Monday, August 17, 2009

Oddities and Pleasantries Worth Mentioning

Oddities and pleasantries worth mentioning

Traffic mimes: Many of us have seen the guys who wash your windows at stop lights for change, well here there are traffic mimes. They are sometimes painted up like your standard mime, but there are others. I’ve seen a squeaky robot, a fisherman statue, but my current favorite is from yesterday: a silver painted astronaut walking in the middle of traffic as if he was walking on the moon.

Liquid sold in bags: Milk, yogurt and water sold in bags. I couldn’t do it the first week, but this week I took the plunge and bought and drank water right out of the bag. When in Rome...

Fruit and coffee vendors: Right now a fruit vendor is shouting “aquacate” (avocado) outside – love that. There are also fruit vendors on many corners. The best is ripe mango cut up like French fries and served in a bag with lime and salt – yum.

I have yet to buy a cup from the street coffee vendors, but they carry thermoses, and what sometimes looks like a kitchen cupboard in order to give coffee with a substantial amount of sugar.

Thimbles of Coffee: For a country known for its coffee, one would think that they may want to actually want to serve you a decent amount, but the cups are not much larger than thimbles. I’m not kidding. I know we have gone off the deep end of super-sizing things in the US, but I do like to drink more than a 1-ounce plastic demitasse of coffee at a time. Not only is it a small amount, but it is served with sugar and no cream. Funny enough and as stereotypical as it may sound, the best place to get coffee is called, yep, you guessed it, Juan Valdez. These are cafes kind of like Starbucks. There they actually do give you coffee in a decent sized cup and it is delicious.

Cedula: I have been asked for this several times since I’ve arrived and initially had no idea what they were talking about. This is a Colombian ID card that is used here as frequently as a driver’s license is in the US. You need to have one to get things like a bank account, etc. Here, to get a cedula you need – your passport, DOB, address, phone, employer, emergency contact – all typical stuff so far but then you also need to take blood to find your blood type (I’m O positivo) 4 passport pictures, all of your fingers and thumb prints (and they give you nothing to wash your hands, but rather, a little piece of paper to wipe off the ink), your parents names, and essentially signing every last detail you can imagine. This is homeland security.

After all that you’d think they’d put the number in a computer, nope, they just open up a large book that looks about vintage 1940, and put your number in there with your signature.

“Todo esta bien chevere”
This is taken from a Stevie Wonder song and it is after him saying, “I speak very fluent Spanish,” but I never knew what chevere meant until I came to Colombia. It means "really cool". Stevie said everything is really cool. I think today it would transfer to, “It’s all good.”

The bus: Cheech and Chong cab minus the pot. Colorfully painted buses with fringy curtains, family pictures, salsa music blaring with the guy who takes your money dancing the whole time, tons of kids in back, a hand is given to help you as you are leaving the bus, teenage boys who actually politely give women a seat, all of this for a whopping grand total of $0.80. It is a fiesta on wheels.

Cabs: Unlike almost every other country in the world, the cab drivers do NOT try to rip you off. Cabs here are unmetered, but every ride within the city limits is 5000 pesos, which equates to $2.50. Cabs are plentiful and necessary because walking is a sweaty, dodgy sidewalk, and scary traffic filled experience.

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