A few helpful hints for surviving Colombia that seem to work for the entire continent, or at least the countries I have been to.
- Close your eyes and ignore the health/safety issues that you cannot do anything about and just be as safe as you can. Well do not close your eyes when you cross the street, that traffic is lethal.
- By all means, ask other travelers about safety in an area but don’t be too alarmed by reports of theft, crime, or disease in every city/barrio/country/bus. Usually when you get to the bottom of it, the person did something stupid or dangerous (they went to the beach alone with all cards/phones/money at 2 AM or tried to sell/bargain/cheat/abused the prostitute to a drug dealer). Also do not take reports of complete carefree safety, they might have been lucky. Ask locals, they know more and put the two reports together.
- Always carry toilet paper or wet wipes or both.
- Pick the nicest meat market you can find (that is not a touristy gringo trap), ignore the smells and the fact the lady just put raw chicken on the scale without a paper and gives it to you in a regular plastic grocery bag with chicken juice all over it.
- Ignore the children running across the street with cabs gunning for them or the fact there are no safe alternate routes when a road or sidewalk is closed, just cross the street.
- Watch to not step in dog poop and puddles of mysterious brown liquid coming out of pipes and when you see the pipe being fixed under ground and while its fixed all the liquid running into the street. And for your own sake, hold your breath.
- Ignore the fact that even though your door is locked with four locks your neighbor can still break in for you with a broom, but be safe and use all of those locks.
- But, make sure you have a store of medicine you need for crazy diarrhea because with all this other stuff happening, you will get it and it is not a pleasant taxi ride, moto chiva ride, or walk to the drug store to get it when you are worried there will be an accident.
- And, be sure to push your way in front of the people trying to push you out of the way to get in line first, no matter how much they call you a pushy dirty American gringo. Or let it all loose (your incredibly irritated bowels, not your mouth) and see how they react, you probably wont see them again.
- People will give you unsolicited advice about every medical problem you might not know you have and offer every herbal remedy they know. Don’t tell them about it and you will still get the advice if you hold your stomach or head, have acne, your hair looks out of place because you are a backpacker and do not care, you sniffle/sneeze/cough, you have but bites (you will) or another rash, your are standing near a pharmacy. The likely hood of unsolicited advice increases dramatically ever second you talk to someone. If the cure is a yummy tea, hot chocolate, or cocoa leaves, or some herbal spiritual remedy (read: hallucinogenic), which is almost always is, partake as you desire. You might even get it for free and make a lifelong friend.
- Somehow though, this advice sharing does not go both ways. If you have not integrated more in your community or known a person long, you giving unsolicited advice can be interpreted as you being an arrogant gringo who thinks they know everything and you also must think they are completely ignorant and uneducated and stupid.
- Only, if you are worried about this stuff all the time, you will get more stomach problems and not enjoy yourself. Have fun!