Arriving in Tumaco, NARIÑO/COLOMBIA – a process of (quick) adaptation

Finja Koester

I came to Colombia knowing that this time it would be different. In fact, I was quite aware that it wouldn’t be anything like the experience I had when living in Bogotá for an exchange semester a couple of years ago. My friends in Bogotá had prepared me well for what I would expect in Tumaco – or had they? Can they really prepare me for something that no one of them has ever experienced, a far-away place that they only know from some petrifying news story relating to the armed conflict or remember seeing as distant point on the map, somewhere there on the Pacific coast close to the border of Ecuador? Frankly, this is the destiny that Tumaco often faces. But as with everything, there is always the other side of the coin and I was more than eager to discover the part that people (oddly) hardly seem to talk about, but that ‘The Pearl of the Pacific’ does offer: the music, the food, the Afro-inspired culture, beautiful nature, cheerful and salsa-loving people.

Departing from Bogotá, I spent most of the flight glued to the window, admiring Colombia’s diversity during a two-hour journey that started in a gigantic metropolis, continued above glaciers and mountains, and terminated in far-flung rivers, mangrove forests, and the almighty Pacific Ocean. I think it is in this very moment that I fully realized, beautifully encapsulated by the changing scenery beneath my feet, what I said above – that I will see a very different face of Colombia that I haven’t explored so far.

And what a welcome I got! The humidity, a constant and ubiquitous noise level (be it loudspeakers, honking horns, construction work, reggaeton, you name it), the accent of the Tumaqueños, the colours – an overwhelming sensation for the senses. To this very day, I have been in Tumaco for precisely one month. As I write this article, I remember these initial sentiments, yet they feel strangely distant. It is astonishing and amazing how fast one can adapt to circumstances and situations that once felt immense. The heat? Not as unbearable anymore. In fact, I felt cold when headed to Bogotá the other day. The crazy traffic? While the bare act of crossing the street felt like an insurmountable task the first day, I now effortlessly spot the little holes allowing me to cross the street confidently. The smell? Loving it! The smell of salt in the air, freshly fried fish, and coconut, yummy! The noise? Let’s say, I have learned to filter out the good things – one of them being the fantastic music on the Pacific coast. The people? Happy and welcoming, proud of their Tumaco and resilient despite the hardship the often face.

Well, here I am, still in the process of adaptation, but feeling more settled and home every day. It is the little things that one starts to appreciate; kind gestures, beautiful places, and big smiles, all of which I have already had many of in my first month in Tumaco.