Sunday, 28 December 2014

What ales you

This blog generally stands up for the underdog, those very much up against it. Well this is certainly the case when it comes to social classes and the sporting arena.

It tends to be less so, however, when price comes into play. That is to say, value-for-money is the motto and very often, at this moment in time anyway, that leads to quantity over quality, wherever it can be found.
A bottle of Poker towering above Bogotá D.C. It is the tipple of choice for many in the city
Poker: A Colombian beer 'giant'. (Image from Facebook.)
Now it must be said that a lot of the time in Colombia, especially in relation to food, buying from the local vendors or producers is cheaper than going to the big national and multinational ‘monsters’, in terms of grocery shopping and restaurants that is.

In that way I still feel like I’m helping the little guys eke out a living. It’s usually the reverse in the ‘developed’ world when it comes to buying food or eating out; getting it at lower prices typically means visiting the bigger chains.

As regards another recurring expense, one listed in the ‘socialising’ category, it’s somewhat different. In the consumption of beer, the Colombian masses – as well as this writer on the odd occasion – drink the mass produced. Well over 90 per cent of this market is in the hands of Bavaria, a Colombian company originally but now part of the global SABMiller group.

Thus, downing any of the Bavaria beers – from the cheaper (and slightly weaker) Aguila, Costeña, Pilsen and Poker to the somewhat fancier Club Colombia – is, in a sense, supporting a ‘monstrous’ multinational.

Yet, these beers are readily available in the many little privately-owned tiendas (bars-cum-shops) throughout Colombia. Plus, the more impoverished the barrio, the cheaper you’ll find the drinks. In this way, by going to such locations and having a few Bavaria-produced beers you’re supporting the poorer populations, pumping additional (little as it may be) money into the micro economy.

The entrance to the Bogotá Beer Company factory outside Bogotá, Colombia.
Bogotá Beer Company: Interesting initials.
On the flip side, you have the Bogotá Beer Company (BBC), which brands itself as ‘the biggest small brewery in Colombia’ (‘la cervecería pequeña más grande de Colombia’ in Spanish). Up against Bavaria/SABMiller, in terms of overall market share, it barely registers a beat.

So in theory it falls into the category of those I like to support. However, its market is quite removed from your typical bargain-basement Bavaria beer drinker. It only sells its produce – at a far greater price than the likes of Costeña or Poker – in its own pubs, more upmarket establishments and a couple of supermarket chains. You're talking about a more exclusive product, out of the daily reach of the majority of Colombians.

The BBC will point to what it sees as its superior quality and more artisanal approach in brewing compared to Bavaria. That maybe so, but when it comes to 'letting the hair down', a fine ale retailing at least five times more than a mass produced lager tends not to be the most attractive option.

What's more, it's not like those cheaper beers are unpalatable; on the contrary, they're rather agreeable to the taste buds.

In one regard, you might say choosing the Bavaria beers is supporting the simple over the sophisticated. And we could all do with toning things down every now and again, especially around this time of year.

Now where did I leave that Macallan fine and rare?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Brazil: a thorn in Colombia's side

Another heavy downpour in downtown Bogotá ...
Here comes the rain again ...
Damn Brazilians, at it again. Not satisfied with unceremoniously and controversially knocking Colombia out of this year's Fifa World Cup — aided by a Spanish referee it must be said — now they're ensuring their north-western neighbours endure a dreary and dull December.

You see, the November rains that habitually inundate Colombia have been continuing well into this month. The source of these daily prolonged downpours? Why none other than Brazil, so the meteorologists tell us.

What more pain is the 'big bully' neighbour to the south-east going to inflict on 'us' before the year is out?

OK, I have to admit that from a personal point of view, in one sense, these rains are kind of nice; watching them under the safety of cover that is. Dry, warm weather for the Christmas season is still something that doesn't fit right with me. Hence it feels a little more 'correct', the grey days with some freshness – or cold as most locals feel it – about. (Do note, a typical Irish Christmas tends to be grey rather than white, weather wise.)

Who knows, but we may even get a white Bogotá Christmas if the current conditions keep up. All we need is a hailstone deluge like we had a few weeks back to see to that.

All that aside and on a more sombre note, with all this extra water swashing about the place, it does make you wonder how there could be people dying because of a lack of it, and other associated life essentials, in this country. However, dying they are.

Of course it's not a uniquely Colombian contrast this, it happens in other regions. Where it occurs, there are usually geographical, climatic and political issues at play. There is also the issue of a serious lack of public will to deal with it.

That comes down to the fact that death from a shortage of food and water is a slow process. It tends not to rouse the emotions in fellow human beings as much as dramatic natural or human disasters such as earthquakes or terrorist attacks.

Also, in developing and under-developed countries, there is the question of management – or lack thereof. Very often the means and resources are there to deal with the problem, but the structures needed are not.

You just need to look at Bogotá for an example of this. When the heavens do open here, the insufficiency of an adequate drainage system is glaring. For a city that regularly experiences severe downpours, this seems negligent. It’s like each time it happens it comes as a surprise.

'Run for cover' time in Bogotá ...
Streets like rivers: Bogotá turns into Venice for a time ...

One mitigating factor, but again this highlights poor management and practices, is the rubbish problem in the city. Many drains are clogged because of this and thus rendered useless.

Indeed, it’s not only in Colombia’s more peripheral regions where a shortage of water can be a problem. With regular water service cuts in various barrios in the capital, you often have the scenario of ‘water, water everywhere, but none to drink.’

We can’t really blame the Brazilians for those latter issues. On the football field, though, there is always the chance of revenge at the 2015 Copa América. The weather might be better then too.
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Facebook: Wrong Way Corrigan - The Blog.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Respecting the hand(writing) of time

‘The pen is mightier than the sword’; ‘Time is a great healer.’

They are two of the oldest sayings in the book and in many ways they complement and support each other. The result of using the sword is instant and at its most effective it generally doesn't allow the outcome to be modified.
Smartphones and instant communication: Dangerous tools in the wrong hands ...
Beware! Instant communication via smartphones. (Photo from Facebook.)
On the other hand, intelligent use of the pen, i.e. writing something with a clear head and thought, is physically less damaging than the barbaric sword and can be revised; or at least it’s not usually terminal.

In addition, it’s more time consuming and can get you much better results in the long run. In this way it's tied in with time and, depending on the circumstances, healing – conversely, of course, it can be used to more devastating effect, depending on the author’s wishes.

