Well, this journey started way back in the beginning of 2007 when I swore to revisit my homeland. As eager as I was, complications slowly took that away.
Although I had only been there 8 years ago, many things had changed. If you want to imagine Cali, picture Manhattan. Now replace half the people with motorcycles which still mix gas and oil. The pollution coming from the cars, buses and motorcycles burn your eyes and scorch your lungs.
[PHOTO_ID_R=aerial-view-cali.jpg] I asked myself a couple of times, where did all the grass go? Did I not remember this at all? Sigh.
I can say this, the mountains looked as majestic as they did in pictures, from far away. [PHOTO_ID_L=mountain-view.jpg] How I yearned to visit them. To be close to their trees and climb above the clouds where the air is fresh and clean. Yet, it was not meant to be. This beautiful forest, hundreds of years old, trees that topped off the skies, I wanted to see it all. Yet, I could not convince even the locals to take me there. The fear of being captured by the Guerilla would not let them think twice about a trip up there. It is sad, to be next to such a beautiful place and not be able to visit. [PHOTO_ID_L=cali-view.jpg] Well then for those planning on visiting here are some of the things I noticed:
Airline: I flew through Copa Airlines. Price was about $500 US dollars including all taxes and one stop in Panama for about 1 hour. No biggie. The Copa plane from Orlando smelled like urine and it was really really tiny. Not fun. But: The breakfast was good and they played a movie but i went to sleep because my flight left at 5:30am and we were there 2 hours before!: [PHOTO_ID_R=lunch-flying-to-cali-from-panama.jpg] [PHOTO_ID_L=copa-airlines-breakfast-juice-was-fantasticx.jpg] The lunch was good too:
Taxi: Taxi is considered one of the safest ways to travel besides your own personal car. For a foreigner, it is still a frightening means of transportation. You can pretty much hail a cab from any part of the city. I was in a very remote part one day and still we were able to get one walking up the street. [PHOTO_ID_L=stop-sign.jpg] Taxi drivers have no problem running red lights, stop signs, cutting cars or people off. But then again, that goes for everyone else as well. Because the locals have that understanding, you rarely see road rage because it is understood that you will get cut off if you don't cut off first. If you are female, you don't want to hail a cab at night. Something about la millonairia. This means theyíll take you where they want and do bad things to you. Enough said. Also, you can call un mobil, which means you call for a cab and it's recorded. It's much safer than hailing a cab at night on the street.
What to Pack: If you are a size 12 or more, it will be very difficult for you to find clothes. Bring your own. If you are a size 3x, forget about it. Jeans and Jeans. You can take like 2 or 3 pairs of dark blue jeans. Not too many cause you don't want your luggage to be too heavy. You're going to be wearing them everyday and so does everyone else. Sneakers for the walking. Unless you're like these crazy Colombian women who wear heels everywhere! No, if you're going to walk, wear sneakers. They sell beautiful sandals over there for about $20 US dollars or more. Multiply that by 2 and you get the price in pesos. For walking, stick to the sneakers please. The side walks and streets are cracked with lots of holes and sometimes they get muddy. I use head and shoulders and although they sell it over there they don't sell the conditioner apart. Only the 2-in-1 which doesn't work for my hair cause it's long. So if you must bring it along but put it in your luggage. No carry-on liquids for US flights.
Speaking of carry-ons: MAKE SURE IT'S A CARRY ON!!! don't try to bring on a mini suitcase like some of these idiots on my flight. They delayed the flight because they didn't want to check-in their carry-on bag which were too big and heavy. IF IT'S TOO BIG, IT WON'T FIT, SO CHECK IT IN!! Use common sense people!! A book bag with your important documents and a set of clothes to change just in case your luggage is lost will suffice. If you take medication, make sure it's in your bag and you have the prescriptions. Geesh!
Moving on, make the necesities as well. For the women, they have toilettries, not the same, but it will work. Men, just underwear and light clothing. Don't forget the jeans and sneakers. I can't stress that enough.
Beds and Bed nets: Again, if you are in a hotel it's probably different. The beds over there are hard and the pillows are harder. Teehee. I slept with a bed net and it works wonders! When i was in someones house who didn't have a bed net, the mosquitoes would wake me up and i'd have to sleep with covers over my head. Alas, you can't sleep because of the heat. Oh, there's no a/c
Hardly any fans either LOL! Use the bed net or buy one! The roaches over there are the size of your palm and will dance all over your face!! YUCKS!! I had to battle a couple of them and I'm telling you those suckers can put up a fight. I swear one was so big i couldn't kill it! I swear it winked at me! LOL
Buses: If you are by yourself buses can be the cheapest public transportation you can use. There is no a/c so get over it. People can even ride next to the driver LOL It's the funniest thing. Although the buses have their routes to follow, they make as many stops as they want. All you gotta do is hit the bell or let the bus driver know exactly where you want to get off and he'll stop. You'll occasionally see and hear people hanging off of the door yelling the route of the bus even though it's posted on the front of the bus.
