Tag: Bogota (page 1 of 2)

I have seen more overboard PDA (public displays of affection) in the past six months the than in the past six years. I am all for PDA that would not embarrass a tween, like holding hands or stealing a quick kiss. What I have seen goes beyond that.

imageCouples are making out in parks, on sidewalks, in airplanes, and on public transportation. And they are not trying to hide themselves in the shadows or corners. I’m talking about couples lying on a blanket in the middle of the park next to a family or sitting on the bus stop bench next to other people who also are waiting (like me).

The couples usually appear to be teenagers or people in their 20s, but I’ve seen much older couples going at it too. It seems like even when people are older and presumably living with their partner or spouse, they just continue the habit they developed while they were young.

I took the time to write this post so I could share at least one reason behind this behavior. A Colombian friend confirmed my hypothesis that it is because people usually live with their families until they are married. Thus, the only place they can have some privacy is in public.

Ironic.

Note: Although I came close to snapping photographs of the different couples that prompted this post, I decided to respect their public privacy. I am sure most of you can use your imagination to illustrate the point.

One Way I Feel Safer In Bs As

I was nervous in about 99% of the taxis I took in Bogotá. The drivers there are aggressive and there are no seat belts in the back seats. The worse part was that in almost cab I took, the driver was talking on the phone, and some texted as well. Then there was the one who was watching a YouTube video. Mostly while he was driving.

Occasionally, I said something, but often felt impeded by my poor Spanish. I considered offering to pay drivers more if they would not look at their phones during the trips, but never actually did it.

Taxis in Bs As

Taxis in Bs As

In some ways, the taxi experience in Buenos Aires is similar. The drivers are aggressive, but slightly less so than in Bogotá. The majority of the taxis also do not have seat belts in the back seats.

There is one major difference. The drivers here do not talk on their phones. Because it is prohibited. And people take this prohibition very seriously. The fines are high and it is not worth risking the negative impact on their licenses.

A few have glanced at their phones at red lights. One or two have answered the phone to say that they cannot talk, and those calls were very brief.

I actually feel safer in a taxi in Bs As than I do in DC, even though many intersections here have no traffic lights or stop signs.

When I started writing this, I did not intend to get up on a soapbox and preach about the dangers of distracted driving. But I find myself not wanting to resist the temptation because I know how extremely harmful car accidents can be. And because I do not want you increasing your risk of being hurt, or hurting someone else.

Three quick facts from the Put it Down campaign:

  • Engaging in visual-manual subtasks (such as reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) associated with the use of hand-held phones and other portable devices increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
  • Five seconds is the average time your eyes are off the road while texting. When traveling at 55mph, that’s enough time to cover the length of a football field blindfolded.
  • Headset cell phone use is not substantially safer than hand-held use.

And, in case you have not seen it yet, take four minutes to watch this and remember that the only thing you should do while driving is drive.

So Are You Fluent Yet?

Today was my last day of Spanish class. And, before you ask, no, I am not fluent. Not even close.

I am significantly more advanced than I was when I arrived in Bogotá six and a half months ago. But I still have a long way to go.

Last day of school!

Last day of school!

Learning in a school for non-native speakers is great, until it isn’t. One reason (among many) that I am not fluent is that the teachers speak slowly, clearly, and using simple language. Most Colombians and Argentines I encounter outside of school do none of these things. The basic task of deciphering the words they are speaking is difficult, and that is before I try to comprehend the meaning.

I still have a hard time speaking fluidly because I stop to consider which verb tense to use (Spanish has many more than English) and then I have to conjugate the verb. For the rest of the sentence, I have to remember so many things: which nouns are feminine and which are masculine (thank goodness nouns in English do not have genders) and adjust the adjectives to agree, which word to use to express “for” (por or para), and which verb to use to express “to be” (ser or estar). Thank goodness my teachers are very patient.

For my Spanish to reach the next level, I would need to immerse myself completely. I could do this by getting a job and/or living in a place where no one speaks English. Another thought is to take classes at a Latin America university.

IMG_4373I also would need to severely limit the amount of time I spend living in English. When I am alone, I pass a lot of my time reading books or online articles and listening to books and podcasts, all in English. I have read a few books (very slowly) in Spanish, which has helped my vocabulary and grammar. But watching the local news and listening to local news radio a little bit each day has not done much to improve my skills.

