I started the year celebrating a few firsts. My first New Year’s Eve in Paris and, several hours later, my first time in Latin America. I was anxious not to miss my flight or to fall asleep at the gate, but none of that happened. And so, suddenly, on the first day of 2018, I was in Colombia.
The purpose of the journey was twofold: seeing my best friend again and getting to know a country that – after decades of (still ongoing) conflict – has recently made positive headlines.
I have known Franz since the age of three. From early on, it was clear that we would go our own ways. And so it happened that we went to different elementary schools, different high schools, different universities. Yet we have stayed in touch throughout time.
Distance doesn’t make it easier though. With me studying international affairs, I don’t know where I will end up. What I do know is that I treasure true friendships and, simultaneously, fear meaningless relationships.
During your time abroad, you will meet beautiful people. Some of them may only make short appearances in your life. Others, however, will stay and always be keen to support you. For me, that person has always been Franz. Recently, I’ve come to realise that our friendship is exceptional and I no longer take it for granted.
Three weeks in Colombia were enough to catch up, but they weren’t nearly enough to make up for the time we didn’t get to spend with each other while living on different continents. The thought of us not knowing where we will meet next, in a way, makes the prospect of a reunion even better.
This post is too limited in scope to capture my experiences in Colombia. Also, the following observations are subjective and may not be a reflection of how other people view Colombia. I felt this was important to add, given that nuances are in short supply these days.
I have been to four cities in total: Cartagena, Santa Marta, Medellín, and Bogotá.
Cartagena is a city known for its incredibly well-preserved colonial architecture. It is indeed picturesque, but, at least in January, it is teeming with tourists and quite overwhelming. Naturally the city attracts a lot of backpackers from abroad, but a great proportion of the tourists also come from Colombia.
The region around Santa Marta is a bit less touristy. We stayed two days in Palomino, a small beach town, and two days in Minca, in the midst of the jungle. There were harmless activities on offer like tubing down a river or learning more about the production of cocoa beans (which we ended up doing), but also much more problematic ones like an “authentic experience” of getting to see how indigenous people lived.
Medellín was voted the world’s most innovative city in 2013. The decision was largely due to the development of a cable car system that connects the poor neighbourhoods on the city’s steep hillside with the rest of centre. On the one hand, I got to know amazing startups and Medellín seemed to be full of ideas and creativity. On the other hand, inequalities between rich and poor were striking. Income disparity is a topic I want to examine further next semester.
Bogotá was my favourite place. There are tons of museums and great restaurants. The people I talked to were forward-thinking, eager to build more peaceful communities. Unfortunately, some problems prevail. Parts of the city are still unsafe, the metro that was promised decades ago is yet to be built and some individuals strongly oppose the ongoing peace process. Despite these challenges, I had the impression that Bogotá in particular and Colombia in general faced a promising future.
The second semester in Paris starts on 26 January and I’m already looking forward to it. My classes cover global health, migration, or gender and development. But more on that in my next blog post.
January 2019 | Loë Guthmann