The problem these days is that the pen has been replaced by the keyboard and keypad, linked to the World Wide Web, with the latter's multitude ways of disseminating your message. Thus the old time advantage, insofar as allowing for review and reflection, is wiped out.

For sure, in many aspects instant communication can not only be advantageous, but a lifesaver. It can also be extremely efficient, especially in work environments. However, in other instances it is damaging and dangerous.

We've seen numerous examples where the careers of influential people have been tarnished or ended by publishing things on social media that on 'mature reflection' they should never have uttered, or at least made public knowledge.

Nonetheless our 21st century communication tools are just that – tools. And like all such things, how they are used and/or abused depends largely on the human being operating them.

Just because you have the means to immediately respond to or comment on something, doesn’t mean you must – this is obviously more pertinent when the context is a negative or attacking one. Some people (and this writer has been guilty in this regard), though, just can’t resist. A virtual swipe of the sword, carried out with little forethought.

Twitter: A communication tool, as it is for the rest of them, to be treated with caution ...
Nice birdie; but it can bite ... (Image from Facebook.)
Such actions are normally much worse if done ‘under the influence’. Indeed, in the same way that you shouldn’t drive when drunk, it would be a good idea for many to avoid means to communication – real as well as virtual in some cases – when inebriated.

Now, in mitigation, you do have the old nursery rhyme of ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.’ Should we really let a few ill-advised comments, in whatever form they come, offend us? Judge people by their actions rather than their words.

This, however, brings us back to the old pen trumping the sword. As mentioned above, the written (and spoken) word can and does cause harm, as much as it may seem, in a physical way in any case, silly to let it.

So just before you engage in your blitzkrieg-esque virtual written warfare, pause for a moment, take a long walk if needs be. And remember, some things are better left unsent.
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For a related piece, see Unsocial media.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Colombia's peace 'impaz'

It’s been expressed here before that I generally go along with the ‘communicate rather than exterminate’ stance when it comes to dealing with human enemies.

This line is practically sacrosanct when the other side is showing a willingness to compromise. What’s more, when you have a conflict that has been ongoing for more than a couple of generations, showing scant signs of progress on either side, engaging in talks seems not only prudent, but unavoidable.
The Colombian army showing its skills ...
Both parties to the Colombian peace talks remain in combat. (Photo from Twitter.)
That was basically the case when Colombia’s latest peace talks got under way over two years ago.

However, to say they’ve hit a stumbling block or two over the last few weeks and months is putting it mildly. You could say that this was always a strong possibility given that both the Farc and government forces have remained largely on the offensive; that is to say there has been no meaningful ceasefire.

The rebels' (Farc et al.) strategy of kidnapping not only combatants but civilians continued.

Yet, the talks also carried on regardless. Well they did until the Rubicon – or more precisely a river in the Chocó department – was crossed by Farc in terms of what the government saw as permissible acts throughout this whole process: That being the kidnapping of army general Rubén Darío Alzate.

Colombian army general Rubén Darío Alzate announces his resignation after being kidnapped.
Saying goodbye: General Alzare. (Picture from Twitter.)
His release after two weeks in captivity and subsequent resignation have meant the passage is clear for the peace talks to move forward again, resuming as they will on December 10. (The fact that the general in question has admitted he and his companions breached safety protocols in a known red zone in the country is also somewhat of a mitigating factor; “one shouldn’t 'dar papaya' General.”)

That being so, the pessimism that has grown in many quarters over the direction these discussions are taking is understandable.

OK, ‘agreement’, we’ve been told, has been reached in both land reform and the rebel’s future political participation should a final deal be sealed, while decent progress seems to have been made on victims’ rights. These are three of the six key areas of the talks. The other elements are drug trafficking, rebel disarmament and the implementation of the peace deal itself.

The most infamous of the above sextet, drug trafficking, could no doubt prove to be another major barrier, as mentioned in these pages before.

Chocó: Beautiful, but with dangers.
In that regard, President Juan Manuel Santos caused a stir of late by suggesting drug dealing could be made a political offence and not a criminal one. For him to publicly say it seems to imply that it is being looked at as a potential ‘sweetener’ for Farc members involved in the trade, however exactly it would play out in practice.

Needless to say, in a country that has suffered more than most due to the illegal narcotics business, not everybody is waxing lyrical about such a possibility.

On a broader, what you might call more abstract scale, there is also the question of who and/or what is Farc? In other words, are those doing the guerrilla’s negotiating in Havana representative of a unified body? It’s difficult to believe they are. But at the very least they represent some warring faction that is tinkering with the possibility of changing its ways.

This process, of course, was always going to be a long one; only the utterly negative or ludicrously positive thought otherwise.

The only certainty for now is that there are set to be many more twists and turns before war-weariness wins the day.

Friday, 28 November 2014

'¿Cómo conduzco?' 'Er, not very well'

Sometimes, what is seen as a bad practice in one culture can be seen as a thing to be lauded in another. Or at least no one seems to get too worked up about it, which can be a bit puzzling if it wasn’t what you were brought up on.
Old school buses in downtown Bogotá. Many of their drivers could do with some lessons ...
Is that '¿cómo conduzco?' sticker a cry out for help?
Now while many of the cultural traits in Colombia are not that far removed from what this writer is used to, there are a few head scratchers all the same.

Enough has been written previously in these quarters about relationships and such like, so let’s stay clear of that area this time around. Plus, considering the topic, it’s best not to be completely, erm, ‘driven round the bend’ by trying to analyse this in too broad a scope.

Thus, the focus this time around is on the style of Colombian driving, especially – but not exclusively – in relation to those who drive for a living.

Basically, the general custom is to drive your vehicle as hard as you can, weaving in and out of whatever traffic gets in your way, then equally brake as hard as you can when you must stop (as inconvenient as stopping is when you’re in ‘full flow’).

In fact, quite paradoxically in a country where not much trust is put in anybody or anything – often with good reason – many Colombians appear to put a huge amount of trust in mechanical brakes.

Indeed, given such behaviour, there’s little wonder why a good number of Colombians, women from this perspective anyway, have firm figures. For when you have to make a move to get off a city bus, or when you’re standing from the moment you get on, you’d have an easier time keeping your balance on a small yacht in the middle of a violent storm on the high seas. A good workout for your body’s core you might say, to go along with the regular squat exercises taken on public transport.

