Sidewalks in Latin America generally fall into one of a few categories:
New or excellent condition with/without tactile cues for the visually impaired like above
Very good condition with decorative tiles/design
Very poor, uneven, drop offs, steps, obstacles, deteriorating
I don’t have pictures of the poor ones although I could get them in a heartbeat but I have seen many that had decorative designs. It is a pleasure to see that someone took the time/expense/creativity to install a decorative (usually tile or brick) sidewalk. Here are just a few examples:
One of our last stops in Colombia was the small town of Pasto, less than 2 hours from Ecuador. We were only there a few days and we saw a few interesting things.
Below are a couple of pictures from a night parade right outside the gate of our apartment. It was church related; can’t tell you anything more than that. Here are a man and a woman on stilts and below that a float.
We took a walk one day and there were cows grazing on the meadow by this large apartment building. In Colombia you can tell small towns by medium sized ones when apartment building like this show up. This one is on the edge of Pasto, about two blocks from where buildings are built side-by-side.
Beautiful view of the area. Many Andean mountain cities and towns are like this, where the city suddenly ends and fields appear.There was a place on the river close to where we stayed where a number of people hand washed their laundry on the river. I took a quick picture of them but can’t find it. We were surprised because it was inside the city limits. We heard about a business where a washing machine is delivered for under $5 and then carted to the next place.
We went to a house built in 1623. This is the oldest restored structure in the town. It was especially interesting to Dan with his construction/restoration background but I enjoyed seeing the old tools and the newly made wooden sculptures, boxes, and wall hangings. One thing they talked about was Mopa Mopa art. The best way I can describe it is that they make something akin to vinyl from resin which is colored and cut into shapes and then applied to almost anything (wood, metal, ceramics) as a decoration. More pictures below when we went to the local store where they actually do this.
The Blacks and Whites Carnival is held every year in early January. We missed seeing it but we went to the museum where they house a lot of the old floats. These floats are not flower decorated floats…they are made of a paper mache base with fiberglass applied and then painted. Each float can be up to 50 x 60 feet in size and intricately designed and painted. They take about 4 months each to make and their is stiff competition for the first place prize money. Keep in mind how big these floats are when you look at the gallery.
Mopa Mopa Art is amazing! Watching the gentleman apply to filmy color and looking at some of his art work it is hard to believe it is done by hand. Here is more info on the process although you will have to use a translate program if your Spanish isn’t up to par.
Las Lajas Sanctuary in nearby Ipiales was built on the location where in 1754 a young deaf girl reported seeing the Virgin Mary and the girl spoke for the first time. The bridge for the Sanctuary crosses a river and is incredibly beautiful. The cathedral itself is stunning. All along the path to the cathedral and past it people have added various plaques, probably thousands of them!
At the Sanctuary we met Juan who is from Bogota Colombia and traveling by bicycle to the tip of South America. He has pretty good English and we bumped into him the next day at the bus terminal in Ibarra as well.
From the Sanctuary we took the cable car up the steep hill and caught a taxi. We paid the driver to take us to the cemetery which is across the border into Ecuador. More on that in another posting but here are a few pics from the cable car.
In all of the countries that we have been in so far (Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama, Colombia, and Ecuador), the pharmacies are similar. They are usually much smaller than a 7-11 store in the USA; often you just walk a step or two from the sidewalk to a counter. They tend to have medicines in a series of deep drawers behind the counter. The staff doesn’t wear any type of name tag or badge so I don’t know if they are “pharmacists” or not. They do tend to be pretty knowledgeable and able to recommend products for colds, coughs, bug bites, etc.
In Panama, Ecuador, and I think Costa Rica and Nicaragua as well, they are called farmacias but in Colombia they are usually called drogerias.
I know in Nicaragua, I could buy generic Xanax and Ambien with no problem, and no prescription. In fact, the generic Xanax was on the top shelf of the glass counter. No limits on how much I could buy either. And very cheap, under $0.30 each if I remember correctly.
When I talked to the doctor who came to see Dan when he was under the weather in Popayan, he said that the only things that require a prescription in Colombia are antibiotics. I am glad that they require a prescription but it is amazing that you can buy anything else any time you want.
The farmacias tend to have a small selection of supplements, dental items, personal care items, etc. It will be interesting to see the differences in the future countries.
You don’t generally see items in bulk. They are usually sold by a blister pack sheet, even something as common as acetaminophen is sold by a sheet of about 10 or 12 tablets. Selection is much smaller and options different from the US. For example, if you want a cream to stop itching from mosquito bites, you can’t get a benadryl type cream. And what you can get in one country you may not be able to get in another.
I take a large dose of Vitamin D3 every day so I like to get 5,000 unit gel caps but you are lucky if you can find 2,000 units caps and if you do, they are expensive where as in the US they are pretty cheap.
