Uncover Colombia Interview: Simona’s experience in Colombia

This week we bring you another edition of our monthly interview. This time we talked to Simona, who has been living in Colombia for about one year doing her internship in Medellin.

We would like to thank Simona for taking the time to answer our questions and share her photos of Colombia with us and our readers.

Happy travels!

The Uncover Colombia team

Tell us something about yourself (Where are you from? who you are and/or what you do?)

Hi, my name is Simona Pfefferová, I am from the small European country called Slovakia. Many people know my country as the old Czechoslovakia, but the country was divided into Slovakia and Czech Republic more than 20 years ago. Some people still call me Czechoslovak girl, and that of course is quiet funny for me . I studied Management of Culture and Tourism in Slovakia and I did part of my university studies in the south of Spain, in the capital of Andalucía- Sevilla.

I would describe myself as person who dreams trying to convert dreams into reality. My favorite quotes is one from Dalai Lama: “Happiness is not a destination but a journey..”. I am passionate about photography and travelling. I write my own blog called Pimentona (www.pimentona.wordpress.com) and I am absolutely freak about handcrafts and artistic stuff.

Why did you decide to visit Colombia?

Oh, I forgot to mention that I am also bookworm :).

All right, when I was in high school, I liked to read a lot about conquest of the Inca´s empire and, I also remember that some travels books about South America passed through my hands. All these pages left great impression on me and I swore to myself that one day I would travel to South America and discover all that incredible wonders with my own eyes.

When I graduated from University, I searched for internships in South America and I found one in the second biggest city in Colombia, Medellín. It seemed to me pretty challenging to live in Colombia because of the bad reputation and horrific media information about the country. Despite that, I came here in October 2012.

With collegues in the coffee cooperative

With collegues in the coffee cooperative

What sort of things did you like?

Colombia is such a diverse country; it is an unique South American country, it has two oceans, coffee hills, the biggest number of birds in the world and an incredible network of rivers and waterfalls. There are also colourful charming villages such as El Jardín or Barichara, colonial cities like Popayán, many indigenous people still living in various departments and incredible handcrafts made from natural materials such as seeds or bamboo.

What didn’t you like?

At the beginning it was a bit difficult to get used to unpunctuality which is a problem in many tropical countries. They are not punctual at all. It happened some times that I was left alone waiting for my Colombian friends. Now things have changed and they wait for me.

Another inconvenience are the typical paisa (Antioquian) slang. I speak fluent Spanish, but even thought, it happens sometimes that the quantity of slang and colloquial words is so high that I feel completely lost in conversation.

What was your favourite experience?

I have a lot of unforgettable experiences as my internship was connected with tourism. I visited many interesting places, for example: a 100years old guitar fabric, a butterfly farm and the indigenous community Chamí. But, one special experience I won’t forget is one month living with a coffee grower family in the south-western region of Antioquia.

Coffee picking is real tough job

Coffee picking is real tough job

Green and Ripe Coffee Cherries

Green and Ripe Coffee Cherries

I learnt a lot about coffee and the hard life behind its production, I even picked coffee myself! They also taught me how to make your own chocolate from cocoa beans (https://pimentona.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/chocolate-stories-from-raw-cocoa-bean-to-chocolate-poo/) and how to prepare arepas (corn pastries). I made many friends in this rural community and although I am not living with them anymore, I still visit them – they are like my Colombian family.

With my little Colombian sister

With my little Colombian sister

Did you have any problems, finding accommodation, transport, food, etc?

The only great problem I faced was my expired student visa and the small fine I was given by the immigration office. Talking about food, I am not able to eat meat and beans daily as many paisa people do.

Which other countries did you visit besides Colombia and how does Colombia compare with these countries?

I have visited many Western and Eastern European countries and Morocco in Africa. Here in South America, I spent three weeks travelling in Peru and stayed for a few days in Ecuador.

I have also travelled around Colombia and I have visited less touristy places like Capurganá or Sapzuro near the borders with Panamá. Colombia is fine to travel but it is still better to ask local people about the safety conditions in the area you wish to visit. Unfortunately, there are still places where you should not go.

Typical paisa breakfast

Typical paisa breakfast

Which image did you have about Colombia before going there?

I was not that scared before coming to Colombia as my parents, the rest of the family and friends were. They kept telling me that I was crazy and I should change my mind and do that internship in a safer country. I had met few Colombians in Europe before coming here and they told me a lot about the recent changes in Colombia, so my vision of this country was not that horrible because I more or less had an idea of how Colombia would be.

Did this image change after your trip?

Colombia still faces various problems, it is not perfect, but there is no ideal place on earth, right? I would said that I have learnt about the causes of their problems and have seen the impacts of these problems in their life, as I have been living here almost for a year.

Would you like to come back?

The plane which was supposed to take me back to Europe left in March but I was not inside of it. I took a risk and stayed in Colombia. Now, I live in a bit unknown coffee zone in Antioquia and I really like it because I am surrounded by the beautiful mountain range of Los Farallones del Citará. There are coffee hills everywhere, colourful chivas and it is just amazing to spend Sunday afternoon swimming in a clean river!

Mountain range Farallones del Citara

Mountain range Farallones del Citara

Typical chivas in the Andes

Typical chivas in the Andes

What would you recommend to someone considering Colombia as a destination?

Open your eyes and ears, start making your own opinion about the country and leave your fear behind. Colombia is not a place where they kidnap you the minute you step on it! Come and see the real face, you will be astonished and greatly surprised by its warm people, natural diversity and lovely colonial architecture.

Any final thoughts?

I have learnt a lot about coffee and I had a lifetime opportunity to live with a coffee producer family and work with them in their coffee plantation and, to be honest, I was quite surprised. I am sure that many of you drink coffee but have no idea how the coffee life is. This is the main reason why I would like to share it with you throughout a recently launched project called Coffee Passport, Colombia.

The aim of Coffee Passport, Colombia is to publish a photography book and show coffee reality and its main figures- producers, pickers and families through many colourful pictures with short explanation in English.

The project is based on crowd funding and it means that I need to collect a necessary amount of money from various contributors from all around the world in order to make this project a reality!

For more information about project and ways how you can support it, please check out this link: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/coffee-passport-colombia.

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