The men of Colombia

“I was ~literally~ a different person in Colombia. There’s Colombian Beth and there’s American Beth.”

When I told my parents I was going to Colombia alone, it was kind of like *ummmm but but WHY?!* My mom is very open-minded when it comes to travel — she was in the Peace Corps for two years in her twenties. My dad on the other hand, ehhh.

To be fair, the timing could have been better. I was attacked in broad daylight just one week before where perhaps their reservations lied– but for me, the timing couldn’t have been better. I needed this fucking escape.

I landed in Colombia and almost all of my self-esteem issues dissipated instantaneously. I was in a country where curves were celebrated and desired rather than unwanted and shamed.

In Colombia, I felt sexy. I felt free in the body that I occupied and I can’t describe how good fo a feeling that is coming from someone who is constantly trying to escape it.

***

I met Santiago* on the first day. I had settled into my AirBnB and was ready to explore the neighborhood, Parque El Virrey, named after the neighborhood park that ran through the neighborhood.

My first priority? Café. Muy fuerte, preferiblemente. I found a coffee shop that was, like, me as a coffee shop??? There was an open patio with tons of hanging plants and vines snaked around the outside. Fresh acaï bowls and picture-perfect avocado toast with golden brown toast with lightly drizzled olive oil, a runny egg yolk dripping down the side and sprinkled with spice.

Hola! Hablas español?

I look up mid-bite from my toast to a sun-kissed man with piercing green eyes and a plaid shirt.

Muy poco. 

I blushed, embarrassed that I had fucked up even the smallest of sentences.

Santiago, he reached out his hand, nice to meet you… he paused, his hand still gripping mine.

Beth, I completed his sentence.

I knew “Th” doesn’t exist in the Spanish language so my name would be difficult for native Spanish speakers to understand and pronounce.

You can call me B.

Santiago brought his half-way finished cappuccino over to my table.

Can I join you?

I blushed again. Fuck, where are these men in America? 

We had a long conversation over another round of cappuccinos, enough to where they cold before we could finish them.

What are you doing for the rest of the day? He asked.

I didn’t have any plans.

Umm, I’m not really sure, I let out a flirtatious laugh.

C’mon, let’s go. 

I was doing everything people told me not to do — like, go to an unknown location as a solo female traveler in a foreign country with a random man…but like…I trusted my gut.

Santiago took me on public transport — he was protective over me, but not in an overprotective, scary kind of way, if that makes sense. He was looking after me.

As a native from Bogotá, he knew everything there was to know. History, fun facts, where to go and where not to go — he was the perfect travel guide. He had just gotten back from traveling the world and was in the process of launching his own company. I still don’t really understand *exactly* what he was launching, but I knew it involved finding cheap ginger, because he took me to an open air market on the outskirts of the city to find it.

 

We scoured the local market for ginger, passing the colorful notes of fresh fruits and sweet smells of local flowers.

He handed me a fresh orchid. Para ti hermosa. I blushed. Again.

It was excitement to share experiences about his home country that really drew me to him. We often forget about how cool our cities are until someone foreign comes along and you suddenly remember what makes it so special.

Oh!! We’re trying Lulo juice!! It’s a must and so so good. 

We sat down at small bar and he ordered two for each of us. Lulo is a small orange colored fruit with a tangy and very citrusy tasty. The woman blended it for us. mixing in some other flavors — it’s thick and creamy, so much it can be a meal substitute. But fucking delicious.

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My first day with Santiago felt like a dream. He was charming, extremely attractive and just, well, amazing.

The next few days I did a healthy mix of solo exploring and adventures with Santiago. We got drunk at the cheap happy hours — first round mojitos, second round margaritas, the rest is a blur.

I hate PDA. But, like I said, I left my America Beth. Colombia Beth gave no fucks. I’m sure the amount of times we made out was quite obnoxious and cringy, but hey, whatever.

When are you coming to America? I said in a drunken slur.

You tell me when.

The next couple of days in Bogotá with Santiago was a wonderful mix of romance and fun, packed with adventures and hidden gems. He dropped me off at the airport. Adiós hermosa followed by a soft kiss on the cheek.

***

I was off to my next adventure — Cartagena, the port city on Colombia’s Carribean coast. I had one hostel booked for the first night, the rest was up in the air to figure out.