I am not sure what the next steps are. I need to decide how much time and effort I want to put into maintaining what I have learned and improving upon it. I have lots of grand ideas about continuing to study once I am back in the US. Realistically, most of those ideas will never get off the ground, or if they do, they probably will crash back down quickly.

It has been a long time since I was a student for more than an afternoon workshop. I can look back and see the process and progress—things built on each other and connected. I have challenged myself and my brain in new ways. I have put effort into expressing my thoughts and ideas. And hopefully I have accrued some of the benefits that research shows multi-lingual people have.

Do I wish I had more mastery? Of course.  But regardless of what happens with my Spanish abilities in the future, I think the time has been well spent.

My experience by the numbers:

  • Different schools I attended: 3
  • Total weeks studying: 19
  • Total class hours: 374
  • Beginning level: A2
  • Ending level: C2
  • Verb tenses learned: 14

My So-Called Exciting Life

I wrote this post a few weeks ago but have been hesitant to publish it because I do not want to burst any bubbles, rain on any parades, or disappoint anyone with the harsh light of reality.

Despite the glamor of the idea of living overseas and exploring new worlds, my life has been pretty unremarkable most days of the past six months.

In both Bogotá and Buenos Aires, I developed a routine for my weeks around Spanish school. In Bogotá, my school offered activities three afternoons per week from museum visits or tejo, to a weekly dance and cooking class. (This is when we didn’t have to make up classes after school was closed on a Monday because Colombia has a gazillion national holidays—seriously, I think national productivity suffers because of this calendar.) More often than not, groups of us would go out to lunch before the activity.

Spanish tools-my phone and notebook are most important

Spanish tools-my phone and notebook are most important

My school in Buenos Aires offers short workshops after class on topics such as spotting counterfeit money and the culture of mate, and shows Argentine movies on Thursdays. Going out for lunch after class also is a given, although there are fewer students here so I have eaten alone a lot more often. The school is in Palermo, a trendy area with a ton of restaurants, so whenever I can, I take my preferred approach of trying somewhere new. I also have spent some afternoons doing touristy things like the graffiti and street art tours in Bogotá and Bs As (photos from both coming soon).

Pretty exciting, right?

Afternoons without activities, or post activities, are usually a combination of naps (hey, learning a language is tiring!), homework or self-study, reading, writing these blog posts, planning future travel, or cooking dinner. I have gone through some Netflix-watching phases, especially when I was sick, but I always use Spanish subtitles, so that sort of counts as studying.

Add in time on email and Facebook, and that’s a day. About once a week I am astonished at how quickly the time flies.

In Bogotá, I often ate dinner with the couple I lived with and liked to go to a salsa dance class on Wednesday nights. In Bs As, Wednesday nights are for the school-organized happy hours.

I also walk a lot. In Bogotá, it took me about 35-40 minutes to walk to and from class; in Bs As, it is 25-30 minutes. In the afternoons and on weekends, I also walk to and from as many places as I can because this is the only exercise I get. And since I usually have the time, why not walk? (Unless it is too cold or raining, which it often was in July in Bs As.)

With my dad’s recent visit and longer trips around Argentina, the last few weeks of my time in South America are going to be different, probably closer to the exciting life people imagine I am leading. But honestly, my daily life usually has been less than amazing. And that is fine with me.

Cell Phones Should Not Cause Crying

Back to Colombia for a post…

One of the things that most confounded me about life in Colombia was the cell phone systems. Seriously, trying to figure it out drove me to tears one afternoon. It is the only thing that caused me to cry my entire 3.5 months there.

In the hopes of saving others from reaching the same levels of frustration, I’ve written this guide for anyone traveling to Colombia who plans to get a local cell phone or use a Colombian SIM card in their own phone. I believe the systems are similar in other countries too.

For the rest of you, I suggest a quick glance since you might find it amusing. Also, I have included some tips for how to save data (and battery) at the end.

BACKGROUND

Is doing this necessary? It depends. Your cell phone will work on wi-fi without a local SIM card. Some restaurants in Bogotá have free wi-fi, but many do not. In Cartagena on the other hand, every place I went offered wi-fi and it is available in many public parks as well. If I was in Colombia for a vacation and spending my time with my traveling companions, I would not bother. For a quick phone call or two, there are always people on the street selling minutos (minutes). These vendors have a slew of cell phones for all of the major carriers and you pay a few pennies for each minute you use the phone. Colombians use these all of the time. (Note that this makes it hard to screen calls because it is common to get a phone call from an unknown number.) It seems minutes are not as common in other countries.

