Tag: lessons learned (page 1 of 3)

And The Award Goes To…

I have been home for two weeks now. In looking back on my time in South America, I have given awards to the best parts of my experience and mention a items I did not like so much.

Best trip in part one: State of Santander, Colombia, my last weekend in the country. I traveled with G & T, the couple in whose guest room I lived, and two delightful friends of theirs. We went whitewater rafting, which I’ve done a number of times and enjoy. Then we went hang gliding (parapente in Spanish), which I had never done and found close to terrifying, kind of like flying on a trapeze was. (Click here to see the hang gliding progression from the photo below to being airborne.)

I also ate ants, which now I never need to do again. The fermented corn drink, chicha, barely helped the ants go down more smoothly.

Getting ready to jump off the side of a mountain

Getting ready to jump off the side of a mountain

Eating ants and drinking fermented corn

Eating ants and drinking fermented corn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best trip in part two (and of the whole seven months): there is no contest here: El Calafate. I was totally enchanted by the Perito Moreno Glacier. I also got very lucky with a beautiful, sunny, wind-free day.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno Glacier

On Perito Moreno Glacier

Always good to have a pick axe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best item from the US: silicone ear plugs. Without these amazing items, there are many nights I would not have slept at all. In Buenos Aires my second floor (third floor in a US building) bedroom window overlooked a busy street and was very close the intersection where this street crossed a six-lane avenue. When an ambulance was trying to get through, the noise from its sirens combined with the horns of the cars stopped at the red light trying to clear the road was so loud that people in the US commented on it during phone calls. In Bogotá, I needed the ear plugs many weekend nights when one guy would have parties in his apartment across the alley until all hours of the morning. We heard he got fined for excessive noise, but apparently it was not large enough because the parties continued.

The long-sleeved shirt

The long-sleeved shirt

Best planned purchase: sun-blocking long-sleeved shirt for warm weather from the Patagonia store in Bogotá. I really hate being in the sun so purchased this shirt before my trip to The Galápagos. It got a lot of additional use.

Best unplanned purchase: thermal leggings and socks in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, where it was significantly colder than expected.

Best new (to me) song: El Perdón (Forgiveness) by Nicky Jam and Enrique Iglesias because it played constantly in Colombia, occasionally in Argentina, and always gets stuck in my head. Unexpectedly, I heard it blaring from a car in my neighborhood during my first week back in DC, which made me smile (and have it stuck in my head for the rest of the day).

Wedding cupcakes!

Wedding cupcakes!

Best unexpected experience: being a witness at the wedding of my new friends A & S at the British Consulate in Bogotá. Both are dual citizens (UK/Colombia and UK/Pakistan). Since they had the consulate ceremony for immigration reasons, there was no big celebration or cake. So I brought wedding cupcakes. I’m expecting an invitation to a full-on party in 2016.

Favorite website: www.spanishdict.com. Translations, examples, verb conjugations. I used it multiple times a day (note to others: the website is better than the app).

Runner up website #1: www.wordref.com. The website where I usually ended up when trying to understand a phrase in Spanish or the difference between words that all translate as “however.”

Runner up website #2: www.expresionesyrefranes.com (Expresiones españolas para Erasmus en apuros (Spanish Expressions for Erasmus in Trouble) – a blog that explains Spanish sayings such as “pedirle peras al olmo” (literally: asking for pears from an elm tree; meaning: asking the impossible).

Chilean currency

Chilean currency

Prettiest currency: Chile. The colors are vibrant and it is printed on a paper-plastic mix, so the bills do not become torn and faded easily.

Favorite juice: guanabana. The taste is very hard to describe. It is sort of a combination of pineapple and strawberry or papaya, with sour notes and creaminess of banana underlying it all. The smell can be simultaneously sweet and musky. Just trust me and try it if you have the opportunity.

Tajin Fruit and Snack Seasoning

Tajin Fruit and Snack Seasoning

Favorite new spice: Tajin Fruit and Snack Seasoning mix. I discovered this in Colombia even though it is a Mexican product. Intended to be sprinkled on sweet fruit like mangoes and papayas, I tried it on popcorn in Colombia and then had some every day for a week. Now, I am scouring local stores to find some here (I tried another brand and it is not as good). BTW, I still have not tried it on fruit.

Least favorite Colombian food: arepas, which are the Colombian version of tortillas. Most of them have no taste whatsoever, except for those from Boyaca, which are made from a sweeter dough and stuffed with sweet cheese. When served hot, these are delicious. Otherwise, don’t bother giving me arepas of any kind. However, they may be difficult to avoid in DC because it seems that they emerged as the latest food trend while I was gone and can be tried at a dozen places.

