- Measuring height: To show someone how tall someone else is, in Colombia you don't put your hand out flat palm facing downwards. Instead, you turn your hand to the side thumb facing the ceiling and little finger towards the floor. To do it the way I'm used to is only used to measure animals! Be careful not to accidentally imply that someone is a pig!
- Pointing: In Colombia, you don't point with your hand or head when you are feeling lazy or don't want to be too obvious, but with your lips. They literally pout their lips in a certain direction with eyes wide open. This results in people looking like they want to kiss you when actually they want you to 'look over there'!
- Come here/go away: In Europe we tend to signal for someone to come to us with our palm up and moving our fingers or hand towards us and for 'go away', it tends to be the opposite, palm down and move fingers or whole hand away for you. In Colombia the 'come here' motion is the 'go away' one I am used to, so when people are telling me to come to them, I think they are telling me to go away!
- Sounds: Colombians are masters of expressive sounds that replace words. My favourites I have picked up on so far are: 'uyyy' meaning 'wow' or 'oh my god'; 'aha' for 'yes'; a very loud, short and growly 'HMM' for an emphasised 'yes' or 'of course'; a high pitched and short 'hm' for 'I don't know', often accompanied with the lifting their shoulders slightly, flicking their wrists upwards and doing a quick upside-down smile; a slow, from low to high 'mmmmMMMMM' (which we may associate with a 'yummy' sound) meaning 'ah I see' or 'oh really'; a high pitched ascending 'oooooOOOO' accompanied with lifting your arm up above your shoulder meaning 'you have no idea', or 'yes, very/lots'; and lastly, what we would see as a 'yes' sound 'mhm' as a sort of greeting when you enter rooms with people you have already seen that day, or to just fill a silence.
- Flicky wrist: The most common gesture in Colombia has to be the flicking your wrist upwards hand gesture. Colombians do it all the time. In fact, below is a photo of the Colombian Miss Universe doing it. They do it just all the time when they are talking, I can't figure out quite why yet. I will keep you posted!
In any culture different to your own, there will undeniably be differences in the way people express themselves and learning a language is not just about the grammar and pronunciation. Since this is the longest time I have spent in a foreign country, I have really got to know the gestures and other ways that Colombians communicate. They really are fascinating and make English speakers seem quite boring!
Cerro de los Cristales is a mountain to the west of Cali that you can get to by car or taxi. The primary attraction on Cerro de los Cristales is the Cristo Rey statue that is a point of reference when navigating through the busy streets of the city. It takes around 20 minutes to reach the car park near the statue, driving up winding roads through very poor neighbourhoods. The view is impressive, spanning across the whole of Cali and beyond. You can also walk down behind the statue to other viewpoints looking over the road up to KM18 (pictured above). There are numerous stalls selling food and drinks and the statue itself is surrounded by flags from around the world and is quite beautiful. A must for tourists to Cali! However, visiting the mountain or the statue is not recommended late at night for safety reasons.
Another reason I like this mountain is because it has numerous pizza places dotted up the main road overlooking the city. These are much lower down than Cristo Rey so take far less time to get to by car/taxi. Our favourite restaurant is called 'La Curva' and is open-plan with two floors overlooking the city which is particularly beautiful at sunset. Although they are nothing particularly special, the quality-price ratio on the food is very good so it is worth a visit.
Finally, the last attraction on this mountain is the Adoke butterfly farm which is at KM 6 of the main road up the mountain. The roads are not the best to get to it so make sure you have a good car. It costs $12.000 per person and you can spend as long as you like there. The guide (pictured below) was very knowledgeable about the butterflies and the various plants that sustain them. I saw some of the biggest butterflies I had ever seen at Andoke, so big I thought they were bats! They also have a hummingbird viewing/feeding area which, if you have the patience, will give you some great shots of these beautiful birds. The last part of the tour involves an interactive map of Colombia that they built into the hillside with different coloured rocks depicting rivers and mountains, sculptures of various native animals and emblems for the main cities. It's a refreshing little day visit away from the hustle and bustle of Cali and would be great for kids.