I used my phone a lot while out and about to look up directions and public transportation routes and to be in touch with people I was meeting. The student community at my Spanish school was great and there were often Friday or Saturday night plans that involved a lot of communication outside of school hours. Finally, as a safety measure, I just felt comfort knowing I could communicate with others anytime I wanted.

Get WhatsApp: No matter what else you do, get WhatsApp. It is a free texting and telephoning and app that everyone in South America uses. And that’s not an exaggeration. Both actual phone calls and messages sent through texting apps are expensive. WhatsApp sends messages over the internet, so it uses data, which is much cheaper. You will need WhatsApp to communicate with any locals you meet and probably with other travelers you meet, especially those from countries other than the US. Ask your friends and family in the US who you want to keeping texting with to get it too.

FaceTime: For communicating face to face between Apple devices, FaceTime worked better than Skype. A fair amount of the time we had to do audio-only calls because one of us did not have enough bandwidth for a consistent video connection, but it was still easier to use FaceTime in these situations.

While in the US: As of February 2015, all US phones and tablets have to be able to be unlocked, so make sure you check whether yours is, and if not, that you contact your carrier in enough time to get it done before you leave. (My iPhone 5c, purchased in November 2013, was already unlocked but I did not know this until I called Verizon.) I assume you can call and get your phone unlocked once you arrive in Colombia, but did not try it so I can not promise it will work.

THE IMPORTANT PART

The theory of prepago (prepaid): This underlying theory is what no one could explain clearly to me and caused the tears of frustration. You need a balance on your phone in order to buy a paquette (package) of minutes, texts and data. Going through the process of trying to buy a paquette tells you how much money to put in your balance through the recarga (recharge) process (you are recharging your balance, not your phone’s battery).

Rates witout a paquette

Rates witout a paquette

You want to buy a paquette because the prices are much better. I was curious to see the difference so once put a COP 21,000 balance on my phone, which would have bought a seven-day paquette. It lasted three. The image shows a text I received with the non-paquette pricing. I don’t understand it either.

The pricing information also is available on the carrier’s websites, but finding it is hard because the websites are more focused on customers with plans or people trying to buy a phone. Following the steps below to find the prices on your phone at the moment you are going to create a balance is a guaranteed way to be sure you have current information.

Almost all extranjeros (foreigners) use prepago because you can only get a cell phone plan if you have a Colombian ID card (Cédula de Ciudadanía), or someone with a card to vouch for you. I watched a Colombian woman spend an hour trying to cancel her plan because she was moving to another country. Given her challenges, even if I wanted a plan, witnessing that would have been enough to change my mind. But using prepago is not just for extranjeros. Many Colombians use prepago because when cell phones and plans were first introduced, many people got stuck with exorbitant bills because it was easy to go over the limits that came with the plans.

The actual steps:

1. First, you need to buy a SIM card from one of the phone companies. I found the prepago pricing to be similar between them. I had both Movistar and Claro during my time and found they worked (or did not work) equally well in Bogotá. You can look at other information online, such as national coverage, to see which you want. You may be able to buy your first paquette at the same place you buy your SIM card, in which case, read the rest of this for when you need to buy your next one.

TIP: You can choose your phone number. Ask to see the ones that are available if this matters to you. (I like to have double digits or a pattern if possible.)

NOTE: The plastic casing around the SIM cards was too big for my iPhone. I let the companies trim it down. I didn’t want responsibility for that.

I originally bought a Tigo SIM card which did fit into my phone without needing to trim the plastic, but would not work. Never figured out why, even after an hour of online help from Verizon. If you try a SIM card and it does not work, try another company.

2. Ideally, you will do the rest of this at the place where you are going to pay to recarga (recharge) your phone: grocery and Exito stores, lottery stores, and many seemingly random corner kiosks/carts. If not, do it where you have wi-fi or a computer connection and then go through the process the same day.

There are companies not related to the phone carriers that have websites offering to recarga your phone. There are so many places in Bogotá and most cities to recarga at all hours of the day that I never tried these sites, nor do I know anyone who did.

