Let’s continue with the list of tasks you need to complete before you leave for Bogotá:
If you don’t have a passport, get one now at the nearest post office. You’ll need to bring in a couple of passport-sized photos that you can get at Kinko’s or a camera shop, whichever is closest to you, and when you do, get four or five extras. They’re good to have with you when you go abroad. A Colombian press card might require one, as might press credentials for other countries you’ll be covering. And you might lose your passport or have it stolen and having a passport photo on hand will speed up the process of replacing it.
As someone who had his passport stolen his first day as a freelancer in Africa — making my way by bus from Jomo Kenyatta Airport into downtown Nairobi — let me recommend a way to carry the passport, vaccination card, visas, press credentials, a credit card, and some cash: sew a little drawstring bag out of an old bandana and use a nice thick sneaker lace as the drawstring. Put your documents and cash — not too much; enough for a day, in small bills — in it and tuck it inside the waistband of your pants over your hip. Tie the ends of the drawstring firmly to a belt loop, and you’re done. Nobody can snatch it from there, and you can ascertain that you still have your trove simply by looking down and seeing the drawstring, relieving you of having to do every five minutes the touristic self-frisk — feeling for your trove, which communicates to everybody around you exactly in which pocket it is. That’s how I lost my trove on that Nairobi airport bus — ceaselessly patting the cargo pocket of my trousers to assure myself that I still had my trove. I might as well have been saying, “Here it is, guys!”
Tying the trove to your belt will keep you, too, from falling victim to a robbery technique that befell me in Zamboanga City, the Philippines, in 1982. Someone, seeing from the outside that my wallet was in my back pocket, sliced my pocket open — presumably with a straight razor — without my noticing. Had my trove been tied to my pants and hanging inside them, I’d have felt the tug. It occurs to me now that both of these pickpocket stories — Nairobi and Zamboanga took place as I was boarding or leaving buses, and distracted by my luggage. A third pickpocketing incident, in Mexico city in 2017, happened on a Metro. Point is: be extra vigilant on public conveyances, especially if you’re distracted by gear.
Some countries require proof of vaccination against yellow fever or other maladies upon entry. This website will tell you the requirements, country by country, and also make recommendations beyond the requirements. You should check other sources, too, and if you can, find a travel-medicine clinic in your city, which will also have information. The aforementioned website offers good advice, too, on its Colombia page, about taking along mosquito netting and chemical mosquito repellent, and making sure all your standard vaccinations — tetanus, diphtheria, etc., are up to date. Have whoever gives you your shots note the shot and date on your yellow vaccination card, sign it, and stamp it to make it look as official as possible. You don’t want to get hung up at a border or airport over this, and if you’re like me you don’t want to get your shots at some flyblown clinic who knows where.
Find out if you need malaria prophylaxis, and what kind. If a doctor recommends chloroquine, do some research to see if the strain of malaria in the places you’re going is chloroquine-resistant. Resistance to chloroquine is a byproduct of the American war in Vietnam. The U.S. Army issued its soldiers chloroquine pills to take daily, the parasite adapted to it, and resistance spread outward. This is how Margaret found herself delirious in a hospital bed in Harare.
As you start ticking things off your list — permissions, passport, vaccinations — your departure will feel more and more real. You’re on your way to Colombia to launch a career as a freelance foreign correspondent! Everybody knows it, you’re getting vaccinated for it, and nothing can stop you!
We’ll continue tomorrow with lining up clients.