A message all the way from Rotterdam, Holland. It is freezing, small boats pass by through the canal in front of our temporarily rented apartment. Mums are making phone-calls while biking their children to school. Yes, definitely back in Holland.
Since mid-2017 I find myself in a non-stopping rollercoaster, with huge up´s and a few downs. One very difficult decision to make was leaving Colombia. The country that stole my heart; surprised and enchanted me. In these blogs I often took the opportunity to tell you about the friendliness of the Colombians, the amazing food, the boosting cities and the stunning landscapes. I hope I could give you some insight in the Colombia I love so much.
But let´s face it: it is not a paradise either. Corruption, poverty, inequality and violence are part of the country too. As a foreigner you shouldn´t try to ignore this other side. Keep your eyes open and you will only find more respect for the inhabitants, their positivity and persistence to make every day a good one.
This blog will be the last one. Therefor I would like to take you with me through the last part of 2017. Don´t worry, I will keep it briefly worded. Just want to give you a glimpse of what has been an amazing, confusing and unforgettable time.
World of colours
In June we made a touristic trip to Caño Cristales – the rainbow river. A small plane took us to La Macarena, about 800 km south of the capital. The plane literally parked in the center of the village, where time seemed to have stood still. Horse drawn carriages passed by while we stepped from the plane onto the main street. Jon was waiting for us there. The two meter tall guide shyly welcomed us. His appearance was one of a friendly, slightly under-weighted giant. He walked us to the hotel, while our bags were carried away by one of the carriages. For a second my mind went suspicious: where is our luggage going? (An adventures day in Manila, the Philippines, explains this paranoid reaction, but that´s a whole other story) One look at Jon and I knew everything would be fine.
Just two hours later we found ourselves in a lancha – a typical elongated jungle boat – on the river Guayabero, watching three different species of monkey´s jumping from one to the other enormous tree. Proudly Jon pointed at several types of birds, vegetation and insects. This man was a walking encyclopedia. He found gigantic poisonous black ants and explained: “ Eat one ant and you will get such an energy-boost, you can continue for days without any food or drinks”. He didn´t need a map or a compass to find the so-called ´tiny Caño Cristales´, that took our breath away. Hundreds of cute looking, silky-soft bubbly plants coloured up the narrow river. The water was lovely refreshing, after the few hours hike in 40-degrees. We ate our lunch – juicy chicken with rice rolled up in a banana leaf – at the bank of this astonishing landscape. It was just the beginning of what a natural miracles we would encounter in the following four days.
I could describe every detail of our trip, but I won´t, ha! You will have to find out for yourself. What I can tell you is that the pink, red, yellow and green colours in the river have a magical effect and even if that´s not impressive enough, then there are waterfalls, rough jeep rides, breath taking views, pink dolphins and encounters with locals. If you ever have the opportunity to go, do it! Beside that it will emotionally affect you in one way or another, you will support the local community after years of being suppressed by the FARC.
Talking about that fun group of guerrillas, I quickly look back at the abduction of two Dutch men in Catatumbo by the ELN, end of June 2017. I was sent to report for the national Dutch newspaper AD, from Cúcuta. It was the scariest, most stressful and instructive work-experience I´ve ever had. Thanks to some very kind locals, the police and fellow reporters, I succeeded in doing my job. Luckily the men were freed after a week. Looking back I sometimes can´t believe I dared to hop-on a motorcycle (with tight skirt) in one of the most dangerous cities of Colombia.
In my opinion, the men have made a big mistake by not getting informed about the risks they were taking by entering this region, with camera´s, drones and microphones. And it irritates me that one of them is now earning money with this ´amazing adventure´ as he refers to it, by publishing a book. He has probably no idea what the impact of their inconsiderate action is. ELN for example got the opportunity to get on a world stage, catching all the international media attention. Beside, people risked their lives with negotiating and going to pick the men up in the middle of the night, in a conflicting area. I think it would adorn the ´victim´ to not look for more attention, but to just be very thankful to the Colombians and to the fact he actually survived – in contrast to a Russian hostage who got killed just a few weeks after by ELN.
At the end of July boyfriend Cris and I were celebrating five years being together. I surprised him with a special dinner at the restaurant of award winning chef Leonor Espinosa, in the center of Bogotá. Definitely worth a visit if you have something to celebrate or just want to go for a luxurious dinner. Also, I gave him ´a little gift´. When he opened the small package with a positive test and baby socks, he couldn´t believe it. Even now, while my belly is expanding rapidly and charmingly getting out of bed is in the past, we can´t believe what´s about to come. We expect our little boy by the end of March.
This amazing news led to the difficult decision we had to make: stay or leave? Although at first I was determined to stay in Colombia, soon I started doubting. In the end it seemed much more logical to go back to Europe and stay close to our families. Fortunately we´ve had the time to fully enjoy Colombia in those last months. Working together with Sytske, friend and colleague, on a radio-assignment in Medellin for example was a great, meaningful experience. It brought back the passion I felt for radio-making.
Friends visiting us was also a nice way to say goodbye to our cherished Colombia. To see the country through the eyes of ´newies´, always makes you see new things as well. Lago de Tota was a wonderful discovery and the small villages of Boyacá are anyway totally worth visiting. Thanks to Pauline and Alex we closed the book of Colombia with a baby-shower barbecue and a very clean, organised apartment. Thanks a lot guys for your patience and help in that last week!
While riding my city bike through the organised streets of Rotterdam, with hip vegan bakery´s and kebab-shops, it hits me: Colombia will never be the same. If I ever return, friends might have left, the park around the corner might have vanished, dog ice-creams might have lost their glimmer. It makes me feel a bit melancholic. But what dominates is the feeling of enormous thankfulness for the opportunity to live in Colombia: to get to know the culture, to meet such kind people, to learn and grow in my work and to make such good new friends. Everyone will continue their lives, spread out over the world, but the memories we´ve made will never fade.
Colombia, ¡siempre estarás en mi corazón!