The Truth About Colombia

When you're there, you can feel poetry tracing its fingers along your skin.
10/28/2016 02:20 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2016
There is nothing quite so magical as seeing Colombia’s natural green beauty working in harmony with humanity
Ali Wunderman
There is nothing quite so magical as seeing Colombia’s natural green beauty working in harmony with humanity

What enthralls me most about Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s writing is his characters’ penchant for boldly diving headfirst into love. It’s a contagious idea, to dismiss fear entirely for the sake of the heart, and it’s hard not to take on that fearlessness while engrossed in one of his novels.

Attempts to echo that intrepidness in real life reminds us about the genre Márquez created – magical realism – and his Nobel-winning ability to indistinguishably blend fantasy with reality. His skill is in convincing readers that a man could reasonably be trailed by a constant cloud of yellow butterflies, as we witness in 100 Years Of Solitude, thus it follows that the nature of love as described by the author would play by the same rules. We all know butterflies don’t flock that way, and that love isn’t so simple, but reading the Colombian writer’s books suspends disbelief long enough for magic to seep into actual reality. That’s what makes him such a legendary writer.

You have to wonder how a person develops the ability to communicate ideas and imagery in such a way that readers are brought to tears heavy with suffering, to uncontrollable bouts of wistful nostalgia, or to elation beyond comprehension. Some might say innate talent, others dumb luck, while Márquez himself is quoted as referencing the storytelling style of his grandparents as inspiration.

Cartagena, Colombia: the rumored location of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s “Love In The Time Of Cholera”
Ali Wunderman
Cartagena, Colombia: the rumored location of Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s “Love In The Time Of Cholera”

For me, it took visiting Colombia twice within three months to begin to grasp his perspective. I had wanted to see the city of Cartagena ever since I discovered it was the supposed setting for Love In The Time Of Cholera, which I devoured as a young teenager, plagued with the affliction of constantly falling in love.

Years later brings us to 2016, when that dream has come to life. The opportunity to visit the country became available on what was supposed to be a Pan-American wildlife-searching expedition, kicking off in Guatemala and terminating in Colombia. I made it as far as Belize, which took hold of my wild heart. Only once it was broken did I move on to finish my trip, with time left solely for my final stop: Colombia.

Pereira by night, nestled in the fog of the Andes Mountains
Ali Wunderman
Pereira by night, nestled in the fog of the Andes Mountains

Colombia, Colombia, Colombia. I didn’t really know what to expect. The news says so many negative things, things that rile up my dad’s typical anxiety when I travel to places that are beyond 15 miles of my hometown of San Francisco. Cocaine, kingpins, violence, murder, kidnappings... stuff dads don’t like. These things may exist in Colombia, but let’s be honest; they exist everywhere.

Even so, the news never mentions the people. It doesn’t talk about their glowing warmth, their love of bright colors, their genuine kindness. Nowhere in the news does it mention that Colombians will treat you like family, feeding you and caring for you no matter how thrown-together your Spanish is. They will go out of their way to ensure your comfort. This simply hasn’t been part of the international narrative about Colombia, which means a lot of people are missing out.

Vibrant colors define Colombia, down to the smallest Monkey Grasshopper
Ali Wunderman
Vibrant colors define Colombia, down to the smallest Monkey Grasshopper

Fortunately that narrative is changing, and not just because of the recent ceasefire and a peace deal in the works. Colombia is speaking for itself: the biodiversity (the best in the world), the diverse and delicious food, the colors (both fabricated and in nature), and the environments ranging from Amazon jungle to Caribbean sea to Andes mountains. There’s a deep commitment to conserving that verdant, Garden of Eden green teeming with every type of beast. This is Colombia.

The culture is passionate, fueled by a fire that leads to salsa dancing, and a universal dedication towards preserving that which makes Colombia, Colombia. Like the quality of the coffee, which is what has brought me back so quickly on the tails of my first visit. They don’t mess around when it comes to coffee. Strangers talk to each other. They help each other. They love each other. There’s a tremendous amount of love, with no attempt to hide it, only to share it. With so much fire and color and love, the thought of being trailed by butterflies doesn’t seem as strange as it used to.

When you’re in Colombia, you can feel poetry tracing its fingers along your skin. Your heart opens and so do your ears. Whether you’re chasing the scent of gardenias in Cartagena or soaking your weary skin in the thermal pools near Pereira, Colombia will inject color and love into your life, one way or another.

And so you begin to see the magic Gabriel Garcia Márquez writes about, and come to find out that the truth is, it’s more real than you could have ever imagined.

Pereira’s countryside as viewed from the San Carlos Lodge
Ali Wunderman
Pereira’s countryside as viewed from the San Carlos Lodge
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