Earning a living in Latin America can be very tough. Work is hard and long hours and pay very low. Retirement payments are extremely low, as low as $50 per month in Ecuador.
Many people earn their living by selling things. On streets, in the plazas, boarding buses briefly, and walking between lanes of traffic. You can buy almost anything from shoe laces and plain shoe inserts (I am not talking the Dr. Scholl gel inserts, I’m talking plain inserts like you take out of your shoes if you put in the Dr. Scholl inserts), sun glasses, all kinds of fresh or cooked foods, toys, corn kernels for pigeons, bubble blowers, shoe shines, candy or cigarettes, and the list is endless.
In Ecuador I saw a man with no shoes because his feet were clubbed or deformed, walking on his knees, selling the Andean ponchos. I didn’t take a picture of him but here is the type of poncho I mean.
I saw another man who sat on a skateboard and went up and down between lanes of traffic selling something. Brave soul.
We generally don’t buy from the vendors because we don’t know how the food is handled but lots of people do buy there. I guess prices are good and they are convenient. Below are pictures from Colombia and Ecuador but you could find similar pictures in any of the countries we have been in so far and I suspect most of the ones we plan to visit in the future.
To the left of the red car is vendor sitting on a skate board.
In no particular order, here are some of my random thoughts and observations in Colombia.
In smaller towns, horses are not uncommon. I saw a sign that showed a horse and buggy with a line through it but didn’t have a chance to take a picture of the sign. In another town, I did see a horse and buggy but again couldn’t take a picture as we drove by.
You sometimes see horses in larger towns as well. Popayan is about 400,000 people and there are a number of horses and buggies/wagons used here. We even saw an unsaddled horse walking by itself on a busy street the other day but I couldn’t get a picture in time to show you. Really, we did!
Motorcycles, or motos as they are called in Spanish, are very common. The ones is Costa Rica are even more daring than the other countries we have been in so far (or are we just getting more used to them?). Unlike in the USA there seems to be no pretense about staying in a lane (remember the one that I hit getting out of the taxi in Medellin, and I was at the curb?!) I did see a moto pulling 3 kids on bicycles and a different one that was leading a horse. Very versatile vehicles. Of course they are used to haul things and as 3 wheeled taxis in many smaller towns. Or imagine a wheelbarrow upside down on a motorcycle; folks make it work!
All commercial vehicles have, in addition to their license plates, decals on the sides and top of the vehicle with the license plate number. This includes buses, taxis, and all sorts of commercial trucks, etc.
And speaking of license plates, instead of showing the “district” names on the plates (roughly the same as a state), they show the city name, not the country. (Motorcycle plates just say “Colombia”.)
Getting up into a chiva bus can be a challenge for shorties!!! Note that the first step is higher than my knees.
And a word of advice…never ask directions from someone wearing a motorcycle helmet that covers their mouth unless you are very fluent in the local language.
There are various checks on city and country wide buses. In Popayan, we saw a man checking the time that buses pass a certain point. Sometime the drivers gave them a little money, 1 mil or less ($0.30). For buses that go between different towns, there is a check when they leave the transit station and one time there was even a person stopping buses at a check station in the country.
I think every bus we have taken from city to city has had to pay at least one toll along the way. Sometimes several.
While not really common, it is not odd to see a person on the street with a surgical mask over their mouth (seldom over their nose as well). I have tried to find out the reasons although I confess I haven’t talked directly to someone wearing the mask since I didn’t want to offend a stranger.
I’m told that the reasons for wearing the mask may vary from having a cold to avoiding the dirty air. Neither of these explain why the nose isn’t covered…they can’t all be mouth breathers. And the effectiveness of these inexpensive masks, especially as worn as they are, is probably limited, especially for air pollutants.
On a different but related subject, I see a few vendors, restaurant wait staff, or servers wearing a clear plastic guard that loops over their ears. The purpose is to avoid the person breathing on or coughing on the food. The device is fairly unobtrusive and probably has some efficacy although I would think making it a little bigger would make it much more effective.
In any case, I appreciated the business’s efforts at keeping my food safer.
This last picture (sorry I don’t have a better image) shows the cook in a local chain restaurant with a face mask, below his mouth. Maybe he is covering a goatee?
We read that the market was an interesting place to go in the small town of Silvia, population 33,000. After a beautiful ride on 2 buses from Cali to get there and we arrived in pouring rain…on a festival day so there were no taxis available. I spoke with a local woman (who had spent time in London and had good English) and she flagged down someone to give us a ride to our lodging.
The vehicle already had 4 people in it and really only held 4 or 5 but we were desperate so we loaded up our luggage and climbed in. I was barely able to fit and was crammed up against the door. The people were very nice (although I am pretty sure at least one man was drunk and kept kissing my hand [with Dan in between us]) but we arrived at the place, not that far away.