Sandwiches de miga

Sandwiches de miga

Least favorite Argentine food: sandwich de miga jamon y queso (ham and cheese sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off). Not only will Argentines will eat dulce de leche at every meal, they will eat a ham and cheese sandwich at every meal too. If made with more substantial bread, it can be toasted and served as a meal. When on dainty miga bread, it is a snack or one item on a buffet. Bakeries sell other types of sandwiches de miga, such as egg salad or tomato and cheese. At airports and on planes, there are no choices.  This led to the day when I ate a cheese sandwich for breakfast at my hotel, a toasted ham and cheese sandwich for lunch at the airport, and a ham and cheese miga as a snack on the airplane. And I do not even like ham.

Things I should have left at home: professional clothes. Although I was glad to have an appropriate dress to wear to the wedding ceremony, and wore everything I brought with me at least once, I really did not need at least 20% of my clothes.

Trying to have a photo taken of just me

It can be hard to have a photo taken of just me (in Ushuaia with Chile in the background)

Biggest annoyance: tourists who have no awareness of anyone around them and walk right into the middle of someone else’s photo, or stand next to the sign/view/statue long after they are done having their photo taken, ruining other people’s opportunity to take the memorable shot.

Thing I will miss the most: Spanish classes. I really enjoyed the process of learning something new.

Some Things I Am Looking Forward To

I started this post at the end of July and have been adding to it since then. As I reread it, I appreciate how incredibly fortunate I am to have creature comforts and conveniences waiting for me at home.

Beyond my friends and family, here are a few things I am very excited about reacquainting myself with when I arrive in the US.

Household paper products: Most toilet paper in South America feels like sandpaper. This is not great on normal days. During my six different bouts of stomach problems, it was torture. I cannot wait for some fluffy, cottony toilet paper. I suspect I will find whatever they have at the Atlanta airport (my first stop on the way home) to be luxorious.

TP aisle at Giant. Photo credit: Eileen Slovak

TP aisle at a Giant Supermarket. Photo credit: Eileen Slovak

Same goes for napkins. Many restaurants do not even pretend to have napkins. Of those that do, most offer squares of something that are smaller than standard cocktail napkins in the US and have a consistency similar to wax paper. And you know how absorbent wax paper is.

Easy access to cash and using my credit card: In Argentina, I suffered from a constant fear of running out of money.  For three months, I lived a cash-only life because of the significant difference between the official exchange rate and the blue rate. In Colombia, I could use my credit card at some places, and could get cash from an ATM at any time, on just about any block in the city. Here, I worry about being stuck somewhere unable to pay for my dinner or my cab home.

In general, I did not want to carry too much cash at one time in case I got mugged or pick-pocketed. In Bs As, I had to develop the habit of checking how much cash I had in my wallet before leaving each morning. The worst days were when I was carrying thousands of pesos because I had just changed money or was on my way to pay the travel agency. The largest bill here is 100 ARS, so those were thick wads of cash.

Fluffy towels and cleaner t-shirts and sweaters: In much of South America, people do not own clothes dryers because the machines and electricity are expensive and air drying works well (or, well enough—humid days slow the process, items like jeans and socks can take a very long time to dry, etc.). While I cannot argue with any of this, I do miss fluffy towels. Air-dried towels are crunchy.

Also, I have come to appreciate the role driers play in removing lint, animal hair, and other similar items from clothes. As an example, I have a green t-shirt that I often wear with a black cotton sweater. The t-shirt took on a lot of black fuzz from the sweater. Most of the fuzz has remained there for months. I know that driers contribute to pilling and clothes getting worn out, which is a drawback of using them. So, I am going to try to air dry more clothes once I am home (but not the towels).

Peanut butter: I really enjoy peanut butter. I usually eat it straight out of the jar, or in a chocolatey dessert. Most of the rest of the world does not like peanut butter and cannot understand why Americans have such an affinity for it.  For the past few weeks, I have had a deep craving for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Or for the amazing double chocolate-double peanut butter cookies that I bake using a recipe from the Tate’s Bake Shop cookbook.

Common Argentine meal

Common Argentine meal

Chocolate desserts without dulce de leche: Dulce de leche, a caramel-like mixture, is Argentina’s national food. People eat it at all four meals. I wish I was exaggerating. Ice cream shops have whole lists of their dulce de leche offerings. I enjoy it. But not so much that I want it every day. It is impossible to get a piece of chocolate cake, cup of chocolate mousse, or any non-brownie chocolate dessert without a layer of dulce de leche.

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

TOL: I Literally Almost Froze This Morning

“When someone tells me it is going to be cold, I ask, ‘How cold?’ you dumb-ass,” said my guide.

Tatio Geysers at sunrise

Tatio Geysers at sunrise

Ok, he did not call me a dumb-ass out loud, but I am sure he was thinking it since I was thinking it about myself at that moment.

People mentioned that the day trips from San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, would be cold. It never occurred to me to ask for more specifics because it never, ever occurred to me that they could mean -10 C.

