Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Colombia today

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Mention Colombia and many Barbadians will probably think of a country crippled by an illegal drug industry and bedevilled by violence.
Perhaps the names they will most likely associate with this South American nation are those of Pablo Escobar and Carlos Lehder. Not necessarily a country you will want to visit.?Apart from being Spanish-speaking, it is off most people’s radar, partly because of the difficulties in getting there.
A few weeks ago, Colombian agency ProExport, in some ways the equivalent of our Invest Barbados and the Barbados Investment And Development Corporation, gave me the opportunity to visit the South American nation. At first I dilly-dallied, but officials in Bogota insisted that I come to see what they had to offer, especially in medical tourism.
So, in a mad last-minute rush I headed off to Colombia, ignorant of what to expect: the people, their culture and what the country had to offer. Perhaps my greatest interest was in meeting and seeing how people of African descent have been doing, since I was aware that a sizeable number of them live there.
It was only while getting dressed to go off to the airport that it came to mind: do I need a visa? I quickly checked online and found that a Barbadian can stay there for six months without the need for a visa. So off I went. The trip was long, given the break in Miami for the connecting flight, but this was quickly forgotten during the leg of the journey to Bogota on the LAN airbus. The flight was certainly much warmer than anything I got on AA, going or returning.
Even with my limited and corrupt Spanish, I encountered few problems during the next five days, whether going through immigration, customs or out and about. I arrived in Bogota a little late and did not see the people who were to welcome me. I was obviously looking lost, so a man approached me and asked if I wanted a taxi. I quickly responded in the affirmative and proceeded to the car park. It was only after we had left and the driver stopped and asked for the US$40 fee that I realized I had let my guard down. The little precautions my wife insists we take when we are overseas had not been observed. I did not take an authorized taxi.
However, after a few minutes the driver returned and off we went. We got to our destination many miles away, safely. The legend of Colombia as a kidnapping kingdom had significantly been diminished in my mind.
The night was somewhat cold, even though they called it cool; the regular year-round temperature they experience. The next morning the temperature was no different, perhaps colder up to 9 a.m., but at least the hotel was warm and welcoming, with the offerings equally as good. For all those who like to flock to Miami and New York, this was much better at a cheaper price, and with first-rate service.
For the next four days, my colleagues from Trinidad and Tobago, St Maarten, Panama and Curacao and I were able to make a whirlwind visit to the cities of Bogota, Pereira and Medellin. We did not get to see much beyond hospitals, clinics and museums as we were there to hear and see the facilities as it related to Colombia’s medical tourism industry. However, my colleague from St Maarten, young and energized, managed to explore the nights, reporting to us on what else Colombia offers.
For me, outside of the medical exposition, it was an introduction to “Boterismo”, the unique work of Colombia’s leading painter and sculptor. I also got to enjoy the captivating beauty of orchids and anthuriums throughout the visit; at hotels, outside the health facilities and at spas. I kept asking myself throughout: Does Colombia compete at London’s famed Chelsea Flower Show? Unfortunately I missed the big annual street event which begins in late August: the Festival of Flowers in Medellin. This ten-day event, which spills over into September, features horse parades, concerts, antique cars and the actual flower parade. For those who think that flowers are for the fairer sex, oh how wrong, judging from the huge number of men I saw on television looking with some excitement at the flowers on display. Green anthuriums seemed to be of particular interest.
What Colombians insist on is that all visitors get acquainted with Fernando Botero, the 81-year-old master painter and sculptor. The truth is, I had never heard about him before being taken to the gallery featuring his wors. But then, I know little about art, except that I admire Fielding Babb’s works.
Botero, who does not live in his native land but is usually somewhere on the European continent, works in what’s described as a figurative style, called by some “Boterismo”, which promotes an unmistakable identity. For a country where I did not see any abundance of overweight people, Botero had a fascination with “fat people”. While his works depict people, events and even animals with exaggerated and disproportionate size, they all tell a story, whether full of humour, irony or criticism: take his work which depicts drug-related violence or United States forces’ abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.
He has donated extensive collections of his paintings and sculptures to galleries in both Bogota and Medellin, so that the average Colombian and indeed visitor can get a chance to view these works. Given the steady flow and interest shown in the galleries, it is obvious that there is great appreciation of this figurative artist.
• Associate Managing Editor Eric Smith was recently in Colombia. Next week he writes about the social transformation of?Medellin.

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