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Colombia: A Road Less Traveled

Colombia (not to be confused with Columbia Business School) is a South American country that doesn’t get much play from tourists. Somewhere between the CIA bulletins that discourage visitors because of drug-trafficking and the popular Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner film, Romancing the Stone – you get the feeling that Colombia might not be the safest place to visit.

Ari Wancier, a Colombian student from NE, convinced us otherwise. And so began the spring break trip for 30 lucky sectionmates to a country that provides 70% of the world’s emeralds, the best Arabic coffee, and a rich culture and beauty all waiting to be explored.

Located at the Western tip of the South American continent, Colombia is the only country that has beachfront property on the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. From the airplane, the first thing that you notice is that most of the country is extremely mountainous. Bogot , the country’s capital, is situated 8,500 feet in the air – the third highest capital in the world. Dizzy and exhilarated, we all arrived ready to explore the place that we would call home for the next week.

In Bogot , red brick buildings, ever-winding streets, and historic churches peak out among rolling hills. The restaurants and clubs could compete with their Manhattan counterparts in the glamour factor. And the WOMEN are a rare breed – think of a city full of Shakira’s. Most interesting is the Botero Museum located in a historic section of Bogot . The museum is free to the public, a stipulation of the artist who gave his entire collection of art. Another condition: Botero wanted to arrange the artwork to his liking….and it works. Included among the collection of Botero’s work are galleries that feature art from Monet, Pissarro, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Miro. The collection is housed in a modern building with the Andes Mountains sprawling majestically in the background.

Next stop: The Rosario Islands, a nature preserve located off the coast of Cartagena. Hot, rustic and exotic, these islands are more about being on the beach than experiencing the culture. The group had time to recharge after several action-packed days sight-seeing in Bogot . However, the Rosario Islands feature an art all of their own: nature at its best. Salt water that glimmers from deep blue to aqua green is chocked full of exotic fish and “secret” lagoons that light up at night when humans disturb the dormant plankton.

Our final destination was Cartagena, a city surrounded by an enormous stone wall that kept the pirates out during the Spanish occupation. The city is a virtual painting: colorful buildings, white balconies, blooming flowers, and cobblestone streets. The historical beauty that Cartagena has to offer is found walking along the streets as well as within the many cathedrals housed within the tiny city limits. Vendors offer knock-offs of Botero paintings (most famous for his rendition of the Mona Lisa), restaurateurs vie for your business, and tourists quietly slip into the churches to examine the architecture.

The Hotel Santa Clara, a former nunnery, offers a tumultuous history in both torture and faith while now catering to a chic upscale crowd. Outside the walls, a modern city skyline towers over the Caribbean Sea.
Colombia is the ultimate adventure: A country rich in culture, artistic delight, and natural beauty.

April 11, 2005
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