October 10 - 21, 2014

Note: As you read this log, you'll see this symbol scattered throughout: (w). Those symbols are links to Wikipedia articles giving more in depth information about places we went and things we saw, for those who are interested.

How It Happened

Over the years, Terry has made the acquaintance of a number of people in various Latin American countries, whom she corresponds with via email and/or Skype. Two of these friends live in Colombia (w) : Graciela Caviedez in Bogotá (w) , and Beatriz (Bettye) Gonzalez in Medellín (w) .

Last year, Bettye told Terry that her nephew, Juan David, and his wife, Tatiana, were travelling to New Zealand. They were going to have a one night layover in L.A., and Terry invited them to stay with us. We met them at the aiport and brought them home, and the next day we took them to see the Hollywood sign, and to have Mexican food, before we took them back the airport. Since then, Terry has stayed in touch with them - they both have found jobs in New Zealand, and are learning English.

So one day, Terry mentioned that she'd like to go to Colombia to meet Graciela and Bettye. And I, always up for an adventure, said "Sure, let's do it." So we did.

In recent months, Terry has been participating in a Hispanic Guide Dog users group, with members in Spain and Central and South America, as well as Spanish speaking users in the US. This group communicates, not via email like a traditional listserv, but via text and voice messages, using a smartphone app called WhatsApp. Some of the group participants are in Colombia, so Terry also made arrangements to meet some of them on the trip.

Some miscellaneous observations

First off, I should mention here, right up front, that in the airport on our way home, I saw a gift shop selling coffee mugs that said "It's COLOMBIA, not COLUMBIA!" So noted.

A lot of people, when we mentioned where we were going, expressed concern for our safety. For some time, Colombia had a reputation of being an extremely dangerous place to visit, due to cocaine cartels and paramilitary groups. But I did some research, and discovered that in recent years, a lot has changed in Colombia, and it's a lot safer than it used to be.

However, I did make one concession to safety. Normally, when I travel, I rent a car and drive everywhere. When we went to Mexico a few years ago, we drove from Mexico City to Veracruz, a drive of several hours over twisty mountain roads. The drive from Bogotá to Medellín is a drive of similar length, but everything I read about the country advised against tourists making such cross country drives. In fact, American diplomatic personnel stationed in Colombia are forbidden to drive cross country - they have to fly. So that's what we did.

Another concern we had before going was how people would deal with Terry's dog. There aren't many guide dog users in Colombia. And while Colombia does have laws mandating access for service animals, both Graciela and Bettye expressed some doubts as to how well those laws would be observed, and thought that we might have trouble getting in to restaurants. Fortunately, their concerns turned out to be unfounded; we hardly had any trouble at all.

One thing I will say about the Colombian people - they're extremely helpful to the blind. Wherever we went, people would always be rushing over to help Terry up or down steps, or getting on or off trains or busses, etc. Sometimes their help was appreciated, but sometimes it was a bit much - particularly when a "helpful" person would grab Terry's arm (Note: when helping a blind person, don't take their arm, let them take your arm), and even more particularly, when they would grab the arm she uses to hold her dog's harness (Note: don't ever do that).

And that's it for the introductory material. Click here to start reading the trip log.