Tuesday, 30 May 2017

A prostitute by any other name

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a prostitute as "A person, in particular a woman, who engages in sexual activity for payment."

The form of that payment is not explained, but it's safe to assume that it doesn't have to be upfront or even actual money. It could be payment in kind, as can happen in many other lines of work. Some journalists and writers, for example, start off working for no more than a few non-cash perks in order to get themselves established.
Money can buy you sex but perhaps not quite love!
'Love' is stretching it a bit here! (Image from memegenerator.net.)
Of course, quite apart from prostitution, a young or wannabe journalist working in such a way doesn't deny that he/she is a journalist or trying to be one. That, obviously enough, would be self-defeating in terms of career progression.

What's more, most if not all people who work in these more accepted professions do so by choice; it's a safe bet that the majority working in prostitution would rather be in a different, um, position.
Also, considering the stigma attached to the word, some would be horrified to learn -- outwardly anyway that is -- that what they are actually doing amounts to being a prostitute.

So what, um, boxes (sorry, we'll stop) does one have to tick to say that she is a prostitute? When you take the payment in kind side of it into account, it's a grey area indeed, open to a host of interpretation.

However, one important element has to be sentiment. If there is no sentimental attachment, no feeling of physical attraction (let's not even mention love), then we'd have to say it's sliding closer to prostitution, or at least the uninterested party is looking for some sort of gain.

Ideally it would all be clear cut. That is to say the more traditional prostitute, where it's payment upfront or as soon as the job is done.

Or, failing that, at least have it where both parties are left in no doubt as to the state of play: "I see that you are interested in me but I have no interest in you. However, I'm not in the best financial position right now so in return for having sex with me I will extract as much as I can from you in terms of financial assistance, in whatever form. Agree?"

The problem occurs when the lines are blurred. A charade of a relationship is maintained so that payments are given for services rendered or to be rendered, services that more than likely would not be made available if this financial assistance wasn't forthcoming.

Some will ask, with reason, that if the paying party gets what he wants out of it, a satisfied customer so to put it, then where's the issue? Well there isn't one really. Just let's call it what it is: Prostitution. It doesn't have to be a big deal.

Yet for the 'charade relationship' there is a potential problem as the thin veneer comes off it, more than likely ending the pretence.

The thing is, most men like to think they don't have to 'pay for it'. However, as has been said here before, we pay for it in some way (not always financially), but most of the time it's not as blatantly obvious as 'traditional' prostitution.

Basically, if desire and sentimental attachment are missing in any relationship, you have to ask what's the point of it?

This brings us back to that earlier suggestion: If both parties feel they're getting something out of it, occasional pleasure for the man, the woman some payment, monetary or otherwise (maybe even some pleasure as well), then on it can go.

It's all about how it's perceived. Accentuate the positives and everything can be fine, within reason. The key, perhaps, to any relationship that.
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Sunday, 21 May 2017

The thieving Catholics

We've written here before that you can never become too relaxed going about your daily business in Colombia. Let the guard down briefly in terms of watching your personal belongings and there's a high chance somebody will be on hand to take advantage.

In the almost six years that Bogotá has been our base, we've had a few face-to-face run-ins with thieves. Most of these incidents were down to our own risk taking, at times buoyed up on Dutch courage, doing things that others might see as outright stupidity.

One of the many Catholic Churches in Garzón, Huila, Colombia.
A seat of thievery?
On only three occasions -- three too many albeit -- have we been robbed clandestinely: the 'quintessential' 'dando papaya', that annoying phrase here that seems to blame the victim for allowing the crime happen. Whatever about being confronted by knife-wielding thugs, letting yourself be robbed by somebody who sneakily takes something out of your pocket, bigger fool you, eh?

That aside, the lamentable thing in all of this is that it happens. That people, remorselessly so it seems, take another individual's belongings at the slightest opportunity.

Yes, we can't talk about this without referring to the poverty that many who do resort to theft find themselves in, as well as a myriad of other social problems that they have to contend with.

Many also point to the corruption, nepotism and 'what have you' of the better-off types running the show as justification for illegal acts. (Alas, it's the hard-pressed working classes that tend to get shafted more than most, be it from politicians or underground criminals.)

Now it's not just Colombia we're on about here. The same can be said for a host of countries, but ones with an important connection.

