9 Things I learned in Colombia

1.) Hey I can Milk a cow.

In fact, lots of people have cows and can milk cows with amazing speed. For every spray of milk the width of a human hair that I was able to coax from the slippery, snot-covered, udder, the woman milking with me was easily extracting four spaghetti width cascades with a nonchalant air.

Herding cows, separating babies from the mothers during milking, and tying necessary knots were other practical skills I picked up while working on a cow farm for a week near Gambita, Colombia.



2.) Great chess players are everywhere in Colombia, and sometimes they show up in an unexpected body. I carry a board with me, and I always ask people if they play. The man covered in mud, wearing his work boots after a hard day in the coffee fields has surprised me with a flawless attack on more than one occasion (2 occasions). 15,000 games online simply isn’t adequate preparation for a man that learned from his father night after night by candlelight when there was nothing else to do but play.

After 40 games or so in Colombia; my win percentage is somewhere around 50%.


3.) When a dragon wants to borrow your bike, you give it to him, no questions asked (mostly for Garth)…

This dragon had important business to attend to.

This dragon had important business to attend to.


4.) The people, the people, the people, wow, they are warm and giving! Bike travelers (specifically gringos) are superstars in Colombia. 25 honks and 100 huge smiles a day was not uncommon. The excitement for cycle tourists increases ten fold in the mountains, where almost every passing car will honk for you or scream something encouraging out of the window. When I was climbing “la linea”, a tough 7,000 foot mountain climb between Ibague and Armenia, the roads were being re-painted at a bridge. For five miles the cars were backed up and waiting over an hour for the paint to dry. Families were outside sitting on their roofs, eating, drinking, laughing, and having a good time. As I passed, people were lining up in the road to cheer and laugh with me as I passed; a strange scene from a fully loaded bike tour version of the Tour de Colombia.

Families invited me into their houses and fed me regularly on the route. People have given up their beds for me to have a place to sleep in their homes on numerous occasions. Entire families will pack into one room (I have no idea how they actually sleep) to give me a space of my own. Resistance to this idea is futile.


They’ll fix your broken things and give you new clothes.  They’ll trust you immediately with their babies (and their daughters).


The people of Colombia are open, helpful, and wonderful.


5.) Sometimes you get attacked at night..


6.) An average meal costs about $3 in Colombia, and the typical plate is identical everywhere in the country: soup, rice, meat (fried or grilled chicken or a thin steak), a small salad, beans, and a juice. The meals are always fresh, but the taste is universally bland (sorry Colombia). This can easily be remedied with the freshly made hot sauce and salt. Others have said they are sick of the meal, but I’m a big fan.


7.) The bomberos (firemen) will give you a place to sleep and treat you like a king (or queen)…


and again..

and again..


8.) Many schools here are non-traditional. This particular school (Amalaka, near Popayan) was a combination of a farm, a school, and a Swiss Family Robinson adventure.


9.) Colombia isn’t scary at all.. only beautiful. Every day and night I needed something; directions, food, or a place to stay, and every time Colombia and its people responded to my needs. Maybe the whole world treats travelers with this much love and respect, but I was blown away by the warmth of my first country by bike. It felt like home.


TRAVEL Colombia!

10 thoughts on “9 Things I learned in Colombia

  1. Having spent a couple weeks traveling Colombia (Summer of 2009) and… a few other countries, I can corroborate with you that it has some of the warmest and most welcoming people you will ever encounter. Definitely my favorite country I’ve been to in SA. Im glad you had such a wonderful experience, Matt, and thanks for sharing and documenting ur journey!

    • Wendy, it was so good to meet you and your husband as well. I hope life is exciting and happy in the states.

  2. Wonderful post, coco! Colombia is indeed a wonderful place. I hope to see much more of it in the years to come. Gotta say I agree with you about the food though… I usually lose a few pounds there due to bored taste buds! There are some exceptions though … food in the Guajira peninsula (like goat meat coconut milk stew) is delicious, and the fish stews in Santa Marta are to die for.

  3. I is great Matt! What a wonderful adventure you are having.

    Have fun and savor all of the beautiful sites and people.


  4. You make me homesick. Thanks! The first time I landed there, I felt at home. The feeling has never left, although I have and back in the States. I yearn to go back. I hope you are still OK and doing whatever brings you joy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *