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The Trekkers' Survival Guide to Colombia

Along the course of our adventures, we have learned a number of important facts about traveling. We thought we'd share the basics with you - in case you're planning a trip to Colombia sometime soon! Take our advice, and don't learn everything the hard way. Shawn can attest to the importance of keeping your eye on your pack and only bringing stuff you can stand to lose. Abeja and Kevin learned about the Consulate's warning AFTER they traveled through a guerrilla war zone. May you be well prepared for your next trip. Happy Trails!


5 "Thank My Lucky Stars I Thought of This!" Tips

1) Don't Get Stuck in Colombia - Keep several photocopies of your passport, airline tickets and travelers' check numbers on you at all times and leave copies with someone you trust and can access at home. Imagine yourself being asked htese questions and not having copies of that sutff: Who are you? How do you planning on getting home? What proof do you have that someone stole your money?

Unless you have documentation, you're going to have to deal with a lot of hassles, extra expenses, and time defending yourself to the American Embassy. That's just the upside - you could be stuck indefinitely in Colombia without money for food or shelter.

If you can fit inside your suitcase, it is probably too big!
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2) Huge Suitcases are a Drag - Think about what you are going to be doing the entire trip - moving. Carrying luggage of any kind is going to be a drag, so stick to the bare necessities: a backpack, comfortable shoes, flip-flops (for germ infested bathrooms), a basic set of clothes, and a waterproof jacket. A basic emergency kit for minor medical ailments is also advisable. A travel alarm clock or a watch with an alarm is critical for catching early morning buses. A flashlight is a great idea for blackouts, visiting caves and helping you find your way in the dark. A camera and film will help you document your trip. If you wear glasses or contacts, bring an extra pair. You don't want to miss the sites once you're down there. You're going to want to have your stuff with you at all times or locked up in a hostel. If you bring used stuff insted of new, you won't look like a big bullseye for thieves. Definitely leave your diamond necklaces and gold watches at home.

3) Homework! - Awww, but, this is vacation. Still, the more you know about Colombia before you go there, the more you're going to get out of your trip. Check out travel books, the web, and your local library to learn more about the country. Focus on what interests you, be it geography, trekking, or the Indians of the Sierra Nevada.

Tap Water = Bad, Bottled Water = Good
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4) Drink Coke, Not Water - Well, you should drink water, too, but not from the tap. Stomach aches and diarrhea are the most common travel health problems. Stick to bottled water and avoid cold drinks made with water. That means That means no ice or fruit juice made with tap water. (And THAT means NO sno cones in Panama!) Hot drinks such as tea and coffee should be ok since the water is boiled.

5) Dondé está el bano? and Cuanta cuesta? - If you only know two Spanish phrases, memorize these. "Where is the bathroom?" and "How much does it cost?" You will use these phrases repeatedly every day. A Spanish/English dictionary is an excellent investment. Politeness, hand gestures and a smile can get you a long way. Muchas gracias.


5 "How Could I Be So Stupid?!" Things To Avoid

1) Jail - Jail is the worst place to be in Colombia. Avoid it at all costs.

You should read the State Department alerts BEFORE you go!
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2) Guerrilla Warfare - Guerrilla warfare is slightly better than jail. At least, you have a chance of escape. Check with the Colombian Consulate to find out which areas to avoid. The U.S. State Travel Warnings issues reports on travel safety. You can find them at http://travel.state.gov/colombia_warning.html. Sometimes, they recommend avoiding the entire country. They have a strong warning out right now, but that didn't deter us.

3) My Favorite Army Surplus Pants - No matter how comfortable they are, don't bring khaki colored clothing or army surplus articles. You do not want to look like a soldier or a guerrilla. You'll increase your chances of being shot.

Click image for larger view
We recommend that you leave your favorite army outfit at home! caption
4) I'll Put All My Money in My Pocket to Keep it Safe - That's a great way to lose all of your money. You should only keep a small amount of money in your pocket. Pickpocketing is a common method of theft. The favorite settings for thieves are crowded places: markets, bus terminals, and festivals. Keep a day pack or a fanny pack hidden and strapped to your front so you can keep a constant eye on it. Keep the bulk of your money in traveler's checks and exchange small amounts. You can reclaim lots checks, but you can't reclaim lost money.

5) Nakedness is not good! - "It was so hot that I thought it was perfect weather for shorts and a t-shirt." Wrong! Mosquitoes are prevalent throughout Colombia, especially in the rainforest regions, along certain parts of the Caribbean coast, and during the rainy season. Itchy bites can cause a lot of discomfort. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shorts, use mosquito repellent, and avoid highly scented perfume or aftershave. "Let's run barefoot through the rainforest." Noooooo! The most common form of worms, hookworms, is usually caught by walking barefoot on infected soil. The worms bore through the skin, attach to the intestinal wall, and suck your blood. Worms can also be contracted if you eat unwashed vegetables or undercooked meat.


1 "I Never Would Have Thought of This?!" Item

We have been using the Lonely Planet Guidebooks!
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Letter of Introduction - Believe it or not, travelers to Colombia are advised to carry a letter of introduction with them when exploring remote areas, especially regions known for guerrilla activity. Now, we're not talking about a letter from your parents that says they love you. A proper letter of introduction should be from an organization, i.e. your school, Spanish club, art institute, tourist office... The letter should simply state, in SPANISH, your purpose in Colombia and explain why photography is part of your program. You don't want anyone thinking you're a journalist. The letter is not for the guerrillas. They could probably care less if you have a letter that says you're a crazy traveler. Rather, the letter is for the military or police forces patrolling the area. You certainly don't want them to think you're collaborating with the guerrillas. And what does the Colombian government like? Official looking documents - the more stamps and signatures on the document, the better.

Of course, one of the best ways to prepare yourself is to continue following The Odyssey online! Stay tuned for our latest and greatest adventures!

The Team
 

Odysseys of Another Era
Guerrilla War: A Daily Reality in Colombia
Making a Difference - The Fate of Colombian Killers
 
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