This is the story I never wanted anyone to know…
It’s the raw and honest truth about my life As A Woman in Colombia.
In February of 2013, I set foot in Colombia for the first time. It was a plot twist in my second journey to South America because my final destination was actually Peru. It wasn’t my first time either, after having spent 6 months in 2012, living in Brazil. This time I had a better idea of what I was getting into.
The fact that this opportunity came with a job and a legal work visa with a decent livable income, made my decision a no-brainer.
I called my mom to ask her to help me switch my flight to the capital of Colombia, the city of Bogotá. Having been an intrepid traveler her entire life she didn’t even question it, and helped me change my ticket.
Serendipity brought some people to me on the plane, who invited me to stay with them in a strata 3 neighborhood of Bogota. In a leap of faith, I trusted them, then traveling with them to Honda, on day 2, and even showing me around the pueblo. I arrived in Ibague, Tolima on my 3rd day in Colombia.
Corporate policy and teaching culture took two weeks to train, and then I was sent to Pereira. This is where my real adventures began…
As a Woman in Colombia
Nothing prepared me for the jungle that one navigates as a woman in Colombia. Men catcall, say compliments loudly, quietly, or to whoever catches their attention. I am not that special, they basically do it to everyone.
Some expat women told me that they have had mixed reactions ranging from anger to fear, and even disgust. Over time, I have become more secure in myself, and now I smile a bit, and keep on walking like I didn’t hear anything.
Don’t respond rudely to catcalls, especially in the pueblos. A little bit of honey sweet diplomacy will win more people over into your favor over the long term, than the sour grapes of culture differences.Culture Tip #1
You never know when someone who catcalls you today might actually step in, and help you with something tomorrow. Look beyond the culture and examine each person individually before you write them off. I have found surprises.
The part of life in Colombia that makes me cringe as a woman, are my economic limitations. In one situation, being courteous and friendly caused a 75+ year old married man to cross the line thinking I had some special interest. I didn’t. But now I don’t want to work with him more than the minimum because he has too much interest in me as a single woman.
In many situations, people have tried to take advantage of me being a woman, foreign, or whatever they perceive as weakness – to not pay me, pay less, or even pay late, while expecting me to simply roll over and do the work anyways.
When the no-pay situation happens, I don’t waste my time for long. They go on my figurative shit list, and I never speak to, or work with them again. This happens more frequently than you can imagine.
Falling in Love…And out of Love
Of course, it wasn’t long after my arrival when I met a nice guy of about 30, who took me out to do things like swimming, road trips on his motorcycle, and bi-annual visits to San Jose del Palmar, a little pueblo in the Department of El Choco.
I fell in love – way too quickly, and quite naively. Sometimes I feel like I felt more in love with the trips to the jungle, on his mothers’ farm. Virgin jungle, exotic flowers and an intense beauty beguiled me even more than the man himself ever did.
Do not fall in love with the shrubbery. Exotic farms, and beautiful gardens are not enough to keep food on the table and love in your bed.Culture Tip #2
I had also helped him start a business. The conversation was like this: “Your life and mine are going in different directions. I am starting my own entrepreneurship project, and you are painting walls. Figure out what your passion is, and I will help you pursue it.”
He did, but once he had money of his own, and I was on a rough patch – there was no reciprocal support whatsoever (unless you call selling off my bicycle to pay bills reciprocal). I dumped him, and made him move out.
He supports our son, with reluctance, and a bare monthly minimum. The rest is on me and my mom. Gotta be grateful he pays something. I have been told repeatedly that most men in this country don’t.
Having a Baby…
I had my baby in the public hospital of San Jorge, in Pereira. Three years afterwards, I broke up with the father.
All the new stuff I had arrived with, was now 4 years old, and economically, while I was able to pay the bills, I still had no real buying power for new electronics. So, I continue doing the best I can on a 2011 Macbook.
The break-up, and then becoming a single mom, was a hard reality for me to accept, but it has inspired much of my writing and even my own perspective of Colombian culture.
My biggest blessing, was having my mom move down here in 2015. Together we have built a support team that cheers each other on and helps each other up during struggles. I won’t say living with my mother is easy, but the rewards are worth the struggles we occasionally have.
In 8 years I have, as of 2021, only had two relationships, and a few failed attempts. This is the kind of place to spend your time wisely, choosing carefully to whom you will give the lions share of your attention to.
