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Cartagena (Colombia), March 24th 1997
The wheels of the plane lose the contact with the runway. This is the moment that I can’t go back anymore. Did I make the right choice? Do I ever see my family again? Just a couple of questions that haunt through my head at the moment. I just left San Jose in Costa Rica and I am heading for Cartagena in Colombia. I decided just a couple of days ago that I want to bring a visit to Colombia. See it as an impulse. I saw an interesting offer on a shop window and before I knew, the ticket was in my pocket. Besides that, there was some kind of pressure to bring a visit to Colombia. Nobody with common sense would bring a visit to Colombia just for fun. But my common sense was gone the last couple of days. And just now that I am in the plane, my common sense seems to come back slowly. It’s too late to change my decision.

With a beating hart in my throat, we make touch down on Colombian soil. I used the last thirty minutes to make a decision about the hotel I am going to take. I made the decision for the Doral hotel. It is a small family-run hotel in the centre of the city. This will be the base for me for the next couple of days, to explore Cartagena and to define the strategy for the remaining part of my trip through Colombia. I plan my trip with military precision.

I collect my luggage at the baggage claim. This is still the safe part of the airport. There were no other tourists on the plane, which means that I am all by myself. I scrape all my courage together and leave the restricted baggage claim area through the sliding doors. Welcome to the Wild West. I try to find my way through the crowds, in huge amounts present at the airport to pick up their family and friends. As usual, after this first obstacle, the next one is there: an army of taxi-drivers. For security reasons, I prefer to have an older taxi-driver. In general, old men drive more safely, and besides that, I have the feeling that I can cope with them in case of a robbery. Fifteen minutes after we left the airport we arrive at the hotel. The hotel perfectly meets my expectations. It looks safe and there are some restaurants in the neighbourhood, making it possible to find a dinner without bridging a long distance in the dark.

Yet before I am settled in my room, the darkness is already settled. There is no possibility to in the hotel, making it necessary to find an occasion outside. From the small balcony at the front of the hotel I have a good view over the Calle de la Media Luna. Great! Just on the opposite side of the road is a restaurant, with a small patio in front. That is a distance I can bridge, so that I can end my first day in Colombia unharmed.

Ten minutes later a take a seat in a plastic garden chair of the restaurant and I order my first beer of the evening. Bit by bit disappears the fear in my body and is replaced by some pride. Here I am, in Colombia and still alive. On the contrary, my first impression of the country is good. The people are nice and the things I already saw from the taxi are promising. Just before I finish my first Águila I hear a beautiful ballad song from the speakers of the restaurant. Goose bumps appear on my skin. Now I know it for sure, Colombia is an exciting and beautiful destination.

The next day I bring a visit to a local CD-shop to buy the song I heard yesterday. Because I do not know the name of the singer or the name of the song, am I forced to hum the. A big smile appears on the face of the sales guy and he starts looking in his store. Fifteen minutes later we found it. It is the song “Antologia” on the album “Pies Descalazos” of Shakira, way before we heard her name for the first time in Europe. Colombia, here I come.

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