There are countries and destinations whose very names are synonyms for adventure. Until recent years Colombia was one of them, known to the outside world primarily for drugs, guerrilla groups and a dislike for players who score own goals in World Cups.
But when I travelled through Ecuador earlier this year, it seemed that almost every traveller I met had just come south from Colombia – South America’s most infamous nation had gone the travel equivalent of viral. This week I’ll be joining them, as I set out on my own journey through Colombia.
In Ecuador I learned a few things about Colombia. Mostly that the border between the two countries was a true divide. In the north of Ecuador, army roadblocks rewarded Colombian drivers and passport holders with the prize of a free and thorough vehicle search. Elsewhere, Ecuadorians complained about Colombians crossing the border to steal their cars and burgle their homes.
This coming trip I expect to hear the flipside, Colombians bitching about Ecuadorians. That’s the nature of demonising others – they’re different, so they’re at fault for something. Anything. In Australia we call it our refugee policy.
In my time in Ecuador, I encountered only one danger from Colombia, and it came from deep beneath the ground. As I slept off my jetlag in Quito one morning, the city suddenly began to move. Two hundred kilometres away, an earthquake had struck near the Colombian town of Yacuanquer. It measured 6.9 on the Richter scale and it reverberated like a wobble board through to Quito.
My hotel room was on the seventh floor, and as the building flailed about like a sapling in a wind, I waited out the quake beneath the doorframe of my bathroom. Water from the toilet bowl slopped over the bathroom floor, and together the building and I surfed for about five minutes, each sway getting slightly smaller than the last. Then we went on with our days.
This time, when I actually enter Colombia on Thursday, I’m hoping for something a little less seismic.
Adventure before Avarice is travelling to Colombia with the South America Travel Centre.