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Greg Ellifritz

Developing World Problems in the USA

Developing World Problems in the USA 640 480 Greg Ellifritz

I was once on a snorkeling excursion in Aruba.  On the boat, I heard an older couple speaking Spanish with a very distinctive Argentine accent.  They were the only Spanish speakers on the boat and seemed a bit confused with the captain’s English snorkeling instructions.

 

I introduced myself in Spanish and translated the captain’s instruction for the couple.  We began chatting in Spanish.  They told me they lived in Bariloche, Argentina, but were trying to get residency in the United States.  Bariloche is a beautiful, high dollar ski resort town.  I had visited the city on past trips to South America.

 

The couple wanted to move to inland Florida.  I was kind of confused.  I asked them why they would leave their beautiful home to live in a Florida swamp.  The woman replied “Because everything works in America.

 

She went on to describe how in Argentina, none of the utilities worked reliably, food supplies were inconsistent,  the roads were bad, and  government corruption was rampant.  She said that as the couple aged they learned to appreciate the boring reliability of an American existence.

 

The woman had a good point, but things have changed significantly in the five years since I had that conversation.

 

I’ve been traveling quite a bit all over the United States.  So far this year I’ve taught or taken 37 days of out-of-state classes.  I was in eight different states last month.  In addition to my busy teaching schedule, I’ve taken two short vacations in Florida and one in California.  I’m starting to think that the United Sates is rapidly becoming a third world country.  The things that once “worked” don’t work the same way anymore.  The decline is stunningly similar to what I’ve experienced in my travels in the developing world.

 

Here are a few things I’ve noticed in the last couple months of my domestic travel.

 

Airline issues– Up until about five years ago, when taking a flight in South America or Africa, one had to call the airline the day before the flight to ensure that the flight was still scheduled.  The flights were notoriously unreliable and the airlines wanted to avoid dealing with irate customers at the airports.

 

I’ve flown 46 flights this calendar year.  Twenty-nine of them were delayed or cancelled.  American airline reliability is now no better than some of the worst airlines in rural Africa.

 

Police uniforms- In the developing world, cops have very inconsistent uniforms.  They often wear jeans with a uniform shirt.  They lack equipment that American cops would consider mandatory.  Seeing a cop with only a handgun and no ancillary gear is really common in third world countries.

 

Last month I was stopped for speeding in rural Oklahoma.  The cop approached my car.  He was wearing a polo shirt and khaki pants.  No body armor.  No camera.  He was wearing a leather trouser belt instead of a duty rig.  He had a Glock in a thumbreak leather pancake holster and a police radio hanging off his trouser belt.  Nothing else.  No OC spray.  No Taser.  No handcuffs.  No baton.  No flashlight.  He looked like a security guard from El Salvador.
The cop was very nice and graciously let me off with a warning.  Given the uniform he was wearing I half expected him to solicit a bribe like his third-world counterparts.

 

Gas station irregularities.  I was driving in rural northern Texas and needed to stop for gas.  I pulled off the highway and up to a gas pump.  The attendant came out of the station to tell me that the station had no gas and wouldn’t be getting anymore for several days.

 

I went across the street to another station.  All the pumps had signs stating that the credit card processors were all broken.  It took stopping at a third station to get my gas.

 

 

A week later, I stopped at a gas station in rural Arkansas.  They had functioning gas pumps, but I noticed the doors to the store were propped open and fans were blowing.  I walked in to use the bathroom and the attendant apologized for the lack of air conditioning.  He told me that the station’s aircon had been out for a few days and they couldn’t schedule a repair person to come fix it.

 

I proceeded to the restroom and saw this sign over the toilet.

 

 

Such signs (coupled with a small trash can next to the toilet) are commonplace in South and Central America where they have substandard plumbing and water pressure.  I’ve never seen one in the United States.

 

On my way home during the same trip, I stopped at a gas station in Louisville, Kentucky.  I tried my credit card and the machine flashed a message stating “see attendant.”  I went inside the station.  The attendant told me that none of their pump credit card readers had worked “for weeks.”  He had no idea if they would ever be repaired.

 

I would expect such conditions at a third world gas station, but I’ve never seen so many gas station issues in the United States.

 

Hotel Problems- I stayed the night at a hotel in Memphis, Tennessee on a trip to Ohio.  The hotel was cheap, but promised a hot breakfast.  When I went to the common area to eat the next morning, I found it locked.  The hotel worker said that they haven’t had hot breakfast since Covid began.  They can’t find the staff to cook and man the breakfast station.

 

I’ve noticed that even in nicer hotels, there is no air conditioning in the hallways, stairwells, and common areas.  That’s a common money saving trick in the developing world, but I don’t remember ever encountering it here.