That's because if we look at global stats on robberies -- difficult as it is to get a true picture for various reasons -- alongside anecdotal evidence and personal experience, this temptation to steal from others appears more prevalent in countries with a strong Christian, more specifically Catholic, background. Make the sign of the cross before and after your immoral act and all will be fine. (To be extra sure you could say a prayer or two for forgiveness from the 'Almighty'.)

Across the Middle East and Asia, where you have people in even greater poverty, especially so in Asia, than what you'll find in Latin America never mind Europe, this thieving mentality seems to be far weaker.

From a Middle Eastern perspective, it could be said this comes down to strong, what some might consider inhumane deterrents in some countries; or at least the threat of them.

Certainly in Catholic/Christian countries many are quick to talk about human rights in this regard, yet aren't as vociferous about human responsibilities. Punishments for petty crimes such as theft usually amount to nothing; a slap on the wrist and off you go.

Now we're not asking for extremes such as cutting off that wrist, but how about a 21st-century version of the chain gang? Something like a fenced-off area in a rural location where convicted thieves can grow their own food and learn to become self-sufficient (and work). Just a thought; there are variants on the theme.

Effective deterrents aside, there also seems to be something else at play. In general this appears to be bad schooling, where it seems taking advantage of somebody else is seen as a better quality than helping another person.

Whatever the case, the thieving mentality isn't going to dissipate any moment soon. For the time being, it's a case of being on high alert at all times.
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Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Raising a Tostao to Bogotá

Exciting times out there. A middle-class revolution (of sorts) is in the Bogotá air.

You see there was a time when those of a perceived certain standing in these parts wouldn't be seen dead in what would be considered a more 'normal' establishment. They had a reputation to keep intact. One couldn't be mixing it with the 'ordinary' folk, now could one?
Tostao' Café & Pan: A Bogotá revolution (of sorts) ...
Tostao: Modern, relatively fancy yet at affordable prices. (Photo from Facebook.)

Yet, this misplaced mentality that if you spend more on something this means it's better and/or elevates you to a higher social stratum appears to be changing somewhat. The more well-to-do types, relatively speaking in any case, are voting with their feet, turning to places that don't sell things at ridiculously inflated prices and only market themselves at ‘desirable’ folk.

True enough, we can say with reason that middle-of-the-road options had been conspicuous by their absence until recently. Not too long ago, in terms of going for an afternoon coffee or the like, the basic choices were a fairly costly Juan Valdez or Oma (let's not get started on Starbucks) or your bread and (no) butter, bog-standard panadería (our favourite of course, once we've established the proper prices).

That's all changed now, thanks to the arrival of Tostao' Café & Pan. It offers fairly decent-quality fare at affordable prices in a modern, half-fancy environment -- OK, what constitutes 'fancy' for us may be open to questioning, but it's well kitted out nonetheless. From an Irish and UK perspective, think Costa Coffee or Insomnia Coffee Company.

Regardless of how its viewed, Tostao certainly has caught the imagination of large swathes of the Bogotá public. Pass by any of its now ubiquitous cafés and there's a good chance there'll be a sizeable queue waiting to get their coffee and 'whatever you're having yourself' fix, especially in the morning and at lunchtime. It does seem to be the, um, toast of the city right now.

In a similar fashion, the Aldi/Lidl-style D1 and Justo & Bueno stores have changed the grocery shopping habits of the working-to-middle classes. They aren't, though, low-cost leaders for all household goods. The more established Éxito and Olímpica can still offer lower prices and similar quality, depending on the product type. Plus we've the smaller supermarket outlets as well as the local fruit and veg stores which very often offer better value for the same kind of quality.

The thing is, the local store, just like our beloved local panadería for coffee and bread, isn't cool enough for some to frequent. Tostao, on the other hand, has hit a sweet spot for many Bogotanos. It's certainly 'in' right now. A sign of a ‘race to normality’ is how we’ll put it for now.
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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

San Andrés' quieter side

Being brutally honest, of the few remaining Colombian departments we've yet to visit, San Andrés rated as the least important.

OK, there are worse things you could do than chill out on a small tropical island in the Caribbean, but we've been there before in the shape of Barbados, as well as being well-acquainted with Colombia's Atlantic coast. Seen one Caribbean hotspot, seen them all, right?
San Andrés from its highest point, San Andrés, Colombia.
The view from the highest point on San Andrés ...

