Love & Sex

Talking to Strangers: Backpacking in Colombia

Pin it

Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

Jan-Willem, 34

Are you single?
No, I have a girlfriend. I met her on a ski trip from work.

Is your girlfriend cool with you traveling solo?
Not always. She has trouble with it. The objection is that she's back home while I'm having a good time, and she's stuck and a bit depressed in the cold weather. She's come with me here and there. She came with me in the beginning until December and then she came with me again in March.

Do you have any vacation romances you can tell us about?
On this trip, no. I haven't got anyone besides my girlfriend. On previous trips, I've been single, so yeah. Traveling is better single, definitely. Right now it's definitely not as much fun.

What are your impressions of Colombian women?
My first impression is that they seem pretty open-minded and they all have very big butts. I'm not a big fan of these huge butts, myself. You could make a fruit salad on top of one of these, that's how big it is.

You might be the first male I've talked to who isn't a fan of the big butts.
These butts are bigger than my body, some of them. I generally like slim women. Petite. Over here it's not really like petite. It's big, round, very voluptuous bottoms.

What about personality? What generally attracts you?
A fun-loving-criminal type of person. Someone who is happy and bouncy and fun to be around and enjoys traveling and music. Those kinds of things interest me.

Who do you think has the most casual attitude toward sex?
When traveling, Scandinavian and English people are both quite open-minded. In-country, I would say Cuba. I would guess, and this is based on very little, that Colombia is pretty open-minded as well.

If I go to Holland, how do I pick up a Dutch man?
The Dutch as a whole are very open-minded people. The close-mindedness of some Americans, like not even having a passport, pretty much mind-boggles the Dutch people. But then, you're talking about a country where ninety-eight percent of the population has a passport. I think one-hundred percent of the country speaks at least two languages and probably sixty percent speaks three or four.

How many languages do you speak?
I speak three fluently. English, Dutch, and Spanish.

Does that impress the ladies?
It's actually not a lot of languages in Holland. My folks speak five languages and I have friends who speak seven languages, so it's not a big deal.

How would this trip be different if you were single?
Right now I have to get a phone number for every country I'm in so I can have a conversation every single day with my girlfriend. If I were single, I'd have no attachment with home at all. I wouldn't need a phone.

No regrets though? Still having fun?
No regrets, but it can't last much longer because it's very tough on a relationship. It definitely strains a lot. I've met a lot of people from Australia, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Argentina. They've all broken off their relationships to travel.

What's the toughest thing about making a connection with someone these days?
The world has gone onto the internet, and it's very cool. It breaks boundaries and widens the possibilities. But it also makes things very impersonal. And in a lot of countries, you see people who don't like it when a random person comes by and talks to them — they're not used to that because more and more they're used to doing things through friends or through the internet. Still, when you're traveling, you don't get that much. A person you meet while you're traveling might not give you the time of day back at home, but when you travel it's like, hey, everything goes.


Sanne, 33

Why did you choose to come to Colombia?
Actually, my husband and my girlfriend wanted to come here. I was fine with Brazil or wherever, but they really wanted to come to Colombia.

You're married. How long have you been married?
Four years.

What's married sex like?
Good. Still good. You just have to make time for it. Sometimes you have to make an appointment, because we're both working full-time. Wednesday evening, that's our night. Most of the time it's spontaneous, but sometimes you have this period when you notice you have to make time for each other. Not just for sex but to talk to each other about what's going on in your mind and what keeps you busy.

Do you have any dating advice for people who are still single?
A lot of my friends who are single are really critical. They say, "That guy hasn't got the right shoes, so he's not good enough," and I think you have to look further. The outside is not always the only thing, so give it a chance.

Do you have any good hookup stories from your traveling days?
Actually, yeah. I went to America, to a national park, on a hippie bus from San Francisco, and I met a really nice English guy, so we spent three nights together on the bus, and we had sex on this bus where there were like ten people. That was quite fun. The only thing you need is eye contact. If you really like somebody, then it doesn't really matter if you're in a dorm or whatever, it's eye contact.