A crowded Bogotá D.C. bus.
It's easier to keep your balance when the bus is crowded.
It’s also a common occurrence to see ‘rival’ bus drivers go to battle with their vehicles – like modern day lancers – if they’ve been impeded trying to do their route as fast as they can. ‘Passengers. What passengers?’

Of course, from a Bogotá point of view, this rough-and-tumble, aggressive way of driving was due to change with the arrival of, firstly, the Transmilenio and then the SITP. Commuting in the city would be transformed to something resembling an angelic procession. Well, so some people told us.

However, to paraphrase the old saying, ‘You can take the man out of the colectivo, but you can’t take the colectivo (style of driving that is) out of the man.’

The SITP and, to a lesser extent, Transmilenio drivers are cut from the same mould as their predecessors.

Yes, it’s early days for the new system and changing a culture takes time. Plus, drivers in Bogotá, and throughout Colombia, aren’t helped by the appalling state of many of the main highways and byways.

Yet, for the moment, some money could be saved by not bothering to post those ‘¿Cómo conduzco?’ (literally, 'How do I drive?') stickers on the back of most vehicles. That’s because there’s pretty much a universal answer: ‘Not very well.’

Or perhaps we’re looking at the question the wrong way (as is this blog's wont, obviously). It could be a cry for help, as in ‘How do I actually drive this vehicle?’ The evidence certainly supports this.

Driving lessons – another opening in the Colombian market.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Fine and Pandi

You don’t tend to base yourself in Bogotá for its weather. OK, on sunny days it can be pretty nice, but such occasions are balanced out by chilly nights. The great thing, though, is that if you are looking for hotter climes all you have to do is take a short trip in basically any direction out of the metropolis to find them.
Pandi, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
Pandi, Cundinamarca: It beats the madness of Bogotá, at least for a time.
However, there’s not much point in having such ‘hotspots’ on your doorstep if you don’t utilise them. That’s how things had been for me lately, cooped up in the city, letting work and Bogotá’s, nay La Perseverancia’s, social life dictate the course of events.

In fact, it got to the stage where I needed a gentle push to break the routine. Somewhat paradoxically, that ‘push’ came in the form of work; well, work of sorts.

What I had to do was be an English speaking guide for a group of students of the language from a university in the south of Bogotá. They were having a day out, via the fledgling tour agency Colombia Limite, and to keep things ‘English’, the lady in charge felt it would be a good idea to have a native speaker on hand.

The fact that the majority of the group were at beginner level and thus couldn’t understand most of what I said (who does?) didn’t matter. It’s the thought of making an effort to have the day educational that counts, right?

Our destination? The unheralded town of Pandi and its surrounds in the Sumapaz province, 103km south of Bogotá.
The rather impressive gualanday tree in full flower ...
Pretty in purple: The gualanday tree. (Photo from clorofilaandcompany.)

Now in a country that has quite spectacular natural beauty around every corner, each little town and village has to fight hard to get a piece of the tourist action. So considering that to reach Pandi requires a 30 minute drive on somewhat of a dirt track road off the main highway about two hours outside of the capital means that it could easily be forgotten by many. The belief may be that other, more accessible places offer pretty much the same.

Yet, that it is a bit ‘off the beaten track’ can be a pull factor – such secluded places generally do it for me, at least for a time.

Plus, it does have its own treats. As the welcome sign to the town proudly boasts (positioned miles outside at that), it’s the home of cambulo and gualanday. What, you haven’t heard of them? They’re trees of course, special trees, apparently.

Unfortunately, on the day I visited nobody was able to tell me which one was which – a reason to go back I guess. While both are pretty spectacular when in flower, from what I was told gualandays seem the most helpful for humans. A secretion their leaves produce is good for relieving sore throats and aching bones; better than a hot whiskey you might say.

El Puente Natural (The Natural Bridge), Pandi, Cundinamarca, Colombia.
'Devil Construction Ltd.'
The trees aside, another little ‘gem’ is The Natural Bridge, El Puente Natural, a gentle 20-minute downhill stroll from the village. Legend has it that the devil created it after losing a bet for the soul of an indigenous mortal. In frustration he kicked out at the narrow gorge walls, the force of his actions forming a natural arch over the river, which lies over 100 metres below.

Whatever about that story, the bridge has a much more haunting recent past, being the alleged dumping ground for dead and dying bodies throughout Colombia’s internal conflict of the last 60 plus years. The ‘devil’ did not go quietly into the night after his 'construction project', so it appears.

Thankfully, a sense of tranquillity in the quite stunning scenery is the main vibe you get about the place today.

So you could do worse than go along with that feeling and take advantage of the serenity. In that regard, further on from the bridge is a residence that offers accommodation/camping facilities for those looking to overnight it in the wilderness.*

The chilly nights and madness of the metropolis can wait.
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*Colombia Limite looks after the accommodation and can also arrange activities such as rappelling and treks. You can contact the company via Facebook.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

'Make mine a shot (rather than pot)'

Colombia’s Minister for Health and Social Protection, Alejandro Gaviria, created a mini-stir recently by claiming that alcohol consumption was more harmful than smoking marijuana.

His remarks come amidst moves in congress here to legalise the use of the drug for medical purposes.
Marijuana -- it's just a plant after all ...
Well they do say we should get more 'greens' into us ...
In one sense it’s a bit puzzling to understand why what he said caused consternation in some circles; in reality, it was far from shocking. For from a societal point of view, he’s probably not far off the mark. Excessive alcohol consumption is very often at the heart of violence both here in Colombia and across the globe. It can destroy families and friendships.

In contrast, you’d do well to find an aggressive person high on pot; rather, such people are generally very placid.

So looking at it that way, if we are going to indulge in some sort of drug, perhaps we’d all be better off smoking marijuana instead of gulping down bottles of beer. ‘Make peace, not war’ and all that jazz.