[PHOTO_ID_L=back-of-motorcycles.jpg] Motorcycles: In my opinion, the motorcycles are swiftly outnumbering the cars. You will see up to 4 people on a motorcycle at once. It is sometimes amusing and sometimes disconcerting. [PHOTO_ID_L=motherx-fatherx-and-child-on-motorcycle.jpg] You will see entire families on one motorcycle; including the mother rearing the end with a 4 month old in her arms-no helmets. They will dip through traffic and while the light is red, they will squeeze through any spot they can to reach the front. I have seen them even get on the side walk so watch out for them. Remember, this is normal to them. [PHOTO_ID_R=parked-motorcycles-in-mall.jpg] It is illegal for two men to be on motorcycles. The reason? Because two men on a motorcycle means the one on the rear will be shooting someone down. Of course that's not always the case but that is the law. You can be given a ticket and/or your bike taken away. The locals have said because of this reason, women are now being used to do the shooting. I did not witness any shootings during my time there.
[PHOTO_ID_R=motorcycle-in-heels.jpg] It was empowering to see so many women on motorcycles. Business women, nurses, mothers, regular people all riding around amongst the male riders and cars. They get on their motorcycles or scooter looking ones with their high heels, dress pants or mini skirts. I have to give them a lot for their courage. Riding in that kind of traffic is just not safe, in my eyes. [PHOTO_ID_L=thatxs-how-they-get-around-to-sell-brushes.jpg] Honking: Honking is a way of communication over there!! They honk for everything! The traffic lights over there go as follows: green light, yellow, red countdown and red, yellow, green countdown. So, when the light is yellow getting ready to turn green, the honking orquestra begins; cars and bikes alike. It seems as though car signals have lost their meaning and instead of using them they use their horn to signal their turn. They honk so much that others don't even realize that they're being honked at. Again, they honk for anything and everything. Don't get offended. One can probably be saying hello to you
[PHOTO_ID_L=lady-selling-fruit-in-the-streets.jpg] People crossing: I think I was the only person who would run across the street to avoid being hit my oncoming traffic. I saw many times where people would merely stroll crossing the street while there were cars and motorcycles speeding their way. The oncoming traffic would have to dip to dodge them and when that was not an option they would stop short causing the tailgaters behind them to follow suit. I would just cover my mouth in awe. Women with children would do the same. I don't know how the elderly get across the street. All I know is that if it weren't for the cars dodging people, a lot would not make it to the other side. Realistically speaking, a lot of them don't.
Money: The currency is the Colombian Peso. To make things easy, divide the Colombian price by 2 and you get an estimate of what it will be U. S. Dollars. For other countries you'll have to do the same, use math! By your 3rd day there you will probably get the hang of it. Keep an eye on your bills, it is very easy to confuse the 2000 bill with the 20000 bill even though one is greenish and the other is bluish. See my pictures of what the bills and coins look like. The coins are in the hundreds and the bills are in the thousands. [PHOTO_ID_R=colombian-money.jpg] You can use your countries credit card in Colombia almost everywhere and in almost all ATMs. If you are going to use a credit card, make sure you take a 2nd form of ID. Even though my Visa had my picture on it they can refuse to take the card. I had a passport so after that incident I used my passport and didn't have a problem. I'm not sure if they will take a license but just in case take it with you and double check. A passport never fails. My passport fit in my pocket even though they were tight.
Shopping: Depending on what you want to buy, you can always find it cheaper some where else. Except in Supermarkets, you can negotiate prices in street markets
I did, and won every time. They would rather sell to you than not. Of course, be reasonable. If you are looking for artesania, "colombian knick knacks" go to las cascadas. [PHOTO_ID_L=cascadas.jpg] The place that looks like it has little cascades of man-made waterfalls. [PHOTO_ID_R=las-cascadas.jpg] Over it is a hill and you can find all that stuff at cheap prices. [PHOTO_ID_L=behind-las-cascadas.jpg] All the way on top you can get some food. Empanadas, papa rellena, yuca rellena, arepa, obleas...yum, try it all! Make sure to bring cash. [PHOTO_ID_R=papa-rellena-and-more-yumx.jpg] Remember, you will have to pay more if you buy at a store than a street vendor. If you can't tell the difference, use this: if it looks like they have to pay rent to a building, it's gonna cost you more there.