What attracts you to the opposite sex?
Sometimes arrogance. Also, just having fun and a little bit of mystery. What I don't like is last week, we met a few guys from San Diego, and they were only talking about going out and drinking too much. There were a few guys in the group who were a little more quiet, and we both thought they were more attractive.

Compare the Dutch dating scene with some of the other places you've been.
I think Dutch people talk a lot about sex. They are quite open. I don't know how it is in America, but I know Belgian people or French people aren't so open about it. I think Dutch girls are really progressive in what they want. There's a statistic that only twenty percent of women get orgasms with sex, but I don't believe that. I think Dutch girls are more like, "I'm going to have my orgasm, so you do what I want." I guess French girls or Belgium girls are more polite and say, "Yes, that's good."

What keeps a relationship going?
I don't know how you say it English, but just that the other person can be honest with me. They say how they really are, so it makes me think about how I really am. Am I the person I want to be? We always say if we're with friends and he's telling our friends something I didn't know, it's time to talk with each other, because it means we don't know what's going on in each other's lives.

What's the most romantic thing your husband has ever done for you?
A lot of things. He asked me to marry him on the beach with a ring inside a chocolate cake.

Brownie points. How did he snag you, or did you approach him?
I traveled for a half year and I had no job, and he was doing his internship in a school, and a friend of ours told the director of the school that I was free to do some small jobs for a few months. So I came to the school and the kids were already saying "Oh, you're in love," when he came into the classroom. "Oh, you're getting red!" And we're both saying, "Oh, no, it's nothing." After three weeks, we were kissing in the… how do you say it? Like a closet with all the school supplies, so nobody noticed.

Any last words of advice?
Have fun. Make sex happen and don't be selfish. I met this girl who said, "I don't like to give blowjobs," but I think it's really fun. I love it. It gives power. You can tease a little bit. Also, you can't expect — how do you say in English, a blowjob for a girl? You can't expect that if you don't do blowjobs.


Kevin, 25

What do you do for a living?
Snowboard technician by day, sushi server by night.

Awesome, and do either of those jobs get you a lot of dates?
Yeah, definitely. Well, actually, I'm not a "dater." Dating is a bit old-fashioned. I mean, I've never approached a woman and said "You want to go on a movie, dinner, dancing type thing?"

So then how does it normally happen for you?
"Let's go snowboarding."

And that works?
Yeah. So I guess that's dating right?

Have you started any relationships with that line?
My current relationship. I met this beautiful woman through my shop five months ago.

So why did you come to Colombia?
Because they have mountains. I love mountains. I was in Central America and the beaches were nice, but I thrive off the mountain energy.

Is your girlfriend cool with you traveling solo?
Uh, I wouldn't necessarily call her my girlfriend. It's very complicated.

What are your thoughts about Colombian women?
Probably some of the best in Latin America. They're beautiful and they're more approachable and they'll even approach you as well. In general, they're more warm, especially if you're a foreigner. They want to meet foreigners. A rare thing, I'd say.

Do you have any cool hook-up stories from trips you've taken in the past?
Well, that's what's fun about traveling. A whole bunch of butterflies out there, right? Love 'em and leave 'em. All on good terms, you know?

Any love-'em-and-leave-'em stories?
Next question. That's a little personal.

Okay, got any crazy exes?
Crazy exes… um, Southeast Asian women.

I won't take offense to that. Tell me about it.
Don't get on their bad side. You'll get whooped around. They're very nice, beautiful. I've had great relationships, but Cambodian women specifically, man. They switch like that [snaps fingers]. I've definitely been punched in the face many times.

Tell me what happened.
Okay, it's kind of a long story. I was working at a bar in Phnom Penh, and the woman who hired me, we moved on to have a little fun.

Sleeping with the boss? I like it.
Yeah, sleeping with the boss. But eventually I kind of needed space. You know, we'd go dancing, and she'd dance with other guys, and I'd dance with other girls, but when she'd get a few in her, she was unpredictable. One time she came up to me and said, "Why are you dancing with this woman?" and took off. I went to try to talk to her. Next thing I knew she grabbed a glass and threw it at me, and it missed and shattered. This was at a place called The Heart of Darkness. Anyone who's gone to Phnom Penh knows The Heart of Darkness. She's chasing me around this place.

