Colombia is somewhere between the backpacker and cruise ship stages of tourism. The tourist vanguard—backpackers—are there en masse. They’ve been reporting back on how great it is, and now people like Lynn and I have gotten interested. But it’s not yet to the point, thankfully, where cruise ships and tour buses are belching tourists by the thousands.
Lynn had used Rebecca Adventure Travel for another trip. It’s an unfortunate acronym, but RAT specializes in socially responsible tourism. Since we consider ourselves responsible types, we worked with them to design an itinerary. The company is based in the Netherlands and started out with tours in Ecuador. They’ve now added Peru and Colombia. We went back and forth about how many nights we wanted to spend here and there—they were extremely flexible.
The price was $1,660 per person. That’s a lot of money. However when you consider that this included three internal flights, nine hotel nights, breakfast every day, four-hour tours with our own guide in three cities, rides to/from the airport, and a five-hour drive from the national park to Cartagena, it was a good deal. The airfare from Minnesota was $1,200. Yes, Colombia was as expensive to reach as Athens or Paris.
At some point we were handed off to Responsible Travel. As the name implies, it also specializes in responsible travel. They are based in the UK and have a US office. So it was all fairly confusing but at some point if you really want to go somewhere you just have to go with the flow.
Roxana, my Peruvian pal who has lived in Minnesota for 20 years, happened to be on the same flight to Miami as me. My brother drove us to the airport and when we checked in we asked if we could be seated together. Neither of us had seat assignments because, as you know if you’ve flown lately, they won’t give you a seat ahead of time unless you pay extra. Ka-ching for two inches of extra legroom. Ka-ching for an a seat closer to the front. Ka-ching for priority seating.
Why would anyone want to get on a plane first? It’s not like you’ll be in first class. You’ll just sit in your cramped seat waiting for all the other passengers to board and watching them fumble around trying to stuff their giant bags into the overhead compartments.
But you can pay extra for that if you like.
We were told it would be impossible for us to be seated together because the plane was full. We went to the gate and tried again. Same answer. So we sat and chatted while we waited to board. Then we heard someone else asking to be seated together, so we sprang up and somehow, like they were playing Tetris or Jenga, the gate agents got it to work. It was nice to have three hours together with no distractions. How often do you get that with a friend?
Roxana and I parted in Miami; we would see each other in a few days in Medellin.
The flight to Bogota was uneventful and on time, but I arrived late at night. I got through border control ok but the baggage area was chaos.
If you’ve ever traveled to Latin America from Miami, you will be familiar with the giant and multiple suitcases people bring—full of gifts and clothes and who-knows-what for family members. There was no system to tell you which carousel your bag would be on. Bags were piled helter skelter. None of the employees knew anything. After 45 minutes and near tears of exhaustion, I inquired at the American Airlines desk and immediately produced my bag. “Is this yours?”
What a relief. There was no explanation for why they had singled my bag out to keep behind the counter but the lock looked unmolested so I just rolled away.