“Rule #1 – Go and get the money. Rule #2 – Don’t forget to get the money!”
Before visiting Colombia quite frankly the only perception I had was from two of the most notorious drug dealers of all time in Griselda Blanco and Pablo Escobar. That’s all I had ever seen and as a kid it simply fascinated me that there were places where drug dealers actually ran the country. However, when I got there I learned that it was a lot more than cocaine. And perfect empanadas.
We stayed in Cartagena, the 5th largest city in the country. It sits right on the Caribbean ocean and is one of the dreamiest places on earth. The old city which is a legit fortress, is where our hotel was. Construction started back in the early 1600s and lasted almost two centuries. It was built to fight off continuous pirate attacks. You feel the history the moment you enter the walled city. When riding in your taxi from the airport what you immediately notice when looking out the window is how beautiful the people are. A combination of Native descendants, Africans, and Southeast Asians created a magical genealogical soup that birthed a slew of gorgeous human beings. Every possible shade on the brown palette is represented and only crayola could rival its array. They coexist harmoniously in the buzzling hustle of Cartagena like the intertwined roots of the trees that line the streets. Men, women, and children are all unbelievably beautiful. It is to the point that you can’t even believe that there is a place like this that exists. Now look, I’m not shallow. I know that beauty encompasses a lot more than the physical attributes. But hypothetically if we lived in a world where beauty was currency Colombia would by far be the richest country on earth. But that’s just the people.
In preparation for writing this I found myself researching and learning colors I had never even heard of before. One afternoon when we were sitting in the pool there was a school of parakeets that flew above us. Yes, I said parakeets. Not the ones that we’ve put in cages and forced to be our slave. Fuck that. I’m talking about a wild parakeet that makes pit stops at mango trees and pecks at the mango until it falls on the ground and some amber red squirrel comes and picks it up. They were this green color that I had never seen before in real life. I googled “green palette colors” and I learned that the color of that particular green is called parakeet! Crazy shit!
On every corner in the city there were people with coconuts striking a hole in the top for people to enjoy for 5000 Colombian pesos. Which is equivalent to a little more than 1 US dollar. The biggest and most scrumptious avocados, mangoes, watermelons. It is fruit heaven. I kept thinking to myself the whole time I can’t believe we pay anywhere from $3 to $5 a pound for this shit back in the states and here it’s just too many of them!
as I paint this picture of paradise, simultaneously, there is another reality being played out.
Yes the city is gorgeous, the people are beautiful, the scenery is spectacular, but the whole time you are giving in or holding your ground. All of these wonderful things do not remove the fact that Colombia is still a 3rd world country where people do what they have to do to survive because of a multitude of reasons. The people that call this place home have to fend for themselves and it is a dog eat dog world. If you are a tourist, understand: you’re going to get hustled! From sun up to sun down all day. It’s simply a part of the experience. Interacting with beggars, being coerced, it’s all a part of it and the kids are the most clever. Tugging at your heartstrings as they gesture signs of starvation in your face. What do you do? How do you respond?
Street food vendors are selling their best Colombian snack lobbying for your attention. Hat man, bracelet man, excursion man, massage lady, souvenir person. All. Day. Long.
However, Colombia was not as scary as it was portrayed in the media the past decade of my life. These were good people who are in impoverished situations doing the best they can. They are intentional about eating that night and I ask myself what would I do if I was in a similar situation? What would be my hustle?
We’re all just a product of our circumstances. I can’t do anything but respect it. Although the shit is annoying and exhausting, I can’t fault them at all. When you understand the conditions of a place it’s easier to accept it. Money is the universal motivation. Money is the universal desire. Those with it are considered successful, and envied. And those without it are striving to get in that seat. This way of thinking was adopted into the minds of the natives when the imperialists came. And that mindset stayed. Just like in America.
As a matter of fact when I look at it, America is not much different than Colombia. We value money more than our citizens but we would rather be deceptive about it. We’d rather exploit it by hacking into people’s psychology conveying a story to their emotions. At least in Colombia it’s direct and to the point and I appreciate that. Shit I guess everybody no matter where you go is really on the same thing. The more extreme the circumstances the more creative we become.