MY DIARY
How Colombia Broke My Travel Spirit
“It’s like I went through some sort of sadistic hazing ritual created by the backpacking gods. And, I don’t know if I’ve officially been jumped into the gang yet or not.”

Dear Diary |

I love to travel, but I finally understand why more people don’t do it.
If it was a cake walk everyone would be doing it.
I had no idea how hard life on the road can be.

Colombia was spectacular, but boy did it test every ounce of my patience.

Usually I’m a glass half full kind of girl [or, at least I like to think so],
But, just a heads-up, this diary entry is 100% glass half empty.
Because, this lil wanderer needs a proper venting session.

Okay…since that’s sorted, let’s dive into this shit sandwich called Colombia.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I went, and I don’t regret it.
I knew bad stuff was bound to happen.
But, I didn’t realize how relentless it could be.
Especially, on my very first solo backpacking trip.

It’s like I went through some sort of sadistic hazing ritual created by the backpacking gods.
And, I don’t know if I’ve officially been jumped into the gang yet or not.

The amount of resistance I experienced was laughable.
Actually, it wasn’t funny at all. 

At one point I told, more like whined to, my boyfriend that if this was the status quo…
I was packing up shop and giving up on my travel dream.
This was one emotional rollercoaster I didn’t want to ride anymore.

It made me sick to my stomach thinking about giving up on my dream.

Not to mention, I sold 95% of my belongings and my life back would be expensive AF!
Especially, without a steady income.
And, I’d rather die before going back to Corporate America.

My biggest lesson learned…
Never tell people to, “just go travel.”. 

It takes a special kind of person to live on the road. 

It requires…

  • Being okay with the unknown
  • Thinking fast on your feet
  • Finding clever ways to communicate
  • Never giving up [aka perseverance]
  • Being resourceful
  • Staying alert at all times [aka keeping your head on a swivel]
  • Constant desire to research and plan
  • Being confident
  • Standing your ground
  • Knowing when you’re being scammed/taken advantage of
  • And, so much more

Okay…my fingers are ready for this.
Let’s see how many layers this shit sandwich has exactly.

It all began as soon as I touched down in Bogota

  • Before I left, I had a custom rose gold pinky ring made, because I wanted something to remind me of home. All my other jewelry was sitting in a safe. After I got off the plane, I went to the bathroom quickly. As I’m starting to wash my hands, a guy wheels in an older woman. But, instead of waiting outside while she did her business, he stands five feet away from me against the wall, and proceeds to stare at me. Super awkward and uncomfortable. Well, I always remove my jewelry when I wash my hands. Soap and lotion are horrible for the metal. I placed my ring on the heavily speckled granite countertop, grabbed the paper towels, the guy awkwardly locked eyes with me, which distracted me so I quickly grabbed my backpack, and got out of there. Guess where my brand-new, $400, rose gold pinky ring was? Yep, still sitting right on the countertop. Only problem, I didn’t even realize it was missing until I walked through the giant ass airport with my heavy backpack, waited in a giant taxi line, and got halfway to my hostel in La Candelaria. I thought about going back, but quickly talked myself out of it. My Spanish was complete shit, the bathroom was past airport security, nor did I know which bathroom it was actually in, and I just finished 18 straight hours of travel. But, if you know me, I HATE LOSING STUFF! It really fucks with me, and I obsess over it. I told myself “it is what it is” and tried to move on. So, hopefully some little girl liked her new bling. Funny part is, I still haven’t learned my lesson. I still take my replacement ring [white gold this time] off while washing my hands, but I’m smart enough to put it in my pocket now. Wanna take bets to see how long this one lasts?

 

  • I naively booked a hostel for the entire month I was there. Because, it looked nice enough and a private room was $12/night. I now know backpackers typically book a place for 1-2 nights max. Because, I had no idea if I’d like the place or where it’s located. Since I was walking everywhere it’s smart to switch up the location to explore more parts of the city. I also assumed I’d be staying in Bogota the entire 25 days, which was dumb in hindsight. It’s easy to extend the reservation or move to a new location. The taxi arrived, I got out, rang the doorbell, and a gentleman approached me and started speaking rapid-fire Spanish. I kept saying, “reservation” and started pulling up the HostelWorld app on my phone. More Spanish flew, so I tried to open Google Translate, but I was brand-new at it and super inefficient which made it ineffective. The guy called over to another man. The new gentleman threw a whole bunch of Spanish at me as well. I kept showing him the reservation on my phone. He kept repeating the word, “No”. I was like WTF?! He finally took out a key and opened the front door. I walked in, and the entire place was under construction and in shambles. My heart sank and my mind started racing. Wtf am I going to do? How am I going to get my money back? Where am I going to stay? My backpack was heavy as shit, and there wasn’t a taxi in sight, I was in a super rustic part of town with the narrow streets. I asked the guy to help me find a taxi. We started walking towards the police officers armed with AK-47s. Oh great. I finally got HostelWorld working and found another hostel about a block away. I walked over there and checked in thankfully. It was lacking in cleanliness, but I didn’t know what to expect, because I didn’t have a basis for comparison. Welcome to Colombia baby!

