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Hippie Travelers in Colombia

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 [...]

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.

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 88 countries. He is the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China, and contributes to The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3413 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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Wade Shepard is currently in: Prague, Czech Republic

13 comments… add one

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  • bryanpaul October 9, 2011, 10:11 am

    haha… yeah when i’m out travelin most kids look at me flabbergasted and confused when i tell ’em i dont really smoke weed….especially in california……. then again i kinda do that to folks when they tell me they dont drink 🙂

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    • Wade Shepard October 9, 2011, 11:57 am

      Yeah, that’s funny. Marijuana seems to be this “good guy” drug that many people think everybody likes. Sort of like how many people who are into politics talk as though everybody agrees with them.

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  • Caitlin October 9, 2011, 9:19 pm

    Hey, that photo is from Guatemala, right?

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    • Wade Shepard October 10, 2011, 10:52 am

      Yeah, do you recognize those hippies or something haha? I did not have an adequate one to illustrate this entry with from Colombia.

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  • brandon October 10, 2011, 12:27 am

    About your comment about it sometimes getting lonely out there…

    Before you met Chaya, was it hard for you to have mostly temporary friendships over lasting ones?

    If so, how did you deal with it?

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    • Wade Shepard October 10, 2011, 10:51 am

      I’ve never had much of a difficulty convincing girls to pair up with me haha. Few friendships on the road or in any other context are going to be lasting ones. I think I’ve always hit the ratio just about normally. Too many lasting friendships and you spend your life on FB haha. So, no, it wasn’t much of a problem having the temp friendships. But here in the northern and mid ranges of Latin America it is difficult to even have temp friendships as SOOO many travelers are just smoking dope all day long. Not kidding here.

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  • brandon October 11, 2011, 5:54 am

    What a bummer. From what I’ve seen as well, it blows my mind that so many travelers use their free time to either smoke weed or watch movies on their computer all day; activities that can be done from home.

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    • Wade Shepard October 11, 2011, 9:00 am

      Travel, more and more it seems, is becoming an act of rebellion rather than exploration. Instead of staying home, getting a job, getting a “life,” many young people are going to other countries and are pretty much doing the exact opposite of what they were raised to do — ruining their minds and loafing around to show their independence from their parents (maybe). It is interesting. But in such a future oriented society like the USA where kids are taught to fear and prepare constantly for adulthood, it may be understandable why many break down, say “f’ck this” and split to Latin America and, pretty much, go derelict. I am not sure how it is in Argentina (looking into this now) but a lack of quality employment for young people seems to be one of the main reasons they drop out and split.

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  • jason November 23, 2011, 9:32 pm

    If I wanted to hang out with retards I would become a special ed teacher and get paid for it.

    pure class, haha..I know what your saying here as I dont smoke weed, and people are always like what?..and then I like to add, yeah I know right, and I have jamaican blood…whaaaaat??I think drugs on a daily basis is ultimately an escape from reality that become a dependance on an illusion, a pretty lame illusion at that…Nice that you touched on the whole lame traveler thing, I used to ask people to write questions on my bike board, a good one came from an english bloke I met in nicuragua, who actually was also smoking weed all day long, anyway he had his head screwed on, and asked what is the future of independent travel?

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    • Wade Shepard November 24, 2011, 11:47 am

      Haha, right on, man.

      I suppose I don’t have any problem with people smoking weed in the party setting, but, man, it just becomes a true way of life for so many travelers in Latin America. You put it right here, its a dependence on an illusion. I have no problem with this either, except for the fact that I would love to actually communicate with many of these people but it is just not possible when they are so far removed from the reality they are in. Oh well.

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  • Fake Baby Jesus November 1, 2012, 4:56 pm

    Im from Medellin Colombia, Living in the States. Most would consider me the poster child for the hippy lyfestyle, (long dreadlocks and long beard wearing dashikies). I love the “hippy” lyfestyle and the spiritual aspect of Canibus. but Im noticing more and more that the spiritual aspect is being ignored in today’s eclectic sub society and that makes me sad. Most people dont believe me when I tell them I only smoke 3 to 5 times a year. This is mostly because I dont trust what’s beeing sold in the streets and until it is legalized I wont grow my own. But even if I did, I would only do it for religiouse purposes during sabeth…. Just thought I’d share

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    • Wade Shepard November 1, 2012, 8:29 pm

      Thanks, it seems as if you’re hitting on something here. There is a big difference between enjoying a smoke recreationally/ spiritually occasionally and smoking all day long pretending that it’s healthy. I don’t care what someone else does, I just don’t like being around perpetually stoned people. I just don’t fine the interactions very enjoyable.

      It’s the “cool and trendy” atmosphere of the traveling hippies that I have a difficult time stomaching. It’s a climate where everyone seems afraid to voice any opinions or ideas counter to the status-quo of the group, and those that do find themselves cast outside the circle. This is normal in any group, but what is different is that I’m usually initially taken as “one of us” when I first encounter this subculture and they seem to expect me to conform to or at least reflect their chosen set of ethics — which I don’t. Usually, most groups I encounter know that I’m an outsider and therefore afford me more ideological/ philosophical/ political elbow room, and the interactions are more about learning and understanding rather than just listening to someone say the same catchphrases over and over.

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  • Siobhan Warde January 31, 2016, 12:26 pm

    Hey,
    Could suggest a hippie town or area in Columbia,I m currently in Medellin,I want to do a massage and Holistic Therapy Course?

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