However, at the individual level, anecdotally anyway, regular pot smokers tend to be quite lazy and lack motivation to do even the simplest of things. Maybe that’s just my bad luck and experience? There are, though, at least some supporting studies.*

On the contrary, and again this is a personal observation, consistent drinkers – not out-and-out alcoholics that is to say – seem more proactive when it comes to work and day-to-day activities. (They might just be a little crankier than non-drinkers, at times.) It could be argued that this is down to many societies’ long association with alcohol. Our bodies have learnt to cope better with it than other drugs.**

What’s more, the idea of consciously inhaling damaging fumes into your body isn’t exactly the most natural nor life-prolonging thing to do. (Although in a city such as Bogotá, puffing on a joint mightn't do you much more harm than breathing in the urban air.) On the other hand, we all must ingest water to survive, the chief component of most alcoholic products. Plus, in the right amounts – as can be said for marijuana, too, of course – the likes of beer and wine can be beneficial for your health.

Wrong Way at the home of Colombia's chief brewing company, Bavaria.
Bavaria, the home of beer in Colombia. Sure when it's free ...
That’s pretty much the case for most things in life: Whatever you’re having, have it in moderation; 'less is more’. Knowing your limits is the key.

Bearing all that in mind, if I was pushed to choose either alcohol or marijuana as my regular ‘vice’, I’d be firmly siding with the former.

It's 'horses for courses' I guess.

The bottom line with all these things should be that if there are harmful effects, it's the individual user who bears them. Alas, that's not always the case.

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*For example, see Regular pot smokers have shrunken brains, study says.

**The Koreans obviously don’t believe this though: ‘Irish alcoholism nature’ reason for job rejection for Irish teacher in South Korea.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Colombia: The only risk is becoming too relaxed

As mentioned in our previous post, you can never drop your guard in Colombia. It’s up to you, naturally enough really, to be responsible for yourself and your belongings. Be that as it may, it still doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, make it more acceptable if you do happen to have something stolen while having ‘a moment of weakness’.
Oma café, Torre Bicentenario, Bogotá: Not only does the price of a coffee seem like robbery, but you might also actually get robbed at the same time ...
Scene of the crime: Oma may be upmarket, but that doesn't mean it's safer.
That such things happen, as they do across the globe, doesn’t mean that we should just shrug and accept them. Disappointingly, this is often the reaction of many people in these parts.

It’s the whole ‘dar papaya’ mentality, that it’s the victims' fault for allowing themselves to be robbed. ‘Silly you.’ This is linked in with the ‘que pena con usted’ expression, ‘isn’t that awful for you, but I don’t really care.’ ‘Eh, thanks guys.’ 

Personally, having been based in Bogotá for three years now, I feel relatively comfortable in my environs and I am usually clued-in to any potential threats. Yet there is always the risk that you can become too relaxed. My excuse for the latest incident where I let the city’s ladrones (thieves) get one over me was that I’d just donated blood (for the first time in my life it must be said) and perhaps I wasn’t my usual shrewd self (don’t laugh).

Now this time around the scene wasn’t your typical Wrong Way working-class venue, but rather a much more upmarket Oma café (the newly opened one in Torre Bicentenario on Carrera 4 with Avenida Jiménez), equipped with a security guard and cameras.

However, therein lies the danger; the feeling that you and your possessions are a little safer in such a place. In fact, it could be argued that due to the sheer volume of security guards employed in this country, it dilutes each individual one’s impact. I certainly wouldn’t be relying on many of them to have my back in a tight corner.

The ‘fatal’ errors on my part were not having my bag in eyeshot nor tied around something secure and not taking notice of the movements around me; the intense conversation I was having with an old friend was occupying my mind.

Whatever the case, the relatively well-dressed ladrones saw their opportunity and seized it.

'The Lone Security Guard' in downtown Bogotá. He might as well be at home to be hinest.
'On the ball' security. Well, not quite ...
Thankfully, it was far from spectacular the booty they got. Basically there was the bag itself, a few USB sticks, an old jacket (of sentimental value albeit) and a pocket-book of Spanish grammar along with an English-Spanish dictionary – at least those latter items might help our pilferers overcome their illiteracy problems.

Predictably, when we reported the robbery to the building’s administrator, her initial reaction fell firmly into the ‘dar papaya’ mindset. To her credit, though, she eventually showed some morsels of taking affirmative action, agreeing to set in train the process of reviewing the premise’s security cameras.* Perhaps next time she'll realise that this should be her first response.

You see, as ‘official’ Colombia grapples with a potential peace agreement with the Farc guerrillas, real peace and security must come from the people, ‘el pueblo Colombiano’, each and every part of it. Taking a strong stand against all who jeopardise this is what’s needed.

There are positive signs in this regard, but by its very nature it’s a never-ending process, consisting of many different, overlapping strands. This country, however, has too many decent people to let a thuggish minority dominate the landscape.

Yet, turn a blind eye to that minority’s behaviour and the vicious cycle will continue.
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*That process is still ongoing. Hopefully, if and when the cameras are reviewed, we’ll have a good picture of the thieves, something that we can publish.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

'You've been had, Bogotá style'

There’s that old story about a man in a restaurant who begins friendly banter with an adjacent table. He gets on so well with his new acquaintances that he offers to pay their bill. So up he gets, goes to the till operator and points down to where his ‘friends’ are sitting. They wave back, acknowledging that it’s them who are to be the recipients of the man’s generous offer.

Dodgy tienda bar: You'd do well to avoid this place on Carrera 10 #18-30 in Bogotá.
False friend: This tienda owner (man in the yellow T-shirt) appeared all friendly, however he was anything but.
Yet, the snag is, the man has actually told the restaurant employee that it’s the guys at the table who are going to pay his bill. And off he goes, before anyone realises what’s happened, never to be seen again.

It’s an interesting yarn, but one that you’d have to think falls into the ‘urban myth’ category; you couldn’t get away with it in this day and age, surely? Alas, not so. There are a few crafty operators in Bogotá not only willing to give it a go but, aided by incompetent, indifferent employees and owners, manage to get away with it.

In fact, the Bogotá version doesn’t require any acknowledgement from those being duped, as happens in the account above. No, the ‘trickster’ just leaves, apparently giving a knowing nod to the owner and his bill is placed on the tab of those he had been casually talking to, uninvited at that.

Of course, the till operators know full well that it isn’t the intention of those remaining to fork out for the man who just left. Nothing, though, is said until it comes to payment time. Then, it’s expected that the extranjeros (foreigners) will nonchalantly pay everything; sure it’s what we’re here for, to treat the locals.

Unfortunately I was the victim of such an incident in downtown Bogotá. Now my approach would be, and was, to refuse to pay, but the company I was with pulled rank and handed over the cash to avoid any hassle. It was probably the safer move for where we were (which was a tienda bar on Carrera 10 with 18; see photos).

