I have now been living in Colombia long enough that my family and friends are no longer simply curious about Colombia but genuinely interested. In fact, this interest culminated in a number of members of my family coming out to spend a couple of weeks here. I spent far too much time trying to organise the trip, the flights, the hotels, the tours and the transport (a word of advice, use a travel agent), but it was all worth it in the end as I got to show them some of the best things about Colombia.
Now, when I say some family members, what I actually mean is that a veritable zoo of confused Arabs descended upon the streets of Colombia in a menagerie the likes of which this country has never seen. In total there were seven people coming from Iraq, Dubai, England and San Francisco who didn’t really have a clue what was in store for them.
After spending a few days in Bogota, which they were surprisingly taken by, we headed to the Amazon. As time was tight, we unfortunately only spent two nights there, but our experience on Monkey Island was probably enough for some members of my family to go home happy. In any case, the Amazon jungle is about as different as possible to the Arabian deserts and there are few more amusing sights than a bunch of Arabs wandering through the jungle asking each other where the camels are. Perhaps I’m stereotyping too much, I don’t think any of my family members has ever actually owned a camel…
The next stop on our magical mystery tour was the coffee region, but not before a Friday night in Bogota, which gave my cousins the opportunity to sample the delights of aguardiente, Latora and some banging Latin beats. Armed with a raging hangover, we made our way to a spectacular finca near Pereira. We visited the Cocora Valley, a coffee finca, Salento, Filandia and the thermal springs at Santa Rosa before catching an overnight bus to Pitalito.
This was perhaps where my organisational skills became unstuck. Or maybe I had just got lazy by this point. After arriving early in the morning, we embarked on a fairly gruelling day which took us to San Agustin to see the pre-Columbian statues and then on to Popayan, passing through the Puracé national park on possibly one of the worst roads in Colombia. The views were spectacular and the paramos were worth a trip in themselves, but we were all so exhausted that we hardly had enough energy to look out of the window.
The whitewashed buildings and quaint colonial streets of Popayan provided welcome respite for the weary travellers, although once again we only had one night of relaxation. The next day, some of my family members returned home, while the rest of us flew back to Bogota before renting a car and heading to Villa de Leiva. Villa’s beauty and allure is well-known and it is obvious why it is such a tourist draw. Yet the quiet cobbled square was the scene of some raucous family drunkenness, while our day of ‘sightseeing’ around Villa is better summed up as a drive to and from tourist sights without actually leaving the car. By this stage, it was clear that I had sapped all the life out of my family, ready to send them to their respective corners of the world needing another holiday. Job well done.
Such is the pull of this magnificent country and the incredible warmth of the people that my family members are already planning their next trip or trying to finish university as quickly as possible so that they can come and live here. My new, rather modest, goal in life is to start a thriving Iraqi community in Bogota which will be hell-bent on providing the best rice and kebab that this fine city has ever seen… Watch this space.
If your organizational skills are something like mine, maybe get in touch with See Colombia Travel for a helping hand.