 

  • Botanico Hostel was cute and full of beautiful plants, but I preferred not to look at anything too closely. I don’t know why I elected to stay there for 3 nights. Again, I should’ve stayed 1 night and reassessed in the morning. Lesson reinforced. The room was cutely decorated, but there were hairs all over my bed, it was freezing, the WiFi connection was horrible, the shared bathrooms were less than desirable, and my fly swatter came out more than once. Here are some more hostel highlights…
    • The showers were something else. The shower heads and shower curtains were hanging on by a thread. Flip flops were non-negotiable. Showering felt like a game of chicken, because the temp varied from second to second. One second it was perfect, the next scalding hot, and the next freezing cold. 
    • For the 3 days I was there, they turned the entire place into a film studio. There was a film crew of 30-40 people walking around all day with lights and camera gear. Telling me, “Shhhh!” and when and where I could walk. It was quite relaxing. Not. 
    • The water supply worked intermittently, which meant the toilets didn’t flush, showering and washing hands was out of the question, and the breakfast dishes sat dirty. On my last morning, Mother Nature came knocking. Hard. I tried to hold it as long as I could, but I finally called Uncle. So, someone received a nice surprise in one of the stalls. Oops.

 

  • On day 3, I hiked Monserrate and captured a ton of amazing footage, went to lunch, and on my way back to the hostel got my iPhone 11 Pro Max stolen out of my hand by a guy on a motorbike. I fucking lost it! My phone was my life line. I lost all the photos and videos I spent hours taking. And, I don’t take photos half ass. I use the grid, measure the lighting, take really smooth videos, wait as long as it takes for the rooster to crow, etc. I even captured a blind man and old woman hiking up this super steep mountain. Witnessing something like that really puts life into perspective. Me and my first world problems. The dude hikes up this stair stepper trail at 10k feet elevation and doesn’t even get to take in the gorgeous view at the top. I’m so bummed I couldn’t share it with everyone. But, the memory lives on in my mind. For a more detailed version of this tragic event check out my Crazy Klepto Colombia and How to get your phone stolen in Colombia posts. Long story short, it took 7-8 days, countless hours, and thousands of dollars to make me whole again. The insurance company wouldn’t ship me a replacement phone internationally. It was $600 for my boyfriend to ship me a phone from Vancouver. Which didn’t even include the cost of the new phone. I thought about buying one off of FB Marketplace [sketchy AF]. I thought about flying to Brazil or Mexico to go to an actual Apple Store vs. a verified reseller. I considered scrapping the entire trip, because I came specifically to document the journey. Thank god my boyfriend was available to make countless calls to different vendors, and I had a friend living in Colombia that spoke fluent Spanish.

 

  • My friend in Colombia got me a new, prepaid, Claro SIM Card purchased by her friend. This prepaid SIM card route is definitely cheaper than GigSky. But, the activation, recharging, and plan activation process isn’t straightforward at all. I would’ve never figured it out by myself. She taught me how to recharge it [aka add money for more data] at the corner store by giving them my phone number, and how to go through the data plan selection process by calling *611#. Basically, I committed the number selections to memory, since my Spanish is horrible. My data would randomly quit working constantly. My first thought was to recharge it, because I had no idea how to check the remaining balance. I tried downloading the Claro App, but it asked me to verify my identity. Well, my identity didn’t match her friend’s identity, since it was her card, so I couldn’t access the app. FML! I did all that just to find out Claro service randomly stops working and has nothing to do with my data limits. Claro is also a main Telco and WiFi provider in Colombia. So, when the service was down, I didn’t have access to cell data or WiFi. This was fun when I was trying to catch a taxi to a bus station, trying to communicate crucial instructions/directions when Google Translate wasn’t working [the offline mode can be finicky], and figuring out where to buy a bus ticket to Salento in a huge bus terminal. Oh, and paying 20 MIL to recharge my Claro card, it never hits my card, and having to pay double to actually get data. And, the store was closed the day I left for a new city.

 

  • My second hostel, Bandido Hostel, looked really nice. I dropped my stuff off with a friend, got in an Uber, looked down, and saw I’m bleeding all over the place. I must’ve cut myself on something without knowing it. Later that night, I’m sitting in my room and hear someone sweeping. I look out my third story window that’s closed, and I see an old man sweeping the sidewalk. Then, a motorbike whizzed by and it sounded like the motorbike was driving across my room. The windows, at best, must’ve been ½ pane. Thank goodness I had my Rohm [white noise maker] and wax earplugs to fight through the bulk of the noise.

