Vicki is a British freelance journalist who has been living in Bogota since the middle of 2010. She blogs at Banana Skin Flip Flops.
LCO: Where are you from originally and how did you end up in Colombia?
VK: I’m British. I’d been working in newspapers in England for six years, when I decided I needed a six-month holiday. I planned to spend three months teaching English on the Galapagos Islands, then travel south and round to Brazil before flying home.
But – and there is always a ‘but’ – I met a Colombian, Isabel, on Galapagos. She told me I would be crazy to miss Colombia. I decided to insert a two-week ‘Colombia hiatus’ into my trip. I was in the country for three weeks when, as planned, I bought a flight down to Peru – stopping in Colombia’s capital, Bogota, for just five hours.
The following day – typical! – I met a Colombian, Diego. He was from Bogota and suggested I visit the capital for three days. I was here a week. Then another week. I kept delaying my flight to Peru before finally allowing it to leave without me. Seven months later, I have an apartment with three friends, I have work and I have a two-year Colombian visa. I have yet to visit Brazil.
LCO: In three words, what does Colombia mean to you?
VK: Friendliness, freedom and fascination.
LCO: Other travelers are visiting Colombia more often now. What advice do you have for them?
VK: Buy a one-way ticket.
LCO: What’s your favorite type of Colombian meal?
VK: Bandeja paisa. I love it and order it at least once a week. It reminds me of a traditional English breakfast except instead of bacon, hash browns and toast you have mince, arepa and plantain. Oh and you don’t eat it for breakfast either!
LCO: What do you miss most from home?
VK: Chocolate digestive biscuits dunked in English breakfast tea.
LCO: What is your favorite way to spend your free time in Colombia?
VK: Dancing, drinking coffee at Juan Valdez, reading about Colombian history and politics, hanging out with friends and, er, learning Spanish. Slowly.
LCO: What are the biggest differences between your home town and the city where you live in Colombia?
VK: Bogota is busier than my home town; the traffic is crazier, the weather is more unpredictable, there are more people on the streets. But above all, I believe people in Bogota place more emphasis on socialising. Coffee shops are full in the morning, restaurants at lunch time. In my home town, my home country, we work through lunch and have less time to gossip and debate. Colombians work just as hard, in my experience, as English people but because most start work at 7am they seem to be less rushed. They always appear to have time for one another.
LCO: What’s the most challenging situation you’ve faced as an expat in Colombia and how did you deal with it?
VK: Ha ha, well a guy once tried to rob my iPod Touch. I was foolishly carrying it in my hand as I walked down the street. He asked me to give it to him, but because my Spanish was worse then, I didn’t understand and just kept apologising. He finally showed me the closed Swiss Army knife he kept in his pocket, but that just confused the situation. Eventually, he gave up and walked away. It was only afterwards that I realised I’d had a lucky escape.
LCO: Tell us a story about one memorable Colombian who you have met along the way.
VK: Being a journalist, I’ve met some very memorable Colombians – Edward Nino (the former world’s smallest man) a Colombian pop star, a top Colombian bullfighter… but to me, the most memorable Colombian will always be Isabel – my friend from Galapagos. If it wasn’t for her, I never would have visited this country. She knew I had always intended to travel onto Peru so, last Christmas, we went together and climbed Machu Picchu – a mere four months later than planned. This time though, I had a return ticket – to Colombia.
LCO: Tell us about your favourite memory of Colombia so far.
VK: It’s hard to pinpoint one memory when life here is so fantastic. But perhaps my favourite is the night I spent on Playa Blanca, a beach on an island near Cartagena. I lazed in the Caribbean Sea, ate fish, drank from a coconut and slept in a hammock on the beach. It was simply perfect.
For more interviews with expats in Colombia, watch this space.