For all my friends and fellow travelers who’ve asked over the years, here is a list of the podcasts I always turn to on noisy Vietnamese trains and 23-hour Argentinian bus rides. Give them a listen, and let me know what you think.
Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – He makes people from history feel alive, from the Mongols to Martin Luther.
Highlights from Talking History – A brilliant Irish-led discussion of historical happenings with the scholars that study them.
Backstory – A really entertaining and eye-opening look at U.S. history.
Documentaries – The BBC’s long-form reports from every region of the world.
New Yorker Out Loud – Discussions with New Yorker writers about the world they cover.
Radiolab – Riveting sounds, science, and stories from NPR.
The World in Words – Reports about languages and words from around the world.
Coffee Break – The RadioLingua network has a plethora of great podcasts for learning languages; I’ve used CoffeeBreak French and German and am now completely fluent (or at least can order baguettes and currywurst).
A post about travel podcasts and there are no travel podcasts? The thing is, most travel-focused podcasts are dull. If I want to learn about Germany, I don’t want to listen to someone else talking about what they did and saw there — I want to do it myself while listening to something like Dan Carlin’s astonishing Thor’s Angels, which follows the Germanic people from when they were Ancient Rome’s brute garlic-eating tormentors. Travel is about society, culture, language, and history, so the above podcasts are just better than so-called ‘travel’ podcosts.
That said, Travel With Rick Steves has a few fantastic episodes (especially interviews with travel-writing greats like Pico Iyer and Paul Theroux), but tends to be geared towards middle-aged Americans oblivious to life outside of Kansas. I also listened to the Indie Travel Podcast for years, and will always have a place in my heart for Linda and Craig and their journeys, but it’s frankly hit or miss.
Jokes from drug-smugglers explain everything.
A retired Colombian cocaine-smuggling submarine captain once told me a joke:
God was bent over his workbench, hard at work designing and shaping the Earth. Saint Peter peeked over his shoulder:
“Whatcha making there?”
“Oh you know, just another part of the world. Humans will one day call it ‘Colombia.’ “
“It’s incredible! Not one, but two oceans with breathtaking coastlines? Those incredible emerald hills? All of those mountain chains and snowy peaks? Thousands of rivers and rapids and swamps and mangroves? The Amazon rainforest? Enough productive farmland to feed millions? Don’t you think it’s unfair to spoil all of its inhabitants, while giving so little to so many other people of the world?”
“Nah, I’m not too worried about it.”
“Wait, what? Why?”
“Just wait til you see the assholes I’m gonna put in power to fuck everything up!”
This sums up so much of what I’ve seen here in the past 6 months. A country blessed by beauty and warmth, but ravaged during the last sixty years by a pandora’s box of the worst of third world problems: guerrilla movements, political violence, kidnapping, terrorism, bombings, assassination, drug trafficking, corruption, and deep poverty.
Today there’s a lull in much of the country, and it’s quite pleasant to be here, which is a relief considering the terror in Bogota neighborhoods like my own in the 80s. Yet huge swaths of the country are labeled red zones, with too many roving bands of AK47-wielding peasants to warrant a visit from the average tourist (just check out the Table of Contents of Lonely Planet Colombia, in which half the country is conspicuously absent).
But why? Is it the hijos de puta in power, as the Spanish version of the story put it? The corruption? The legacy of the Spanish? American imperialism? Left-wing violent assholes? Right-wing violent assholes? Left-wing and right-wing violent assholes who forgot about their ideology after they got a taste of the profits that sending drugs to the yankees up north brings? Violence begetting violence?
Hell if I know. The paragraph above gets about as close to the meat of the argument as I can muster right now. Throughout the decades, what is certain is that bunch of rich guys keep battling over who get the profits from a well-endowed country of poor peasants, and they bring as many bystanders into their violence as they can.
Things seem to be getting better for Colombians today. Here’s to an asshole-less future.