 

I was checking in to a Holiday Inn Express near Little Rock, Arkansas.  The front desk person answering the phone told all the callers that the reservation system was down nationwide and they would have to call back tomorrow and try to reserve the room again.

 

Having been tricked by the lack of breakfast in the Memphis hotel, I began packing my own breakfasts.  In a nice hotel in Boca Raton, Florida I went to the lobby to get some coffee to accompany my packed breakfast.  No luck.  All of the hotel’s coffee makers were broken.  When have you ever seen that in the United States?

 

Most American hotels are still not providing room cleaning on a daily basis.  I’ve spent some time this year in both Mexico and Colombia.  Those developing world hotels at least had daily maid service.  Not in America.

 

Food shortages–  Last weekend I taught near Dayton, Ohio.  I stopped at a local Chipotle to get some food.  These signs were hanging over the cash register.

 

 

When spending time in Bolivia, Cuba, Tanzania, and Cambodia I became used to restaurants not having items that were listed on their menus.  I don’t recall ever dealing with that problem here in the USA.  This national restaurant chain restaurant was out of coins, salad dressing, lettuce, and vegetables.  Not very encouraging.

 

The grocery stores I visited in Colombia were better stocked than most of the places I’ve shopped in the last few months.

 

Heightened security– In poor areas of the developing world, stores keep valuable items behind the counter to prevent theft.  I’m seeing more and more security countermeasures being employed by grocery stores and carry outs here as well.  I stopped at a carryout near Los Angeles and was shocked to find that all the refrigerated cases were secured with padlocks.  The store clerk said that the shoplifting problem is so bad that they couldn’t leave the beer, milk, and Gatorade unlocked.

 

It reminded my of this convenience store I visited in a dodgy area of Medellin last month.  All the goods were behind bars.  You told the clerk what you wanted and he would pass the items to you through the iron bars after you paid for them.

 

One characteristic of the developing world is that all of the residents have lost complete faith in their police officers.  The cops are corrupt, scared, or ignorant.  They don’t do much for the local populations.

 

Residents with money hire private armed security guards to keep crime out of their neighborhoods.  A couple years ago, I predicted that this would soon become a trend in the USA as well.  My prediction is coming true.  I just read this headline today Crime in New York Causes a Block to Hire Armed Security.

 

I don’t know what to think of these disturbing changes.  I don’t know how to fix things.  I think it’s only going to get worse in the future.  Within the next decade, it’s possible that the United States will be downgraded to an economic “second world” nation.  All the signs are here.  Pay attention and have a plan to live a far less luxurious lifestyle in the future.

 

I never thought I would be considering my travels in the developing world as critical training and experience for navigating everyday life in the USA.  I predict a rough ride ahead.

 

My Argentinian friends were wrong.  Not everything “works” in America.  It might be time to start looking at other places to live.

 

Second Passports

Second Passports 888 499 Greg Ellifritz

Some of my readers peruse my site because they are looking to acquire either residency or citizenship in other countries.  The desire to get another passport may be to achieve more freedom, relief from taxation, or easier availability of certain foreign visas.

 

I recently listened to a podcast that does a great job discussing options for a second passport.  If you are interested in the topic, click the link below.

 

Katie the Russian on Plan B Passports – Epi-3170

“How To Travel Smartly”

“How To Travel Smartly” 960 662 Greg Ellifritz

There are some fairly sensible travel safety tips in the article linked below.

 

Project Gecko Tells You How to Travel Smartly

 

If you are mostly interested in international travel, you should also check out this article on South American taxi scams.  These are all very common.  Use Uber or Lyft instead of relying on local taxis as a gringo.

Social Violence in the Developing World

Social Violence in the Developing World 634 356 Greg Ellifritz

British family ended up driving into a violent slum after a language mix-up

This is a very curious case study in social violence.  This family was driving in Brazil and misunderstood directions.  They ended up in a gang controlled favela.  A drug gang shot up their car and the mother ended up with a bullet wound before they were able to escape.  It’s important to understand that this wasn’t a “random” gang shooting.  It wasn’t a robbery either.  The gang members did not take anything from the family.

 

No, this was pure social violence.  Take a look at this link from Rory Miller explaining the difference between social and asocial violent crimes.  What happened here is more similar to the idea of the “educational beatdown” than any other motivation.  How do I know?  This quote explains it all:

 

“But due to a mix-up they were directed to the slum – and were challenged by an armed gang.

When Mr Dixon refused to heed their demand to turn back, they fired a volley of bullets, one of which hit Mrs Dixon in the stomach.”

