The mere fact of having grown up in Australia gave me the obscene luxury to live much of my life on a whim. I went to a world-class university (for free, really) because I kind-of felt like it, traveled to live in Korea comfortably just because I could speak English, and arrived in Colombia because my friend found cheap tickets there. I started working here at the See Colombia Towers because some other random Aussie called Sarah flung the idea at me, and I thought it sounded alright.
That was a year ago. My connecting ticket to the more renowned Buenos Aires is long expired, and I’m proud to say I still hammer away at the very nearly fictional SCT Towers. It’s as good a point as any to ask why, exactly?
The life of the travel blogger isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds, and it doesn’t really sound that glamorous to begin with. “Verdant,” “sweeping,” and “otherworldly” might sound like nice adjectives, but they do tend to lose their charm after having been written for the thousandth time. For the genuine pleasure of appreciating the delicious play of words in new forms, I could be writing my embarrassingly forsaken poetry. To make shedloads of money, I could be writing copy at an advertising firm, practising my putt-stroke during the lunch break. Let’s face it, blogwriting isn’t particularly well-paid.
Well, then: why?
It helps that I write for something I believe in. I hope that, throughout every ridiculous “Top 5 Foods,” daggy “observations” of Colombian life, and occassional whinge, that my heart-felt love for this bafflingly contradictory, dysfunctional, and – at times – downright annoying place I just happened to land in somehow shines through. The different characters (here I’d just like to point out that I haven’t been called “Gilesy” since early high school. Thanks, guys.) that have asserted themselves through my writing here – the slightly ignorant, bumbling gringo cheerfully confused about the new life all around him; the strident and dismissive Defender of Colombia from the World; the Count, who continually gets weirder and creepier; the darkly satirical (and possibly donkey-hating) critic of culture; even the world-weary hipster tired of everybody else being infinitely uncooler than himself – all share a deep and unquestioning love of their subject matter, which is always Colombia.
Now that, for reasons we’ll come to in a moment, I’ve finally realised that I live here, and am no longer a traveller, there are some things about life in Bogota (which is where I generally am) to which I can no longer turn a blind eye. For example, the at-times selfish brutality of behaviour on the Transmilenio: there are things all Colombians here have to live with on a daily basis. For all its beauty, generosity,and warmth (even here in rainy Bogota), this can be a hard country. All things considered, I would have a far easier life back in Australia, playing with a cocktail shaker three or four nights a week. Now that I live here, and meet the violet 5 o’clock morning light of November Bogota not because I’ve just left a club but because I’m fighting to get onto a crowded chicken bus with the rest of the workers, this is something I’m becoming more aware of.
Well, then: why?
Writing for See Colombia Travel, I’ve been richly rewarded. I know how fascinating (and awful-tasting) the history of chicha is here. I know what makes a town Colombian. I even know my Carlos E Restrepo from my Rafael Reyes. I know a little bit about why Colombians, even living with the problems hinted at above, seem to be so damn happy so much of the time. Having to learn about the country I happen to be in has helped me to actually, finally, live here. The dangerous, alien Colombia I was too scared to leave the backpacker’s hostel to see quickly transformed into a warm, vibrant, welcoming country, smilingly waiting to reward anybody that makes the effort to try to know it.
And these rewards have been luxuriously, embarrassingly, obscenely bountiful. The people! I know we bang on about it, but, the people! The lady that always gave me a little top-up of my morning orange juice. The guy at the market the other day that continually addressed me as patronito. The staff at that first hostel. Alejandro, the angel of salvation on my Tayrona adventure. My former team-mates, Sarah Duncan and Paul Fowler, whom I sorely miss. My current bosses, team-mates and friends, Marcela, JL and Azzam (Lydia and Carolina: we should hang out more!). There is such a rich diversity of people here, from complete strangers to close friends, that never fail to be warm, generous – a little crazy maybe – and giving. Colombia, the mega-diverse, is a country that so freely and humblingly gives of its riches, just as soon as you’re ready to give a little of yourself.
For me, this is most richly demonstrated by the feature photo, that, for once, WordPress didn’t bafflingly crush beyond recognition. Sahani Giles Rosales, just four months away from greeting Colombia face-to-face, you are already a treasure completely unlooked-for, but one that I feel obscenely fortunate to share.
Colombia, I can’t wait for this next year.