On numerous occasions, I’ve mentioned that one of the most effective ways to learn Spanish is to take a trip to Latin America where you will be totally immersed in the language. I have also said that since the Spanish of Colombia has not been diluted by English as much as the Spanish of many other Spanish-speaking countries, I have recommended that you take a trip to Colombia to learn Spanish.

Well, a couple of weeks ago an American was killed here in Medellin, Colombia. A 65 year old, New Yorker by the name of John Mariani. He was killed during an apparent robbery attempt in a wealthy neighborhood of Medellin called Poblado when his taxi was intercepted by gunmen on a motorcycle. Mariani was shot and killed by the “ladrón” (robber) when he refused to hand over his wallet.

The authorities in Medellin are now offering a reward of 50 million Colombian pesos (about $16,000 U.S.) for information leading to the capture of those responsible.

Here’s a link to a New York Daily News article about Mariani’s murder:


If I am recommending that people come to Colombia, and especially Medellin, to learn Spanish, then I should also give a few tips on how to stay safe in Colombia and other countries in Latin America.

First of all, do not resist a robbery attempt. Although Colombia is a developing country, there are a lot of extremely poor people here. The minimum MONTHLY wage in Colombia is 644,350 Colombian pesos. That’s the equivalent of $225 U.S.

And that’s NOT a weekly minimum wage but a monthly minimum wage. Not to mention that there are many, many Colombians who are paid “off the books” who earn less than the legal minimum monthly wage.

To a Colombian “ladrón” (robber) your iPhone, wallet, cash are very valuable. But no iPhone, wallet or cash is worth losing your life.

And although Medellin, Colombia is not nearly as dangerous as it was 25 years ago when Pablo Escobar ruled Medellin, both petty crime and violent crime still continue to be problems which plague this wonderful city.

With that said, I feel the need to say statistically Medellin is a lot safer than several U.S. cities including New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland, Detroit, and Chicago. A typical “ladrón” in Colombia has no intentions on killing his victim. And by simply complying with his requests and turning over your belongings, you’ll escape the ordeal unscathed.

How To Stay Safe While Learning Spanish in Latin America


What Does “Dar Papaya” Mean in Colombia?


The second thing not to do . . .

In Colombia, they have a saying called “dar papaya.” “Dar papaya” means “to show off” or “to ask for it” or “to make yourself easy prey” or “temp fate.”

For example,

Mi primo dio papaya y lo atracaron ayer por la noche, le robaron la plata y el celular. (My cousin was showing off last night and they mugged him for his money and cell phone.)

Es mejor no dar papaya y no llevar tu tarjeta de crédito. (It is better to not tempt fate and take your credit card.)

Ese hombre dio papaya y le robaron la cadena de oro. (That man was showing off and they robbed him of his gold chain.)

Here are some examples of “dar papaya” (tempting fate) in Colombia:

1. Walking the streets while talking on your shiny new iPhone 6

2. Wearing a nice watch or an imitation of a nice watch

3. Pulling out a big wad of cash when making a purchase at a store or restaurant or paying a taxi driver.

Despite the above, I still recommend that you visit Colombia. As Colombians say to “extranjeros” (foreigners),
“el único riesgo es querer quedarse” (the only risk is wanting to stay.)

Although that may not be completely true, Colombia still has so much to offer:

Snow-capped mountains, coffee plantation tours, Caribbean Islands with white sand beaches (San Andres and Providencia), Amazon River, Humpback whale watching, Salsa dancing in Cali, Cartagena and its 16th- century castle, the carnival in Barranquilla, and, of course, my favorite: Medellin which is known as “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera” or “City of Eternal Spring” along with its annual “Feria de las flores”

(Flower Festival).

With that said, “ten cuidado” (be careful) and use good judgment when visiting Colombia or any other country in Latin America.