How did people react?
They kind of watched. They didn't mind so much. I think they're used to that at The Heart of Darkness.

What's the most unusual place you've hooked up?
Cemetery. That was different. That was a mistake. Drugs do funny things to an individual. I was taking her for a walk toward a beautiful cemetery and I guess it's kind of strange to take a lady into a cemetery, but we were walking through there, and eventually…

What's your advice to fellow travelers looking to get laid?
Choose your country wisely. Colombia is a great place for that. I think sexual relations here are a bit more liberal. Many Colombian men have wives and multiple girlfriends on the side.

Anything else you want to tell fellow travelers about sex on the road?
I feel like sex is a lot of the reason that why people travel.

Is there a particular nationality of traveler you're attracted to? 
Australians, actually because there's an easier connection there.

And the accent, right? You've got to love the accent. 
Love the accent!

Any last tips for dating?
Don't listen to anything I say.

Gijs, 32

Where are you from?
The south of Holland, fifteen minutes from the German border.

What languages do you speak?
My first language is Dutch. I speak German as well, and now I've started speaking Spanish.

Does speaking a lot of languages get you a lot of dates?
It makes it easier to make contact with people. But most people speak English. This is the first time I've traveled and needed to speak Spanish.

I heard the best way to learn is to get a lover who speaks Spanish.
Yup. I had a girlfriend for one month in Bolivia and that helped a lot. I got free Spanish lessons in the evening. I saw her dancing and asked if she wanted to dance salsa with me.

What kind of women are you usually attracted to?
It changed a little bit. I really like Latin American women now. They're not always that open, but when you know the language they open up a bit more. I like the temper they have.

What's dating like in Holland?
We are pretty direct. If you like a girl, you go straight to her. It could be in a bar, or it could be at work, but you make contact and just ask for a date. 

What's your relationship status right now?
Before I left, I was dating a girl, and I said to her I had plans to travel on for eight months. She wasn't sure she wanted to keep the relationship because she didn't think she wanted to miss me for eight months, so she broke up with me. But now, she's traveling by herself for four months. We still have contact, but I don't know if it's going to work again.

What was your job before you came here?
I was a microbiologist.

Super-smart. Does that impress the ladies?
Sometimes it does. I think it's nerdy sometimes, because I work in a lab, but nowadays it's pretty cool because everybody is watching CSI and they think I work with crime and doing DNA stuff. "You know CSI? That's pretty much what I'm doing."

Do you have any good hookup stories from the road?
Yeah. It's easier when you're traveling alone, especially when you're on the other side of the world. You're always looking for contact because you're alone. I met an Italian girl in Argentina. We met in Buenos Aires. She was working in Buenos Aires, and she told me, "Yeah, maybe we can travel together," after two weeks. It was fun. I really liked her in the first few minutes. After two weeks, we met up and we had some kind of relationship and traveled together. It was really fun but then she said, "I want to travel for the next three or four months together with you," and I told her it had been fun but I preferred to continue on on my own.

And how did she take that?
Not that well, because she was falling in love with me. I just enjoyed the time. She was upset, but now we're on speaking terms. She was really upset, like, "I don't want to see you again," but now she really understands. You have to be clear. In my opinion, sometimes you just want to travel together and spend time together, and you're both having a good time, but if one or both is really falling in love, you really have to be careful. Make things really clear.

Let's have that conversation now. We've been traveling together for two weeks and now I've fallen in love with you and I say, "Come on, let's travel together."
No, I prefer to travel on my own. I really like you. I really enjoyed the time we traveled together, but I don't think I fell in love with you.

I feel so used. You're such an asshole. Slap! And, I storm off. Now what?
Well, you also used me. We were equal and you never told me about love. This is the first time I'm hearing it.

Fair enough. Okay, any etiquette for hooking up in a hostel dorm?
It happens quite a lot, not with me, but with others. Other people just having sex, waking me up, in Malaysia and in New Zealand and a few other times. Normally, when it's not in my dorm or the room next door and I hear it, I just bang on the wall. If it's in my dorm, I ask in a friendly way one or two times, please stop having sex. Book a hotel for an hour. If they ignore me then I start shouting and normally there are more people doing that. I never have sex in a dorm because I want to have some privacy.

