Hola! We are here! We have made it to Colombia, we are settled and we are ready to tell you ALL about it! Get comfy, I have so much to share.
Zoe and I arrived after our epic layover in the USA, sans Dan and Haley. It was our first time arriving into a new country by ourselves, but no worries; we’ve had a lot of practice, we know the routine and we know the language. Dan doesn’t usually plan ahead for airport pickups but winging it upon arrival is not my style so I had a nice guy standing at the arrival gate holding a sign with my name on it. That’s how I roll.
First we had to overcome a wee bit o’ trouble with getting cash from the ATM (note to self: arrive with cash that can be exchanged lest your bank become overzealous and restrict any and all withdrawals because they are sure it’s debit card fraud because honestly, who the hell travels this much???). But we got checked into the Airbnb, got food, got rest and the next day got our phones working and cash obtained. After that we just took our time exploring a few parts of this area of Medellin, sleeping off the jet lag and preparing for Dan and Haley’s arrival.
First of all, I love it here. But I usually love new countries. It’s a honeymoon period and sometimes the love wears off, like Spain got on Daniel’s last nerve (twice) and Thailand and I fell out of love at the end. But I’m not sure I’ll fall out of love with Colombia. We’ll see. For now, here’s some stuff that we noticed.
- Buenas tardes, Amigos! Everyone is so FRIENDLY! Just like in our small town in Panama, everyone greets everyone. You step into an elevator and you greet everyone who is already in there. You step out and you say goodbye to everyone. You pass the guards at your front gate and you have a mini conversation of hello, good afternoon, how are you, be well, have a good day, thank you, bye as you pass by. You walk into stores and they greet you with a smile and a hello. I love it. They seem happy we are here.
- Thunder, hear the thunder (#imaginedragons). We are wrapping up the wet season here. Given that we are so close to the equator, there are not really seasons (fun fact: when I lived in Ecuador while in college I had an argument with my host father, who insisted that fall came after spring. I tried to tell him that spring was followed by summer but he did not believe me. No one knows the seasons around here because there’s only wet and dry). But we are still enough in the wet season to have an almost daily deluge of rain and WOW the thunder. It is LOUD. I have never heard such loud thunder but I love it! We have been caught out in the rain a few times but we just duck into a cafe, get something to drink and wait it out. Within about 30-45 minutes it’s barely sprinkling and very pleasant to be back outside. The rain cools off the city from a slightly toasty sun, and also clears out some of the smog. I LOVE the thunder.
- Clearly there is a uniform that I was not made aware of. Colombian women dress almost entirely alike: they wear skinny jeans, cute shoes and a nice shirt. The only people who wear flip flops are gringos. And shorts are definitely unpopular unless it’s a younger person or a gringo. Colombians really seem to love their shoes judging from all the shoe stores at the mall. I’m pretty sure I can’t get into the skinny jean concept and we all know Dan will not be wearing anything longer than his knees. But cute shoes? Well, if you insist…
- Before coming to Colombia we heard that it was a great place to practice your Spanish, as there are not very many English speakers here. I have found that to be true! From the moment we arrived, almost all my transactions have been fully in Spanish. However, some people like to practice English and will randomly approach me and say “Hello, how are you?”. I engage them in a bit of slow, clearly-enunciated conversation. The other day at a Christmas music concert two young boys came up to talk to me but their English was limited to pretty much just “hello”. I asked them how to say “Feliz Navidad” in English and they said “Happy Birthday!”. OK, close enough!
- The friendliness extends to expats too. Since arriving 10 days ago I have had a meet-up with a Worldschooler, a meet-up with a Colombian gal at a Christmas concert, I went to a market with four new friends, I have plans for brunch with some Medellin expats, Dan had a poker game and we did a historical Medellin and neighborhood tour. There is a LOT to do and plenty of people to do it with.
- Speaking of activities, it seems like they do a lot with kids here. There are quite a few community centers or gathering places where they offer kids’ classes like martial arts, music, art, dance and sports. The girls both want to go to school and take a lot of extracurricular classes. I’ve been told that the government in Medellin puts a big focus on keeping youth busy as a way to keep them out of trouble, so most of these activities are subsidized and very cheap. Es bueno!
- I wasn’t finished talking about the weather. This is a very indoor/outdoor type of place. The weather is so mild that most apartments and houses have no A/C and no heat, and they have large patios where the doors open almost completely so you just enjoy the outdoors. Malls typically have great big entrances that just blend into the outdoors, and food courts have outdoor areas. It gets very loud during the rain storms but it’s awesome. Very few mall areas are completely indoors or air-conditioned in any way, due to the mild climate year ’round.
- Colombians are so dog friendly! Zoe is loving all the perritos that she has been petting, and she gets great practice for her Spanish when she talks to the owners. The malls are all pet friendly and even the food court has an area where the dog owners sit while they eat. And no dog poop is found anywhere – dog owners seem very responsible.
- There are only two negative things I have found since we arrived: traffic and pollution. The traffic is pretty bad and seems like any time of day or night it’s pretty congested. We’ve seen quite a few fender bender accidents involving taxis and/or scooters which then cause even more of a tie up. Medellin is nestled in a bowl in the mountains so the smog in the lower areas can be bothersome. Many people seek apartments on the top floor of buildings to get away from it.
- All that rain means there are a lot of green trees and parks! They are so pretty and help keep the air clean. People in Medellin, like Spain, seem to enjoy their outdoor areas and this city has a lot of parks and walking streets for people to be outside. This is very helpful because traffic is so bad, we walk places a lot. Dan less than me, but he’s still walking a whole lot more than he used to.
- Taxi drivers are everywhere. The taxis are metered and have working seat belts, but they are tiny. And so far many taxi drivers have been the only people we have met who are slightly unfriendly. I’m pretty sure several of my taxis went the long way for the unsuspecting gringa (who then got suspicious). Uber is newly legal here and we’ve used it several times with success, as do many other expats and Colombians. I’ve said it in a lot of countries and it’s never transpired, but we might, actually, not have a car here. Fun fact: the taxis are very very concerned with how hard you close their doors. If ever you shut it normally they wince and usually groan. A lot of times they guide it closed with their hand on it. They do not like hard closings. Probably because the doors are as thin as cardboard.
- Say it with me: Meh-da-JEAN. That’s how you say it. And if you saw the name of the school La Salle, you’d say La SAW-JAY. The “ll” is a soft”g”. The sooner you learn that, the better. Como se llama = “Como se JAMA”. There’s your Colombian Spanish lesson for today.
There you have it, those are our first impressions. We’ve been here 10 days now and I can tell you that we’ve apartment-hunted, found a place, moved in and are almost ready to eat in. The delivery guys are just a little too convenient for that to happen just yet, but someday it will. Stay tuned, we’ve got a lot more to tell you about our apartment, our activities, and Colombia.
But the one thing I want to know from you is… when are you coming to visit?