It was a cheap hostel. Real cheap. I’m not afraid of heights, but this hostel made me question everything about my supposed “fearlessness” of heights. I was four bunks (FOUR!!!!) and the ladder had a 0 degree tilt — I want you to imagine that for a second. Woof.

I met two Hungarian women my first night, both on month three of their travels around South America. That night we picked up a cheap bottle of Aguardiente from a street vendor and headed down to the Plaza de la Trinidad in Getsemani. Damn. I thought people watching was entertaining in DC — this was a whole different level. Over a hundred people sat on the outskirts of the plaza while several street performers did their thing and people drunk ate their street food while holding an open bottle of cheap beer.

I watched Julian, the street performer, as he molded a barb wire into a bouquet of flowers and handed them to me. I wasn’t really sure what I would do with them, but I graciously accepted and tipped him the rest of my cash in my bag.

Damn, he beat me to the punch. I turned behind me, confused. What?

He gave you flowers, that was my move. I knew he was from America as soon as he started talking — well, maybe it was the Tevas and Patagonia hat that gave it away first. I’m not sure. His beard was long and unkept and his eyebrows were dark and thick.

Alex. He reached his hand out. Beth. I smiled.

My new Hungarian friend nudged me and winked.

Alright, where are we going to pretend to know how to dance? HAHA. He was so right. Tbh, I was more worried about the dancing than the Spanish speaking before I left for my trip. I could feeeeeel the Colombians look at me and internally think (or say) ugh, la gringa. Maybe not, but seriously, I can’t dance for shit.

We all went to a Salsa club — lolz. It was 1am on a Monday and it was packed. Alex and I pretended to know how to dance and most definitely looked like two gringos who for sure didn’t know how to dance.

Then, he kissed me with Aguardiente on his lips. We exchanged WhatsApp numbers — but I think we both knew that night was all we had.

***

The next morning I was to head off to La Playa Blanca — THE beach to go to in Cartagena. I knew it was going to be crowded and I was a little nervous to explore this on my own . I wouldn’t have anyone to watch my things if I wanted to go for a swim, and I had a feeling I’d be on edge the whole time.

The transportation to and from was set up by my hostel. It was me, myself and I…plus 9 beautiful Argentinian men. Ok……

The whole ride they spoke Spanish — very little I could understand.

Eventually, I heard one chime from the back, what’s your name?

From there, I spent the whole day at the beach with them. We all put cash in for a huge tent on the beach that came with three people to look after all of your stuff AND serve you food fresh from their family’s kitchen — literally. We passed around a giant cup of whiskey and coke as I tried to explain to them in Spanish how expensive beer is in the United States.

Ves esta cerveza? Son siete dolares en America. They gasped.

We shared our love for Dirty Heads (random as hell) and reggae over the bluetooth speaker. Mateo sat next to me the entire time — out of all the guys, he probably spoke the least English, but that kind of made him more attractive.

I really had to listen to what he was saying, as did he with me.

We all shared a giant seafood feast. Our hands were sandy and our backs, scorched from the Colombian sun — but none of that mattered. We were drunk on a beach, eating amazing and cheap fresh seafood. The life.

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Playa Blanca was about 40 minutes from Getsemani and the guys were planning on staying there overnight and doing another day at the beach. I had a van to catch back to our hostel later that night. Mateo asked me if I wanted to stay another night with them — they had gotten a couple of hotel rooms with a waterfront view.

Tempting as fuck.

I had a bunch of things I wanted to do in Cartagena the next day and wasn’t totally sure if my skin could handle another day on the beach.

No puedo. I told him.

He then asks, in very broken English, if I wanted to go see the hotel before I left.

Obviously. 

The door shut behind us and we were suddenly entrenched in the soft white sheets of a hotel room that was an upgrade from the top bunk of the $15/night hostel.

***

I had only planned to stay in Cartagena for a few days. The last night I decided to “ball out” on an AirBnb — by “ball out” I mean spend $40.

Best $40 I’ve ever spent.

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Get here by 7pm to catch the sunset, the AirBnB host texted me.

When I entered the apartment, I was greeted with a hug as if we were long lost friends. It’s so good to have you here, Matías exclaimed. Come, come here. The sun is just setting. Let me get you something to drink. He escorts me to the patio where a multi-colored hammock swayed back and forth with the ocean breeze.