Pay the five extra dollars, right?
Normally, a private room is like five or ten extra dollars with a large bed that doesn't creak.

That ought to be a standard for hookups, right? Come on, dude, fork over the extra five bucks.


Molly, 30

Where are you from?
The Washington, D.C. area.

How long have you been traveling?
Just about nine days. I'm spending three weeks in Colombia. I have Colombian friends back at home, and some I met in Argentina, and I work with some Colombians, and all the travelers I meet, particularly Dutch and German travelers, say that Colombia is their favorite place.

What's your relationship status right now?

How long have you been single?
That's an interesting question. Pretty much… for a while. I was dating someone before I left for about three months, but I was about to go to graduate school, so we never had the "what are we" talk and we decided to end it. I wasn't in it to win it.

How did you end that one?
Very honestly. I said, "I'm going on a trip and then I'm going to graduate school. I don't know how you see this going. I don't see this working." And he said, "Yeah, that's totally disappointing to me, but it makes sense and you're going to be really stressed for the next two years." It was amicable, it was cool.

Now that you're single and free as a bird, what do you think of Colombian men?
They're definitely the most respectful group of Latino men I've ever come across. I get way fewer catcalls and uncomfortable situations here than I've had anywhere. It seems the level of education is generally higher and the conversations are generally more interesting. I haven't had any romantic encounters with any Colombian men on this trip.

What about your fellow travelers? Any nationalities you're more attracted to?
I'm really attracted to Southern British accents. I spent a month in Southern England and I think that it's the most beautiful sounding English. And then I love Argentine Spanish. In terms of look, I tend to be attracted to dark eyes and curly hair, so, Italians or Jews are kind of my type.

Lot of Israelis travel here — it seems like you wouldn't have trouble meeting your type.
Well, I haven't been doing a lot of hostel-ing. I've stayed with friends from home and I've couch-surfed. But now that I'm in Cartegena, I'm staying in hotel and hanging out with other travelers.

What's the most romantic thing anyone has ever done for you?
I got surprise picked up at the airport once with a loaf of bread from my favorite bakery.

Have you ever had any vacation romances?
In the summer of 2001, I did a trip to Ireland with my two best friends from college. It was my first time backpacking. We showed up at this hostel and the second night they said "We're booked tonight. You can't stay." These two Australian guys were in the same position and had nowhere to go, so the five of us wandered around Dublin trying to find a hostel. We couldn't find one, so we just decided to be out all night. We went to a club, but they closed. Then we went to Burger King and it was really cold. Burger King kicked us out at four. So we snuck into Trinity College and snuggled up on some astroturf by the stone wall. My friend fell asleep and one of the Australian guys, who had been quietly flirting with me, kissed me. It was very cute and kind of innocent. We were really freezing and it was kind of like middle school, very romantic. After that he was my Dublin boyfriend, and we wandered around holding hands. Eventually though we got on different buses and didn't connect again.

Are you actively looking for a relationship or to meet someone on this trip?
On this trip, not really. It's only three weeks. I'm going back, moving and starting grad school. I'm pretty neutral. But if some gorgeous person made his way over, I wouldn't be like, "Sorry, no."

Tell me about your exes. Any crazy ones?
No. nothing crazy. I tend to date pretty non-crazy people. Well, I did kind of date my roommate in Buenos Aires, and that was stupid, but it was worth it. He taught me some phrases in Spanish that I wouldn't have learned, and he was pretty crazy but not really crazy. He'd just grown up with some crazy concepts of what intimacy meant, so he was unreliable. He'd say he would be back in two hours and then five hours later he'd show up and I'd say, "Why didn't you send me a text?" It just didn't occur to him that that three-hour gap would be annoying to me. And he'd make these homophobic comments, because that's what he grew up hearing. I said, "Never never never say that in front of me." I think he got that one.

Isn't that one of the challenges of dating someone in a different culture?
Yes, if we're going there with the Latino men, a lot of men in Latin America have grown up thinking they can do whatever they want. Not just with women, but in general with responsibility and accountability.

