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Observations on Travel in Colombia


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We are leaving Medellín for Cartagena today and we're excited to get to the coast and to a new city. Before we leave though, here are a few last pics and places and a few observations from our travels so far in Colombia.

Yesterday Scott indulged me in a few of my bucket list items. we visited the Museo de Antioquia where there are numerous Botero sculptures and paintings. I really love this guy. It's funny, one of my other favorites is Amedeo Modigliani. So I guess I like distortion. I did always get a kick out of the funny mirrors at the circus!
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A portrait of Cezanne.
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These last two are depictions of the dying and dead Pool Escobar.
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One last look at the main square, Parque Berrio...
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And then it was back to Parque Lerras in Poblado for a lazy afternoon.

Finally, on the way home, we got back to the Plaza de Las Luces (Plaza of Lights), which you may remember is the central square that underwent a total transformation. At night, all of the poles light up and it's really magical.
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Money

The exchange rate is approximately 3100 COP (Colombian Peso) to 1 USD. At first it seems this will be awful to calculate on the fly. Divide by 3 and move the decimal place three places left. However, the COP denominations pretty much move the decimal place for you by ignoring the extra zeros and just saying "Mil" (1000). So, you just have to divide by three which makes it only slightly more difficult than Mexico (divide by 2 move the decimal place 1).
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Bathrooms

Bathrooms, as a rule, are very clean. There are public toilets at most Metro stations and variously throughout town. You pay the attendant between 600-800 COP (50-60 cents) with an uncharge of 200 COP if you want toilet paper. WHY DOESN'T THE U.S. DO THIS! It makes so much sense and means you have clean toilets with toilet paper without having to sneak into a restaurant. As in most Central/South American countries, TP goes into the basket not the toilet. Hand washing stations are shared and outside the restroom area usually.

Transportation

I've talked about the Metro. It is so popular, there are sometimes HUGE lines to get into the stations. This was the Poblado station on our way home last night. (We took a taxi!)
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In addition, the city has bike lanes designated everywhere and many people use them. Buses are prevalent, taxis are very cheap and everywhere. Perhaps the absolutely most popular form of transportation is the motorcycle however. They come in all shapes and sizes but most are very small, single-cylinder, 150- cc. There are also tons of scooters. And people carry everything on them. We have seen the passenger carrying lumber, furniture, a bicycle (this is especially funny because the bike wheels stick out either side), and all other manner of things.

On that point, the other day we saw people getting off of a long-distance public bus, they have storage in the back and underneath, with an entire bed frame they were transporting.

Check out this short video of a typical traffic start after a light change. The motos all collect at the front and zoom off first. Then the taxis, they get up in front of the buses and trucks during the spaces in between lights, then come the buses and bicycles. It is total chaos but it works.

Right of way

As in Costa Rica, pedestrians DO NOT have the right of way. When you arrive in Panama, there are large signs warning travelers of this in the airport. Not so in Colombia. But still, you cross a street at your own risk.

Language

Yes they speak Spanish in Colombia but it's not the Spanish you learned in school. They use totally different words. Pare instated of Alto for stop and on and on. If you want to practice your Spanish, go to Mexico! I mean, you will be able to communicate better than someone without any but you'll still feel dumb.

[Note: once in Cartagena it went back to "normal". I guess the isolation of Medellín for so long allowed them to develop a different dialect.]

Economics

There is a huge disparity still between the rich and poor of Medellín. The hillside barrios are very poor and Poblado and Laureles are very rich. Of course, as with any city, it's not that black and white. Economic classes are pretty mixed throughout the city, except maybe in the hillside barrios. Segregation is based on economics not outright prejudice as far as I can tell. That being said, there has clearly been A LOT of investment in public infrastructure. The parks, transportation options, and roads (surprisingly good!) all testify to this. But so do the many small exercise parks in the hillside barrios, the abundance of soccer fields everywhere, and the cleanliness.
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You can tell people are proud of their city. Where in poorer neighborhoods in the US, this type of infrastructure would be destroyed and graffitied, speaking from first-hand experience in DC, here it is used and respected. Medellín has a long way to go but it is amazing how far it has come. Easy to see why it won this prestigious award. Check out the link if you're interested in more info on Medellín's transformation. https://www.leekuanyewworldcityprize.com.sg/media/feature-articles/medellin-transformed.

Food

As I've mentioned, we're not fans of Colombian food. It's all fried, very heavy on meat, and generally very bland. One funny thing, every table in every restaurant has salt on it but not pepper. I literally have no idea how the Colombians are not as obese as the Mexicans in Baja. They do however eat a ton of fruit, raw, in smoothies, etc. and it is delivered to the neighborhoods by vendors walking the streets.
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Delivery
Colombians must order take-out constantly. There is a take-out service here that will go to any restaurant and deliver anything. They use bike messengers and motos and they are everywhere, all day and night!

Street Food
There are a ton of street food vendors in Centro but elsewhere in the "Gringo areas" (Poblado and Laureles) it's only where there are pockets of diversity that result in a demand for it. aka, in my observation wealthy residents don't partake except maybe outside the Metro stations for a snack on the way home.

Militarization

It took us awhile to get used to all of the police/military presence in Baja. There are tons of different forces and they are all present and all heavily armed all the time. In Colombia, you see very little of this. I don't think I've seen a machine gun since I got here. You see very few police, at least in the neighborhoods we are in, and the only military we've seen is when four generals came to dinner to the restaurant we were at with a full escort. It's refreshing, if a little puzzling, and one of the things I would love to discuss with a local if only they spoke the same Spanish I do!

So stay tuned for updates from Cartagena and follow us on Instagram @arrradventures for frequent updates.

Posted by mrb430 10:09 Archived in Colombia

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