The apartment overlooked the coast of Cartagena and the sunset competed for the number one slot to my time in Zanzibar. Pinks, purples, oranges and yellows painted the sky.

Fresh Lulo juice for you! He hands me a wine glass. My mind went back to Santiago. I took my phone out and snapped a pic of the sunset to WhatsApp him.

It was late, but Matías was eager to show me around his neighborhood. It was vastly different than Getsemani and the Old City — it felt like…the real Cartagena; free of tourists and kitchy street vendors in fruit hats. We walked around and he shared the history of Cartagena — he reminded me a lot of Santiago.

What do you want for dinner? I shrugged. I’ve eaten enough arepas to feed a small army so I was hoping he’d offer something else but I wasn’t picky.

Ok, let’s get pizza. I want to show you my friend’s hostel too. It’s gorgeous. Pizza. Yes. The suggestion I didn’t know I needed.

The hostel was gorgeous. Better than any I had been staying in. They also serve DAMN GOOD pizza. Me, Matías and his friend, Kris, sat at he front desk and chatted over our greasy plates. They asked me about my travels — what I had seen and done.

Kris had a scruffy beard — as he spoke I couldn’t tell what I was more focused on, the sauce caught on the tip of his mustache or his bright green eyes. He wore a red and black checkered flannel with beat up black jeans and Converse. We finished our pizza and Matías and I stood up to head out.

Hey, the hostel is going on a bar crawl tonight. There’s a fee for the transportation, but I think I can waive it. I know the owner, he winked, you should come.

I had a flight the next day but it wasn’t until 5pm. So eh, why the hell not?

Matías, you should come to this bar craw with me! 

Bella, I’m pushing 40. Even though I know I don’t look a day over 30. You should go, though, Kris is fun. 

I decided to go on my own…well, with Kris and a bunch of strangers from this hostel I wasn’t staying at.

I *attempted* to flat iron my hair and gave up after 3 minutes. Cartagena humidity is NO JOKE Y’ALL. I headed back to the hostel that was conveniently only a block away.

Beth! I’m so happy you made it. 

*internally wants to make out with Kris right there and then*

***

I was sad leaving Cartagena. Although I had only known Matías for a day or so, he felt like a friend. I was going to tell him that I kissed Kris the night before, but felt the tequila start to come up my throat when I started to.

Oops.

***

My flight back to Bogotá was seamless. I had been chatting with Santiago — he was excited to see me again. He offered for me to stay with him when I got back as my flight was landing late. Oh, and did I mention he let me keep my ginormous travel backpack at his apartment while I was in Cartagena? Precious gem of a man. 

He greeted me with a kiss and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

I woke up the next morning to the sound of crackling and the smell of my new favorite food group — arepas.

I slowly opened my eyes and found a tall glass of water accompanied with a bottle of Aloe on the nightstand and Santiago’s sunkissed back turned towards me in the kitchen while cooking us breakfast — arepas to be specific.

Amor, you didn’t wear enough sunscreen. You must be in pain. 

Yes, I was that gringa who didn’t put enough sunscreen on despite Santiago’s warning before I left. I opened the bottle and massaged the coolness across my cherry-red arms and chest.

I was spending one more day Parque El Virrey before heading to my next hostel downtown at La Candelaria — the more central part of Bogotá. I helped Santiago edit his resume while he was distracting himself (and me) by kissing my shoulders and neck.

Focus!! I told him while playfully pushing him away.

***

I said goodbye to Santiago — unsure if I would see him again. La Candeleria was a ~30 minute drive, and like 95% of my trip, I didn’t have an itinerary. I walked into hostel Selina — one that I had my eye on from my first trip downtown at the start of my trip.

It was gorgeous. Light bulbs draped cross the common areas and murals drawn by local artists masked the walls.

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This is where I met Lucas. My 48-hour romance. An Adam-Levine-look-alike Canadian man who was quite honestly one of the sexiest men I’ve ever laid eyes on.

I applied aloe on my bright red skin and pulled my sweater on. Hey! A voice from behind appeared. I was in an eleven-person dorm room, the voice came from the bottom of the bunk next to mine.

A bright-eyed blonde woke up from her nap and introduced herself. We started chatting about our travels, about ourselves etc. I’m Carol, from Norway.

We became instant friends. She was my age, had been traveling solo for 6+ months — taking a sabbatical  from her nursing career. Happy hour was about to start, so we headed down to the hostel bar.