Start by going through the steps to (try to) buy a paquette. You use the telephone feature to send messages, not the texting app. Makes no sense, but trust me. “Dial” the appropriate numbers, * and #, and then hit the “send” or “call” button on your phone:

Claro: *103#

Movistar and Tigo: *611#

3. You will get a response that looks like this. For future reference, “2:Consulta de Saldo” means check your balance. Right now, you want “6:Recarga.”

Initial screen

Initial screen

You actually select option 6 by hitting the black Reply button and then typing just the number 6 into the text box, which is right above the keyboard in the screen shot below. To “send” this message, hit the blue word Reply in the upper right corner (hard to read in this image).

Selecting 6 from the menu

Selecting 6 from the menu

4. Next, you will go through a series of menus to select what you want to purchase (telephone, SMS, datos (data) and if you want a paquette. There are paquettes for different time periods such as an hour, a day, 7 days, 15 days, or 30 days. Select which paquette you want. As shown below, you will see a screen telling how much this paquette costs. Go ahead and reply with “1:Confirmar” to try to purchase it. You will get a message telling you that you have an insufficient saldo (balance). You can select different paquettes through this process to see the various prices.

Remember how much the paquette you want costs.

Screen showing selected packet and price

Screen showing selected packet and price

5. If you are not there already, go to a location where you can pay to recarga your phone. You will tell the clerk you want to recarga and which company you have. They will then ask for your telephone number.

STRONG TIP: Write down your number or have it displayed on your phone and hand your phone to the clerk. Otherwise, there might be a mistake and you might spend 30 minutes while many store employees figure out how to undo the COP 21,000 they just put on someone else’s phone.

You should get a receipt showing how much you paid and your phone number. You also should receive a text (actual text, not the pseudo-texting you did to figure out what paquette you want) confirming how much money in your saldo. I was told this text could take time to arrive, but I never waited more than a minute.

6. Immediately, and I mean immediately, go through the process of purchasing a paquette again and this time, actually buy it. If you delay, you might start drawing down your balance and then you will not have enough to pay to for the paquette. Smart phones use a lot of data in the background, even when you think every app is closed. I waited about 10 minutes once and had to go back and add more money to my saldo.

7. You should receive a confirmation screen at the end of the process that looks like this.

Confirming the purchase

Confirming the purchase

That should be it, until your paquette runs out, either because it expired or you used up your data allotment. So, here are a few tips to make your data last longer.

SOME TIPS FOR WISE DATA USAGE

Connect to wi-fi: Whenever possible, connect to wi-fi instead of using your data. Self explanatory.

Close apps: When not using an app, close it. Also self explanatory.

Airplane mode: When you are not in a location where you are connected to wi-fi, put your phone in airplane mode. If you pull out your phone to use it, put it back in airplane mode when you finish. One likely time you will “waste” data is when traveling between locations (and if you are on TransMilenio, you probably should not be pulling out your phone, even if everyone around you is).

Location services: I am surprised that many people do not know that smart phones have a GPS function which you can turn off. Unless I am using a transportation app, I always have Location Services turned off: Settings > Privacy > Location Services. You will be asked to confirm that you want to turn off Location Services, so make sure you do so before exiting Settings.

When it is enabled, Location Services is sending information constantly about where you are to any app that has permission to know your location. You set the permissions here: Settings > Privacy > Location Services (must be switched on to go further) > Share My Location. You will see a list of all of your apps that want to know your location. Some apps offer only an Always or Never option, while others have the more preferable While Using option. It makes sense that transportation apps need to know your location, but does the App Store or the dictionary? Take a few minutes to go through all of your apps and select the setting that makes the most sense.

Limit background data: A big data drain can be is background syncing, which is when an app like Facebook grabs an update, or your phone checks to see if there are any new emails. You can reduce the frequency of push notifications, set apps to update manually so they only download new items when you actually open them, and set app updates to happen only when connected to wi-fi.

In iOS, you can also go to Settings > Cellular and scroll down to see a list of apps under Use cellular data for. Toggle off everything that is not essential.

In Android, take a look under Settings > Wireless & Networks > Data usage and tap on an app to find the option to Restrict app background data.

Disable auto-play videos in Facebook: Facebook has a feature that automatically plays videos in your newsfeed as you scroll past them. You can change this setting within the app to avoid unintentionally downloading these videos: More > Account Settings > Videos and Photos > Auto-Play videos on wi-fi only.

