Safety in Colombia

And here's the view when the boat is swung towards NW. Boca Grande to the left, the Colombian navy base straight ahead. Feeling safe here, having so many nations army surrounding us.

Speaking of safety. So many people seemed concerned when we a few months ago declared that we were going to Colombia, and also that we were staying there for a few months. Why? It's dangerous? Aren't you afraid? Evidently, there is a rumor that Colombia is very dangerous and of course we didn't take that supposition lightheartedly. But when weighting and studying the good and the bad rumors, we realized that the positive reviews and people who've actually had good experiences from the country, overwhelmed the bad. Yes we had heard and read about people getting mugged, drugged, shot and even killed. But we had never encountered anyone who actually had faced these problems. 

Having lived in Spain and Barcelona, you have inevitably been or at least you know someone who's been mugged at least once. And drug rapers are everywhere, I know of people in little Gothenburg, in Dubai where drugs aren't even allowed, in Barcelona, New York and probably in your hometown too - who's been victims of date rape drugs. These things happen everywhere. No city, no place is spared from these sad occurrences. We live in the world, so we must learn to know and accept the world, not be scared of it. Good and evil go hand in hand and if you want one, you can never totally escape the other. It is just up to you to practice the right amount of vigilance and make sure to not put yourself in situations or places, nor surround yourself with people who might mean a threat to your life and personal integrity. To be scared about everything in the world won't help the matter, but conscious planning, education of real facts (and not only propaganda showed in the news), as well as always having one eye open to your surroundings - will keep you out of most trouble.

Of course that means the obvious: Do not get totally wasted alone with strangers. Only collect money from a secure ATM inside of a bank or a mall rather than out on a dark empty street. Walk in lighted and peaceful neighborhoods rather than dark and sketchy ones if you want to be out at night. Do not carry more money than what you can afford to loose. Leave passports and things of value in a safe in your hotel room or on the boat and do not wear startling jewelry in countries and cities where a simple necklace of gold means a monthly income for the natives. Show respect to the local people and learn to know their traditions and manners rather than insisting on expressing your own culture out loud. Use registered taxis, no dodgy versions, and if alone, ask a restaurant or a hotel to call and book one for you rather than hailing them on the street. Don't flash your values nor your money. Don't be too obvious with your expensive camera in rural areas or where there are no other people. If someone would rob you, let them do so rather than fighting against it. 

One beautiful summers morning at 3:00 am, a girlfriend and I was robbed by ten young guys on a lonely dark street in Barrio Gothico in Barcelona. Yes I said ten. I resisted and screamed out of anger, and thankfully for us, we had our lucky starts joining us that night and these boys got away with only a bag. That event made me realize how incredibly lucky we had been. Your life will always be so much worth than a few hundred dollars or a camera in your old leather purse. These things happen everywhere, just be smarter than what we were. We were young, drunk and had taken a dark trippy road we had never been on before. In a way I feel it was our own fault what happened that day, we were simply too careless and allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. Another lesson learned. These days I am naturally more conscious and observant to my surroundings.
In my opinion, Cartagena feels no more dangerous than any other big or medium sized city I've been before. In fact, I've never visited any city or country where I've encountered so many security guards and police men patrolling day and night than here, and that gives a very peaceful impression to the place. We have walked these towns both day and late nights and never ever have we felt any threat. But that's because we walk where we should walk and not where we shouldn't. 

Let's forget what they say in the news and instead have a look at some real numbers and recent statistics. In a recent list of the fifty most dangerous cities, counted by murder rate, neither Cartagena nor Santa Marta where we were previously, makes it to the list. But we have four American cities such as New Orleans, Detroit, Saint Louis and Baltimore listed. This is just to give some perspective, as it is mainly American readers who have expressed their concern about the dangers of Colombia. Now, there are a few Colombian cities on that list too: Cali, Medellin, Cucuta, Pereira and Barranquila. And though they aren't on our list of cities to visit this time around, we would hesitate as much or as little as we would for Cape Town, Panama City, Johannesburg and Kingston - all which are also included in the list. You must also remember that gunshots and murders most often happen either among family members or in between gangs and obviously where there are drugs, there are naturally conflicts of interest. But you are not involved in such conflicts, and thus you shouldn't have to worry too much about other peoples whereabouts.

Kidnappings were earlier a matter of concern in Colombia, but since 2002, both kidnappings and terrorist attacks have fallen 91 percent. As a result of Colombia’s nationwide efforts to improve security, tourism has doubled since 2004 and foreign direct investment has skyrocketed. Despite what many people might want you to think, travelers in Colombia has not been the targets for kidnappings. Unless you are here working for a multinational corporation or CIA or such, your chances of being kidnapped while on holiday in Colombia today are as big as in your own home country.

Then if we look at the number of guns per capita, we all probably know which country leads that list by far. Colombia has only 5,9 guns per 100 residents, compared to 88,8 guns for every 100 people in the US, and roughly 30/100 in Scandinavia. In this crazy world we live in today, there is no real safe place anywhere which is a real sad fact of truth. But we must be wise enough to make our own opinions and stop listening too much on media which is anyway owned and controlled by a wealthy few who has their own personal and financial interests. We mustn't close ourselves in because of fear. Traveling enriches you, fear will always limit you. There is too much beauty and wonderful experiences to gain and collect in the world to let it slip us by.

It totally seems that most people that are victims of crime when traveling outside their home country, has been affected because they were more careless than what they would've been at home. Just like my friend and I was that hazy Sunday morning in Barcelona. Just stay sharp and use common sense and you should be just fine.