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Colombia: Don't be scared away

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Joined: 22 Oct 2002
Posts: 117
Location: Los Angeles, California

PostPosted: Fri Feb 28, 2003 1:34 am    Post subject: Colombia: Don't be scared away Reply with quote

After only just a light perusal of the postings related to Colombia, I knew that I had to post. I have been living in Colombia for the past year, working on a tourist visa. (A visa that I overextended by 4.5 months.) While I didn't get the university job I was after, I had absolutely no trouble finding work in BogotŠ or Bucaramanga, a beautiful city a few hours from the Venezuelan border. I found that private lessons paid the best, by far, but the students are notoriously flojos (flaky). I picked up a number of students just by talking to other English teachers and I picked up more with a classified ad in El Tiempo. I ended up working at a place in BogotŠ called Multilingua, which worked great for me. While they were bit unorganized (something which seems to be a problem everywhere in the ESL/EFL world), I always had a great working relationship with my colleagues and was ALWAYS paid on time. Ironically, I met a few people that were hired on as "native speakers" even though English was their second or third language. (There is a big stereotype that every foreigner is a native English speaker!)

As far as the safety issue goes, you must learn that there are two types of people out there: those that tell you to watch your back everywhere and those who tell you to ignore all the warnings. I would be among the latter....for me, it's the only way. For example, lots of Colombians will tell you that you canít travel by bus in between cities and, for your safety, the only way to travel is flying. They also tell you not to travel by night bus. Well, I only travel by night bus (it will save you a nights lodging somewhere, but you do miss the INCREDIBLE sights that Colombia has to offer). Those same Colombians will warn you about traveling to any city that you plan on visiting. Sometimes they are right, sometimes they are just paranoid Colombians whose salaries separate them from the reality others experience. (Not many people can afford to travel by plane, even though everyone tells you itís the only way to go). As far as the FARC, three friends of mine have encountered them. One was camping at Parque Purace near Popayan, something which many people will tell you is a BIG "no no!" A small group of the guerilla was camping next to him. He talked with them, used their bathroom, and became friends. (They told him not to worry because their individual group didnít have authorization to kidnap anyone!) Another friend ran into them about a month ago, he said it was pretty intense, but everything was cool. He even got them to stamp his passport. The last guy was not so lucky. He was actually kidnapped by the ELN several years ago. But, something which needs to be known, he was working for an oil company. The targets of kidnapping are usually the rich, especially those who work for multinational companies...... it is a business, and it would be bad business to kidnap some traveling hippie kid for money. Anyway, my friend was lucky enough to escape after three weeks of captivity. He explained that, aside from sleeping on the jungle floor, he was treated rather well and actually made friends with his captors, to whatever extent a hostage can make friends. While I donít want to meet the FARC, ELN, or AUC personally, I have to travel to the areas that they occupy. It is such an incredibly beautiful country that to miss these places would be a sin. (And I certainly canít wait for it to be safer or the fighting to stop; the war has been going on for 40+ years and doesnít seem to be slowing)

The only thing I can recommend to you about Colombia is that you make up your own mind about it. The people are pure Latinos (warm, hospitable, genuine, overly concerned about image, excellent dancers, a bit chauvinistic and sometimes racist, concerned with status, loyal friends, full of emotion, usually ready to party until 6am, etc.) and the only way to experience them is to go there. One major bonus to living in Colombia is the Spanish, which many native Spanish speakers will tell you is the best form spoken today. The danger is not as great as it is made out to be (They say that anywhere from 3000-5000, or more, people die every year as a result of the war. Well, in a country of 40 million people, that's 0.0125 percent of the population. That means 99.9875 percent of the population is still living). I do not feel threatened traveling around BogotŠ, actually I feel more threatened in parts of Memphis or Atlanta. To miss the opportunity to see Colombia because you actually listened to the US state dept's warning or read about it in some book like "Robert Young Pelton's the World's Most Dangerous Places" would be your loss. (Pelton's book says, if you survive the 7.5 mile drive from the airport into BogotŠ, you will immediately be a target for thieves, pickpockets, etc. Well, maybe if you are the type of moron to buy that book, you would be the type of gringo to stand out as a target.)
These are the types of questions you have to answer for yourself. As for me, I didn't ask any questions on the front end before I bought my one-way ticket there and have had absolutely no regrets.

If you have any questions feel free to email me at [email protected]

BogotŠ and Bucaramanga

Posted: December 14, 2002
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