Save maps: I never know I could save an area in Google Maps for offline use. This feature is not available in some countries (like Colombia) as of this writing. Hopefully it will be in the future. But, for people in countries where it is an option, here are the details.

Open the Google Maps app when you are connected to wi-fi and select the area you want to save. Then tap Menu > Make available offline or go to Maps > My Places > Offline and tap New offline map before selecting the area you want. You can also review your offline maps via Maps > My Places > Offline. Unfortunately, you cannot get directions when offline.

A Few More Things The US Should Import

While reflecting on my time in Colombia, I realized there are a few more things I saw in Bogotá that it would be great for the US to adopt. (I also wrote a post about things Colombia should import.)

This list is “Things The US Should Import: The Green Edition.”

Plant walls: I saw many buildings in Bogotá covered in plants. They are visually interesting and beautiful. The photos show the outside of an office building and the inside of a restaurant. Bogotá gets pretty cold at night in the “winter” (which is in quotes because Colombia does not really have distinct seasons), so I know we could do this in many parts of the US.

An office building

An office building

Close up

Office building close up

Inside a restaurant

Inside a restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plant arches: These are from a long, narrow park near where I lived in during my first three weeks in Bogotá. I appreciated walking through them every day on my way to—and especially on my way home from—the TransMilenio station. My Spanish school also had a few to the side of the building.

In a small park

In a small park

Public bicycle parking areas: The photo shows only half of the bicycle parking area at a large mall. It is located on the second floor of the parking garage. (Pushing my bike up the ramp with the cars was a little nerve wracking.) Best part? It is free. There are attendants on duty who park the bicycles, and you can only retrieve your bicycle with a ticket. Very safe.

Bike parking at the mall

Bike parking at the mall

Motion sensitive lights: This one is pretty self explanatory. Specifically, almost every apartment building I visited has motion sensitive lighting in the hallways. I know this exists in the US, but it seems to be more widely used in Bogotá.

 

Midterm Progress Report (I Ate Ants!)

I am slightly more than halfway through Phase II of post-law firm life: my Fauxbatical, Pseudotirement, Funemployment, Eat, Pray, Love life, whatever you call it. While in the airport waiting for my flight to Buenos Aires, I took some time to write a progress report tsd set some new goals.

A Review of the Goals: Overall grade: B-.

1. Being uncomfortable (B-/C+): My biggest discomfort is still with speaking Spanish when I’m not sure of how to say what I’m thinking. There were some times when I pushed myself to do it anyway; most of the time, I did not.

Paragliding!

Paragliding!

My Spanish has improved significantly, but has not come as far as I think it should have by now. This is entirely my fault. I found a wonderful living situation, but we spoke English in the apartment, so I was not forced to speak Spanish as much as I might have been in another living situation. Also, I listened to NPR every morning to keep up with the news at home instead of listening to Colombian radio.

For physical discomfort, I went paragliding. Like being on the trapeze, it was slightly terrifying at first. Then it was zen.

A disc in a frog's mouth earns the most points

A disc in a frog’s mouth earns the most points

2. Experience the culture (A): My original homestay was nice, but was not exposing me to much culture. After three weeks, I moved into the guest bedroom of a married couple, G & T, which I found through AirBnB. This was great. T is Colombian and her parents have a finca in a pueblo a few hours from Bogotá. I spent a weekend there with them doing very typical things such as drinking a beer while watching the people in the main plaza, taking a hike, and playing rana (rana means frog; this is another Colombian game in which you try to throw small metal things into holes, including the frog’s mouths, to score points while drinking beer—unlike tejo, this does not involve explosions).

In addition, T & G are very active in Colombia’s chapter of United World Colleges, a network of boarding high schools in 14 countries offering an IB program to an international student body. We hosted students who had traveled to Bogotá to attend a ceremony welcoming new students and celebrating the recent high school graduates. That is something I never would have come across on my own. Some of these students come from poor families and UWC is a huge opportunity that likely will change their life’s trajectory.

Ants and chicha (fermented corn drink)

Ants and chicha

Other cultural endeavors:

  • The salsa classes I attended on a few Wednesday nights had more Colombians than extranjeros.
  • I rode public transportation everywhere.
  • I ate local foods, including ants and chicha de maíz, a fermented corn drink (I didn’t really like either very much, but the drink was better than the snacks).

