You know you are in Colombia right away because at the immigration desk there is this wanted poster for the FARC leaders. More about them later. Yes, that´s a 5 billion peso reward (about $2.5 million)
Crossing in to Colombia was uneventful, except soon afterward I hit some steep hills and was out of shape, so I huffed and puffed my way north for a couple days. Some nice views of the valleys, verdant and perfect for growing coca plants.
I took the bus yet again which was depressing, but I had no choice. Colombia is a big country, abut twice the size of Texas. There are police and military everywhere. Lots of checkpoints, which I don´t bother about on my bike, they just wave me through. But on the bus to Popayan, all the men had to get out and were padded down. Then they opened all the luggage, lookng for weapons or drugs I guess. They did confiscate some poor guy´s stuff. He did not have the right paperwork or something. Here´s a guy being padded down.
Chivas Bus in Cali
I made my way to Cali, which, at 1000 meters, is warm and sultry all year long. They claim to produce the most beautiful women in Colombia, helped by a little plastic surgery. They have a great concept called the Chivas Bus. You pay $10 and you get a tour around the clubs and salsatecas of Cali in a bus. There´s a bar on the bus and music, so lots of dancing and carrying on. It is basically a party bus, a poor man´s limousine. I did this last weekend. There were about twenty people on the bus, including a bunch of kids who adopted me (again, 20 year-olds, but what´s wrong with that?). They were amused at this old gringo trying to salsa dance, but I got a few lessons.
Here´s a few photos of the kids on the bus.
What´s the deal with Colombia?
I will digress a bit for those who are interested in the historical conflict in Colombia. If you´re not interested you can skip this part. But it amazes me how we all hear about conflicts around the world (recently, Darfur, the Tamil Tigers, ETA, Congo, and of course the Middle East). But how deep do most of us go to understand the issues behind the conflict? In Colombia, the roots go back to the 1950s, when small communist rebel groups began to form. Like many Latin American nations, Colombia evolved as a highly segregated society, split between the traditionally rich families of Spanish descent and the vast majority of poor Colombians, many of whom are indigenous or of mixed race.
This group provided a natural constituency for left-wing insurgents – who nowadays fall into two groups, the bigger Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (FARC) (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and the Ejército de Liberación Nacional (ELN) (National Liberation Army).
At the other end of the political spectrum are right-wing paramilitaries, with roots in vigilante groups set up decades ago by landowners for protection against rebels. The main group was the AUC – Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia –the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia.
Elements of all the armed groups have been involved in drug-trafficking.
So the FARC and ELN fight the government forces for more equality and the AUC attacks the FARC and ELN for revenge against their kidnapping and murder. In a country where the presence of the state has always been weak, the result has been a grinding war on multiple fronts, with the civilian population caught in the crossfire and often deliberately targeted for ¨collaborating.¨
The government under president Uribe has expanded the army and taken a hard line stance against the rebels, helped by a $3 billion gift from the USA. They also negotiated with the AUC to hand in most of their weapons. So the security situation in Colombia today is much better than it has been.
For an interesting look at life in a FARC rebel camp, click on the link below.
For more info on the Colombian conflict click on this link:
Could you be a terrorist?
It is easy to condemn the rebel groups for their brutal terrorist actions. But it occurred to me that many rebels and “terrorists” are really just ordinary people who exist in extraordinary circumstances. Most Americans or Europeans have not had to deal with extreme discrimination or injustice. How many of us, I wonder, would be capable and willing to resist brutal government oppression? Think about it. What if you were Kurdish living in northern Iraq and your family was gassed to death by Saddam. Wouldn´t you be a little pissed off? Would it be enough for you to grab a rifle and shoot a few soldiers? I don´t know about you, but I sure as hell would be ready to take revenge.
In Colombia, the poor indigenous people have suffered for years because the ruling elite have two objectives: to make money and to stay in power- This often happens at the expense of the rest of the population. If you were a poor indigenous farmer, wouldn´t you be tempted to join the FARC and fight against the injustice that has plagued your family for generations? I sure would be tempted. I am not advocating kidnapping or murder, just that if you know what has happened to these people you can understand their anger, and unless we ourselves have been in their shoes, we should not judge their actions. We may be capable of doing the same things, or worse, in the same circumstances.
Any thoughts on that? Could you kill people who committed violent acts of rape or murder against your family?