02 November 2011

Bienvenida a Colombia! (x2!)

October 23, the day before I was to leave for Colombia, was the first day I felt a bit nervous--what the heck am I doing?!??! Ah well, just keep packing & getting stuff done...the trip was fine except that given my free tickets, I didn't have the most direct routing: SFO to Houston to Bogota (arriving in Colombia) to Panama City (leaving Colombia) to Cartagena (back to Colombia). A bit crazy, & despite having been told that my bag would be checked all the way through to Cartagena and that I wouldn't have to do anything out of the ordinary, I not only had to get my bag in Colombia but had to go through customs/immigration to enter Colombia in Bogota, to leave Bogota to go to Panama City, and to return to Colombia in Cartagena, all in the space of a few hours. The airline personnel & immigration folks found it odd and amusing.

My hotel is the orange building to the right.
Once I arrived in Cartagena, the butterflies were gone. I had only spent 3 days in this city in 2009 but it seemed the right place to come back to & start my Latin American adventure. I reserved a budget hotel room in the center of town for the first several days and had already been emailing with a few contacts about a semi-permanent places to stay for several weeks, as well as advice on where to study Spanish. People who I didn't even know (but who were friends of friends of friends of friends...) were being incredibly helpful & generous in offering help, accommodation options and advice!

A minutero outside a shop in Cartagena
My first adventure was in trying to make a phone call. Among the many street vendors in the center of the city are people selling minutes on cell phones. I later learned they were called "minuteros" & that this is a relatively new occupation in Colombian & many other places. As cell phones proliferate, the number of public phones is on the decline. This opened up an opportunity for people to sell minutes from their private cell phones to those who didn't have a cell phone, such as a newly arrived gringa. There are 3 cell phone companies in Colombia and the cost of a call depends on the carrier you're calling from and to; minuteros have 3 (or more) cell phones, one for each company, and the one that they give you to use is the one for which your call will be the least expensive. Some minuteros have the phones connected by chains to their little tables or to their belts. It's a bit of an experience!

I needed a minutero to call a new (friend of a friend... :) friend's brother-in-law who was going to help me buy a cell phone. There is a possibility that a gringa could be charged more for something than a local would be; Edwin was great & helped me get an inexpensive cell phone. He helped me set it up, get it loaded with minutes, input his own as well as his sister & brother-in-law's names/numbers, and on my first full day in Cartagena I was ready to text and call!

My other missions were to check out the various Spanish language learning possibilities as well as housing. I had three great housing options and am, as of the 1st, settled in an apartment in the historic center living with a Colombian woman, who is a friend of my new Spanish teacher. In looking into the various Spanish language schools, it seemed that with my background in Spanish, it might be better for me to have private lessons. So Claudia & I meet for an hour once a day; not only do I need to get used to Colombian Spanish (vs the Iberian Spanish I learned), but the Spanish they speak here on the Caribbean coast is very fast, they drop a number of "s's" (someone said to me "B Dos Tres" as in the apt number B 2 3, which I interpreted as "B Oh 3" -- really, I can't tell when someone says "Dos"??), and they have a lot of their own colloquialisms. Ah well, all to be learned...!


Theresia Nickl said...

Hola Barb,
Que aventura más fantástica! Te felicito por tu decisión. Estuve sólo una vez en Cartagena (creo que te lo conté) y me encantó. Tengo un recuerdo tan bonito de las calles del centro histórico, la vida en la calle, la música y danza, hasta había un hotel con un pájaro (tucán?) caminando por el patio.
Te deseo todo lo mejor, y ya sabes, si de vez en cuando necesitas una dosis del "ceceo" ibérico (o hasta alemán austríaco), let me know. ;-)

Un abrazo, cuídate y a mantenernos a todos informados de tus aventuras caribeñas ;-),


ROCÍO said...

Hola, Bárbara!
Te seo mucha suerte en esta nueva etapa en Colombia. Parece un país interesante para visitar, tomamos nota, je je.
Y a ver para cuándo nos visitas en España!!
Un beso