3. Shake things up (A): I’m here!

4. Go to a play (D-): I am not giving myself an F because I watched a short play for children at La Feria Internaciónal del Libro de Bogotá (the Bogotá Book Fair) in April, and understood most of it. But this was not the type of play I had in mind when I set this goal. I definitely need to do this in Argentina.

 

A Review of the Predictions: Not many as expected

1. Clothes: My clothes were not as out of place as I feared. I think I am going to stick out as unfashionable more in Buenos Aires.

2. Being overcharged: I did not buy many things besides food, and I mostly shopped at stores with posted prices. I did buy my straw hat for the Galápagos on the street, but I paid $7 for it. If that was too much, I can live with it.

3. Lost in translation: I regularly said the wrong thing (on my last day in Bogotá asked for food “to arrive” instead of “to go”), but never in a way that was mortifying.

4. Poor decision because of limited understanding: It turns out that my transportation problems came not from my lack of understanding, but from my inability to be understood. During my first few weeks, I had more than one incident in which taxis took me to the wrong place because they did not understand where I was asking to go.

 

Other reflections:

I discovered—or maybe confirmed is more accurate—that I like routines. I liked getting up and going to school every day, going out to lunch with other students, and taking salsa class on Wednesday nights or joining the cooking plans at home. Going into this phase, I was pretty sure that I did not want to travel continuously and move to a new place every few days; I’ve now confirmed that. I liked having a place to come “home” to where I could share stories of my travels, cook dinner, and do the laundry.

With G & T watching Copa America

With G & T watching Copa America

I did not fall in love with Colombia as a country (nor did I fall in love with anyone in the country). There are many things about it I like, but I do not feel compelled to relocate there, at least not at the moment.

In a total cliché, what I’m going to miss most are the people. I made some very good friends during my 3.5 months there and continued to meet new people even during my last weekend here. I am confident that had I remained in Colombia, many of these people would be the base of my friends.

 

Resolutions for Argentina:

1. Live more in Spanish. I am going to make sure I find a living situation that will demand more Spanish. I’m not sure I can give up my morning NPR, but I will find a way to listen to more Spanish media.

2. Go to more cultural events. I had an image of going to book talks or lectures or things like that, which also would help my language skills. I did not do any of this in Bogotá, even though I know the opportunities where there.

3. Plan my travel better. There are many places across Argentina to see and if I don’t put some dates on the calendar now, I will probably miss out on some of them. I waited too long in Colombia to make travel plans and as a result, did not travel to some of the most recommended cities.

TOL: Biking Is Fun/Dangerous

One of the top tourist recommendations I received even before leaving for Colombia was to take the Bogota Bike Tour. I had not gotten around to it until this week, when my language school offered it as a free afternoon activity. Yay! I get to do something I wanted, with fun people from school, for free!

During the coffee/juice break

During the coffee/juice break

Here are my two takeaways from the experience:

1. I survived intact. This was not a given.

When I was 13 years old, I spent four days in the hospital recovering from a bicycle accident in which I flew over the handlebars and landed on my face. (Word of advice—don’t carry clothes in a plastic bag on your handlebars or it might go into the front tire when you turn the corner and stop your bike cold while you continue moving in a forward direction.) It was amazing that I didn’t break anything and didn’t even need plastic surgery. (Another word of advice—always wear your helmet and fit it properly.)

I had a minor accident in high school as well. (A final word of advice—be careful when riding on wet, dried pine needles. They are slippery.) I haven’t biked a lot since then.

2. I reconfirmed my decision not bike in Bogotá. The bike tour was a lot of fun and I enjoyed covering a lot of the city in a short amount of time. However, it felt like riding through an ever-changing obstacle course in which my task was to dodge moving pedesitrans, other bikes, and four-wheeled vehicles (taxis, cars, trucks, buses, TransMilenio buses).

Bogota Bike Tours

We survived

I feel lucky that I only hit two things: my pedal on a curb and another bicyclist, which was completely my fault. I was making a left turn to enter the road that he was already on. Fortunately, neither of us was going very fast, so there was nothing to the encounter except my total embarrassment and his total confirmation that extranjeros (foreigners) should not be allowed on bicycles, especially in tour groups.