Also, make sure you have jeans on. Separate your money into your pockets and remember which pocket contains what so you don't have to pull out all your money. That's not a good idea, there is always someone watching you whether you see them or not.
[PHOTO_ID_L=soupx-ricex-meatx-tostones.jpg] Food: Nothing surprised me because I'm Colombian and most of the food that they served I had already eaten here in the states. Although, there was the incident with the chicken. [PHOTO_ID_R=chicken-head.jpg] But, for the foreigners, be weary of the foods you try in the streets. Remember they prepare the food in their homes and take them out to sell. [PHOTO_ID_R=street-vendor.jpg] I visited several houses with different kitchens and ALMOST all were the same. Lots of little ants, no saran wrap or foil, and most of the stuff is kept at room temperature. But if you're adventurous as me, you'd try almost anything. [PHOTO_ID_L=papa-rellena-and-more-yumx.jpg]
My all-time favorite?? Arepas de maiz con queso! Yum!! You can get one off of a street vendor for 500 pesos. I paid up to 1,500 pesos for one but still it is less than a dollar. Drink it with grape soda or mango juice in milk and you're all set. [PHOTO_ID_R=yum-mango-juice-in-milk.jpg]
My family decided to make some chicken soup and well, they put the whole chicken in there. I have video and pics of how the chicken actually looked. [PHOTO_ID_L=egg-still-in-chicken.jpg]
There were eggs still inside!!! Supposedly that is the best part. Yet, rice and salad was my meal that night LOL!
Letís see what else? Oh yea I think I ate tripe soup like 4 times over there. One time, they put heart in it. [PHOTO_ID_L=tripe-and-heart-soup.jpg]
Yes, heart. I ate the tripe and flicked aside the heart. I just couldn't bring myself to it.
Hmmm they sell their milk, water, and mayonaise in a bag. Interesting huh?? [PHOTO_ID_R=mayonaise-in-a-bag.jpg] [PHOTO_ID_R=water-in-a-bagx.jpg]
P.S. if you want soda, ask for Gaseosa, or else! You'll get seltzer water! yucks!! [PHOTO_ID_R=bottle-of-spritex-had-to-be-returned.jpg] They do say Sprite over there
and depending on where you buy the soda from, you'll have to take the empty bottle back. Fun! Same thing goes for the beer. If you buy a case of bottles you'll have to take the whole case back once you're done
Dress code: Just to get this out there: if you are bigger than a size 12 or Large you WILL find it difficult find your size. I'm a size 14 and the XL that i did find were just t-shirts. Now, if you must shop, and you are my size, go to the maternity section LOL you'll find stuff that fits there. Most of the shirts are low cut and you will be showing A LOT of cleavage unless you wear an under shirt. If you are a 2X, forget it. You have to shop in the men section or buy a smaller size in womens clothes and be proud to show your rolls. Oh yes, that's how they do. I was astounded seeing everybody wearing jeans. 90% of the population wears jeans there. I can understand that. I did the same since I would not dare carry a purse. You carry a purse, and you immediately become a target. Same goes for the ever popular tourist fanny pack. If you insist on carrying a bag, don't keep any important documents in it. Keep it in your pocket. If they snatch your bag, they won't get anything important. If you carry one, keep it cross or in front of you. It will be a clear target if it's on your side. My cousin was riding on the back of her momís motorcycle and another person on a motorcycle rode by and snatched it. It's that easy and even easier if you're walking. Don't become a target. If you are a conservative person, be prepared to be shocked. The women were once naturally beautiful but now are surgically enhanced. Although I don't agree with that kind of enhancement they do look different.
Almost every woman over there is curvy and wears clothes that accentuate that. You'll witness lots of chest and butt cleavage. Women walk in high heels down the pot-hole ridden streets and in the malls. You can see the pain in their toes and on their faces. Even to go to the supermarket the woman would get dressed up. Since I didn't care for it some biking shorts, a big t-shirt and sneakers did me just fine. If you have a pretty face, you will still get reactions.
