I had more time to spend with such sweet, funny people.
At midnight I went to bed, weaving down the hill in the dark – and stepping carefully and apologetically around the horse, of course.