I might consider biking on Ciclovia if I am in Bogotá on another Sunday. But aside from that, I am completely comfortable with my decision to forgo the opportunity to become a bicycling commuter.

Things Colombia Should Import

As I noted in my last post, after almost two months here, I’ve identified a few things I think the US should adopt from Colombia and vice versa. (I later added a second list.) Here’s the second part of the list—things that Colombia should import to improve life here.

Disclaimer: These posts are about the small things. I’m not getting into the large picture needs of Colombia, such as increased rule of law, decreased corruption, building and vehicle inspections, etc.

From the US to Colombia

Yellow LemonsDespite the many different types of citrus fruit available, Colombia does not have lemons. They have a fruit called “limon,” which I originally learned means “lemon.” However, at least in this country, it means lime. I’ve heard that occasionally there are yellow lemons at a few grocery stores, but they are outrageously expensive. Even if true, I certainly can’t plan to bake lemon squares or serve chicken piccata for dinner because I can’t be sure I’ll be able to buy the most important ingredient. Also, Colombians love acidic fruits, so I think they would like these too.

Access To Books: Colombia has a literacy rate of about 94% and vendors sell pirated books on the street, usually spread out on a blanket. However, all of the books are shrink-wrapped in plastic. The same is true in book stores, of which there are many. It makes me wonder how people can peruse a book and decide whether to buy it.

See how far back the light is

See how far the light is from the corner

Better Designed Traffic & Pedestrian Signals: I have a whole new appreciation for the placement of traffic lights. Next time you’re driving, note whether the traffic lights hang in the middle or are on the far side. In Bogotá, the traffic lights hang from poles that are way before the actual intersection that pedestrians at the corners can’t see the lights. To compound matters, most intersections do not have Walk/Don’t Walk signs. Combined, these two factors leave pedestrians making wild guesses about whether it is safe to cross. I’ve taken to jaywalking* in the middle of a few streets on my way to school because that’s the only way I can see whether any cars coming. The corners are just too dangerous.

Seat Belts (In The Back Seat): As I mentioned in my post about my surprisingly pleasant airline experience, the law here only requires that seat belts be used in the front seat, so no one wears them in the back seat. Those of us who are afraid of being injured in a car accident and want to use them in the back seat are SOL—usually, the buckles are inaccessible having fallen back into the innards of the car.

*Technically, jaywalking means violating pedestrian traffic laws. I’m actually not sure what the law is here about crossing in the middle of the street. I take comfort in the fact that I’m one of many people doing the same thing.

Things The US Should Import

After almost two months here, I’ve identified a few things I think the US should adopt from Colombia and vice versa. Here’s the first part of the list—things that the US should import to improve life there. The reverse post follows and I wrote a second list a few weeks later.

From Colombia to the US

Ciclovia: I stumbled onto Ciclovia my first day in Bogotá and continue to be amazed by it. Through a chance encounter with a woman from the States, I learned about CicLAvia, Los Angeles’ version (note how they changed the name to put LA in the middle). But it is only a few times a year. In Bogotá, Ciclovia is every Sunday and bank holiday (of which there are a gazillion). The culture around Ciclovia is amazing, and the streets are packed with cyclists, roller bladers, and walkers, who usually are with family members, significant others, or friends.

Guanabana tree

I really wanted to pick this guanabana

Fresh JuiceColombians drink fresh juice all of the time. Restaurants regularly offer 5-10 types, many of which are fruits we don’t even have in the US. And the drinks are made from the juice of the fruit directly or fruit pulp. My favorite is guanabana, a fruit I first encountered during a vacation in Costa Rica a few years ago. Other greats are lulo (a citrus), maracuya (a passion fruit), and mora (a berry). One downside is that sugar, sometimes a lot of it, is added to the tarter and more acidic juices. Here are two other blog posts about the many fruits found in Colombia that are absent from, or rare in, the UK or US.

Pedestrian bridge

Pedestrian bridge

Pedestrian OverpassesSome TransMilenio stops are in the middle of multi-lane, high traffic volume streets. Pedestrian overpasses that include both ramps and steps provide access to the stations. These bridges also span busy intersections without TransMilenio stations. Because they are so common, people here use them—they don’t run across multi-lane highways. Many of them are architecturally interesting or beautiful, but because I would need to be in a helicopter to get a good photo.

 

Older posts

© 2017

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