I have enjoyed seeing many friends and family since I returned home to America last month. OK, enough of the easy life, time for some more adventure! I am leaving again in ten days for the country of Colombia, in South America. I plan to stay there for about 8 weeks.
Why Colombia, of all places? Well, there are a lot of reasons.
One of my longtime goals has been to become fluent in Spanish. I speak it OK now but I would like to move up the curve significantly. So a couple of months in a country where few speak English should really help me to speak and understand better. I will spend the first couple of weeks in Cartagena in Spanish language school. I will also be living with a Colombian family and taking daily dance lessons (salsa, samba). After that, I plan to tour the country independently by bus.
Colombia is much safer than it used to be. A decade ago Colombia was probably one of the most dangerous places in the world to visit. However, since President Uribe was first elected 6 years ago (and reelected by a huge landslide two years ago), there has been a complete turnabout. Violent crime has plummeted. The murder rate in Medellin is down over 90%. The groups who were in violent opposition to the government are shadows of their former selves. Tourism has almost tripled in the last three years. The secret is out and many more people are visiting. In fact, I would say that Colombia is probably about as safe as an average South American country now (which means, however, that it is still much more dangerous than the USA or Southeast Asia).
Colombia has the second largest population in South America after Brazil. Colombia has the second largest Spanish speaking population in the world after Mexico. Colombia is America's closest ally in South America and has enacted policies that have reduced economic protectionism, crime, and corruption. Economic growth has accelerated to 7% per year.
I plan to "go native" on this trip. That means no English language reading material except for a guidebook (since it is only available in English). I will still think in English sometimes when I talk with fellow Anglo travelers, use the internet, and write my blog, but I intend to keep to Spanish as much as possible. In fact, I just bought my first Spanish novel the other day -- an interesting book targeted at middle to high schoolers rather than adults which makes it mostly comprehensible to me. OK, wish me luck! This trip is a stretch for me and I will need all of your support!