I recently read that in 2008, Colombia ranked the third happiest country in the world. From what I have seen so far, I have absolutely no reason to believe otherwise. And I am not referring to a "they have nothing but they are happy anyway" kind of situation. Quite the contrary: Colombians seem to enjoy a very high quality of life, and appear to have everything they need. There are no obvious displays of materialism or extravagance, and I also haven't seen much blatant or desperate poverty, as I did in India, or even in parts of the U.S. Services are plentiful and efficiently run, roads are paved, streets are clean. Everyone has shoes on their feet. It is a country that seems to be well-kept and cared for, and its citizens rightly take great pride in this. Colombians are doing well, and they genuinely seem to be happy.
I imagine things were very different not so long ago, when La Violencia held most of the nation hostage. And from what I understand, the violence still rages in vast parts of the countryside, leaving many civilians displaced and living in fear. But thanks in large part to the antiguerilla efforts of Presidente Uribe, this now seems to be the exception rather than the norm. And from where I sit at the moment - at a quaint outdoor cafe on the edge of Villa de Leyva´s impressive Plaza Mayor, enjoying a fresh-squeezed limonada and watching a number of children fly kites in the town square - Colombia seems to be a remarkably peaceful place.
This just goes to show how ridiculous our media can be, and how easily rhetoric can sway us into believing things that aren't true. I bought into it; before coming here I was downright scared. Now, I feel silly for feeling this way. One would think we could have learned a lesson about the media's fear-mongering skills during the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. But we don't learn, and as a result, we miss out. Take Cuba as an example: a lovely island nation floating in the Carribbean Sea, depicted as a communist torture chamber, its leaders demonized as hideous and evil dictators. I was there. It was hardly a horrible place to be. The only thing this nonsense has accomplished, is that the rest of the world has enjoyed the benefits of tourism and investment in this wonderful country, while we Americans have missed out. With all the media hype and ceaseless rhetoric, Colombia might fall into the same category. But I won't mind if the secret doesn't get out just yet. Traveling through a country unmarred by tourism and not yet blanketed by Starbucks and McDonalds is a welcome change of scenery. And maybe, just maybe, this is why the Colombian people are so darn happy.