Friday, 23 March 2018

The Disposable Republic of Colombia

It tends to be the case that going green is one of the last things countries concern themselves with on the route to 'development'.

Environmental issues are usually an afterthought as states strive to boost their economies. This can be particularly damaging for countries rich in natural resources such as Colombia. In this regard, it's generally not the locals doing harm (largely down to the fact that indigenous industries don't have the capacity to exploit these resources to their maximum potential). It's usually powerful multinationals, with the connivance of officials and politicians on the ground albeit.

Litter in Buenaventura, Valle del Cauca, Colombia.
Um, beautiful Buenaventura: Spot the disposables. 
However, in terms of day-to-day waste management and a desire to 'reduce, reuse, recycle', the practices of many Colombians leave a lot to be desired. This can't really be blamed on 'evil', foreign companies. No, the problem lies with the locals on this one.

You see, across the board there is a big love affair with using not-very-environmentally-friendly disposable plastic products for a whole range of things.

Take our beloved panaderías. While most of these establishments, even the most basic ones, have porcelain cups available for public use, the preference for a large number of sit-in customers seems to be a throwaway plastic one, accompanied with a little plastic straw for stirring.

One reason for this, so it goes anyway, is related to hygiene. The thought of using a cup that some stranger drank out of beforehand is repugnant to many. It doesn't matter if it's been washed. (When you consider the fear-of-the-hot-seat syndrome, this kind of thinking isn't all that surprising.)

In similar fashion, you'll be hard-pressed to get an actual glass 'glass' with your beer in a standard tienda. A plastic one is what you'll be given if you don't want to drink directly out of the bottle. In mitigation on this one, most people do seem to drink directly from the bottle, thankfully.

Of course the big problem with most of these disposables, especially the favoured plastic ones here, is that recycling is not an option. Yet, having them neatly collected and stored at waste facilities would at least, in theory anyway, prevent them clogging up drains and being a general eyesore.

However, a not-always-reliable waste collection service coupled with a penchant for individuals to recklessly litter plays against this.

Things aren't much better when it comes to plastic bag use, nay the ridiculous overuse of them. It's still the case in many stores to put almost every item you purchase into its own plastic bag.

Now it must be said that with the coming of new, discount supermarkets such as Ara, D1 and Justo & Bueno and their policy to charge for using plastic bags, this is slowly changing in some quarters. Many others could do with following suit.

This plastic-bag charge in the stores mentioned and the subsequent behaviour change from shoppers to bring their own reusable bags shows, as it does in almost every other sphere, that money talks.

So how about panaderías and the like charging people more for wanting their drinks or whatever in disposables (in a similar fashion to our idea to charge people more if they want sugar with their drink)? It's likely there'd be a quick change to people either using the in-shop china or bringing their own reusable cups (if they're that pernickety about hygiene).

A bit of a carrot-and-stick approach to get people to clean up their act.
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Monday, 5 March 2018

A rewarding Vélez view

Regular readers of this blog (stop it, there are a couple) will know I'm generally happiest when on the move.

That tends to mean travelling, but it can also refer to feeling busy, having lots to do from a 'fulfilling' work point of view.
A view of Vélez, Santander, Colombia.
Vélez from a high.
On that latter front, however, and not really by design, it has been quieter than usual. It's been a bit like the old Irish back-to-work scheme, Fás; one week on, one week off (although with less money coming in to the coffers in this case).

Nonetheless, after over six years of this come day, go day employment whilst looking for something more 'serious' — it's Latin America, things move slowly here do remember — one learns to budget for the lean times, ensuring there's money available for the things that matter most.

In this regard, when there's no pressing need to be in Bogotá, that means getting out of the place. Plus, a little getaway from the capital doesn't have to cost an awful lot, doing it the 'Wrong Way' way in any case. (Electing for locations that aren't on the main tourist trail usually means you'll find plenty of value, in terms of accommodation if nothing else.)

So following on from the recent trip to Guaviare, this time the town of Vélez — the unofficial bocadillo (guava jelly) capital of Colombia — in the Santander department was on the radar. The only reason I knew of it was because a rather crazy (aren't all Santandereanas that way?) ex fling is from there.

That might be reason enough for some to stay away from the place, but that particular bridge has seen plenty of water pass under it. What's more, buses to Vélez go via Bogotá's northern terminal, a very convenient 15-minute walk from my current abode.

Being a four-hour drive or so away, it doesn't really fall into the backpacker favourite 'leave at night, arrive in the morning' category. Those journeys are great in terms of 'saving' on a night's accommodation for a traveller, but when you're already living in the country and paying monthly rent, the benefits of them are significantly reduced.

In any case, at 28,000 COP (about eight euros) one-way, the daytime trip doubles up as a sightseeing tour, without the regular stops. Some of the views along the way in this mountainous terrain, especially after the city of Tunja, are pretty impressive.

Vélez itself, or more precisely its setting, is impressive as well. The thing is, we're spoilt for choice in these parts as regards quaint, colonial-style towns in hilly surrounds, replete with stand out cathedrals/churches. On top of this, other similar places might be more 'tourist ready' so to put it.

Notwithstanding that, I for one don't get tired of checking out a different location on a regular basis — a change and a break from Bogotá life all in one.

Indeed, Vélez isn't really a tourist hub for the very reason that it doesn't seem to be set up that way. For some, this can be a frustration. "Tell us what's there to do and see here, please."
Vélez, Santander, Colombia.
More impressive views.
From a personal point of view, if there are a few adjacent hills to wander up in peace and quiet, I'm happy out. Get the obligatory panoramic view of the place in question. On this score, Vélez came good.

Now it wasn't clear if the trail I went on is meant for public use. It looked more trodden by cattle than trekkers and there are gates and fences to cross, but of the few people I encountered at the start no one told me I shouldn't be doing it.

In fact, in general the good folk of Vélez, Veleños as they're called, tend to leave you to your own devices. From what I experienced, they'll only engage if you do firstly; suits me down to the ground that.

Public trail or not, those hills to the south-west of Vélez offer some nice views over the town and surrounding countryside — if and when the clouds go away that is. Plus, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary in the vicinity of where I walked, so I'm guessing it is an attraction of sorts.

The route I took, though, didn't appear to be the correct one to get to that; I approached the Virgin from, um, behind. In defence, when I got there, I couldn't find a clearer alternative approach, honestly.

Thankfully the clouds largely cleared around midday and I found myself a nice little isolated spot to take in the sun and simply enjoy the scenery and tranquillity. Simple pleasures.

That probably best sums up Vélez: 'Simple pleasures'. Ignorance might have resulted in me missing out on a host of attractions around the place. Yet the whole idea of this mini-break from Bogotá was to do my own thing, annoyed by nobody. Vélez satisfied that want. Pity I can't say that about the ex from there.

*Hotel Agatá has comfortable en suite rooms with a TV & WiFi from 15,000 COP per night.
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