Colombia Visit

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I’m going to take a break this week from writing about economics and politics.

I added country number 60 to my list this week. Columbia. And I’m staying in Medellin.

I don’t want to exaggerate, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been someplace that affected me so positively. I fell in love with this place. I admit, it’s only been five days, but it has really made an impression on me. The people are friendly, the infrastructure is good, streets are clean, I haven’t run into a bad restaurant yet, and I feel very comfortable here.

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Preliminary research has revealed that prices here are quite good. I have looked at imported cars, foreign clothing brands, and food. So far everything has been quite reasonable. Far better than most places in Asia (especially the cars), and way cheaper than Argentina.

Above is shots from a car show at the El Tesoro mall and some views from one of the cafes in the mall. This is considered the highest end mall in the city.

I have been told by a local that they really were not prepared for the rush of tourism that they’ve had here, and you can see it with the language. Most of the forms for the government are only in Spanish, and it really does help here if you speak Spanish, at least a little. I have probably spoken more Spanish day-to-day here in the last five days, then I have in Argentina (excepting with my teacher). And I can see the difference. My fluency has increased markedly just in the last few days. I would say that Spanish is a must if you want to integrate well. Although I did see a few Americans forcing their way through with little or no Spanish.

 Great map image - The El Poblado area is where I was staying

Great map image - The El Poblado area is where I was staying

I have put a lot of pictures into this article, simply so that you can see what the local area is like.

I didn’t realize but Medellín is at 1500 meters. Almost a mile. I couldn’t figure out why I was always tired and short of breath after climbing a few stairs. Permanently getting about 25% less oxygen with each breath. Well since I plan to spend as much time as I can here, I can add high altitude training to my regimen.

It is a mountain valley and although high, has tropical foliage. Very lush and green. The city runs basically north south and sprawls up the sides of the mountains. Some very steep roads here. If you want to bicycle here it will be some work.

As I look at the construction I’m cautiously optimistic. The finishing seems quite good. On a par with Thailand or better. Seems to be fairly well sound insulated. A lot of high quality furniture shops.

Wages seem low although I’m doing more research. A waitress makes about $300/month. Tipping is voluntary. Interesting system. They will ask if you want to include service on the check and aren’t offended if you don’t. I’ve had some places like hotels add it automatically though. But certainly some restaurants ask if they should include it (servicio). They don’t seem to be offended either way but of course I leave a tip in any case.

For the first time ever, I used a local guide through Tours By Locals. It was an excellent idea. Really helped get me oriented to a large extent. He took me up to a natural park via cable car - These are the pictures above. The metro system here (I believe the only one in Colombia) is spotlessly clean and cheap. It includes the cable car. It has two main lines, one North-South, and the other East-West.

For those familiar with U.S. coffee ads they have a chain coffee shop here called Juan Valdez 😊 … But I prefer Starbucks still.

 Dawn from Hotel Du Parc balcony

Dawn from Hotel Du Parc balcony

Housing here is all about ‘estratos’ or ‘strata’. Residential properties in Colombia are ranked on a 1-6 socioeconomic scale (1 lowest, 6 highest). 

Understanding estratos is very important, as this is a factor both for housing costs and for utilities costs. Households in lower estrato neighborhoods pay a lower rate for gas, electric, water and media services. This is subsidized by the higher rates for those same services in the higher stratas.

Estrato 6 is considered a wealthy area

Estrato 5 is an upper middle class area.

Estratos 3 and 4 are Colombian middle class areas

Estratos 1 and 2 are generally poor areas

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Taxis are plentiful and cheap. Light yellow in color, but no way to know if they are available or not. Basically, stand out in the street and peer towards them hopefully. If they are free they will stop. And close the doors GENTLY. They are fairly flimsily made cars and the drivers don’t appreciate the doors being slammed :-).

The above are street shots from El Poblado and the Laureles-Estadio area. Majority is E-5 to E-6 level housing. So much greenery everywhere you look. And the streets don’t have the dog crap hazards common in BA. Some steep hills though. No doubt about that.

They walk on board domestic flights with drinks from the bar. Nobody pays attention to the rules about not using cellphones. I took 4 Avianca flights. Avianca used to be the Colombian flag carrier but is now majority owned by a Brazilian company. 4 flights, 4 delays. But … since I wasn’t really in a hurry, didn’t affect me much. But the pilots (judging by takeoffs and landings) were excellent. And the service on board is quite friendly - but - not a patch on the service you find in Middle-Eastern and Asian airlines. As I’ve said before.

I found the airports in both Medellín and Bogotá to be fairly nice. Although I found their ‘native’ product shops to be horribly expense and not really worth buying stuff there. They have a place to buy a SIM card in the baggage claim area of International Arrivals but my advice is don’t do it. Wait until you can go to a mall. They charge SO much more in the arrival area. So cheap in the malls. Claro seemed like a decent carrier for me.

First 4 images are the hotel restaurant and one of their desserts (didn’t last very long). The last 2 are from the Bogotá Beer Company in El Poblado. Simple food, tasty, great microbrewery beer, and huge portions.

I’m definitely going to plan spending more time here.

I have been stressing (stupidly as I have no control) over issues in Asia, but I’m feeling better today. Heading for Salta in a few days to renew my residency. We’ll see how it goes. If I can do that, it will be a huge relief.