5 Things I love about Colombia

Posted on 27/08/2012


(image taken from: lauracardona51.blogspot.com)

To start the week off, I thought I’d share with y’all 5 things I love about Colombia:

1. Domicilios (deliveries)

Coming from a small town in Alabama where you have to drive to get anywhere and everywhere, getting used to domicilios took a while; but, no fear, I have truly fallen in love with them. Imagine waking up really wanting to make yourself a nice plate of French toast, but you open your fridge to find you’ve no eggs. Don’t worry–call your friendly neighborhood store and they’ll send a delivery boy with half a dozen eggs in no time, straight to your door. Sick with a stomach ache and really need some Peptobismol? Call almost any pharmacy you want and they’ll deliver your Pepto as fast as they can. What if a friend calls and really wants to borrow that awesome shirt you wore last week? Call up a delivery taxi who will gladly come pick up the shirt and deliver it to your friend for a small fee. Left your cell phone at your friend’s flat? No worries–call the same delivery taxi and he’ll pick it up for you and drop it by your apartment.

Anything and everything you can imagine can be picked up and/or delivered here in Colombia. I’ve been told it’s more of a coastal phenomenon, but delivery services are rampant in Colombia. It will surely be something I’ll miss if I ever leave.

(image taken from: alkimiaesenciasflorales.com)

2. The unique array of climate zones

Colombia has the highest level of biodiversity in the world. How, you might ask? Because there a billion different climate zones here. Well, ok, not a billion, but a lot. Being located on the equator means temperatures are mostly regulated by altitude–the higher up you are, the colder the average temperature will be–and for the most part (aside from a 1 to 2 degree celsius fluctuation) the temperatures stay relatively the same year round.

You may be asking why I like this… Basically, it means you can drive 30 minutes and be in a different climate zone, or you can take a plane to another city and feel like you’ve just gone from summer to winter. Take a bus from Bogotá to Cartagena and prepare yourself to go through all 4 seasons before reaching the coast. And, it’s not only the temperature that changes in the different climate zones–it’s also the vegetation, the landscape, and even the culture of the area. Driving from Barranquilla to Riohacha you go from flat, hot, some vegetation, to almost tropical rainforest mountain zone to extreme desert zone all in about 4 hours. It’s incredible and amazing.

In Colombia, if you are ever bored with the weather where you are living, just plan a weekend getaway and you can easily escape to whatever season and landscape you want. This makes Colombia a fascinating country to travel through and an incredible place to live and work.

3. Street vendors

On the beach and forgot to bring your sunglasses? Don’t worry, someone will pass by selling them soon. Taking a walk and REALLY want some limeade? I am sure you’ll pass someone with some freshly squeezed limonada in no time. Did you just break a shoe lace while taking your morning run? No fear, there will be a vendor selling shoe laces up ahead. Missed seeing Batman Forever last night with your friends? Just pick up a copy on the street on your way home from work. Running some errands and really want a homemade snack? Take your pick from fried coconut, sausages, arepas filled with cheese, meats, and/or veggies, meat kabobs, fruit salad, freshly cut fruits, and much more. On your way to a party and forgot to pick up a gift? I am sure you can find something appropriate on your way…

Some people find the street vendors annoying. Some say they crowd public spaces. Some say they make the city look dirty. Others say they contribute to pollution. But, they are still everywhere, and they are very much part of Colombian culture, and definitely a part of my Colombia.

4. Ice cream flavors

In the USA we have some pretty rad ice cream flavors, but the ice cream flavors in Colombia are no where near your run of the mill flavors. Just this weekend I went to the national Colombian chain Crepes and Waffles and had their new ice cream flavor of the month: cocado (just like the traditional coconut cookies found all over Colombia). Wow, was it delicious AND unlike any ice cream flavor I’d had before. And what about lulada, a flavor based on a traditional drink made in Cali with the exotic fruit lulo found in Colombia? Another amazingly delicious ice cream flavor–the perfect blend of acidic and sweet. You can also find loads of flavors that are infused with Colombian coffee and many more that are made from the plethora of exotic fruits found in Colombia. And, with Colombians being the extreme ice cream eaters that they are, I see no decline in the creative ice cream flavor production…

One thing’s for sure–you’ll never tire of trying new flavors!

(image taken from: http://www.crepesywaffles.com)

5.  Public Transportation

I know that I’ve taken public transportation for granted for most of my life. In Hueytown, Alabama there is no public transportation. The closest thing to public transportation is walking, and only that if you live in an area with sidewalks. If not, it may be safe to just not go anywhere. Having a car is a necessity. Without a car, you will have a hard time getting anywhere…

The first time I really had access to public transportation was when I lived in Bogotá in 2008. However, I almost always avoided it as the public bus system overwhelmed me and the Transmilenio station was too far from my apartment—and, because I could walk almost everywhere I needed to go.

The first time I really, truly relied on public transportation to function was in Leeds, England during my year abroad as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. I was always hopping on the bus, taking a train, or hailing a taxi. The system was easy and efficient, but a tad expensive. Nonetheless, it was the first time I lived without a car for a prolonged period. I learned to appreciate public transportation in a new way, and even came to love it. I enjoyed my 45 minute train ride to work in the summer–it gave me a chance to grab the morning paper, catch up on my emails, or just enjoy the beautiful scenery of West and North Yorkshire. I also enjoyed my 30-45 minute bus ride home from the Univeristy of Leeds–it gave me a chance to do some reflective thinking while jamming to any new music I had loaded onto my iPod.

(image taken from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/35759580@N03/7048781617/)

And, yes, I miss the immaculate train system in England, and the incredibly cheap flights between European countries and even the public buses in Leeds that sometimes left me running behind them, but that were ALWAYS on time.

BUT, I do love the public transportation system here in Barranquilla and even on a national scale here in Colombia. You will never lack a way of getting to and from somewhere, and you will always have a cheap and luxury option. I was surprised to find how many different methods of traveling there are here in Colombia. If you are going to another coastal city (Cartagena, Valledupar, Santa Marta, Riohacha, etc…) you can easily pay around $50 USD for a bus service that will pick you up at your apartment and take you back there after your journey is over. These buses are normally smaller and have a/c, but lack an onboard bathroom. No matter what city you’re going to, you can always find one of the megabuses to get there–these buses generally have more leg room, more space for luggage, an onboard bathroom, and are mostly direct or have very few stops until you get to your destination. These buses are cheaper than the puerta a puerta (door to door) ones, but they do not pick you up–you must board at a transportation terminal or bus stop. You can also hire taxis to take you both to places within the city as well as hire them to take you to other nearby cities. Taxis within the city are not that expensive, but hiring a taxi (or private driver) to take you to another city (Cartagena or Santa Marta) is a luxury priced transportation.

(bus I normally take)

The cheapest way to get around the city is definitely by bus. In Barranquilla, there is the government run Transmetro, which is airconditioned and has designated stops, and then there are the privately owned buses who stop wherever someone hails them, lack a/c, generally drive a tad recklessly, and can be a bit over-crowded at peak hours.

I am generally a bus taker, but am ever so happy to have all of these methods of transportation at my disposal. Having all these options makes not having a car the least of my worries 🙂

Until next time…

Posted in: Colombia