First Impressions of Colombia

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

The start of my South America experience….

My very first experience with Colombia was my flight. I flew on Avianca and waited for my boarding section, letter “E”, to be called. I stood aside from the larger line with some others also waiting. Finally, they welcomed boarding section E! I stepped into the line, at which point, I was yelled at, aggressively, in Spanish. Not just Spanish, but fast Spanish. Not just fast Spanish, but angry fast Spanish. The kind where I didn’t quite understand what they were saying, but I could feel their bad feelings for me. I felt like a bad gringa. When I told them I didn’t understand, they said, “We’ve been waiting a long time, go wait!” not knowing, of course, that I had waited just as long as they had, I just didn’t lug my over-packed and way too heavy bag to the other side of the line. I stood back, they walked on making brush-off motions, and then a Colombian man and another woman that witnessed this told me to get on the line and not to worry about those jerks! They should realize it’s all the same plane and it’s not leaving till we all get on.

Street mural in the San Antonio area of Cali, Colombia.

Photograph by Heather Markel, copyright 2019

I’ve noticed that nothing is translated from Spanish. Not into English, or any other language. This included my flight. As the skies look troublesome and the plane shakes and the pilot puts on the seatbelt sign and all you understand is something about “turbulence” and “there won’t be any service on the flight” but never get the explanation in English, it’s unnerving. But there are also no translations in museums or tourist attractions. As someone that has traveled the world, this is the first time I’ve ever experienced an airline, or a country, not translating pertinent information into English.

“What’s in a name – the implication of affection”

Nicknames are substituted for names most of the time. Rather than being called “Heather” I have been called “muchacha,” “la gringa,” and “la blancita,” among other things. Others might call friends and family, “mi carina,” “mi amor,” but rarely do I hear a name. Which makes it even harder to remember people’s names! Servants do not get nicknames, they are always addressed by first name. I’m learning that getting a nickname is a sign of affection – if you’re liked, you get a nickname, and you should be happy. 🙂

Colorful buildings in San Antonio, Cali, Colombia.

Photograph by Heather Markel, copyright 2019

Food is yummy. We have a Colombian tortilla, called an Arepa, with many meals. It’s hard to explain but is sort of a cross between a white pancake meets a corn tortilla – even when crisped it doesn’t break apart, you have to tear it like bread. For breakfast it’s yummy with butter or cheese. Pork is amazing no matter how it’s served, and I’ve had it many ways. The salads are full of wonderful vegetables and my favorite are the fruit drinks in water – I’ve had “lulo” (a bit like a small orange but tastes nothing like it and doesn’t exist in America), passion fruit, and mango.

Walking around the colors really grab me. The buildings, the stores, the clothing. Especially in the San Antonio area where beautiful graffiti murals are more common than paint. Talent literally covers every nook and cranny of the streets I pass. I happen to be staying with my friend’s aunt, Yolanda who is an amazingly talented painter, self taught, and having met one of her daughters, it’s definitely a gene that was passed on in the family. Wow.

On the more seedy side, there are “love hotels” next to the discos and bars. (No, I have not been!) Apparently since girls have to be home by 4 or 5am, if they want to be with someone, they go out, they go to the hotel, they go home, and their parents think they were out clubbing with friends. (I suppose that works great until someone gets an STD…) Happily I can say I’ve only seen all this from the outside.

Prices are super reasonable. I took a 10-minute ride from the zoo to the place I’m staying and it cost less than $2. A wonderful dinner of a salad with quinoa, avocado, chicken, and a glass of lulo juice was about $13, which, actually, is on the expensive side. I took 4 of us out for a coffee the other day and all 4 coffees cost a total of $6! All-in-all I’m so glad I’ve come for a visit!

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