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Hippie Travelers in Colombia

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Colombia is full of hippies, or whatever you want to call the dreadlocked, often unwashed, more or less listless looking sect of traveler who seemingly come to the northern stretches of Latin America for the adventure, the cheap and readily accessible drugs, and the easy living. They are often from Argentina, traveling north, selling jewelry; but many are from the Pacific states of the USA as well, or Europe.

“I was on three buses today that broke down already,” a California girl told me in the bus station of Santa Marta.

My bus from Palomino actually rescued her from the side of the road.

She was friendly, eager to talk with me. I think my tattoos and long beard may have tricked her into believing I was “one of us.” She told me that she had just traveled up to the Guajira Peninsula, one of the most remote parts of the Colombian Caribbean and the northernmost point of South America.

“There was nothing there,” she spoke with wild eyes meaning, I think, that it was cool.

She told me that she was living in Bogota.

“What are you doing in Bogota?” thinking that she may have been teaching English or doing some other work that I could get a lead on. But her response was a heavy stated, “Absolutely nothing, man.”

She said this with pride.

“I’m just traveling,” she continued.

“Me too,” I lied. Nobody really seems to understand it when I try to explain that I work while traveling, travel to work. It is not normal for someone traveling to put in 8 hour work days on a computer by choice — it is kind of dorky, so I usually keep this fact to myself when talking with people on mobile pursuits of pleasure. But my conversation with the California girl was just about up, and there would not be much risk in blowing my cover and revealing that I am really not that cool.

“I have to go out and smoke a joint now,” she proclaimed, “then I can just sleep on the bus all the way to Bogota.”

She held her hand out flat before her and moved it in a wave like motion as she said this through eyelids intentionally drooped down to slits.

This was more than likely an invitation for me to go out and get high with her, but I said a quick goodbye and split. No, I was not going to go out and smoke drugs tucked behind some dumpster outside of the Santa Marta bus station. This was fun when I was 15. At 30, I’m a curmudgeon.

But many travelers come to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Central America, Mexico seemingly poised to do little else. This penchant use of marijuana has always been my break in establishing friendships with a huge percentage of the long term travelers in this region. There are thousands of working travelers moving up and down Latin America, living cheaply, and etching out rather creative livings on the road. Some are good travelers, others seem to be rich kids rebelling against their parents. Either way, I find it very difficult to be friends with many of these travelers, as they seem to be constantly getting high. It is annoying to always need to be walking away from someone mid-conversation because I don’t want to inhale their drugs.

“Oh, you’re getting high now. I’ll be back when you’ve finished.”

It is difficult to grow friendships through this barrier, especially when these travelers seem to be getting high virtually all day long. This isn’t just something they seem to do on the weekend or when out partying, but is a part of their daily lifestyle. They seem to get high in the same intervals as most other people eat meals, always providing their bodies with a regular boosts of stupefaction.

The habitual use of marijuana seems to be a point of bonding between this class of traveler. It is my impression that it may seem extremely odd to them that a twenty or thirty year old travel — especially one that looks like me — would refuse a toke of mota. Sometimes, I think I leave these hippies feeling insulted when I decline their offer to smoke up with them, most often I think I’m showing that I’m on one side of a dividing line and they are on another. Habitual use of this drug seems to be a defining characteristic of this subculture of traveler, a part of their collective identity.

Invariably, I meet up with a group of hippies, we talk travel, they pull out a joint, I walk away. The ax falls — the acquaintanceship will go no further, for I have refused the bonding agent of this sub-culture, showing clearly that I am not “one of them.”

I am fine with this. I enjoy talking to people who are alert, mentally at the ready, prepared to teach me something or truly listen to what I have to say. I don’t want to waste time speaking to people whose brains are not functioning properly, who are not going to remember what I say to them, who cannot adequately communicate the details about that which they speak. There are few things more onerous to me than being around people who smoke marijuana compulsively, intentionally rendering themselves retarded. If I wanted to hang out with retards I would become a special ed teacher and get paid for it.

I don’t have anything against people who smoke marijuana, I just don’t want to be around it. And this is the personal conflict here: there is an incredible dividing line between me and a large mass of other travelers moving through this region in roughly the same manner as myself because I refuse to be around their drugs. This is my call, it is my issue, I am a traveler therefore I can control who I spent my time around. There would not be a problem except for the fact that it sometimes gets a little lonely out here.

Maybe they are hippies? I don't know.

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Filed under: Colombia, Culture and Society, Other Travelers, South America, Traveler Culture

About the Author:

Wade Shepard is the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. He has been traveling the world since 1999, through 76 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to Forbes, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3048 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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