LOST IN TRANSLATION: WHY WE THOUGHT WE WERE BEING ROBBED IN COLOMBIA
As I packed up the last of my belongings at our Colombian mansion I couldn’t help but think how smoothly the trip had gone despite the many unknown factors we had leading into the adventure.
We began by flying into the heart of Colombia to a region rarely visited by international tourists. From there, our group of eleven hopped into two taxi cabs and an illegal Uber to take us three hours into the countryside to find a house with no address that supposedly sat on the edge of a ridged cliff.
Almost everything fell into place with surprising ease.
The house, aptly named La Casa in el Aire, was fit for an MTV reality show. Seventeen people, it could sleep in all. They didn’t overemphasize when they said it sat on a cliff. It looked 3000ft below into Chicamocha National Park. The hospitality and culture was nothing short of wonderful. Our remote location high in the mountains had us engulfed in a culture completely separate from our own. Throughout the entirety of the trip, we saw no other western tourists.
We had a host, Reuben, who lived on the farm behind La Casa in el Aire. He started our wood-burning fire in the evenings, organized our taxis rides, and gave us lifts to the nearest bus stop in the back of his truck.
The closest town, Los Santos, took over an hour to get to via a long and bumpy route. We tried to buy everything we needed before we arrived, knowing our location made retrieving even the simplest items a feat. Our main concern was running out of the most important item: beer. But upon arrival, we found that Rueben had stocked a cabinet with dozens of extra cases. If we needed any extra we could use what was in the case and pay him at the end of the trip.
We spent our days lounging in the sun, reading books, hiking, paragliding, even playing in water parks (which we almost had entirely to ourselves). All went well. All was wonderful.
I closed my suitcase and walked it down to the entryway where Rueben and his wife were waiting to bid us farewell. I walked with them through the house once more to ensure nothing was left behind.
We never officially communicated with Rueben or anyone in the region. No one spoke English and the Colombian accent had the few who spoke some Spanish stumbling to understand even the smallest sentences. I thanked them the best I could by using smiles, hand gestures, and a generous tip from the group. We loaded into the taxis and bid farewell to our Colombian oasis as they hit the gravel road to make our way through the coffee fields and to the nearest paved road.
The sadness in the farewell lasted less than a few minutes. Just a few turns outside the view of La Casa in el Aire our taxi driver’s phone rang. Soon enough he slowly pulled to the side of the road and the two taxis behind him followed suit. Confused, we waited for the phone call to be over in hopes we’d soon be on our way.
But it did not happen. Instead, he hung up and immediately began gesturing and speaking to Josh, who was in the passenger seat. Josh (one of our few Spanish speakers) turned to me in the back and said he all he could understand was that he wanted money.
I mean, at least we didn’t get robbed until the end of our trip.
That was my first thought. I think I said it out loud. But since it was, in fact, the end of our trip we barely had any pesos left on us.
I took out 50,000 pesos and gave them to the cab driver, who then pocketed the money and tells Josh it’s not enough. Soon enough he turns the car off and steps outside. All three drivers are standing in the road as we sit in the cabs trying to decipher what’s going on. Here are our observations
- These men want money
- We’re obviously not going anywhere
- They pulled off as soon as we were out of sight of Reuben and the house
Needless to say, we weren’t all that optimistic.
I get out of the cab and head back to the other taxis. None of their drivers have said what’s going on. I pass on the information that they’re asking for money and I start collecting whatever leftover pesos people can find in their pockets. I deliver another 50,000 pesos to the driver, still standing in the middle of the dirt road with the others.
He pockets it. I stare at him. He stares at me. No one speaks. I know it’s not enough.
I stand there and try to understand how much money they want. I know a total of five Spanish words so I obviously get very far in communication. I’m hot pissed because I brought these 10 people here and am not about to have the trip go to hell in the last three hours, proving every Colombia travel critic right.
I go back to each taxi and explain no one’s budging. They have 100,000 pesos so far and the only pesos anyone has left is meant to pay for the taxi to the airports.
And as soon as it all seems like we’re sure as shit a bunch of gringos getting robbed in rural high-country Colombia, Rueben speeds around the corner on his moped.
As soon I see him a wave of relief comes over me. Whatever this is must just be a simple misunderstanding. Rueben pulls up and chats with the drivers, then turns to us and says something in Spanish. Josh automatically laughs, puts his head down, turns to me and says
“We forgot to pay for the extra beer.”
We. Forgot. To. Pay. For. The. Extra. Beer.
You remember? Those huge packs of beer Rueben left us in case we ran out? Yeah, we drank every last one, and both Rueben and our group forgot to notice before we left.
So no, we weren’t getting robbed in Colombia. We just love beer. And we owed poor Rueben 140,000 pesos for it all. Needless to say thank goodness there was an ATM at the airport so we could still pay our taxi driver, who turned out to be incredibly nice and patient and friendly. Go figure.