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Published: November 14th 2010
Pimping it up with my delectable students.
Colombia. Its all about kidnapping, murder, terrorism and cocaine, isn't it? Isn't that the place where an international footballer was executed for scoring an own-goal in the World Cup? I have a very good friend visiting me in January who is really excited, but is probably a bit anxious about coming to Colombia - understandably. I was. It's impossible not to listen to the tiny voice in your head reminding you that you almost certainly don't want to wake up tied to a tree in the Amazon at gunpoint in the lashing rain. Nor do you want to be pistol-whipped by a mustachioed bandit intent on relieving you of your Blackberry.
Well, I've survived unscathed so far. I've never been robbed or blackmailed or kidnapped or murdered. I haven't really seen a hint of trouble in over a year, and that's more than I can say for places I've lived in the UK. In my first weekend at university in Nottingham the local rag headline was "Baby stabbed in its pram". Enough said. Bad things happen everywhere in the world - avoid them.
Sure, there are some dubious places here. But why would you go there? Well-heeled neighbourhoods in
Our frankly lavish and wildly successful Halloween party. Pimps 2 and 3, Brano and Laura, and a leopard-skinned Nicole
Medellín rub shoulders with run-down, sprawling barrios and comunas. From my balcony I have a nice view of Itagui, where I believe there is currently a pretty bloodthirsty turf war going on involving some very scary people indeed. I've never been there, and don't wish to. Similarly I have no burning desire to visit 1970s Cambodia, Dresden circa 1944, or the north of England. All these places, and all the scary places in Colombia, are very easy to avoid. If I know a lake is crocodile infested, I won't go in it. When I hold scissors I don't instinctively stab myself in the head with them. I apply the same logic to Colombia. Avoid the jungly areas that are controlled by guerrilas, the coastline where the drug barons send off their produce to the States, and you'll almost certainly stay out of trouble. It annoys me intensely that some people at home think I am somehow dicing with death in being here. I am an complete coward, who, at the first sign of trouble, would be back to London quicker than you can say FARC. It's actually a bit insulting that some people seem to think otherwise.
who have never met one think that Colombians are drug-crazed, amoral crime junkies. They are actually very mild-mannered and affable people who hate drugs and would rather hang out with their families and study hard (everyone is studying something!). Colombia's reputation annoys and frustrates them. A friend of mine used to work on a Caribbean cruise ship and was became so fed up with people assuming he had coke on him just because of the country was born in. He'd never even tried it. There is far less casual violence here than people think. You can land yourself in very crocodiley waters indeed if you unbeknowingly chat up a gangster's girlfriend. But, unlike Northampton for instance, you will not get a glass in your face for looking at someone the wrong way. Colombians don't do petty violence. When they do violence, they do it properly and kill you for it. Colombia is also famed for being a very religious country. Even to someone extremely hostile to religion as I am it's actually quite a nice thing here. They are dyed-in-the wool Catholics, but won't go out of their way to tell you about it. Coming out as an atheist here
with the lovely Maria Fernanda, colleague
sometimes leaves people very puzzled as to why I would be that stupid, but I feel completely comfortable saying it. I wonder if I would feel like that in Alabama? People here are smart, loyal, open-minded and passionate, and will go out of their way to make sure you are safe and happy as a tourist. The only people I hate here are the swelling number of middle-aged sex tourists from America who you see parading their surgery-enhanced trophies around town hoping against hope you believe they won them over with their dazzling charm rather than their greenbacks.
Admittedly, I am a very lucky human being. I was born in a first world country and can afford to live in one of the plushest barrios in Medellín. If this were London it would be the equivalent of Chelsea embankment, but paying several million squids for a Thames-side apartment. I do live in a cosy, protected little bubble here, and why wouldn't I want to? Even though trouble is close enough to sniff it, I feel like I may as well be in the Chalfonts. And I desperately want to keep it that way.
The reality here is that
More fancy dress... pictured L-R Laura, Yours Truly, Bibiana, Jason, Elizabeth, Jerred, Nina, Alejo
the government are on a serious mission to make Colombia safe for tourists. They are a right-wing government who spend all their budget on making Colombia a glam tourism hotspot at the expense of allowing those beneath the poverty line to live in a world of fear and violence. It's horrible and sickening, but it shouldn't put you off visiting Colombia. They are out to protect you at all costs. There is a chance of being mugged in La Candelaria in Bogotá, of being stitched up by some bent coppers in Cartagena, of being pickpocketed at Medellín's Feria de las Flores or Carnival in Barranquilla, and being kidnapped or worse along the Panama border and the vast departments south of the capital. Here's that advice again: don't go there. It's probably really boring anyway.
This blog is dedicated to the fabulous Ellie Porter. Hope this is soothing news for you!
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