The Instant Gratification Mail System of Colombia

November 26, 2007
Day 789

Back in Villa de Leyva, I spent a day buying presents for Christmas with the intention of sending them home right away. Last year most of my presents from French Guiana got stolen en route to the USA, and I really wanted to avoid repeating the bad experience. Villa de Leyva didn't have any decent postal system, so I carted my box of gifts to nearby Tunja (a larger city) in hopes of getting it sent.

Half my day was spent walking around Tunja carrying seventy pounds of stuff (my backpack plus the box). I went to several shipping companies, but they only had air service. The prices were so high, I practically could have flown home with the gifts for less money. The concept of sending stuff home on a ship simply didn't exist in Colombia. Nobody had even heard of such a thing.

I finally bit the bullet and decided to send my stuff by airmail. The lady at the desk then asked me if I had a receipt for everything, and I just about lost it. I calmly explained to her that you don't get receipts when you buy handmade goods from hippies on the streets, and I certainly wasn't going to fly back to the Galapagos just to ask for a proof of purchase on my $3 blue foot booby souvenir. She seemed to understand but insisted that US customs required receipts for everything. That's weird, I had never heard of such a requirement before, and I just sent some stuff home from Ecuador a few months ago. So I guess the current plan is to try to send it again once I get to Venezuela, although that means carrying the aforementioned seventy pounds of stuff across a border that has a dangerous reputation from a country whose most famous export is cocaine into a country that's getting more politically unstable every day and whose president considers the US government his biggest enemy. OK, you can stop laughing now.

To add insult to injury, I ended my day by taking a bus north to San Gil, from which I wanted to travel to a national park. The owner of my hostel told me that the roads were too bad to go from there and I should have gone from Tunja instead. That was completely the opposite of what I was told yesterday, but this guy really seemed to know what he was talking about. Well I sure as hell wasn't going to take another bus back six hours and waste another day in the process. I think there's still a way to get to the park from further north, though, so maybe all is not lost.

It's getting a little frustrating traveling around a country with such a small tourist infrastructure. The people are what make Colombia great, but they've seen so few tourists, they're not quite sure how to respond to questions regarding the logistics of getting from one place to another. Colombia does have a lot of great natural sights, but for the most part, they are controlled by guerrillas and paramilitaries, and are therefore too dangerous to visit. The park I wanted to go to was one of the few safe places in complete wilderness, but nobody I talked to had ever been there, so it proved quite difficult to reach.

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