Pro tip: Always Carry Cash in Colombia

As an American, I really like my credit card. I mean who even carries around cash anymore? One thing I need to get used to in Colombia is carrying cash, and carrying enough of it.

We wanted to check out Rio Claro for a day, it’s a park where you can hike, raft, zipline, among other activities. The river bed is marble thus the river is usually clear and you can see through to the bottom. Because of the recent rains, it’s wasn’t extremely clear for us, but certain parts we saw what they meant.

Getting to Rio claro wasn’t as hard as I had read online. We simply asked the ticket woman about it and she said just to let the bus driver know. It was 4am when we arrived (we took a night bus from bogota). Our hotel was just across the bridge off the highway and we went there to see if we could just sit and wait (until the morning for check in). The guy at the front desk went ahead and gave us our key an let us in his room. Many a times Augustin asked whether we would be charged for this and the guy repeatedly said no. We thought, “oh how nice of them.”

We spent the next day at Rio Claro enjoying the river and the activities. Luckily we could use our credit card there, but it had to be over 100,000 pesos, which was fine. For dinner we stopped at a cafe next door and ordered food and as always asked, “acepta tarjeta?” To which we got a “no,” of course. We started talking about how much the hotel would cost and if we had enough money to pay for that and for this food. We had 130,000 pesos (~$40USD) and figured we would have just enough for both, but not anything for our bus ticket. We started hoping that the hotel would accept credit card, otherwise we were screwed. Around this same time we got to talking with the table nearby to us, a Colombian who spoke English. We talked with him and he gave us some tips for Medellin and a little later he walked over to us and gave us his number and said he insisted on paying for our meal. We declined but he could tell that we were in need. We thanked him graciously and then headed to our hotel. At our hotel we asked to pay and instead of the cost expected, they said there would be a surplus for checking in early. We told them many a times that we didn’t have the cash for a surplus charge. Augustin speaks way better Spanish than me and so luckily he was able to argue some and somewhat speak with them. Eventually they told us there is an ATM in the main town nearby and that they can take us in the morning. We went to bed, unsure of what would happen the next day.

Waking up the next morning we were pretty nervous. Would they still try the charge? Would we be able to leave? The woman at the desk this morning asked again for the total plus the surplus and after some arguing still we were unable to change their minds. She would call a “colectivo,” something similar between a taxi and a public transport bus. 40 minutes of waiting and one finally arrived. Another half hour in the van and we arrived in Doradal at the only ATM in the vicinity. We arrived to a sign that said “fuera de servicio” meaning it was out of order.

We still had to pay the colectivo because I had left our remaining money in my other bag. He took us to a bank of Colombia stall, but our card is international so they wouldn’t accept. We went to this other place and for a 10% fee he charged my card and gave me back the money. I paid the colectivo and we found one of the guys from the hotel the night before. We had thought the plan was for him to drive us back, but instead he just helped us hail another colectivo back to Rio Claro.

The ride back was worse. The driver made us both squeeze into the front seat so he could carry more people.

In the end, we felt the aspects of “the butterfly effect,” where one little action causes more and more chaos. Today has been like that no less.

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