Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Making Bogotá 'mejor para todos'

The last week in Bogotá saw a fair amount of uproar  —  and traffic disruption — following the decision by city authorities to ban motorcyclists from having male pillion passengers.

The measure, which applies to only certain sectors of the metropolis, is being introduced in a bid to curb (no pun intended) street crime. You see, there is a chance in these parts that two men riding a motorbike are up to no good.

In Pablo Escobar's time the wise move would have been to run for cover if you saw such a sight approaching. It mightn't be as dramatic these days, but there is a potential criminal risk all the same. Hence the move to outlaw them.
Baseball cap-wearing Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro ...
You just can't trust those who wear baseball caps ... (From Facebook.)
It's all part of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa's plans to build a Bogotá 'better for everyone' ('mejor para todos [y todas]', we mustn't leave out the ladies). These things take time.

To lend a helping hand in that pursuit (you can thank us later), here are another few brainwaves that should whip the city into line (she'll be a paradise in no time):

If the cap fits ...
Let's face it, anyone wearing a baseball cap is surely on the wrong side of the law. Well, except the police officers who actually have them as part of their uniform. They are the law, of course.

Yet rounding up all others who wear them would no doubt result in a big reduction in crime.

It would also significantly reduce the amount of people freely wandering about Bogotá. A win-win scenario if ever there was one.

Where would we keep all these captured young and not-so-young punks? We could send them to Venezuela. They'd feel right at home with President Nicolás Maduro and all the other crazy, baseball cap-clad politicians over there. Not only that, but it would help to provide a balance to the massive influx of Venezuelans to these parts, too. Let's get on it, post-haste.

Line out
Sticking with matters of the head (we're a thoughtful bunch), what about those lads with that James Rodríguez-style line in their hair? We have to question the motives of grown men who dare to care enough to do it. Line in the hair one day, up to lewd acts in public the next.

Out with them we say. Or at least have them sent to the barbers to get the line shaved out.

Colombia's James Rodríguez sporting that hair-line look. We're not buying it ...
You're kidding nobody with that look James ... (From Facebook.)
No-child policy 
Nobody said cleaning up Bogotá was going to be easy. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.

What we're calling for here is abortions for any pregnant stratum one or two women. The same for unemployed stratum three women.

That should see to a fall in the number of delinquents in the future.

Those in the other strata are fine. Colombia's more well-to-do classes don't commit crimes you see. You don't have to when everything's set up in your favour.

Queue chaos
OK, this one might be more of a personal crusade and may not actually improve things unlike the fine measures above. We're allowed one indulgence, though, aren't we?

It also could be seen as both drastic and almost impossible to implement, but hey, such concerns haven't stopped Colombian authorities before.

Basically, anyone who jumps a queue is to be sent for some sort of intense corrective coaching, which may or may not involve mild torture. This would likewise apply to those who block the doors of the Transmilenio, a particular bugbear of ours.

If introduced along with the measures above it would result in practically every inhabitant of Bogotá having to face the law. So be it. A city's gotta do what a city's gotta do.

We could suggest another few areas to 'come down on', but let's see how we get on with these solid proposals for the moment. We don't want to run the risk of turning the place into a police state. Firm but fair is how we see it.
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Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Returning to a life more ordinary

It's safe to assume that most foreigners, especially those from the West, who come to Colombia on a whim don't arrive with the expectation to make money here. That is to say, those who come not having work already lined up with a decent paying school/university, NGO, big multinational or the like.

It's generally more a case of being here on an adventure. 'A see what happens' approach while making the most of this beautiful country and largely friendly people.

Nice views on the way to Choachi from Bogotá, Colombia ...
Time for a change of direction ..?
Indeed many sacrifice a more financially stable existence to 'give things a lash' in countries not quite as 'developed' as their homelands. Some come with a cash cushion, making things much more manageable. 'First World' savings can go a long way in these parts.

Others, and we're pretty much in this boat, don't exactly have wads of a strong foreign currency to fall back on. It's more a case of 'where there's a will, there's a way' in order to find the resources to keep the adventure alive. That 'way', more often than not, is freelance teaching. It provides a somewhat steady income while also giving the freedom to explore the country when one wishes.