Wrong Way won't shed a tear if this establishment is wiped off Bogotá's map ...
'Relax, the foreigners will pay for everything.'
In one regard, hats off to the guy who had his tab transferred on to ours. If there’s a chance he can get away with it, why not? My anger is directed more at the establishment’s owner. That he could just cheekily expect that we’d pay for things we didn’t ask for nor want is infuriating to say the least. ‘A plague on his house’ is the best I can wish for him.

The lesson to be learnt from this: If there’s a tab system in operation in a place that you’re not too familiar with, it’s best not to go with the norm, but ‘pay as you go’ instead. Messy episodes as the one mentioned can thus be avoided.

Plus, it underscores again the fact that you can never drop your guard in these parts. It also, sadly, betrays the mantra of many Colombians that they are amongst the friendliest in the world.

On a slightly more positive note, I can rest assured that this wouldn’t happen to me in my local watering holes in the barrios of La Perseverancia or Egipto; at least there they’d ask for a drink if they were stuck.

You see there’s still hope for Colombia, just about.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Colombia's best bank: And our winner is ...

Sometimes you have to accept that certain things are the way they are – at least for a specific moment in time. So while the Colombian banking system frustrates more than what I had been used to, you just have to deal with it.

However, depending on your circumstances and requirements, it is worth shopping around if you're looking for a ‘safe’ place for your money here.

Banco Caja Social: Colombia's best bank?
Banco Caja Social: Wrong Way's kind of bank. (Image from Facebook.)

What’s more, reflecting the general lack of customer service in this country, banks don’t seem to care one iota if you decide to ‘take your money and run’, closing an existing account. A great business sense that, leaking clients at will. My ‘millions’ are better off in Ireland and the UK for now.

If you do, though, require a Colombian bank account, from my investigations, coming at it as an independent visa holder, without having to go to extraordinary lengths to prove your ‘importance’,* here’s the low-down on the lukewarm to the damn right cold:

Banking is Caring and Sharing: First place goes to Banco Caja Social or in its initialism form, BCS (hence the introduction, geddit?). They offer a standard savings account without any management fee, or so they say. 5,000 COP (Colombian pesos, roughly €1.90) is held in ‘bolsillo’ (‘pocket’) and taken from your account each month. However, it’s your money, not theirs; you can access it whenever you want, apparently. You’re allowed up to five free ATM withdrawals per month – in BCS’s own cash machines that is of course (there is a fee to use those of other banks, the standard practice in Colombia).
Banco Caja Social: The best bank for independent workers in Colombia.
Best bank in town? It appears so ...

Moreover, all you need is your Colombian immigration card (Cédula de Extranjería), and cash obviously, to open an account. That is to say you don’t need to show a certified proof of income, a requirement in many of the other banks and something that can be a bit of a hassle to get as an independent, non-contracted worker.

On top of all this, in a case of what’s seldom is wonderful for this country, the guy I dealt with in the bank’s 19th Avenue, Fourth Street (Calle 19 with Carrera 4) branch was extremely friendly and helpful and seemed genuinely interested in having me as a customer (cheers Oscar!).

Worthy of mention: A much smaller bank than Caja Social, Bancoomeva’s standard savings account comes free of charges for the first six months. Thereafter, there is no standard monthly fee, but you pay for every transaction. At their own ATMs the fee is minimal; 1,300 COP for each of your first four monthly withdrawals, however it’s more than double that if you withdraw from other banks. This could prove costly considering the current small size of their network nationwide.

A newcomer to the market, the Ecuadorian Banco Pichincha, has a monthly management fee of a not-too-excessive 6,900 COP. Like Caja Social, it’s simple to open an account, with no proof of income required. On the downside, like Bancoomeva, the network is small.

Banco de Bogotá’s monthly fee is 6,500 COP, which allows up to five cost-free ATM transactions per month. However, the paperwork required to open an account there is somewhat off-putting.

It’s relatively straightforward to open an account with Davivienda but the monthly fee of 9,500 COP is at the higher end of the scale. Plus, in one of its branches at least, employees could do with some intensive customer-service training.

Best to be avoided: With a total monthly fee of a whopping 18,000 COP, broken down as 10,000 COP for management plus an 8,000 COP administration charge for good measure, Banco Popular is certainly not popular with Wrong Way anyway.

Three of the less favourable banks operating in Colombia, side-by-side.
Three of a kind: Disinterested, costly banks ...
Bancolombia charges 9,700 COP per month and requires proof of income. The Spanish bank BBVA is also one of the more expensive to do business with.

I have it on good authority that Citibank’s priority in Colombia is at the upper end of the market; fee-wise it’s at the upper end of things in any case.

It must be said that some banks such as Banco Av Villas, Banco Occidente and Banco Agrario failed to provide me with information as requested (and promised in a couple of cases). Also, if anyone knows of any other bank operating in Colombia that can trump Banco Caja Social – bearing in mind this little study is based on an independent visa holder or somebody without contracted employment – please do tell.

For now though, it’s off to Caja Social I go.
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*By ‘extraordinary lengths’ I mean having to write, in a strong manner, to branch managers and indeed company directors to get any sort of positive attention. Even that doesn’t guarantee any improvement in conditions. 

Thursday, 9 October 2014

End of the Strata Republic?

Colombia’s unique strata system has been under the spotlight of late. To the uninitiated, this basically divides the population into ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ according to the area they live in, not by the actual living standards of each individual or family.

Enjoying the sun and beer at Don Fernando's, La Perseverancia, Bogotá, Colombia.
One of La Perseverancia's, nay Bogotá's, finest establishments, Don Fernando's.
The system ranges from one, the poorest, to six, the richest. The overall idea is that people living in the lower strata pay less for everyday utilities such as water and electricity, subsidised in part by the higher service charges paid by the other strata.

Areas are judged and numbered according to general housing characteristics such as a garage, a front yard and the quality of the neighbourhood. So, as you’d expect, on the whole the wealthier, that is to say the minority of Colombians, live in the upper strata, with the working- and lower-class majority living in strata one, two and three.

Thus, you could say, the system is fit for purpose: Those who can pay more in terms of services, do.

However, there are obvious flaws; hence the calls to do away with it are growing stronger.

For one, you can find relatively wealthy people living in the lower strata, while it’s not always a given that those based in the more affluent parts are ‘flush’.