It was still raining and we wandered around until we found someone who worked there. We were shown to our room but I was very unhappy because there was no toilet seat. This is not uncommon in public restrooms but not a common thing (although not unheard of) in low end lodging. I thought I had asked them to bring a commode seat from another room (didn’t want to move our stuff in the rain) but that never happened. The bed was ok and we left the next morning after seeing the market even though we had paid for 3 nights.
The market was interesting because of the indigenous people called Guambiano who brought their beautifully woven purses and other items to sell. I didn’t take a picture of the people themselves because the guide book frowned on it but I did find this picture from Grand Escapades.
Men and women alike wear skirts although the women’s were a little fuller. The blue ponchos with pink trim and bowler hats were worn by both sexes although the women’s tended to be a little rounder on top. Shoes were very functional shoes.
I have no idea what the current hair and clothes fashions are in the USA but I can tell you that the torn jeans and tops with lots of straps or off the shoulder tops are popular with women in Colombia. And the torn jeans are popular with the men as well.
I don’t have really good pictures because I didn’t want to be too obvious when I took them but I am sure that at least for the jeans, you know what I am talking about.
And for the tops, the more straps, the better it seems. It doesn’t matter if the bra straps or backs show.
I think of the off the shoulder tops as very Latin anyway but sometimes I’m chilly and I can’t imagine how the women in the tops must feel.
As for as hair, most women have long hair. They leave it down or pull it into a pony tail or wrap it up in a bun. It must bug them some because I frequently see the women doing something with their hair: braiding it, unbraiding it, putting it in a pony tail or bun or taking it down. Little girls often have the nicest French braids.
Men are generally clean shaven and generally have short hair. A few have mustaches and even fewer have beards.
In smaller towns, the sides are so short that they are almost shaved. In Manizales, young men and teens often had what I would call a wide Mohawk.
One funny thing happened as I boarded a bus a while back. There are button on the back pockets of my pants and as I passed by this woman who had her hair down, her hair got tangled in my button. I’m sure it wasn’t comfortable for her but I couldn’t do anything because it was behind me. Someone helped untangle her hair from the button and eventually she pulled the hair into a pony tail if I remember correctly.
Men, especially teens and early twenties, tend to wear their hair very short, especially on the sides. In Manizales, we saw a lot of “wide Mohawk” cuts. The sides were cut very short but the center, front to back, of the hair was longer.
I don’t like heights; Dan does. He heard about a tour of one of the churches in Manizales and it sounded interesting. I didn’t realize most of the tour was going to be outside…on the roof and steeple!
We went on the tour in the evening because that is when the next one was. There were 20-30 people in the tour which was in Spanish. They talked about the history of the church. I had previously commented to Dan about how many stained glass windows there were but I was way off on the count. There are actually somewhere around 150 windows (I forget the exact number and couldn’t find it on the internet. The church took 11 years to build, largely because of needing materials. The steeple is 106 meters (347 feet) tall and we were almost at the top when we were out on the small area that surrounds the steeple. It is the tallest church tower in Colombia.
After viewing the inside of the church we went upstairs and could look down on the service that was being conducted. Then we watched a short video about the church and then the “fun” began.
We went up some stairs that were lit but not always well. Then we went outside along the roof in an area that was caged in but still scary, especially since it was night. I was ready to quit but when I saw the stairs below I could see that they were not really hard to climb, just lots of them.
The view was beautiful once we got out to the observation area. There were enough people in the tour that we circled the steeple and had to wait while each person/group took pictures so we were out there at least 15 minutes.
Dental work in Colombia is very cheap. It is hard to get actual prices and even those could vary based on individual needs. Implants and braces are commonly advertised in the larger cities.
Even though labor is cheap here, I have seen many, many people with lower paying jobs like restaurant wait staff and store clerks with braces on so the braces must be extremely cheap. We spoke to two students when we were on the cable car who both had braces. They said that they cost 150000 Colombian pesos or about $500 for their work and that it must be paid in full up front. That is a lot of money for many people in this country so I am a bit surprised that it costs that much but it is in keeping with the odd price I have seen posted.
Looking on the internet I see mixed reviews of the dental work. Many people rave about the work while others report poor quality. I do know that the parents of the owner of my former workplace go to Guatemala to get their dental work done. They are happy with the results and spend less, including travel expenses, than they would in the US.
I tend to gravitate towards the higher end dentists because of bite issues. So while I had an excellent cleaning for $50 in Panama, I hope to not need any major work while we are traveling. I prefer to stick with my more expensive dentist who I can see whenever I am back in Durango rather than someone I only see while passing through a country.