The Dominion Post

Danger thing of the past

Colombia’s reputation may deter less-confident travellers, but Pat Barrett discovers a country which is rapidly putting its tragic history behind it.

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TRAVELLING in Colombia? Judging from the past 50 years of narcoterro­rism, state repression, military interventi­on and general unrest the South American country has experience­d, this appears to be a daunting and possibly dangerous mission.

Additional­ly, to travel there with four young women to attend a Catholic congress in Bogota, the country’s high-altitude capital, and then take a week or so to travel around might appear foolhardy.

In fact it was not my first visit to Colombia, or South America, but it is the first time I have been back to Bogota since 1982. In those far-off days the place was unhinged; the guide books carried copious warnings of gangs – armed and violent, who patrolled the streets in certain parts of the city, police who would plant drugs on the unwary, wide-scale kidnapping­s, and tourists being targeted at bus stations and the like.

In those days we were travelling overland and arrived at the Bogota bus station enroute from Ecuador, to the south. Once we disembarke­d we grabbed our backpacks and bolted for the safety of the main city where we later found residence in a rather seedy hostel.

Days later we left, in a cargo jet during a massive thundersto­rm and surrounded by motorbikes, roofing iron and machinery, bound for Amazonia.

Earlier we had declined to take this journey, over hundreds of kilometres of untracked jungle, aboard one of the many ageing and dishevelle­d ex-World War II bombers lined up at the internatio­nal airport. We also wished to exit Colombia as soon as possible based solely on its fearsome reputation. Such was the past.

This time we arrive at Bogota’s new, modern and efficient internatio­nal airport aboard a LAN airlines flight from Santiago, pass easily through customs and manage to board a small taxi without too much fuss to reach our hotel not far from the city centre.

It has a fantastic rooftop view and worth the modest entry fee.

Then it’s out and about. We have a day or so to explore the city before our five-day congress on Divine Mercy begins (a much required attribute in Colombia).

So what does one do when you are the only male travelling with four young women, one of whom is my daughter?

You wait and wait, while they shop and shop. At least it gives me the opportunit­y to take numerous photos and absorb something of the culture of the city while keeping a wary eye out for my charges.

Bogotanian­s are courteous and helpful, perhaps at pains to rid their nation of the past vestiges of violence and pain, yet their candour is natural and disarming. The police, however,

 ?? Photos: PAT BARRETT ?? Salt vault: One of the galleries in the salt mine of Zipaquira converted for a Catholic mass.
Photos: PAT BARRETT Salt vault: One of the galleries in the salt mine of Zipaquira converted for a Catholic mass.
 ??  ?? On guard: The occasional sight of fully kitted soldiers patrolling the streets of Bogota is an unsettling reminder of Colombia’s troubled modern history.
On guard: The occasional sight of fully kitted soldiers patrolling the streets of Bogota is an unsettling reminder of Colombia’s troubled modern history.

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