Also, many rural areas have a low ranking, presumably because of distance from everyday services, yet you can find pockets of wealthy inhabitants in the Colombian countryside, especially on the outskirts of cities.

Then you have the social stigma that comes with being from strata one and two, or even three, depending on your outlook. While outwardly some universities and employers may say it’s not an issue, in a country that pays too much attention to status and background, the reality is different.

Taking the above into account, a more personalised approach into how people are socially assessed – that is to say the international standard – would seem a fairer way of doing things.

Of course assessing the needs of the population is one thing; actually providing aid and support where it’s required most is another matter altogether.

What’s more, getting rid of stratification won’t, obviously, see the lot improve automatically for poorer areas. The rough-and-ready, simple-and-satisfying qualities of my beloved La Perseverancia (La Perse for short), a stratum two in Bogotá, won’t go away in a hurry. In any case, from a personal point of view, I don’t want to see too much change there.

Yet those living in La Perseverancia and its ilk practically operate in a different world compared to the wealthier parts.

The 'not very Irish pub' in Bogotá's Zona T.
The 'not very Irish pub' in Bogotá's 'exclusive' Zona T. (Photo from Facebook.)
Yes, there are clearly demarcated rich and poor areas across the globe, there’s nothing surprising in that. However, the difference between the haves and the have nots in Colombia seems particularly pronounced.

For example, looking at socialising in Bogotá, the kind of prices you pay for a night out in the fancier barrios are multiples of those in the ‘majority’ (as in where most of the city’s inhabitants live and operate) neighbourhoods. And you’re paying for basically the same products, but with – a lot of the time – a less personal, poorer service. Plus the richer parts are not always safer or more aesthetically pleasing, as they claim to be.

These huge price differences are something that could, potentially, be reined in with an end to stratification. Now that would, or should, be more a case of pruning the excesses at the top rather than cutting from the bottom.

In the meantime, I’ll continue the ‘keeping up with La Perse’ strategy, dabbling only very occasionally into the world of the ‘other’ five per cent.

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For a somewhat related piece, see In defence of hoping (and fighting) for, at least, a 'Freer Bogotá' and Budget Bogotá.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Green light for 'Rape' in Colombia ... oops!

Well it may have seemed like a good idea at the time. In fact considering the pretty poor level of English in Colombia in general, most people probably have no issue with it, insofar as the meaning is lost on them. Plus, what it represents is something largely positive, or at least that’s the hope.

The Rape men; oh dear...
Politicians supporting Rape, including Bogotá mayor Gustavo Petro (centre). (From Facebook.)
Yet, given the initiative is due to ‘breathe new life’ into Colombia in terms of development, promoting it under its acronym Rape is a tad unfortunate. OK, in Spanish this obviously does not have the same meaning as it does in English. It just stands for the not-at-all controversial Región Administrativa de Planeación Especial (Administrative Region for Special Planning, or something to that effect).

However, in a country that is officially trying to significantly increase the use of English among the populace, a little more thought could have gone into this one.
Sperm Sports, Bogotá.
Sperm Sports. Erm ... (From civico.com.)

Picture the moment when the guys behind this thing look to Big Daddy USA for some financial assistance: “Any chance you could fire us a few million dollars for our novel Rape project? We’re just trying to improve the lot for our most neglected and vulnerable.” “Erm, your ‘what’ project?” Cue a bit of awkward explaining.

Now even allowing for what appears a rather odd liking for not very appropriate English words in certain contexts, à la the adjacent photos, surely those working with Rape don’t really want the name. Well you’d hope so, once they’ve been told its English significance.
Colombia's alco store; just what we were looking for...
These stores could prove a hit in Ireland.

So here’s a suggestion. Rename it Región Administrativa de Planeación, Infraestructura y Desarrollo (Administrative Region for Planning, Infrastructure and Development; that works, right?), or Rapid in its acronym form. Much less offensive don’t you think? Indeed, it’s even progressive sounding. Heck, some people get paid big bucks for such consultancy work. Here I am proffering this for nothing.

You know where to find me guys.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Colombia – a banker's paradise revisited

There are a lot of things that can irk expatriates here in Colombia. After a time, most come to learn that the best way to deal with them is to, well, not deal with them. Either grin and bear them or laugh them off. Trying to find solutions to whatever may be bothering you is generally a futile exercise.

Colombia's Davivienda bank.
Davivienda; nice little bank... (Image from Facebook.)
However, like it is for the opposite sex (whichever that is for you) and pretty much all over the world, the majority of us have found – usually to our annoyance – that we can’t live with or, more pertinently, without banks.

Thus, I find it a little more difficult to simply ‘let it go’ when it comes to banking in Colombia. This is a topic I wrote about before; the fact that I still have a bank account here shows that I have learnt to take the ‘punitive’ hits somewhat. Every now and again though, the red mist descends in relation to this whole area.

You see I still don’t understand why my bank, Davivienda, charges me 9,500 COP (Colombian pesos, just slightly under four euro) per month to have what is quite erroneously termed a ‘savings’ account. Or maybe the savings refers to what Davivienda makes with my hard earned cash? The title makes a bit more sense if you look at it that way.

Whenever I question Davivienda employees about this, some of whom I have worked with in a freelance capacity, they explain the fee as the cost of managing my account, along with the peace of mind that my money is secure. Fair enough on the second point, but don’t they use my deposited money to lend to other people, generating handsome revenue for themselves?

As for the management of my account, heck they must be flat out there. For one, the last time I used my debit card to make a transaction was in April of this year. When it comes to making deposits, I’m the one that does it, in person, standing in ridiculously slow-moving queues to do so. It should be me asking for a fee (or interest as we call it for savings accounts in Ireland and the UK).

Now in fairness, I do get sent a text message each time there is account activity; that includes when I go on line to view the status of things (alas, it’s not that great). So perhaps the random figure of 9,500 COP is used to put credit into Davivienda’s ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone. They must be damn expensive text messages at that. Just don’t forget to send me a birthday text guys; it will all have been worth it then.

To add further insult to injury, I was told that if I had a nominated account i.e. one in which an employer deposits my wages, I wouldn’t be charged anything. The snag here is that I don’t have a full-time employer. So it seems if you’re a freelancer, trying to make it on your own minus all the relative security and benefits of full-time work, you get even more screwed by the system here. Of course there’s a fair chance I’m missing a trick or two; for if there is a simple way to avoid these fees, the banks will be the last ones to tell you.