What's more, from speaking to others who visited San Andrés, the common refrain has been 'sure it's nice, but it's somewhat overcrowded and dirty'. (Throw in a relatively steep tourist tax to be paid before visiting and its appeal weakens further.) It's also widely agreed that the 'neighbouring' sister island of Providencia (the same department albeit) is the better option, with San Andrés just used as a necessary stopover to get there.

Yet when opportunity knocks in these straightened times, it would be foolish to turn it away. Thus, with a subsidised flight and a few free nights board on the table (it's a tough life at times), the decision to check out San Andrés was a no-brainer.

For sure, and lamentably in a not-too-untypical Colombian fashion, it's certainly not pristine clean. You don't have to look hard at all to find plastic bottles and drinks cans scattered around, normally within metres of a rubbish bin.

Interestingly enough, those with the strongest links to the island, the Raizals who speak Creole and seem to prefer using English than Spanish when given the choice, blame this spoiling of the land on the Colombian continentals who have made the place their home in big numbers over the last number of decades.

Indeed, the Creole types ill-feeling towards their 'administrators' seems to run much deeper than just the environmental pollution. Let's just say there appears little love lost between Raizals with deep roots to the place and some more recent arrivals; a feeling that the former are being systematically drowned out by the latter (something we'll leave for discussion in another post).
Some great diving & snorkelling waters on San Andrés' west side, San Andrés, Colombia.
Ideal diving & snorkelling waters on the west side.
That, what some may view as colonialism aside, one of the most visually spectacular features are the clear and colourful majestic waters, home to corals bursting with marine life -- snorkelling and/or diving is highly recommended on this front. Thankfully these appear to be well-maintained and long may it continue.

As regards where to stay, the more popular side of the island is the commercial centre in the north, around the airport and its environs. Here you have the big hotel names and a host of other accommodation options, as well as picture-perfect, golden-sand beaches. It has that recognisable holiday island vibe to it, nothing terribly original in that.

Further south down the east side of the island, around the San Luis area, there are more beaches, ones that tend to be less frequented.

Things are far quieter on the south and west sides of the island, the latter being the prime spot for diving and snorkelling. Here you'll find a host of homelier accommodation options in the likes of Cove and West View.*

For those looking for a more chilled-out stay and a visit not solely focused on sun, sea and sand, this part of the island is the best place to look. In any case, there are frequent buses to the centre from early morning up until 8.30 pm if you want to check out the livelier side of things -- the public transport also doubles up as a cheap way to get an island tour.

First Baptist Church, San Andrés, Colombia.
First Baptist Church: More English than Colombian ...
Most visitors rent their own transport to explore the island. Scooters are a good way to go for individuals or couples, with big quad-type vehicles, or mules as they're called, a handy option for three or more people.

The tried and trusted push bike for about 30,000 COP (10 euros) per day is another alternative, if you can stick the heat that is (if an Irishman can do it and survive, it's doable for most who are in any way active; the total area is just 26 square kilometres with the highest point standing at 84 metres).

A spin up Orange Hill to the landmark First Baptist Church allows for nice views of both the east and west sides of the island, and it also gives a flair to San Andrés' former British colonial past (note the church service board written in English).

In terms of expenses, standard accommodation and meals are costlier than what you'll find on the Colombian mainland, understandable for a rather remote, tourism-focused Caribbean island. On the flip side, beers and other alcohol products retail at prices similar to those in Bogotá's cheaper barrios.

The rubbish black spots aside -- a pan-Colombian problem that -- our four-night visit to San Andrés certainly didn't disappoint. Whether it's seen as a poor man's Providencia or not, it still has plenty to offer in its own right.

* Two recommended accommodation options on the west side are Siloé Cove Hospedaje Boutique and Royal Palm Inn (+57 3164957522). The Caleño-owned and administered Siloé offers bikes and a scooter to rent for guests, as well as snorkelling equipment (snorkelling can be done with the administrators, who do it on a daily basis.)
Royal Palm Inn is family-ran by a very friendly local couple and provides an airport pick-up and drop-off service. The owner also drops off and picks up guests wishing to go to the commercial centre.

Viva Colombia operates two daily return flights to San Andrés from Bogotá. The outbound flights depart El Dorado at 09.20 and 19.50. The return flights leave at 12.10 and 22.40. Visit vivacolombia.co for all Viva Colombia's latest routes and prices.
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