A lot of people peg the U.S. as the country with the most casual attitude toward sex. What do you think about that?
I don't think it's necessarily different from other countries. When you're traveling people tend to be more casual about sex than when they're at home, but I find Western Europeans pretty casual. At least in attitude. I don't know about action. Never been there.

Any last pieces of advice for our fellow travelers or readers about dating and love?
I tend to be happiest when I'm single. My advice is that if you're not happy within yourself, it's much much better to just be single. Don't assume that being in a relationship is the best course just because you want someone to care about you.


Jack, 29

Where are you from?
The middle of Ireland — the only county that doesn't touch a county that touches the sea.

What's your relationship status?
I'm single at the moment. I've been single since October.

Can you tell me a little about the dating scene in Ireland?
Where I'm from is different than the bigger cities, different from Dublin. Typically outside the cities, you have still school romances that develop and people tend to stay together more in the country than they do in Dublin. In Dublin you have much older people who are still single. Country people, I don't know if it's boredom or what, but younger girls tend to get with lads and stick with them. That's just the way it is.

By those standards, you should be married to a lass?
I should be.

Why aren't you?
I don't really stick to convention, and with regards to relationships, I've had an awful lot of issues in the past. I suppose, to be honest, I still don't really know the answers myself. Part of it is an Irish thing. Sex and relationships is quite a taboo subject to talk about. My generation is kind of the first to talk about it. There's been a little more sexual liberation in Ireland recently, but it was very traditional in Ireland to get married young. Now there's more experimentation. Also, drugs have come to the scene too, and in my opinion they've changed the dynamic in Ireland. Anyway, I don't know exactly what it is for me. The obvious thing was that I never met a girl who I thought I could see myself lasting with.

Have you mostly dated Irish girls?
Usually yes, but now I find myself far more attracted to foreign girls.

Why did you choose Colombia?
I always thought it was an exotic place. I've traveled to Thailand before and thought it might be in the same line as South America. I would be more attracted to foreign girls than Irish girls. I think Irish girls expect too much. They really expect an awful lot. Actually, the majority of my friends are with girls from another country.

What are your impressions of the Colombian women?
Aw, Colombian women are absolutely beautiful. Especially here in Medellín. Very, very good-looking girls. I suppose it's a bad thing to say, but it's truthful — even the girls who aren't that good-looking are still very sexy because with their figures. Curves in all the right places. Nice hips. Nice breasts. And even the older women are very good-looking — they present themselves very nicely. They dress in a manner that accentuates the curves. Tight jeans, you know?

Have you had any luck meeting Colombian women?
Yes, I did in the last place I was in. Actually, it was a girl from Chile the first night, and then the second night I was with a girl from Colombia, which for me is a big thing. I'd never been with two different women on two different nights. The first girl was very nice. We met in a bar and started talking. She was kind of a smaller girl and I really like smaller women. We just started chatting and got on very well. Moments later I started to kiss her and that was it. The second girl I was with was the typical kind of girl I go for. I don't know why I go for these types of girls. She's a little bit eccentric. A girl who, I would say from meeting her initially, has a number of issues.

How would you like these to work out?
I'd like to meet up with the first girl again. The second girl I met definitely has issues, but for some reason I'm really attracted to that. Don't know what it is, actually, now that we're talking about it. I know my mother had a number of issues and there's a dynamic in Ireland between a mother and her son. I suppose it goes back to Freudian theory.

Got any crazy exes?
Yeah, the last girl I was going out with. I don't want to say too much. But the girl had serious issues. Unbelievable issues. Complete and utter hypocondriac. Believed she had everything. Pain-killers. Always believed there was something wrong with her. Always had something mad going on in her life and always had some endless disease. Always sick and thinking something was wrong with her.

How did you break it off?
She was in America. I was in Ireland. Made it easier to break off. The communication broke down. Upon reflection, I could have made a bit of an effort.

Do you believe in soulmates?
Oh yes, I believe you have a number of soulmates in this world.

Have you met yours?
I don't think so.

Interviews and photography by Pha Lo. Want to talk to strangers in your town? Email