Textured tiles are cues for the visually impaired

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:

Pasto and Ipiales, Colombia

Mopa Mopa Vase. Each strand of color was individually added. The process looks like making taffy with the plant sap being stretched and pulled. Once it is the right consistency, color is added. Then it is rolled into thin sheets where it is cut into strips and each piece is pressed into place with a hand tool.

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.

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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!

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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.




Tulcán Municipal Cemetery

Topiary at cemetery. Little boy is taking a picture of Dan as he takes this picture.

A quick taxi ride into the Ecuadorian border town of
Tulcán  and their Municipal Cemetery might seem an odd tourist destination. We didn’t know anything about it but our taxi driver highly recommended it. The topiary work was begun in 1936 by Josè Maria Azael Franco and is truly amazing to see.

The crypts are interesting as well. Most had various artifacts related to the person’s life. Only their name and year of death are inscribed.

Signs in Colombia

Low beam (usually seen without the smiley face. Also is a version with fully open eyes for high beams, like going into a tunnel.

I love seeing new/different signs. I am not always able to get a picture of a sign as we drive by but I am often lucky enough to do so. (I know some of these signs may be found in the US but they are new to me.)

Medications and Pharmacies

Typical pharmacy in Latin America. A few are twice this size and rarely much larger.

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.

Blister pack of acetomenophen

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 Central and South America

Jewelry and food are very common items sold on the streets.

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.

Compliments of AlpacaMall

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.

Other Random Thoughts About Colombia

Typical countryside view.

Colombia is a beautiful country and almost without exception, folks are welcoming and generous. We have had 2 AirBnB hosts provide taxi rides for us (less than $2 USD each but still that is not insignificant in their economy). Almost everyone seems to go out of their way to make sure that tourists have a pleasant experience.

Here are some other random thoughts, again in no particular order.

  • We were walking home one evening from dinner and it was a little windy and raining off and on. I saw/heard a big sheet of plastic rustling and thought it was the wind. Sadly, it was a person getting more comfortable in their “home” for the evening. We never saw this again although we do see an occasional person asleep on the sidewalk and we are asked for money several times a week…twice in a restaurant.
  • The Andes mountains are very different from the Rockies. They are higher and valleys are deeper and they are much greener. Most roads we have traveled on are similar to those in Colorado, very windy, paved, sometimes with guardrails, sometimes not.
  • Traffic information seems to be more of a suggestion than an enforced law. Motorcycles are driven anywhere, in a lane, between lanes, on sidewalks occasionally for short distances.
  • Drivers sometimes drive in lanes and sometimes straddle them.
  • Bus drivers (and others) are as apt to pass in a no passing area as anywhere else.
  • Stop signs are not always obeyed.
  • Drivers seem to be used to seeing someone coming towards them in their lane. I’m amazed how much the taxi drivers do this to get around a slow or parked vehicle. So far, because of generally low speeds this has been fine although one time the oncoming car stopped while our taxi finished passing someone.
  • Twice we have had bus drivers who were smoking while driving. No one else has smoked on the buses. We are generally far enough back that it isn’t a huge issue although we don’t like it.
  • Toilet seats are a luxury, especially in public restrooms. I don’t know why they are not used more. Squatting isn’t fun and even if you put paper down to “protect” yourself, it makes the seat about an inch or so lower which is awkward.
  • While we often heard pleasant Latin music in Colombia, we would just as often hear American/English music. Oldies or Country Western.

Random Transportation Thoughts on Colombia

One of a number of horses we saw in Popayan, with or without a rider, wagon, and/or carriage.

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!

    License plate matches placard on sides/top of commercial vehicles.
  • 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.
Plates with city names
  • 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.

It takes a boost to get up the first step to get on the chiva. Definitely NOT handicap accessible.

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.

Image compliments of
  • 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.

Face Masks

Mouth guard worn by a few wait staff or vendors

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.

Face mask on cook’s chin?

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?

Silvia Colombia

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.

Clean but no toilet seat.

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.

Blue skirts, thin hand-woven ponchos and a bowler hat, Guambiano Indigenous Market, Silvia, near Popayan, Cauca, Colombia, South America, copyright 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.