Where is John Lama? travel blog

My home base in Bogota. The Suites Real are one-bedroom apartments in...

My friend Nubia brought me to Monserrate, which is one of the...

The view from the cable car was spectacular. As you can see,...

There is a church, restaurant, and other buildings at the top of...

Nubia and I walked around and explored for a while. At 8,000...

As you can see, Nubia is not camera shy!

Found a puppy!

This is the cafe at the Universidad de la Sabana just North...

The Sabana campus was beautiful. It was nice to get out of...

Some of my classmates!

NuevaLengua arranged excursions for us every week. My favorite was horseback riding...

Me and my steed! She was a young horse and liked to...

Juan David is the director for the Bogota campus of NuevaLengua.

Outside of the litigation-crazy US you can rent a horse without signing...

We climbed up a hill to get a better look at the...

 

Gorgeous view up there! Buena vista!

This adorable little girl lived on the farm where we got the...

Her father is teaching her to ride. Cute!

We played a little hide-and-seek after the ride.

I met my buddy Miguel at the Bodytech gym in Bogota. Miguel...

This is Miguel's friend at the racetrack outside Bogota. One of Miguel's...

This is the most recent racecar that Miguel has designed.

Out on the town with miguel's friends. I decided not to remove...

Miguel also knows an unusually large number of beautiful women.

This was a very cool art exhibition in a downtown plaza with...

You didn't think you would get through a whole Latin-American city without...

The Iglesia de San Francisco is near the Candelaria neighborhood in downtown...

The Iglesia de San Francisco is Bogota's oldest surviving church, completed in...

The altar here is spectacular.

Apparently the lower sign says not to take photos. Whoops! Guess I...

I caught this little boy face-first into his cup of ice cream....

I spent most afternoons hanging out at the Juan Valdez Cafe. Great...

View of the gorgeous sky from my table at Juan Valdez Cafe...

This is a bikini in Colombia, not underwear! Good segue to the...

Movie Clips - Playback Requirements - Problems?

(WMV - 935 K)

Instead of panhandling, poor people sell things like gum and snacks at...


US $1 = 2,000 Colombian Pesos (COP)

I really enjoyed the Latin culture in Cuba when I was there in June... warm-hearted people, Caribbean music, salsa dancing, sexy women, and an almost reckless zest for life. It just isn't practical for an American to stay in Cuba very long. I also wanted to learn some Spanish, so I started asking around for suggestions of a country off the "gringo trail" where I could spend some time.

Someone mentioned Colombia as an option and I was intrigued. I have been to Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru which border the country to the east and south, but I didn't know a single person who had been to Colombia. I scanned the travel section at Borders and found two shelves of Brazil, another two shelves of Costa Rica, and no Colombia!?!? Then I found one skinny little Lonely Planet guide for Colombia, that's it!

Well it turns out that Colombia's reputation for murder and mayhem is still widely believed, but the reality now is very different. For example, in the early 90's Medellin was the murder capital of the world, and the city's famous drug lord Pablo Escobar was listed by Forbes magazine as the seventh richest person in the world. More on Escobar By last year, the murder rate in Medellin was 37 killings per 100,000 inhabitants, so you are more likely to get whacked in Washington DC (45), Detroit (42), or Baltimore (42).

Most people credit the strong leadership of Colombia's popular president Alvaro Uribe for the dramatically improved security situation. Uribe was elected in 2002 on a strong anti-violence ticket, and he takes the issue seriously since his father was killed in a botched FARC kidnapping. President Uribe has also forged stronger relations with the United States, with the result that Colombia is now the third-largest recipient of US foreign aid. Colombia's new stability has led to a flood of foreign investment and significantly increased tourism.

Don't get me wrong, Colombia is still not Switzerland. Fighting continues between the government, the left-wing FARC and ELN guerrillas, and the right-wing paramilitary groups. Colombia also remains responsible for over 80% of the cocaine that finds its way to America's streets, and occasional violence still makes international news. What is not usually reported though is that most of the problems are in rural areas far from the places where most people live and tourists visit, and the situation for everyone is dramatically improved.

Seeing Colombians bravely rejecting the remaining narco-thugs and working hard to improve their lives is inspirational. People also know they have a political choice between economic freedom and opportunity, and the socialism that many Latin-American leaders such as Hugo Chavez are imposing on their countries with unfortunate consequences. President Uribe's approval rating is consistently above 80%, so it seems clear that Colombians are choosing the path of liberty and prosperity, and they consider America their ally. I wish my Cuban friends had the same opportunity.

Here is a good article from the UK Guardian about the dramatic recent changes in Colombia. Rebirth of a Nation

I decided I wanted to spend time in the large capital city of Bogotá, the colonial coastal town of Cartagena, and the city of eternal spring Medellin. I found a language school called NuevaLengua that offers classes in all three cities, and they arranged my schedule. My first three weeks were in Bogotá. Check out the photos!



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