I decided to a share a story from my visit almost two years ago (March 2017) to Casa Elemento Hostel in Minca, Colombia – a breath-taking and popular hammock viewpoint hostel in the Sierra Nevada mountains just outside of Santa Marta. Though the view and the food were outstanding, I was really upset to see how I was treated by a bartender there. My objective with this article is to bring awareness to all of us as travelers in a foreign land, especially to increase our ability to see how our actions can appear imperialistic, a.k.a. toxic settler/colonizer mentality, or simply down-right rude.
I was loving the music being played at the hostel, which I should mention is owned by a North American woman. It was mostly U.S. American hip hop and rock tunes being played. I don’t know why I thought it would be fun to request a Latinx song to get the mostly European and U.S. American guests to start dancing and experience this very important part of the culture in Colombia. For those of you who know me, I’m always excited to get the dance party started. I went to ask the hostel staff about my music request, and the whole interaction went down like this:
Me: Can I please play a Salsa song?
Mexican Bartender #1: Sure! You’ll have to ask the owner if that’s okay though.
Me: *Confused* …ummm, okay
*I walk up the few hill stairs from the bar closer to the restaurant.**
Me: Hi are you the owner? I was told by the bartender to ask you if it’s okay to play Salsa music?
North-American Owner: Oh that’s so cool! Yes, everything is up to the discretion of the bartender. My rule is no electronic music. That’s so cool though, Salsa!
*I quickly walk back down the hill to the bar where I couldn’t find the first bartender I talked to, so I talked to the second.*
Me: Hi I just talked to the owner to get permission to request a Salsa song and she said it was okay.
British Bartender #2: Oh, well, I don’t have that kind of music.
Me: That’s okay, I have my phone we can plug in
Bartender #2: I’m sorry, but if you can’t tell, there are mostly British and [U.S.] Americans here, so we are playing music that most people want to hear.
Me: But, we are all visiting Colombia.
Bartender #2: *Smirks, shrugs, and walks away without a care in the world*
Not only was I appalled by this poor customer service but I was deeply disturbed by this insensitive way of treating a non-European, non-traditional U.S. American customer. I spoke to Bartender #2 in English as a Colombian-American, so I can’t imagine how local Colombian employees and/or guests are treated by this bartender. I told the only other Colombian guest I met at the hostel, and she was also deeply distraught by this treatment.
I was livid, but I appreciated that both Bartender #1 and the Colombian receptionist Jessica at least listened to my complaints. Ultimately, I do think Casa Elemento needs to talk to Bartender #2 about their insensitive comments because this will deter local Colombian or overall Latinx/Latin-American customers in the future.
Moral of the story: at least TRY to act like you are interested in the music, culture, and customs of the country you are visiting or living in. We are guests in that country short term or long term, so we need to show respect. In the future, I will try to avoid touristy places that don’t have mostly locals in order to avoid this kind of treatment.
Thank goodness for those breath-taking views, motorcycle rides through the Sierra Nevada mountains, and the coffee tour we took, all of which made up for poor treatment at the hostel. Minca is one of the only areas along the Caribbean coast of Colombia that cultivates coffee, as it is rare in this region compared to the interior’s Coffee Triangle. I highly recommend checking out La Victoria Coffee Farms for a tour, and there is a craft brewery across the path from them called Nevada Cerveceria.