I still hadn’t been to the club that EVERYONE told me to go to — Theatron — Latin America’s largest club. Supposedly it was “giant supermarket for bars.” Any vibe you wanted was inside of this giant warehouse, connected by multiple floors and long hallways.

Carol and I decided we were going to go that night. After a few hours, we joined a group in the common room and introduced ourselves.

Hey, I’m Lucas.

I for sure stared at him for much longer than I should have, but eventually I reached out my hand and introduced myself. His eyes were piercing, and I noticed the end of a  tattoo sleeve peek out from his flannel. Shit. 

We all decided to go to Theatron together. We arrived and each payed $25 for an open bar all night. Mannnn this place DID NOT disappoint. Literally any kind of vibe you wanted was inside. Swanky cocktails, divey blasting Blink 182, disco, an outdoor DJ set with crazy lights, a gay strip club — literally anything was just a few steps away.

I had my eyes set on Lucas — but was unsure if he had his eyes set on me. It took us about ~4 vodka sodas to start dancing together. It sounds corny AF, but it was the first time in a long time that I truly felt ~lost in the moment~. Things were heating up (literally, we were sweating) as our bodies synced with the music. Our foreheads touched as he wrapped his hands around my back.

It was a night I didn’t want to end. We danced and kissed the night away until the lights turned on. As we arrived back to the hostel, I felt like I was back in high school. He kissed me outside of my dorm and told me he’d text me tomorrow.

I opened the door quietly to avoid waking up my bunkmates, and couldn’t help but let out a stupid grin.

A few moments later my phone lights up. Hey you. I could use a shower, you?

I grabbed my towel and tip-toed down the hallway. I’m in this one, I hear in the last stall.

***

The next morning I wasn’t sure what to expect next. I was leaving the next morning and had planned to spend the day with Carol and some others I met in the hostel.

I decided to relax in the hammock out back with a good book. Hey, you.

I look up and was truly jarred by his attractiveness once again.

Hey, long time no see. 

He invited me to grab lunch and walk around the city. It was nice getting to know him on a more sober level. His spirit, intelligence and physical attractiveness was intoxicating and a bit overwhelming to be honest.

Alas, we had a great day. Hey, so I was thinking. What if I got a single room tonight? 

I smiled. Oh, yeah? You need all that room to yourself? 

Ha. I was hoping for company.

We walked around until the sun started to set. He suggested walking to the top of the hill to catch the sunset. Let’s grab a bottle of wine, he suggested.

Two plastic cups and a bottle of red kept us warm as the night chill started to set in. The view was gorgeous, and it suddenly hit me that my short journey was to end the next day.

We stayed up too late, Lucas and I. Kissing, pretending we were in love — which was easy, because love is hard..but not when you know the short-lived romance will end the next day.

I woke up the next morning to a note on the pillow next to me.

Went out to grab breakfast, be back soon x. 

Was I in a rom-com this whole trip? I wanted to pinch myself.

He comes back with a bag of muffins. I wasn’t sure what flavor you liked, so I got all five. 

Holy shit. This man.

I also got you this. He hands me a small paper bag. I take a peek inside and see a bright-turquoise stone ring. I fully acknowledge how strange it is to get a woman you first meet a ring, but I saw it at the street market and it reminded me of you, so I got it. 

I didn’t think it was strange. I teared up a little, actually.

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I wish time had stopped in its tracks. Minutes turned into hours and suddenly it was time to call my taxi. I packed my things and placed the ring on my finger.

Is it weird that I’m genuinely sad to say goodbye to someone that I met a short 2 days ago?

Maybe, but I guess that makes me weird too. 

I said my goodbyes to Carol and my other friends I had made at Selina. Lucas grabbed my hands and kissed my forehead.

FaceTime soon?

Yeah definitely.

Goodbye, Beth.

Bye, Lucas.

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “The men of Colombia

  1. “I landed in Colombia and almost all of my self-esteem issues dissipated instantaneously. I was in a country where curves were celebrated and desired rather than unwanted and shamed.”

    I found the part about American Beth and Colombian Beth particularly fascinating. I’m guessing (correct me if I’m wrong) that cultural differences led to that, but how were you able to recognize them so quickly that your self-esteem issues disappeared immediately.

    As I said, very interesting stuff.

    Like

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