As a woman in Colombia, you have pretty much gone back in time 30 – 50 years regarding how the average man treats a woman, and the cultural ideals that both sexes grew up under.Culture Tip #3
Building a Web Presence With An International Audience
During all these personal issues, I have also had some really incredible experiences. One of them, or several, has been building one, then two, and now three websites to create a regional information center that answers all your questions about the Coffee Axis of Colombia.
Every day, I try to read and learn new things about the people, places, and write my thoughts, about local culture. It is a constant process that requires active listening and careful observation.
I started as an amateur with OpenMindedTraveler.com. A few years later, I started PereiraCityGuide.com as a more professional solution to promoting things I care about like small locally owned businesses, tourism services, products, gastronomy, artists, dancers, musicians, and causes I feel are worth supporting.
The biggest opportunity in Colombia is starting your own businesses. Some of the happiest foreign residents I have ever met ran small businesses. Having a hobby that brings in money is equally as valid!Culture Tip #4
All my skills have been mostly self-taught or learned from regional meet-ups like the former Colombian Bloggers Association where other foreign resident writers, journalists, and bloggers were hanging out.
Writing has always been on my horizon, but photography, digital marketing, WordPress, and SEO, I learned through workshops, YouTube videos, blog articles, freelancing, and life experience.
Gaining Regional Visibility
As my presence and websites grew, so also did my local visibility which has resulted in a small media presence as well. Twice now I have been invited back to Telecafe, a local government TV station (like PBS or BBC), for different programs, which are still aired regularly.
Through hands-on, life experiences, I learned about modeling, public relations, social media, camera presence and journalism.
I have supported friends in political campaigns, done live press coverage for special events like La Feria de Manizales, and even been in press conferences alongside local and regional news network reporters furiously writing notes, and/or broadcasting live on Facebook.
My desire to continue to grow As a Woman in Colombia, and my love for this country, is as big as my ambition to gain nationwide visibility while promoting lifestyle, gastronomy, and tourism for international visitors.
Today, I live in a fun and integrated mix of American and Colombian foods, habits, local conditions, and cultural quirks. Like many, my mom and I have had our own set of struggles due to the COVID-19 crisis, we are now being forced to tighten our belts significantly due to the loss of tourism in Colombia.
As the economy continues to get back on track, my own process continues as well.
Surviving the Pandemic – Post COVID
I have returned to my roots with OpenMindedTraveler.com to discover that the site has carved out a significant online niche talking about my disastrous dating issues, conflict zone adventures, and a medium heavy, yet lighthearted cultural critique based on real truths I have lived and seen As A Woman in Colombia.
After weathering the worst of the lockdown in Manizales, Colombia we couldn’t wait to move again. This time we went to a small pueblo west of Pereira in hotter weather, flat ground, plenty of natural surroundings, and a lower cost of living.
Tourism is hit and miss, while lifestyle services are probably part my main source of income both as a consultant, and an interpreter helping with visa processes and bank transactions.
To be honest, I am bored with teaching English, but I continue in the labor because it is a more consistent income when I have students.
As always, writing and photography remain as my central passions, with the additional study of video editing to try to make my work accessible to as many different types of people and mediums of communication as possible.
My Main Project – Coffee Axis Travel
Coffee Axis Travel is more adapted to my mother’s Baby Boom generation. It was created to reflect their combined experiences, values and needs, as foreign residents, to create their dream life in Colombia.
It has become a valuable tool which serves locally owned businesses who offer quality products, by telling true stories, to a growing audience of foreign residents, and visitors.
But, I need YOUR support now more than ever before.
In order to continue telling stories about the Coffee Axis (called “Eje Cafetero” in Spanish), I need extra funding so I can promote people, places and lifestyles, which merit recognition, ideally without having to charge them.
The idea is to create support which helps my content to pay for itself.
In essence, YOUR interests can begin to drive a MORE AUTHENTIC, and unique approach to blogging. Local economies can be boosted by an influx of foreign capital.
You can make an impact for no more than the cost of a cup of coffee.
Support my projects via Patreon. You are helping me to create MORE valuable content while supporting sustainable tourism and lifestyles.
Learn about how you can help my projects grow via Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/coffeeaxistravel
Thank you for your continued readership and support, it has meant a lot to me and I am so excited about what the future might bring to me As a Woman in Colombia.