I am always stupefied by the amount I don't know. For some months we have been planning to visit Colombia, but over and above its drug history I could not name one other thing abut it. So for those whose view is similarly obscured here's some facts to put Colombia within a frame of reference.
With a population of 45 million it is larger than all the Central American countries we have visited combined. Its land mass is as large as the UK, France and Germany combined.
It straddles the top of the continent, with long coastlines on both the Pacific side and the Caribbean and land borders with Venezuela, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador and Panama. The Andes originate in its towering center with peaks to 17,000 ft, whilst to the east the land descends to the Amazon headwaters basin.
Bogota, the capital and at 2,640 m the third highest such in the world, is today a huge cosmopolitan city of 8.5 million ranked as one of the most important in the world for economic, political and cultural development.
The economy is far from third world with banking accounting for 16% of GDP and 40% of all exports being manufactured goods. This in spite of the fact that it is a major exporter of oil, coal, coffee, chemicals, bananas and emeralds (90% of the world supply).
Cartagena (in the photograph above the anchorage is in the foreground) is a sprawling city of more than a million, built around a spectacular natural harbor. Secluded behind well preserved 16 century walls is the old city, founded in 1533 and for many years the major South American port for the transport of riches from Peru back to Spain. Here leafy squares, winding cobbled streets and beautiful churches provide some quiet amongst the hubbub.
The people of Colombia, a mixture of Caribe Indians, European settlers and African slaves are truly fine looking. Nowhere have I seen so many, beautifully made and featured. For the single sailor ... a paradise!
Here we have been watching the weeklong celebrations of Cartagena's independence from Spain in 1810. Colorful, sweet, aggressive, loud, threatening and vibrant, the celebrations seem to be a refection of Colombia itself.