Here it is, good, bad and the ugly about life in South America. The crazy, weird and even sad facts which will make you laugh, cry or even grimace.
#1 Walking on the Sidewalk Can Actually Be Dangerous!!
This does not guarantee your safety, watch for cruising motorcycles & mopeds. I cant count the number of times I almost got hit just walking down the sidewalk here.
As with many Latin-American cities, Pereira suffers an issue of overcrowding and culture quirks which allow for individuals to come cruising up onto a sidewalk and park, “for just a minute.” Although, this is getting better in the last couple years you can’t assume that you are safe, even as a pedestrian. Always be alert to your surroundings.
Remember: Always look both ways before stepping out onto the sidewalk, and use caution around bus-lanes. Many times you won’t hear the bus till its almost on top of you. Try not to join the bodycount.
#2 What Did That Guy Say?
When people babble at you in a language you don’t understand, it’s your fault, buy a dictionary, download an app or take a class. There is nothing worse than living in another country making a profit from that country but then having the gall and lack of respect to not learn the local language.
And no you are not a contributing part of society if you do not learn the language. Do it. Don’t be that gringo who still expects everyone to speak English. Respect is earned by both sides.
#3″Ay, Que Ojos Tan Lindos, Hey Mamacita”
If you are a woman, and you have the appropriate number of limbs and features,you WILL be noticed. If you are a blue eyed blond haired gringa, you will always be noticed. Just this morning as I was walking to one of my favorite breakfast places I was hollered at by a leering old man. “Ai, que hermosa, como te va!”. Says some rough looking poor guy. I kept my face stony and didn’t acknowledge him, but once he passed I had to cut loose and giggle for a minute. Its not that Latin men go out of their way to be offensive, they just don’t hide their feelings. If they see something they like they will say so and that’s all there is to it. If you are tripping about whether it is respectful, please take your feminist bullshit and book the next flight to the US, Canada or the UK because you will never understand or appreciate Latin culture.
#4 You Can Never Go Wrong With Cheap Beer
If you are one of those travelers that equate good vacations with the amount of beer consumed then you will love Colombia because it is cheap and cold. The average price at a bar is about $1 for national Colombian brands and about $2-3.00 for national Colombian craft beers, and finally about $3-6 for most import brands. Feel free to drown yourself because you won’t break the bank!
My favorite brands are 3 Cordilleras Rose, and Bogota Beer Company Chapinero Porter. The Rose, is like a cross between a wine cooler and a light beer it has a sweet finish and is a common choice for women. BBC Chapinero Porter comes in classic, red and black. I prefer black because it tastes like a lighter version of Guinness. If you are a die hard light beer drinker try Aguila Light, it is a classic light beer comparable to Bud light.
#5 Let’s Go Get Stoned Man!
Then you might be in for the ride of your life, or you may just want to avoid Colombia altogether. With time, you can find the guys who know something about homegrown marijuana that has been grown locally and legally (i.e. up to 18 plants per household). The cartels are extremely organized and if you get busted by the police you may have to pay a bribe or spend some time behind bars.
But, really you don’t want that kind of headache. If white powder is more your style, it’s cheaper here, but you could get into big trouble while doing it. For the down low on destroying your life with drugs in Colombia check out this link to the blog of a man who had been there and done that multiple times Expat-Chronicles on Drugs .
One last aside about drugs, I am particularly choosy about where to use or buy here because the money, from even less damaging stuff like Marijuana, goes almost directly to the paramilitary groups like FARC…this is not good. This is like finding the worst thug in east Compton and paying his rent, so have fun but don’t contribute to bad energy. Let it come to you, and manifest it through positive energy.
#6 The Paisas
Here in Eje Cafetero resides a sub segment of Colombian culture called “Paisas.” There are a lot of sayings, gestures and habits that identify and exhibit Paisa culture. Here are some of the basics:
-Sancocho: a very delicious soup involving bananas, potatoes, yucca (yum!), meat (chicken or pork), herbs, spices and a few unidentifiable items.
– The proper response to “¿Como estas?”:”Muy bien, gracias a Deus!” Everybody does it.
-If you aren’t a very picky eater and you tend to eat whatever lands in front of you, they will call you a “buen cuchara” or “Good Spoon”
-Coffee Jeeps That Brew: Hands down the best invention in the world these jeeps park in public places and offer coffee that is roasted, ground and brewed directly from the back cargo hatch. These jeeps are open on the sides, brightly painted and deliver some of the freshest coffee you will find at a fraction of the cost you pay to visit Juan Valdez (Colombian Starbucks). This is the farm-fresh dope!
– Estas Muy Paisa, or business smart. Pereira is one of the most developed and among the safest cities in Colombia. It is also a known business hub so there is a strong economy, and the ability to negotiate is respected. The Paisas are well known as astute businessman and everyone has something going on the side.
#7 Pirated Cd’s, DVD’s and Computer Programs
Definitely one of the hallmark symbols of life in South America. Whatever the rest of the world makes digitally, you can buy a ripped off version in the streets of any city between Brazils Atlantic coast and Colombias Pacific coast. It gives me a twisted sense of pleasure to pay $1 USD for something that would cost $20-$30 USD in North America or a store. And, I’m not giving it to a corporation…but maybe mafia, according to my husband. Er, now sure this is much of an improvement. Go for YouTube.
#8 Dirty Hippies
Never in shortage they are the beatnik race of open minded thinkers. While some of them will surely rob and steal from you, some are as normal as any other hippy. Look for wild haired acrobats that juggle in the road during your red light or wander through the hostels working their way from place to place. Many are street vendors of handmade goods like bracelets, earrings, etc.. They often can be found selling macramé jewelry, pipes and various trinkets on blankets in the street. Some wander from place to place working, others hang around the music scene and sell or do drugs. Though they can be rough I have met many who are just decent people with strange clothes, backpacks, the smell of incense, perpetual poverty and different ideas. Be open to them but handle with extreme caution!!
#9 The Whores
Basically an imported version of prostitution, for many it’s a great way to dip your toe in the pond of English Teaching and gain experience. You basically sign a contract with a pimp (the institute) and go to work. The pay is barely livable, sometimes it will net you a legal work visa and you have a consistent paycheck without having to hump and hustle for clients. The upside is you will always have some money arriving every two weeks, you typically don’t have to sell, and it comes with benefits.
The downside is your hours will often change without notice, you are constrained by the fine print, you will always be underpaid and hassled a little too much and have no life to study dance or participate in normal people activities.
But, like we mentioned previously, it is a starting place and it’s a good way to learn how to teach. If you were expecting information about 14 year old prostitutes and coked out street walkers please google “Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Prison.”
Soccer is the life blood of South American life, or you can say otherwise in a room full of soccer fans in the middle of an important game…I dare you. That being said, the energy you feel in the soccer stadiums is infectious. It takes a stone cold soccer hater to attend a game in a stadium full of die hard fans and not feel pumped up by the time it ends 90 minutes later. Soccer games are also the exception to the rule of polite conversation. Words that people would never say normally are fair game during a match. Don’t be surprised if that nice old lady behind you asks about your family and yells “puta!” at the other team in the same breath. You can also learn a lot about the political climate by being a soccer fan too. Political alliances are easily deduced by how intensely important the matches are. A game between political rivals often get much more attention, such as Colombia vs. Argentina. The holy grail of soccer fans are Brazilians. They hold number one spot in South America for overall soccer passion, as one friend of mine once explained, “for them it is like religion.”