Apr 18

40 Life Lessons We’ve Learnt From Living in Colombia (Part 1)

Colombian flags flying in Cartagena

1. How to spell the name of the country.

It’s a good start!


2. There is more to a country than what you find in a guide book.

One of the great things about Colombia is that there are so many towns, villages and regions that tourists know so little about and that don’t even get a mention in guide books. There are just too many. Within a couple of hours of any of the major cities you will be spoilt for choice by the number of different places to visit, each of which will offer you an entirely different, but equally amazing, experience.


3. That the Spanish word for “goal” is actually spelt with a thousand “o’s.”

Essential viewing to understand the absurdity of Latin American football commentary.


4. That the humble arepa can become the source of intense debate and wildly differing opinions.

Just take Paul and JL’s arepa debate as an example.


5. Good clubs don’t need to cost the earth.

Hit up most of Bogota’s hipster or trendy clubs and you might be expecting to pay an arm and a leg. But either they haven’t cottoned on to the fact that they could be charging more than $2 for a beer or they just don’t care. Even a trip to one of the posher joints might initially have you ranting about the extortionate price of entry and a bottle until you realize you’re spending about the same as you would on a night at Wetherspoon’s.


6. Dancing Salsa is apparently very easy.

As a foreigner who, even back in the UK, is considered one of the world’s least talented dancers, you might think that being surrounded by a bunch of incredibly rhythmic Latinos gyrating their hips in an eerily hypnotic fashion might be daunting. Yet, it seems that here I am much more inclined to dance than back home. This is probably because everyone is fascinated by a talentless stick attempting to forge some kind of semblance of a dance and women are very keen to show me the ropes. This is where they break Salsa down into two very simple phrases – “feel the music” and “move your hips”. If I could do either of those things I wouldn’t need their help. So I should be grateful that I can’t I suppose.


7. That you can’t judge a country by its reputation, and most “official” warnings needlessly scare you.

At first you’re like:

Then you’re like daaaaaaaamn, what was I thinking? This place is freakin’ awesome.


8. The word, “megadiverse”.

As in the following (true) sentence: “Colombia is the most megadiverse country, by square kilometre, in the world.”



9. That the English language is lamentably deficient when it comes to the description of kinds of fruit.

Yup. Because…


10. …There are more than five types of fruit in the world.

The first time someone offered me some Zapote, I knew from the context that they must have been talking about food. But what? I racked my brains trying to work out whether it was a strange animal or another variety of Colombian soup. When I was presented with a furry brown fruit with huge black seeds I tried to find out what it was called in English but found that there was no name. The same happened to me with Lulo, Guanabana and many others. What’s wrong with a good ol’ fashioned apple?


11. That you don’t need a map.

That is, if you’re ready to ask locals who are generally more than ready to be helpful and friendly. Wandering around with your head up and taking everything in is a much better way to roll, and asking advice can get you chatting to locals.


12. It’s okay to be affectionate.

Touching other people (in a non-creepy way) and generally emoting a little doesn’t do anyone any harm. In fact, it turns out, loosening that stiff upper lip and just talking builds more solid (if louder and more high-pitched) relationships.


13. That taking yage is no game.

Check out my yage diaries for proof of that.


14. That hipsters can be lovable, and not just totes annoying. Babes.

I even considered adopting one…


15. America is the continent, United States is the country.

Admittedly at times there’s a bit of a conflict with this one. Locals are adamant that we foreigners should be saying “The States” instead of “America”, but some stubborn English-speakers refuse, pointing to the fact that, in the English language, there’s no word for estadounidense. Still, I never even knew there was a debate.


16. There is in existence a blended scotch called “Old Parr.”

And that people from the Colombian coast are often involved in an intense love affair with this drink.

costeñooldparr copy


17. Stuff like heritage sites and listed buildings are important.

Unfortunately, due to many factors, Colombian cities rarely have any sentimentality when it comes to old buildings. That beautiful, old colonial house opposite my house? Just got knocked down for a new set of apartments.

It’s understandable since this is a young nation, these are developing cities and this is an economy that is doing its best to defy the crisis, but still. That house just gave the street a bit of character.

There’s always Cartagena, I guess.


18. You can be more of an idiot in a foreign land than you would be back home.

One of the (few) benefits of not being Colombian is that I can get away with saying or doing some pretty outrageous things in social situations that would have me hushed and polite in the UK, but here everyone just looks at me as if to say “oh, it’s fine, he’s foreign, that’s normal”. Some people, unfortunately, are prone to taking this too far.


19. That political incorrectness just isn’t such a big thing in some places.

I refer you to this popular brand of ice cream as exhibit A.

Mimo's ice cream... Racist?
Mimo’s ice cream.


20. That life doesn’t always have to go so fast.

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Colombia was that people here walk very slowly. At first I found it infuriating (and I still do, to an extent), but slowly I became accustomed to that way (unless I’m in a rush). Life doesn’t have to go a million miles an hour; things will get done, the world will keep turning and you’ll probably have a lot lower blood pressure if you take that to heart.


Part (1) Part (2)