Then, as time passes, a root takes hold. What initially might have been planned as just a relatively brief stay turns into years. It becomes difficult to leave. Of course, for some there are strong, solid reasons for that; a long-term relationship, an improved employment situation, a child.

For others, and again this is where we're at, it's simply a question of time itself. There's no long-term relationship (none at all actually), no improvement in earnings, no child (thankfully). We're here because we've become used to it. (There is also the small incentive of being only months away from being able to apply for a five-year residency.)

We could, perhaps even should seek out new pastures but we've become comfortable with the status quo, with mediocrity if you will. Returning to the ridiculously expensive Western World without any guarantees of finding decent, fulfilling work just seems madness.

Moving to another 'developing' country, starting from scratch again, seems more hassle than it's worth. (Visiting them still appeals greatly, though. What's more, no place could be ruled out if a job with appealing terms and conditions was forthcoming.)

Yet, sometimes, like a smartphone app, you have to hit 'force stop' and either reinstall or forget about it altogether.

With that in mind, it will be seven years this June since we made our return to South America. Moreover, what could be viewed as the 'birth' of Wrong Way has its tenth anniversary this coming November.

It was back in 2008 that the then reluctant traveller took flight from Ireland on a personal voyage of discovery. Things have never been quite the same again, for better and for worse. (The book recounting this 10-year, life-changing phase is in the making. Watch this space!)

We've had a good innings at it. There have been some unforgettable experiences, new friends for life made (we hope) from all walks of life.

However, without some significant modifications in the coming months it feels like this Colombian chapter is drawing to a close, for now at least.

Some of those on the outside looking in might think we'd be silly to end what they see as a sort of surreal, fantasy life when there's no real pressure to do so. 'Sure you're living a relatively carefree existence. Why rock the boat?'

There is merit to that viewpoint.

Yet the reality is that it can often feel more mundane than magical. More of a frustration than a fantasy, especially from a financial perspective.

It's not all about money of course. As The Beatles sang, it 'can't buy you love'. Fair enough, but as a tienda-socialising, non-dancing foreigner in these parts, without flaunting the cash, you might not get much 'action'.

A steady job and income, our own lodgings, a return to 'a life more ordinary' among our own, this kind of living is beginning to look more appealing. If only for a time.

The transition back to that, though, could prove quite a task. For one, finding that steady and hopefully fulfilling job is not going to be easy. There are also plenty of things we like about Colombia.

We must be careful what we wish for. Yet changes are required nonetheless.
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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Cali on the fringes

"What?! You were in Cali for its famous end-of-year festival and you didn't go to it. Madness!"

That's pretty much how most view our (three like-minded Irishmen that is) non-attendance at any of the Cali festival events during our recent visit there.

This 'shock' is understandable, of course. People flock from far and wide to check out what is viewed as one of Colombia's biggest and best festivals.

A view of Cali, Colombia from Cerro de las Tres Cruces ...
Cali from a high ...
What better way to get into the salsa swing — Cali is regarded as the salsa capital — when much of the city is in party mood?

Truth is, we'd generally prefer to shovel stiff concrete on a hot day than awkwardly move to salsa. Sure, we've given it a go before, but we just don't enjoy it.

Anyway, there was/is more to the festival than salsa; well, we guess so. However, our choice of hotel left us quite removed from the festival vibe.

The rather industrial, rough-and-ready, Barrio Santander wouldn't be most visitors' choice of location to overnight it in Cali. Yet, at festival time prices unsurprisingly shoot up in the more popular locations, such as the tourist-heavy San Antonio.

So getting a private room for 20.000 COP a night was a bargain not to be turned down. Plus, the city centre was only a steady 30-minute walk away.

In any case, as our few regular readers may have guessed, hanging around and socialising in Colombia's working-class barrios isn't at all anathema to us.

You could say we were getting a truer reflection of how Cali rolls. Away from the crowds and the tourists that the festival attracts.