There may not be money for food but there will always be money for a PEDICURE!! You have to be dirt poor to not have your feet done in Cali. Even my grandmother got her feet done. Compared to the $45 U. S. Dollars I pay for a pedicure, the pedicures in Cali are only 7,000-10,000 pesos. Do the math; divide that by 2, super cheap. Of course you don't get the nice comfy massaging chairs or the bubbling water in your feet. It didn't look like they sanitized their instruments so I didn't get a pedicure. But I did get a trim with a wash shampoo and conditioner for 5000 pesos!! Thatís awesome!! I pay almost $23 U.S. dollars here. The lady did a good job too =) my dad got his hair cut for 4000 pesos plus 5000 for a manicure. Oh yea, almost all guys get manicures and pedicures over here. The men also put a clear top coat on. Metro here, normal over there =)
The fohawk is very popular with men over there. Almost everyone has that hair cut. The men wear jeans and sneakers the style of pumas. Comfy, but I noticed their prices are way too much.
Language: Don't forget where you are!! EVERYONE here speaks Spanish. Just because they are blonde hair, blue-eyed white looking person does NOT mean they don't speak Spanish. [PHOTO_ID_R=blonde-blue-eyed-colombian.jpg]
There are a lot of beautiful black people there too and yes they speak Spanish. If you speak Spanish in your country so others don't know what you're saying, don't do that here. It happened to someone and they looked foolish. Also, don't use English to do that either, that just raises a red flag and puts a target on your forehead.
Even though we tried, some English words always came out. The crap, sh!t, damn, maybe, ok, whatevers came out unconsciously. Careful, careful. Oh yes, remember it's a microonda, not a microwave. LOL Oh the Spanglishhhhh!
Showers and Bathrooms: Boy this is a fun one! Unless you are in some spify hotel, you will have to take a shower with COLD WATER!!! Oh yes! It gets so hot over there you actually welcome it. I mean, once you step out the shower you'll begin to sweat. Where we were staying there was no toilet seat, just the toilet. So if you're a small person you'll probably sink in hahahaha. Just kidding...we went out and bought a toilet seat i couldn't take it! The bathrooms in the malls and public bathrooms didn't have toilet seats either. [PHOTO_ID_R=toilet.jpg]
What gives?? We used a public rest room once, and even though it was clean, there was no seat cover and you were handed a certain amount of toilet paper to use. Oh yea and it cost 400 pesos, not much but yes you pay. If you go to a restaurant to use the bathroom you pay too unless you are a customer. The water pressure in the showers isn't as strong either. And when you flush the toilet it's even worse for the sink and shower.
Internet and Phones: There is an internet cafe on almost every corner. It's cheap to use but very weird. Their keyboard is different too. Some keys are changed to accomodate the Ů and a couple of other ones. But other than the few pinky finger changes most of it is the same. You will notice that their internet connection is slower of course. Broadband [banda hancha] is still new for them. Now if you want to make international calls, it seems to be cheaper at one of these places than using a calling card. You want have the same privacy but people will hear you speak english but hey, it does seem cheaper. A hi, bye, all is well should do for a phone while you're vacationing there, in my opinion.
Customs: Eh, if you are invited to eat at someone's house, take something. A loaf of bread, some kind of pastry, even soda is fine. Don't show up empty handed.
Hmmm for the women: The men over there will compliment you, it is a normal thing and sexual harassment is almost non-existent. Get over it. Say thanks, be nice, smile, continuing walking. You never know, that person may be the one to help you out of a crunch but always be weary. Check out this pic: [PHOTO_ID_R=colombian-humor.jpg]
The rest you'll probably just have to learn on your own or just email me with any questions.
Just know that everyone is trying to make a living or scraping by. They are watching you and waiting for you to mess up. Don't be flashy, don't be too paranoid, you will stand out. Just try to blend in. If someone does try to rob you, think before you react. These people are hungry, are you willing to lose your life over something insignificant? Hmmm I wonder.
That's all I can think of for now. If you have any questions again email me not a problem.
This trip, was in some way disappointing to see my city in such a state. They are in the process of implementating el MIO, some kind of accordian buses i think which will replace all the old buses. But it's taking them forever to do it. I was happy to have gone through this experience and visit my family in the process.
I can truly say that I am Americanized and that I appreciate our way of life and the things that I have 100 times more.
It has struck fear into my heart. China is also a different world and I will be there for one entire year unlike my 17-day trip to Colombia.
I'm trying to find comfort in the fact that I will be training everyday, and I will be located in the mountains. I am going to try my best to prepare myself mentally and physically as much as I can.
I can do this...I will do this...
Thanks for reading my blog, I hope it was helpful.
See you soon!
Tentative trips: New Jersey, New York, Colorado, Bahamas, Japan