A couple of years ago, a friend in Bogota told me a joke that he says Colombians tell on themselves. It runs something like this:
“When God was creating the world, He was especially generous when it came to Colombia. He gave it the lush Amazon, the spectacular Andes, the gorgeous Caribbean, an ideal equatorial climate, coffee, emeralds, gold in abundance, fertile plains, stunning vistas, fruits and flowers galore.
“Then God stood back and said to himself (or maybe it was Satan who said it): ‘Oh, that’s too perfect. We can’t have one place in the world be Paradise.’
“So He filled it with Colombians.”
You never want to take humor too seriously, but something in that joke has stuck with me, and it gets to why I’m looking forward to our Classical Pursuits trip to Colombia next March. I’m not sure the punchline gives the right answer, but the joke points to the right question: Colombia is a beautiful, bountiful land, and it has a really troubled history.
My previous visits to Colombia have been as a tourist. Our host on those trips, as good hosts do, graciously shared with us the bounty and beauty of his country. On our trip next March—as with all Classical Pursuits trips—we won’t skip the sights, either. But I’m most looking forward to the conversations we’re arranging to help us dig beneath the surface. We’ll talk with historians, judges, urban planners, and ordinary Colombians who can give us some insight into Colombia’s difficult past and the ways Colombia and Colombians are shaping their future.
We will spend time in three amazing places, each special in its own way.
Bogotá — Once known as “the happy mayor” Enrique Peñalosa is now lauded worldwide for his visionary urban policy and design to make Bogotans happier. He did this by creating lively public spaces that centre around people and community, not cars. Peñalosa has practical lessons for improving the quality of city life everywhere.
Medellin — A former home of drug suppliers and smugglers, Medellin is recognized by many as the most innovative city in the world due to its recent advances in politics, education, and social development. Medellin is now genteel, vibrant, and safe. A recent global survey of Smart Cities, catalogues Medellin as one of the most liveable cities in South America.
Cartagena — This lovely 16th century coastal city is as closely associated with Nobel Prize winning author Gabriel Garćia Márquez as James Joyce is with Dublin. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Cartagena encapsulates the charm of Spanish colonial architecture, with its maze of cobbled alleys, enormous balconies cloaked in bougainvillea, massive churches, and leafy plazas.
Another way we do some digging on Classical Pursuits trips is through literature. For Colombia, literature means Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Though it’s a great temptation to devote the whole trip to his masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, or to Love in the Time of Cholera, we’ll be reading one of Marquez’ shorter works, Chronicle of a Death Foretold. “Colombia is magical realism, but it’s mostly just realism,” my friend from Colombia made sure I understand. The shorter Marquez work will save us room for works by some of Colombia’s finest contemporary writers, who try to make sense of the drug wars and political violence of the past half century. Right now we’re looking at novels by Laura Restrepo, Evilio Rosero, and Juan Gabriel Vasquez. If you have suggestions for others, I’d love to hear them!
Ann Kirkland and I are off to Iceland at the end of this week (seismic gods and the huldufólk willing). I will let you know our selections of contemporary readings soon after we get back.
Both Ann and I invite you to join us on a wonderful winter adventure to a place where tropical and man-made beauty, magnificent literature, a touch of magic, and blessedly clement weather collide. (Think back to the brutal winter of 2014, and consider how much more exciting, rewarding and memorable this trip will be than a week at an all-inclusive beach resort.)
Click on the trip page to learn more.