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Published: November 17th 2014
View of Bogota from the top of Monserrate
Colombia, to most people, is still associated with drugs. Unfortunately. And much to the annoyance of the Colombians. Much like in my own country, many travellers come to Colombia to sample its drugs. In Holland the drug of choice is marijuana, here it is cocaine. Backpackers seem to want to stuff it up their nose for one reason or another. Now the thought of stuffing anything up my nose fills me more with fear than with excitement. I once, when I was a kid, stuffed a tiny pebble up my nose. It took me a long time to get it out of there. It wasn't a pleasant experience, and put me off the whole nose stuffing business. Permanently.
Truth be told, I am not into the whole drug culture. I never was. I find reality strange enough as it is, I don't need any mind altering substance to remind me of this fact. Be that as it may, I do not judge those that do use recreational drugs either. I drink alcohol myself, a rather potent and harmful drug in its own right. Only a hypocrite would say that smoking pot is bad, while drinking is good. It's a choice,
Cathedral on the main square
a personal one, and for me that is how it should be. The line dividing legal and illegal drugs has been drawn rather arbitrarily in my eyes. Why is smoking cigarettes, with the highly addictive nicotine in it, and a plethora of health hazards associated with it, legal, while marijuana is not? Alcohol causes loads of social problems, and is detrimental to various important organs in your body. Yet it is legal.
As I see it, drugs as a whole are not an issue for the law to deal with, but for the health authorities and educational departments. Criminalizing drugs won't make them go away, or deter people from using them. Obviously neither will education, but if you tell people about the dangers and problems the various drugs can cause, without stigmatizing them, it might be more helpful than throwing them in jail.
However, this blog isn't about the whole legal versus illegal discussion. It is about Colombia, and its unfortunate association with cocaine. It is about the weird phenomena where a backpacker tells me he is sniffing cocaine because he is in Colombia. As if it somehow belongs to the Colombian culture. It is almost like you
Street in the old town
can't go to Colombia and not do it, after all it is a valuable Colombian cultural experience, perhaps the most important one. Missing out on it would be like going to France without sampling its wine or not having pizza or pasta in Italy.
This is obviously a gross over-generalisation. Not every traveller that comes to Colombia comes for the cocaine. Nevertheless a lot seem to, and I often find myself in a group of friendly tourists being the sole person who has neither sampled it, or is planning on sampling it, or is even interested in sampling it. At times this causes me to feel a bit uncomfortable. Of course they haven't just come here for the cocaine, they are also here to see the beaches, and the mountains. But an essential part of it is certainly the cocaine. And it is in the privacy of hostels where it is discussed and also consumed. And I can't partake in that discussion because it is a field of knowledge that doesn't interest me. I don't know where the best cocaine is made. I don't know where you can buy cocaine. I am not interested in taking a tour which
teaches you how to make it. I don't know about the ins and outs of cocaine or how it makes you feel.
But I do know that cocaine doesn't belong to Colombian culture, and that it is not like the tulip is to Holland. It is not even like marijuana is to Holland, because the coffee shop in Amsterdam can actually be classified as a tourist attraction in its own right. And I can tell you that if you go to the Botero Museum in Bogota you will feel really good about your figure. No matter how fat you think you are, believe me, after visiting Botero you will feel like a super-model! It is also a good place to see what a fat orange might look like, or a fat guitar, or Jay Leno if he were a lady. I can also tell you that the free walking tour in Medellin is very interesting and you will learn both the good, the bad and the ugly of Colombia, and Medellin, including the drug wars. Mostly you come out appreciating Colombia and Colombian culture more. Finally I highly recommend going to a 'tejo' bar, to participate in this fine
Inside the church
Colombian game, which I personally think should be an Olympic sport. Tejo involves clay, gunpowder and clumps of iron, the combination of which will, or will not cause loud bangs depending on your skill. But really throwing clumps of iron at a box of clay with packets of gunpowder in it, can't be classified as anything else but cool.
More emphatically I would tell you to come here because it is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, with a rich culture and history. If you want to try some drugs while you are here, that is up to you, but probably best if you don't call it a cultural experience. Unless you are talking about the coffee. Because if you're drug of choice is caffeine, this truly is the right country to come to, as there genuinely is a Colombian coffee culture.
Now, if I only could get some money from Colombia tourism for promoting their country... A good cup of coffee will have to do. I am in the right place for that, in the heart of the coffee region. I think I can hear Juan Valdez with his coffee bearing mule nearing my window.
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