It's what we enjoy doing when in a new place. Get an idea of what it's like to live in, Wrong Way style. Thus, finding the value locations is one of the important things in this regard.

As the country's third biggest city, it's not exactly a relaxing escape from the normal mayhem of Bogotá. This was one reason why we weren't overly bothered that after over six years in the country we'd never visited the place.

Taking into account that it was the festive period, there was a nice feel to the place nonetheless. A much warmer climate, but not overbearingly so, than that of Bogotá played its part in this.

Barrio San Antonio, Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia.
The picturesque church in Barrio San Antonio ...
Now considering we had three, um, moderate-drinking Irishmen together at end-of-year holiday time, there wasn't much exploring done.

We did, however, find time to trek up Cerro de Las Tres Cruces (Hill of the Three Crosses). At an altitude of 1,480 metres, it's over 400 metres higher than the city itself. It's a nice little workout to get to the top, from where you get nice views of the metropolis. (Apparently the barrio at the start of the trek can be somewhat dangerous, but we didn't get any sense of that.)

You can also push yourself a bit more and pump some iron and concrete in the outdoor 'gym' at the summit. We gave it just a short test — one wouldn't want to overdo it.

Apart from that and a bit of wandering around the centre and Barrio San Antonio, that was pretty much our Cali experience. Some people might consider it a shameful act for where we were, but there wasn't a salsa dance in sight.

We won't get our legs in a tangle over that one, though.
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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Manizales: Bien pueda

'Manizales, el mejor vividero del país.' So runs the slogan on the city's tourist map. It basically means it's the best place to live in Colombia.

It's a bit of a statement to make in a land that has an abundance of natural beauty spots. What Manizales claims to have, however, is more than just the impressive, hilly, landscape it's set in.

Manizales, Caldas, Colombia.
Hilly setting.
As one of Colombia's more moderately-populated department capitals, getting around the place doesn't tend to be a headache. Indeed, it can be navigated easily enough on foot, if you don't mind the steep inclines and declines that is. (On the commuting front, a city that has a cable car service incorporated into its public transport system is always a little special for us.)

Its location in the country's famed and relatively well-developed Coffee Region (Eje Cafetero) boosts further its quality-of-living index. It's not an isolated outpost. Word on the street is that there's money floating about the place, there are employment opportunities, framed in a limited Colombian context as they must be.

Another bonus is that many everyday things are cheaper here compared to Bogotá.

On top of all this, not only are many of the locals friendly — something which can be said about many places in Colombia — the city also has a largely safe feel to it. This can't be said about some of the other big urban centres here.

For those who feel more at home living the 'high life' in the hills than by the beach, as we do, at 2,200 metres above sea level, Manizales certainly ticks that box.

When the sun shines it can get up to a satisfying 24 degrees Celsius or even a little more. At night, the temperatures don't drop as low as they generally do in the slightly loftier Bogotá.

As well as being in the Eje Cafetero, Manizales is also in Paisa Country. The home of the Paisas, those recognised as Colombia's more business-minded and industrious types, is regarded as Medellín.

We had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the country's second city, so it could be said Manizales offers Paisa living without the Medellín drawbacks.

The musical Manizales accent is, as far as we're concerned anyway, another pull factor. It's rather enticing.

Manizales' main cathedral. Manizales, Caldas, Colombia.
City centre cathedral. 
It could be said it has some sort of an Italian flavour to it. Whatever the case, it's certainly quite distinct from the plainer Bogotá tones.

On that Italian front, the fact that meatballs — albóndigas in the local tongue — are a staple of the cuisine here, might suggest some sort of previous connection. (A tenuous link it may be, but the Manizales and Italian flags use the same colours, albeit in different order and direction. The city's football team, Once de Caldas, however, display the green, white and red on its crest in the same way as Italy.)

Granted our week-long visit was over the Christmas holiday period, the city still seemed quite busy, yet with a relaxed vibe to it. We were assured this is how the place typically rolls.

Indeed, if one was considering a move out of the mayhem of Bogotá, Manizales doesn't seem like a bad option at all.

As the locals would say themselves to such an idea, 'bien pueda', 'well you can'. 
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