 

Social violence almost always comes with a warning.  In essence, the drug gang was telling these folks “You don’t belong here.  Get out.”  When the husband refused, the gang took that as a challenge to their authority and broke out the pistols to punish the infraction.

 

It’s dangerous to attribute your own values and morals to the members of a criminal subculture who do not share your worldview.  Travelers need to understand this concept well in order to stay safe.  There are some places where tourists are not welcome.  Open air drug markets (which are the mainstay business in the favelas) are an example of such places.  There are many others.  Pay attention to how people react when they see you.  If you are greeted with scorn, disdain, pointing, insults, and the shaking of heads, it’s time to get out.

 

Just because you would never shoot a lost tourist who mistakenly drove down your street does not mean that the locals will afford you the same consideration.

 

For more information on this topic, I highly recommend reading Rory Miller’s books Facing Violence and Conflict Communication.  You should also read Marc MacYoung’s book In the Name of Self Defense.  Both of these authors are at the top of the heap with regards to researching how social violence occurs.  Pick up these books.  Your combative education isn’t complete until you internalize the message these authors are trying to spread.

 

Masks for Travelers

Masks for Travelers 940 940 Greg Ellifritz

I’ve been traveling a lot lately and am seeing a gradual increase in public mask wearing across the country and worldwide.

 

 

I was in Colombia last month.  There were no mask requirements when I arrived.  In less than three weeks, masks were required in the airport and on all flights to and from the country.  At the same time I had friends traveling in Germany, Iceland, and Bali.  All reported that masks were mandatory in those countries when utilizing any type of public transportation.  In fact, Germany is considering reinstating travel restrictions in addition to mandating masks.

 

 

Two weeks ago I flew through the Columbus, Ohio airport.  All airport staff (police, airline staff, TSA, restaurant employees) were required to wear masks in the airport.  The US Government even suggested masks as a preventative measure against monkeypox (but later retracted this advice).  Clearly, masks don’t seem to be going anywhere soon.  I worry that they might become mandated everywhere again when Covid-19 kicks up this winter.

 

 

I personally question the effectiveness of wearing cloth masks.  I caught Covid last year in Ecuador despite wearing surgical masks in all public places in the country.

 

Wearing a mask while waiting for a Covid test as I was dying in Ecuador

 

The evidence is pretty clear that if you really want to protect yourself, you need to wear an N95 or equivalent respirator.  I would never discourage anyone from wearing one of those.  Here are some options for acquiring them.

 

 

It’s the cloth masks that bother me.  They seem useless in preventing the wearers from getting sick.  They may have some utility in preventing already sick people from spreading large liquid droplets to uninfected folks.  In my mind, a better option is encouraging sick folks to stay home rather than putting everyone in cloth masks.

 

Not looking forward to going back to this

 

Even though I don’t believe the hassle of wearing cloth masks is worth the marginal protection they provide, I don’t like to make waves.  I prefer to be “the grey man” as much as possible.  Nothing attracts unwanted attention from many different types of people than refusing to wear a mask where it is a community standard to be masked in public.

 

 

There is another answer.  For the last year, I have been wearing masks made by Fake Masks Worldwide.  The masks are comfortable.  They are super thin and don’t impede my breathing nearly as much as other masks.

 

 

While the company makes fake N95 masks and fake surgical masks, I have no experience with those.  I have been wearing the Double Incognito and Triple Incognito masks.  Of the two, I prefer the Triple Incognito.  It’s very easy to breathe through and appears to be more solid than the Double Incognito.

 

The Triple Incognito Mask

 

I’ve worn the Triple Incognito all over the world during the pandemic.  No one has ever noticed that it is virtually sheer.  I haven’t found any other masks on the market that are as comfortable to wear.

 

 

I will caution you that the Fake Masks Worldwide site is very clearly right-wing and sells items making fun of Progressive politicians.  I just ignore that junk.  I don’t do politics.  Fair warning that if you are left leaning, you probably won’t like the website that sells these masks.

 

 

If you’ve taken training with me, you know I’m all about providing people with options.  This is an option for those of you who want to appear like you are complying with mask mandates while still being able to breathe somewhat normally. I think this is a far safer solution that refusing to wear masks and attracting negative attention from folks that may endanger your physical safety.

 

I set up an affiliate link with the company to get you all a discount if you are interested.  If you buy them through this link, you’ll get a 10% discount on your order.

Travel Log- Weird Colombia

Travel Log- Weird Colombia 843 1124 Greg Ellifritz

Last month I spent 17 days in Medellin.  Customs there were very different than in the USA.  Here are a few of the things that I thought were odd.  Some of them were definite improvements over the American system, but some were far worse.

