Growing up near San Francisco, California,
we didn’t learn much about Colombia in school. For instance, geography classes focused more on Europe and history teachers rarely mentioned (if at all) Simón Bolívar. Students who took Spanish classes mostly learned about Mexican or Spanish culture. As an adult I became aware that American’s view of Colombia was heavily influenced by pop culture. Shakira taught us that Colombian women were attractive and that their music was great for dancing. Additionally, the Netflix show Narcos told us that drugs were omnipresent. Surely, this wasn’t all true. Not every American owns a gun nor do we all eat hamburgers, so these generalizations couldn’t be accurate about Colombia.
One day, I recently found myself on vacation in Neiva. My previous knowledge of the city and department of Huila was equal to my experience in outer space: none whatsoever. With the help of some special people I received a more genuine Colombian education.
Even though I stood out like a sore thumb, most of the people I met in Huila were very welcoming. They also were exceedingly formal when speaking not only to me, but with each other. “Si señor” and “Como le ha ido” were phrases I heard frequently. Regardless of age or who they were, everyone was treated with respect. The only place where people weren’t polite was on the road. With motorbikes outnumbering cars, the idea of politeness didn’t exist anymore.
Love for Huila
When speaking to locals in Neiva one thing was clear: People loved their department of Huila. They were also highly proud of their history and culture. It seemed like everyone I interacted with already knew that I was going to love being in Huila and they were right.
Neiva immediately held a special place in my heart the moment I tried achiras for the first time. A fan of salty snacks, rice, and coffee, I was smitten with the cuisine in Huila. Hot chocolate, guayaba candy, lechona, tamales, and the famous Asado Huilense made my spirit feel nourished.
Land of abundance
After spending time in Neiva I learned that both Huila and Colombia are vibrant. They offer stunning landscapes, wonderful people, and a beautiful culture that I still hardly understand. Experiencing this part of the world brought one question to mind:
When can I come back?