 

  • My friends and I drove down to Tatacoa Desert for a few nights. Our rental car experience was interesting. The lady at the front desk woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Thank goodness my friend spoke Spanish and sorted out why my card was being temporarily charged ~2,000,000 MIL Colombian pesos. The same friend helped us find the tiny dirt road to Tatacoa Desert, since it wasn’t marked at all. Both hostels/hotels had no hot water. We smelled like hot sewage after sweating our asses off in Tatacoa. I took a sink shower at the second place but ended up with so much dried soap on me I was better off staying dirty. Side note, Localiza charges you to wash the car. If you elect to add it up-front it’s cheaper than if you bring the car back dirty and they add it after the fact. Wanna guess which one I was? Yep, the a-hole that got charged more at the end.

 

  • I love making memories with friends, but traveling with others is way more complicated and challenging at times. My one friend is the sweetest, most charismatic person you’ll ever meet, but she can’t be on time to save her life. It’s super frustrating when we’re trying to plan activities, do sunrise hikes [where she’s throwing up over the side of the wall, because she went out the night before], get on the road in time for me to catch my flight to Medellin, get to Mac Center to buy a phone before they close, or trying to meet up for food before I depart home for the States. It’s also fun planning a day trip with potentially 6 other people, asking them to confirm because I’m paying $77 USD to rent a car for the day, and every single one of them bails on me at the last minute. So, traveling with people might be ideal for others, but I prefer to be a lone wolf who sets my own schedule, tone, pace, owns 100% of the responsibility, and doesn’t have to compromise on anything. I’ll never try to coordinate with friends again. In the end, it was way too much time, effort, mental anguish, and stress. The pain in the ass factor was too great.

 

  • Driving in Colombia is like the Wild Wild West. I had to dodge people walking, vendors selling stuff, massive speed bumps, dogs, motorbikes, cars, trucks, police officers, and giant semis on super windy highways with only one lane. While frantically driving 7-8 hours from Huila to catch my flight out of Bogota to Medellin, our directions on Google Maps decided to reroute us completely out of the way which would cause me to miss my flight. It’s okay, I only had a minor panic attack. There are only 2-3 routes to get in and out of Bogota, which has a population of 8-9 Million. We were heading towards the South entrance. Well, it rerouted us to the North one. Come to find out there was an accident on the South side of town, which shut down the entire road. We kept driving in the hope that the accident would clear up in time. Google Maps kept automatically rerouting us, so we had to get clever and map to a destination right before the accident to keep us on the right route. My friend kept checking the Bogota Transito Twitter feed for near real-time updates. Thankfully, our plan worked and the accident cleared up, and the route opened back up in time for me to catch my flight to Medellin. Phew!

 

  • I had Credit Card issues for days! Neither my Chase Sapphire or Debit Card worked at certain ATMs in Bogota. I was getting charged international transaction fees up the wazoo, and I didn’t know it’s best to decline all currency conversions on POS [restaurants and stores] & ATM terminals. On my largest ATM withdrawal I thought declining the conversion would cancel the transaction. Nope. Accepting the conversion tacked on a 6.5% conversion fee for $600 USD. And, Chase sent me a new Sapphire card after I left but somehow activated it on the back-end so my old Expiration Date and CVV no longer worked. Both my Uber and Airbnb apps were wigging out even after I went through the bank verification process. I put travel notices on all accounts and that did nothing. I was ordering Rappi [Colombian UberEats] via my business credit card, because it was the only one that worked. I ended up using my bf’s credit card on Uber. Airbnb would only let me book one Experience at a time, and I had to toggle between both of my accounts. So annoying. I contacted Airbnb support, and they directed me to the bank. I called the bank and they directed me to Airbnb. Such a circle jerk of bullshit!

 

  • Colombia is hella serious about their COVID protocols. I’ve never had my temperature checked so much. Well, the cases started spiking when I got back for the second time, and the government instituted a rule called, Pico y Cedula, where restaurants and public places served people on certain days based on the last digit of their ID/Passport. Of course, both my ID and Passport end in an even number. So, every other day I couldn’t sit in restaurants or visit museums even though I was a tourist. Thankfully, I embraced my inner bad girl and started lying everywhere. I also had my hotel concierge call the museum and ask them to let me in, because I couldn’t go any other day. 

Phew! My fingers are tired.
11 layers in this shit sandwich.
I’m sure there’s more, but that’s all I got for now.
Absolute cluster fuck, right?

None of the above was that bad on its own,
But, when they started compounding on top of each other, I literally lost my shit!

It almost completely broke me.
But, it didn’t.
And, because of that…
Colombia will always have a special place in my heart.
It popped my backpacking cherry. 

But, I definitely don’t need to deal with this bullshit every place I travel. 

Am I the only one that had this much trouble in my first destination?
Come on…misery loves company.
Share your story below.

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