It must be said that it’s not just Davivienda that’s at this – it’s basically the same with them all. It’s the way things operate here. The international banks must love it.

Plus for many hard-pressed, working-class Colombians it’s not an issue. They either have the aforementioned nominated account or just don’t have an account at all. Under the mattress is best for the majority.

Indeed it appears banking in Colombia is either for the very rich (who tend to get fees waived) or idiots. At the moment I fall into that latter category.

I suppose somebody’s got to contribute towards those semi-comical Davivienda advertisements (see video above). Wrong Way, always giving.

Friday, 19 September 2014

'Flagtastic' result! Thanks Scotland!

Phew! They’ve pulled through, and with a little bit more to spare than it looked immediately beforehand. A huge section of Colombian society can breathe easy once more. The ‘right’ decision has been made. Scotland is staying in the UK.

The Union Jack hung proudly from a Bogotá city bus.
Why bother with the Colombian tricolour when you can fly the Union Jack?
You see had our Tartan friends voted to leave, one of the possible changes made to a streamlined union would have caused a big headache here in Colombia.

I’m referring to a modified Union Jack, minus Scotland’s cross of St Andrew and the accompanying blue colour. This is because the most popular flag in Colombia is, it appears, not their own national tricolour but that of the UK.

The Union Jack colours on display in Bogotá. What a surprise -- not.
'Jack on the back.'
It’s everywhere. Taxis, buses, shop windows, pubs, clothing, dogs – the works. It’s a safe bet that the majority of those here who have this strange affinity with it have no real idea of the place it represents. For one, you’ll meet Colombians who think that London is a country, if they’ve actually heard of the place before that is.

In some ways I can see the attraction that this mixture of white and red crosses on a blue background has. As flags go, it’s aesthetically impressive. Plus, it did represent greatness and endeavour in the not-too-distant past.

Yet, at the same time, for others the flag is – or at least was – a symbol of repression and subjugation.

As an Irishman born into and brought up on the nationalist, separatist tradition, that latter interpretation was the one I was destined to follow. Nowadays, with what I hope is a more balanced, worldly view of things, I tend to be more relaxed when I see the good old Union Flag. Well during my sober, right-thinking moments that is.

Sure isn’t it just three colours put together in a particular pattern after all? At times, though, it’s not just bulls that can have adverse reactions to flags and how they’re flown, or not flown as the case may be. (Check out the video below or click on the following link for an example of that: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_HkyokhX9Ag.)


In weaker moments, I do question Colombians who display the flag or wear it on their jeans, T-shirts and such like. A lot of them, as alluded to above, don’t know its origins. Plus they tend to be a bit bemused why it should bother me. Fair enough; as I said, I’m learning to let it go.

However, when I don my Venezuelan football shirt – the country that is now Venezuela being the birthplace of Simón Bolívar, the chief liberator of South America from ‘old’ Spanish rule and thus a Colombian hero – it doesn’t go down too well with some here. Come on guys, the two peoples and national flags are practically the same, right?*

I guess we could all do well to retract from this rather abstract symbolism and focus on more concrete, practical things. Now where did I put my Union Jack briefs?
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*For a more general piece on Colombian (and others') independence, read Whose land is it anyway?

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Scotland: Rising to be the nation again?

It is said that all good things come to those who wait. So after a political union with its fellow British neighbours to the south, England and Wales, since 1707, Scotland may be about to once again go it alone. Well that is ‘go it alone’ insofar as any ‘independent’ country can in today’s globalised world.

Scotland: Under the magnifying lens right now...
There's much focus on Scotland right now. Yes or no chaps? (Image from bbc.co.uk.)
Of course whether making a break for autonomy from the UK will be a good thing or not for my Celtic cousins depends on who you speak to. In truth, nobody really knows how such a move would go.

In contrast to many other countries that are currently striving for self-determination and those that did so previously, the Scottish position isn’t exactly a case of running from an oppressive, unrepresentative regime.

In fact it could be argued that Scotland on the whole has benefitted as much as any of the countries in the Union since its inception.

Looking at it with green-tinted eyes, it would be ironic that after countless deaths due to failed uprisings in the name of Irish freedom – followed by protracted violence and death when said freedom wasn’t achieved for some – Scotland gets full independence after a single, democratic act.
OK, different time, different context.

For one, in the Irish story you had a majority on the island that were treated and maintained as, at best, second class citizens due to their religion, culture and customs. This was the case throughout the period of English dominance there. In general, the Scots have enjoyed a much fairer deal since their union.

On the flip side, considering all that happened in the last century and the problems still existing regarding Ireland’s ‘national question’, perhaps it should have been the Irish ‘revolutionaries’ who trusted in the ‘all good things’ motto.

In pure economic terms, some say Ireland would have been better staying in the UK. However, asserting one’s autonomy is more than just economics. At the time of partial Irish secession, there was a general feeling of ‘freedom from a repressive regime’ – we’ll leave the Catholic Church’s unchecked, iron-fisted rule out of this for now.* Also, thankfully, that ‘freedom from’ lead to a ‘freedom to’ allow individuals live their lives, speak their mind, state their own political party, etc. (for a greater discussion on this read Thomas L. Friedman’s Order vs. Disorder from The New York Times).

Moreover, after a shaky start, the new Irish state formed alliances, on its own terms, with old friends in Europe. The current financial problems apart, it can be said that the Irish spirit and confidence is stronger today than it was 100 years ago; that’s despite (or maybe because of) our natural begrudgery and cynicism.

As for Scotland’s current run for ‘freedom’, it’s not, to restate, a case of trying to remove the shackles of a repressive regime. It’s a group of largely like-minded people attempting to reassert the full independence of an ancient kingdom.

The Scottish Saltire (or flag if you will!).
Is that an 'X' for yes or for no?
It’s what you might call benign nationalism, sought after in a democratic way. Should the people give it the green light, it’s highly unlikely ‘new’ Scotland will embark on an expansionist scheme, trying to ‘Tartanise’ the region. Well, there will be a few difficult issues to be needled out – maritime borders and currency to name just two – but they’ll be settled around the negotiating table, not the battlefield.

The point is you only need to look at the Middle East to see the uglier, far more dangerous side to this: aggressive, undemocratic nationalism. Yes, they are a host of intertwined, complex reasons why this is so, with outside influences having as much culpability as those inside.

