Well dear readers, I figured you might be curious about life in Colombia. Not life from the eyes of a tourist but, life from the eyes of a foreigner living and working here (aka me!) There are things I really like about Colombia and things I don't like so much. First my "Like" list. I like my job a lot, I have great clients and a good job. It is fairly easy and rewarding teaching people a new language. I like the variety of food that I can get here for really cheap even if it is bland sometimes. (Colombians are not known for spices) I like the fact that I landed on my feet here and things seem to be working out for the most part. I have a good job, good place to live and some great friends. I like living in a big city with lots to see and do. I like learning Spanish even if right now I still need a lot of practice!
What I don't like is the fact that when you are on a bus Colombians seem to have a genetic inability to move over! What I mean is, if there is two seats together and they are sitting in the aisle seat and the window is free, rather than move over 99% of Colombians will make you crawl over them. It is so frustrating! I HATE the fact that 99% of restaurants in Colombia don't have black pepper and they way overuse salt on everything. It is so frustrating to have an inability to get black pepper when I want it. I hate the fact that Bogota does not have a unified transportation system and it is so spread out. There is a map system for the Metro buses but the Colectivos have no such system. You just have to know where you are and where you want to go. The traffic is always terrible here and so is the weather (generally speaking). They also have people who board the bus for free whenever they want and try and sell you things. The bus drivers allow this because they get free stuff from the sellers of the goods. Almost always it is men who do this and I realise they are trying to make a living but when you just want a bus ride in peace and not be forced to listen to some sells pitch for something you don't want (sometimes even multiple times during one bus ride!) it just really gets old. I hate it but there is nothing you can do about it.
In Thailand corruption was visible everywhere. You saw X shop keeper doing X thing illegal because he paid off the cops. It was not a TOTALLY lawless society don't get me wrong, corruption just greased the wheels of everything because that is how people made their living since the wages were so low there. In Colombia it is different, there is corruption but it is much more under the surface. Construction is going on everywhere all over Bogota but it goes very very slow due to bribery,corruption and what not. For example, the Transmilenio (bus system) was supposed to have many more new stations. They awarded the construction contract to one company owned by three brothers. They started working on the stations and got *almost* done with like ten stations. Then construction stopped because the brothers stole millions of dollars of the money that was meant to finish the construction of the stations. Now we have 10 stations that sit empty because there is no money to finish them.
Bogota used to be an extremely dangerous city. Now security is much improved. There is still crime sure, but it is much better. In general Colombians are very open,friendly,giving people. There is different levels of police here. There is the Auxiliary police, basically just kids out of high school that are doing something to occupy their time. They walk around with a nightstick and not much else. I have noticed they are not really respected here unfortunately and they can't do much. After that their is private hired security guards who are paid to walk around and guard things. They generally don't have any weapons so they again can't do much. After that you have the Policia, these are the big boys. They are true police with guns and authority and they don't mess around. After that you have the Policia who walk around with trained Rottweilers (with muzzles on) but I can promise you, you do NOT want to mess with these guys. If they let that dog loose on you that is very very bad news. The final level of authority is the military.
It may seem strange to Americans to think about the armed military walking around the city but here they are everywhere. They are armed with automatic assault rifles and are very serious. If they ask you anything you are obviously required to give it to them. It is such a foreign concept to think of the military being deployed in the civilian population but here it happens. I have never had any problems with any forms of the police though, they have been nothing but helpful to me with directions and such. Colombia is not the house of horrors that the American media portrays it to be. Is it dangerous? yes. It is so dangerous you have to constantly worry for your life? No. I hope to prove to my friends and family that Colombia has a side worth exploring and worth getting to know. Once I learn Spanish fluently it is going to open more doors for me but I am trying!
Life is cheap here, life is good here and I like it overall. If my biggest complaints are the traffic and the weather I guess I am doing alright. For being a third world country Bogota is actually fairly progressive. Every Sunday they close a major portion of the city to all traffic and have Ciclovia, four hours of time where you can run,bike,walk all over and no cars can drive. They also have many many parks. The biggest of which, Parque de Simon Bolivar is actually bigger than Central Park in New York! There is botanical gardens here and many nature things. Bogota also has implemented a system called Pica y Placa which basically means if your car's license plate ends in a certain number on a certain day you can't drive between 6am and 6pm. Colombians also love to dance and sing and drink so they are very active people. I need to work on my dancing skills for sure!
Well that is all I can think of for now. If I think of more I will add it here or, feel free to ask me any questions you might have about anything Colombia related! Take care,Ty