That is not a typo.

MINUS TEN DEGREES CELSIUS (or -14 F).

That is not “cold.” That is freezing. Actually, that is more than freezing.

And that was the temperature when we arrived at the Geiser del Tatio this morning before sunrise.

Not sure where things got lost in translation, or transmission between two different travel agencies and me, but lost they were and frozen I was.

Sun's up but I'm still freezing

Sun’s up but I’m still freezing

The geysers were kind of cool. Here’s a video of water from Tatio and another of mud in Bolivia, a few days later. And I was slightly resourceful. The area with the geysers also has a thermal pool, so I brought a swimsuit and towel with me. There was no way I was actually going into the pool. I wrapped the towel around me like a blanket; in the photo you can see it peaking out from under my coat.

I did think to ask how cold it is going to be in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, (the world’s largest salt flats) where I head tommorow.

Even colder.

Thank goodness this small town has an outdoors store and I have a credit card.

New acquisitions!

New acquisitions!

TOL: My First Time Seeking Medical Care

I am so appreciative of Argentina’s medical system right now. I have been sick seven different times during my five-month trip. Six of these times were stomach-related issues, and only one was severe enough to make me consider seeking medical attention (but I did not).

I also have developed a skill that I would like to undevelop—a knack for timing these illnesses with travel.

This sixth illness has been totally different. For three days, I have been fighting what I labeled a cold. Unfortunately, this did put a bit of a damper on the last two days of my dad’s visit as my energy and appetite diminshed.

I went to a pharmacy late Saturday and was told to see a doctor so I could get a prescription for antibiotics. But, I was smarter than that! At the advice of my fantastic nurse practitioner at home, I brought a bottle of Cipro with me to South America, so I started taking those. Also, I was nervous about figuing out where to find a doctor, how to navigate the system, etc, and happily avoided the uncomfortable situation by prescribing myself the medicine I already had (but missed an opportunity to work on original goal #1.)

The nature of my cold changed and I felt like I was improving slowly. However, on the third night, when the woman in whose guest room I am living came home at 1.30 am, I was noticeably worse. At her suggestion, we went to a clinic around the corner from the apartment.

As she noted, I had a 7.30 am flight but could not travel in my condition.

Samples to last seven days

Samples to last seven days

I had to pay $44 upfront to see the doctor. No argument from me. A mere 20 minutes later, I had been diagnosed as having a 38.3 F/100.9 C fever and a bacterial infection, informed Cipro is not the appropriate drug for treating it (no wonder I was not significantly better after three days), given a shot of the appropriate medicine, and handed a sufficient supply of free samples of the same medicine. The shot cost me about another $4.

The clinic reminded me of the urgent care centers and drugstore-based clinics that are proliferating in many parts the US. However, the fees here sure are better! I do not know if my insurance will reimburse the $48 (there’s probably a high deductible I have not met yet*), but even if not, it was money well spent!

And, just in case you were wondering, I am DONE being sick—every kind. I am tired of missing out on outings and meals because I am unable to leave the house. Enough already! Basta ya!

*For those of you who live in countries where the phrase “a high deductible I have not met yet” does not make sense, do not spend time trying to understand it. Just be thankful.

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.

Oh The Horror!

“Really?”

That’s the usual first response from people when they learn I’m traveling solo. (In Spanish, it’s either, “¿De verdad?” or, “¿En serio?”)

Women of all nationalities then tend to think it’s pretty great.

Latin American men are horrified. The questions then proceed along these lines:

Are you married?
Do you have a boyfriend?
Do you have children?

The horror usually intensifies when I give my answers:

No.
No.
No.

It is a completely foreign idea that a woman of my age could be single, independent, and happy with her life as it is.

As a solo traveler, I often find myself dining alone. I appreciate when people engage me in conversation. It provides a little entertainment and is another opportunity to practice my Spanish.

But as I’ve been traveling as a tourist over the past two weeks, some of these nice conversations have morphed into uncomfortable situations. A few different men have decided that I want/need their intervention, and now it’s my turn to be horrified by their behavior. They don’t take no for an answer.

So here is my message to the Latin American men working in tourist locations:

When I say I don’t want to meet you after work to go dancing, I really mean that I do not want to go dancing.

When I decline another cocktail, I really mean that I do not want another drink.

Hanging with a sea lion in the Galapagos

Hanging with a sea lion in the Galapagos

And while I appreciate being asked if you can kiss me, when I say no, I really mean that I do not want you to kiss me. The fact that you think I’m beautiful and want to kiss me doesn’t change my answer.

I don’t want to distrust every stranger or immediately be suspicious of every guy who starts talking to me, so I am going to work hard to put this aspect of the past two weeks behind me and instead focus on the fun I’ve had. To help with that, I’ve included one photo of the fun part.

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.

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