This is probably the most important aspect of living abroad - the budget! There are various accounts online of how much you need to live in Colombia. Most of these are for the expensive Bogotá or for Medellín or the Caribbean coast and, of course, it depends on the type of lifestyle you live. I am quite careful with my money and don't drink a lot or buy many clothes or other luxuries, so here is a breakdown of roughly what I spend in a typical month. I am also saving part of my salary each month. Nevertheless, as I have highlighted in some previous posts, the cost of living in Colombia is high relative to salaries and if I were to get my own place (which would mean buying beds, washing machine, sofas, fridge, etc), buy a car, or have children here, the cost would be almost prohibitory, especially if I wanted to live in a safe neighbourhood.
I live with my partner and his parents so I contribute the equivalent of what you might spend on rent and food in San Antonio, and more than I used to spend when I lived there in 2011. And my health insurance and lunches are covered by my employer, so that would be an additional cost for some expats.
Phone: $20.000 (1gb data and unlimited Whatsapp, email and Facebook with ETB, see my post about mobile phone providers).
Restaurants and bars: $300.000
Grand total: $1.181.000
I know a lot of expats truly do not believe you can survive on $1million, but I am just careful with my money and am trying to save this year so I make it happen! We still get to go on trips, I just don't buy things I really don't need! Of course, if my living situation were different, or certain things weren't covered by my employer then this would be a different story. So in conclusion, I would say that if you are really good with your money, you could live on just over $1 million pesos, however most expats couldn't live on less than $2 million. I'd love to hear your experience here and anything you spend money on that I missed out on. Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
What a surprise this has been! My blog has been awarded a bronze award in Bob's Top Travel Blog Awards 2015. I am very proud and grateful to receive this award without even having put myself forward for it. Over 2100 blogs were analysed and rated according to strict criteria and you can see this blog listed under the 'Destination' category here. Thank you again to Bob and be sure to take a look at the other winners!
For those of you who do not know, I work at CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) here in Cali, and my work involves going to countries in which USAID's Feed the Future initiative are present to evaluate whether what they are doing is 'climate-smart'. Climate-smart agriculture is a term used to describe practices that do two or more of the following: increase adaptive capacity; increase productivity; mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. Click here to read more detail about the work I do.
Back in June, I went to Rwanda, and in early August I got to go to a country I never thought I would visit - Bangladesh. From the moment I landed into Dhaka, I knew this was something different. The sheer size of this huge city of over 14 million people was something I had never experienced before. The roads were chaotic and the heat and humidity were unbearable. Interestingly, where there were proper cement roads, they were of a much better quality than roads here in Cali, although many in Dhaka were in fact dirt roads or dirt mixed with smashed bricks. One aspect that was particularly sad was to see the level of poverty that exists there. I saw no upper-class areas, no nice parks or gardens reserved for the rich, demonstrating the significant lack of inequality compared to Colombia, but also the extent of the deprivation in Dhaka. Yet, one of the most pleasant surprises was just how lovely all the locals were. In the short amount of time I had to myself to explore a little, not once did I feel unsafe, not even at night. I felt respected and like I was allowed to blend in (although clearly I stood out like a sore thumb!). I also was surprised to see various big red English-style double-decker buses. An obvious remnant from colonial times.
Regarding the work my team carried out, it was fascinating to see how much is going on in Bangladesh to protect them from climate change. This is logical since it is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world to climate shocks as it is so low-lying, and relies so heavily on agriculture. I saw numerous examples of Feed the Future and its implementing partners developing climate-smart solutions to ensure that Bangladeshis do not suffer in times of floods and droughts and the increasing salinity of freshwater resources due to sea level increases. This was an adaptation that I was fascinated by. The use of saline-tolerant bamboo to work as a physical barrier to the rising sea, and the development of saline-tolerant seed varieties to make sure that land remained profitable and that food security would not suffer. Equally, I really enjoyed hearing about the increase of aquaculture (fish and shrimp) in ponds as the sea creeps further inland. This was often accompanied by growing vegetables on the side of these ponds. Very innovative and making the best out of a worrying situation.
All in all it was a valuable experience both personally and professionally and it is always eye-opening to see such contrast to what you are used to. Here are some photos of the city itself: