When I arrived in Colombia, I didn’t know what to expect. To many, especially my relatively conservative Chinese parents, Latin America is synonym with numerous things-many positives, but more negatives.
My dad’s reaction to this three-week journey was almost silly. He barely uttered a word.
In recent years, my ventures have brought me to some countries deemed ‘unsafe’ by the general public. My dad, especially the protective soul, usually send articles of warning before my departure. Whether it be a murder in one country or a rape in another, these ‘words of wisdom’ often gave me lots of confidence in my already purchased plane tickets.
I mean, what makes a trip better than expecting for the worst? 🙂
So it was a complete surprise that he remained comment-less when I decided to start exploring South America-my 5th continent, this year.
Colombia, with its vibrant culture and delicious food, was the obvious first choice.
My journey began in the mountainous town of San Gil. Within 3 days, I was entirely taken away by the region’s natural beauty and warmhearted people. My initial hesitation in traveling alone quickly evaporated with the cheerful atmosphere and charming architecture.
Following the short stay, I boarded a towards Bogota, Colombia’s sprawling capital, unaware that my Couchsurfing host actually lived outside of the city.
Dissecting Soacha, Bogota
Soacha is a borough on the outskirts of the capital. Sometimes referred to as the most dangerous neighborhood in Bogota, the township housed one of the most infamous criminal networks during the Uribe presidency. Indisputably, the presence of armed groups and poverty has greatly undermined Soacha’s development.
Oblivious to this, I giddily spent a few days wandering the streets of Soacha and admiring the beautiful mountains that surrounded the town.
And thank god I did.
Thanks to my host family, my stay in Soacha was nothing but enjoyable.
Home Away from Home in Soacha, Bogota
The minute I arrived at Aldo’s house, I felt at home.
Tucked away on a quiet street, the three-floor building was incredibly cozy. Aldo’s mother, Clarita, was a seamstress. Her savvy personality and hardworking ethics led to several companies and factories. Now retired, she happily manages the household and designs lingerie on the side. It was fascinating.
Despite the language barrier (Can’t believe I went to Colombia with non-existent Spanish), the whole family was incredibly accommodating.
With the help of Google Translator, they made sure that I felt at home, was well fed, and enjoyed my stay.
When the family discovered that I didn’t bring enough clothes for the trip (I was ignorant of the vastly different weather Colombia’s dynamic altitudes could cause), they searched high and low for warm attire that I could wear. Later, they even gifted me presents to remind me of Colombia’s hospitality!
Hiking Salto de Tequendama
The next day, accompanied by good weather and great people, I boarded the ‘Tequendama’ bus towards Salto de Tequendama. Once there, I was immediately drawn to the picturesque landscape. Other than the occasional vehicle and some chatter down the highway, the area was secluded.
The water tumbled down the 132 m high cliff, splashing against the rocks below. From time to time, the leaves and branches that covered the face of the slope would sway in the cool August breeze.
I stood on the edge of the cliff, mesmerized by the simple beauty of it all.
Locals come to the area as a weekend escape. The highway beside the waterfalls provided a space for food, chatter, and rest. Little stalls lined the street, and women grilled plates of delicacies including chicken, corn on the cob, and sausages.
The appetizing smell and smoky warmth that the coal stoves produced filled the air.
Lovebirds sat on the grass opposite the falls.
Families sat within roadside eateries enjoying a meal.
The getaway has a genuine realness that tourist hotspots often lack.
Biking in the Andes
Aside from the falls and delicious cuisine, one of my favorite moments in Soacha was biking in the Andes.
The Andes is the longest continental mountain range in the world and highest outside of Asia.
Bogota sits on the East Andes. Its weather is generally between 5-20°C year round. Accompanied by cloudy days and windy nights, the region makes for great kiting weather.
Hector, my host, took me biking through the mountains. We started off on the busy streets of Soacha, navigating between oncoming traffic, street vendors, and crowds of pedestrians.
Once we passed the craziness of the town center, we were embraced by the calmness of the country roads. Colombia is a biking nation. On this splendid day, we rode our bikes alongside many others who were seeking a weekend getaway.
In the mountains, families and friends crowded together and chatted around. Numerous kites flew freely in the mid-afternoon sky.
Lying on the grass, enjoying the fresh breeze, and watching our kite flutter gently in the wind, I felt incredibly at ease.
I was blown away by how genuine Aldo and Hector’s family and friends are. Their love for life, concern for strangers, and attentive hospitality are testaments to the beauties in a world that is so often preoccupied with the fear of the unknown.
Although my stay in Soacha was short, it is yet another instance where I felt incredibly humbled by the strangers I’ve come to meet on the road.
Yes, Soacha has a high crime rate.
Yes, it is considered dangerous to many.
Nonetheless, the people, the culture, the landscape that I experienced warrants a visit back to this welcoming borough. Hopefully soon.
From the streets of Medellin to the colorful city of Guatape, from the beautiful colonial walls of Cartagena to the depth of Tayrona National Park, Colombia offers lots of things to do. I hope you enjoy the country as much as I did!
What a beautiful adventure!