Much of it emanates from a succession of autocratic leaders followed by weak, quasi-democratic administrations. Legitimacy and order has been sorely lacking. Needless to say the problems there won’t be solved after one or two elections. We’ll leave that discussion for another day.

Back in Scotland, if a yes vote is delivered it would serve to underscore that this once united, ‘great’ – for it did many great deeds on this planet – Britain is now a fragmented, very ordinary shadow of itself. It would also be, at the very least, a blow to British, nay English, prestige.

In such an event, the door would be open for our Anglo-Saxon and Welsh neighbours to join what you might see as a restructured union, the ‘Alliance of Celts and English’, the ACE group of nations. A potentially powerful hand indeed.

So what'll it be Scotland?
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*If there are problems with the hyperlink to that light-hearted, but telling, take on the Catholic Church's assumption of power after the Irish Free State came into existence, check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5Z1dqJzxNo.

For a more general piece on the whole area of nationalism and the accompanying problems with it, read Tribal warfare.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Learning from Adam

Very often the best, perhaps only, way to solve a problem is to go back to its roots, its origin. Arguably, one of the most challenging issues for man has been his never-ending battle with the opposite sex. You might call it a constant clash due, mostly, to misunderstandings, one in which there is seemingly no solution.

Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden: Where all the problems started...
Oh Adam, if only you hadn't engaged? (Image from wikiart.org.)

However, in line with the opening sentence, perhaps ‘the fix’ has been under our noises all this time, it’s just many of us have been too engrossed in ‘the battle of the sexes’ to notice it. Credit in showing me the light goes to the unlikely source of a Canadian born-again Christian friend.

Now I’ve never been a big fan of reading largely fiction-based works, but it seems 'the good book' part one, the Bible’s Old Testament, provides the answer to man’s great problem. It has been said many times before that there are lessons to be learnt from history but too often we ignore them. We could do well, however – as pointed out by my born-again Christian friend – to learn from the fatal mistake of our forefather Adam, the biblical first man.

His error? Listening to and then acting on the advice of a woman i.e. Eve. If he had at the very most just nodded and agreed but not actually followed through on eating the forbidden fruit, things could have been so much different for us all. So one version of the story goes anyway.

The ‘not actively engaging or listening’ strategy is one that our Canadian friend started to implement during the latter weeks of his time with his wife here in Bogotá. And he felt it paid dividends; in one ear, out the other. The fact that he is now back in his home country while his ‘other half’ has quite literally been left holding the baby was nothing to do with his new approach. There are other factors for that, honestly.

Before I’m accused of being a misogynist, I must state that very often the best ideas come from women (or so they tell me). What’s being proposed is something like one of the scenes from the 90s British sketch show, The Fast Show:* Outwardly pay no heed to what a woman is saying, but act on it if it happens to make sense. She can at least take private satisfaction in seeing her way being implemented. Everybody wins, right?

Family Guy's Peter Griffin lets the wife know how things roll...
Learning from Peter Griffin... (Image from dumpaday.com.)
If you’re not in agreement, best advice would be to just let it go. As a wise man once opined, “There are two theories to arguing with a woman. Neither works.”

Indeed many a man who has been in a long-term, ‘happy’ marriage or relationship has said, privately if not publicly, that the key to its ‘success’ was ear muffs; or at least some equivalent, real or imaginary.

So in a modern word full of newfangled ways to communicate, perhaps we could all, both men and women, benefit from a bit of disengagement every now and again. From the man’s perspective, learning from Adam, we ought to do it a bit more systematically in our dealings with women.

Something to ponder over as we fast approach Colombia’s day of love and friendship.

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*As well as the Fast Show hyperlink above, this following link from a similar sketch show, Harry Enfield, should also prove 'educational': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS37SNYjg8w.

For more on this general theme, one place to start is Colombia and Ireland - a tale of two old Catholic countries.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Soft touch Colombia

I’ve written before about what could be seen as the absurdity of the ‘free world’ concept.* There are many areas where it just doesn’t hold, but the one I previously focused on was in the global movement of people.

Border hopping. Colombia seems a little more welcoming for some foreigners over others.
'On your return, don't bother with a visa. You'll be grand.'
Basically, anyone who has travelled to another country realises how relative any perceived freedom is. For sure, depending on where you happen to be born, having the liberty to move to wherever you want is easier for some compared to others. Just ask Colombians for a less than positive experience in that regard.

Focusing on this country, perhaps the people’s negative migration dealings have made them somewhat sympathetic to the ‘plight’ of those visiting here, or more pertinently, those who want to stay on a longer-term basis. A case of, ‘if we continue to be welcoming, especially to peoples from the West, in time they will be more welcoming towards us.’ It’s a nice thought, if a little naïve.

Considering, broadly speaking, I am for a freer movement of people across borders with less restrictions and bureaucracy for those who want to settle in their non-birth country – especially if they are not a burden on their new state – the Colombian approach, in general, is quite refreshing.

However, for a state that is trying to be taken seriously among the global powers, having a modicum of sense to the system wouldn’t go astray. For judging by anecdotal evidence, the way Colombian immigration control currently operates encourages illegality.

For example, there are foreigners here who have knowingly overstayed their respective visas for a considerable amount of time, with some of these repeat offenders. When they do finally decide to ‘sort out’ their situation, what tends to happen is that they get a token fine and can get another visa with little difficulty, without a black mark to their name.

The answer is Colombia; & it's easier without a visa. (Image from colombia.co.)
Contrast that with those who erroneously stay a day or two over their visa and once they realise this immediately make efforts to rectify the situation. The fine these people get is practically the same as the knowing, long-term, repeat offenders. Plus, as luck would have it, I know of some people in this latter, ‘law-abiding’ category who have then struggled to get another visa. 

Thus, there appears little incentive to do things by the book. Indeed it appears you’re more likely to spend less money and have less hassle if you just hang around illegally and deal with the problem at a time that suits you, paying little attention to what’s stamped in your passport.

Now to state again, in theory I like the idea of having light-touch regulation as regards immigration. Yet, what I don’t like are double standards. It could be argued that Colombian authorities are supporting lawbreakers over 'law-abiders'. Perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised about that.

Hats off, though, for doing their bit for a ‘freer world’. They could just try and make it a bit fairer.
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*Check out Phantom freedom for more on that.