 

Gym Benches-  I went to two commercial gyms.  All of the people working out placed their bags and accessories on all of the workout benches.  No one would put anything on the floor or in the lockers.  Phones, water bottles, coffee cups (coffee was the pre-workout of choice) and clothing covered every bench in each gym.  People were annoyed when I asked them to move their stuff so I could use the equipment.

 

 

Chupitos Bars- There are crazy shot bars all over Medellin. Ten years ago, I was in Medellin at this insane bar where the bartender lit the ceiling on fire and we roasted marshmallows over flaming drinks (watch the video below). Then we all did backbends over the bar as the bartender poured unknown concoctions down our throats. Insanity.

I was walking around the city and found the place. It’s still around and does a crazy business at night.  I didn’t indulge on this trip, but was glad that the option was still available in case I had the desire to experience more ridiculous debauchery.

 

Alcohol spray– The hotel cleaning staff, the gym staff, and restaurant workers cleaned everything with 70% isopropyl alcohol spray.   There were no disinfectant wipes or commercial cleaning products.  It didn’t matter if it was an elevator button, a restaurant table, or a gym bench.  Everything was cleaned with straight alcohol.

 

Elevator buttons- Punching an elevator button twice deactivated it.  If you hit a button by mistake, you could cancel your selection by pushing it again.  What a wonderful concept!

 

Aphrodisiac Ants- Loosely translated as “big-assed ants.” Street vendors sell packages of these dried ants as aphrodisiacs.

 

Mini ice- There are no open container laws in Colombia.  It’s common for people to buy some alcohol and a mixer and make their own drinks in the street.  They obviously need ice.  Convenience stores sold small bags of ice just for the people who drink on the street.

 

Tattoos- A far higher percentage of Colombian residents had tattoos as compared to Americans.  It was rare to see a Colombian who was not visibly tattooed.

 

Gas prices- For all of you complaining about gas prices in the USA, here’s a Colombian gas station sign. The exchange rate is about 4300 pesos to the dollar. That means gas is a little over $2.00. But wait! That’s PER LITER, not per gallon. Doing the math shows that regular gas here is more than $9.00 a gallon.

Female dress- Typical of Latin countries, most women who leave the house are dressed as well as they could afford.  They all and wore makeup.  It was very different from seeing women in American Walmart stores wearing sweat pants and flip flops.  I never saw a woman on my trip wearing pajamas, sweats, or any type of lounge wear or casual clothing.

 

Hotdog obsession- The most common restaurants in Medellin were hotdog places.  People were obsessed with cheap gourmet hot dogs.

 

Drug Dealing- Men walked the streets selling cigarettes, candy, and gum from small wooden boxes.   These folks were also the drug dealers.  You could buy anything you wanted from those dudes and they were stationed about every 25 meters on the street in the busy tourist areas.  Even though all drugs are illegal there, the dealers regularly sold drugs right in front of uniformed policemen.

 

Babies in boxes-While walking to lunch one day, I came across a naked little girl (I would say around 2 years old) sitting in a cardboard box on the sidewalk. There was a dish sitting next to the box with a few coins in it.

I looked around and found mom about 50 yards away. She had two other kids less than 5 years old, each naked in their own cardboard boxes strategically located at various places on the sidewalks along a popular tourist walking route.
Mom was sitting in the shade watching her naked, boxed kids generate income for her.

Informal Recycling Program- There’s almost no place in Medellin to deposit your recyclable garbage.  Bottles, cans, and cardboard all get thrown out with the regular trash.  The homeless and low income people raid the trash dumpsters and pull out the recyclables.  They then take that recyclable waste to a recycling center to make some pocket change.

Day or night, you’ll always see homeless people dumpster diving for recyclables they can re-sell.  The photo below shows a taxi driver pulled over across the street from my hotel dumpster diving.

 

Dancing in the street– Kids down here break dance on the road in front of stopped traffic at all the major intersections during the day and afternoon. Drivers and pedestrians give them spare change for their efforts.

 

Hooker lights– This is Medellin after dark. Restaurants and bars put these blinding lights up on their exterior walls to keep the hookers from setting up shop and disturbing their patrons.

 

Foreign travel always provides amusing anecdotes like the above.  It’s cool to see how differently we all live across the planet.  Observing quirks like these keeps international travel high on my list of rewarding pastimes.

 

 

Eating My Way Through Medellin

Eating My Way Through Medellin 1080 810 Greg Ellifritz
I returned home last week from a 17-day trip to Medellin Colombia.  A lot of my readers like to see the food that is common in the countries I visit.  The article below shows some of the great meals I consumed in Colombia.  While there, I ate out for every lunch and dinner.  I ate at local places and didn’t try to scrimp.

For 17-days, I ended up spending less than $600 on food and alcohol.  That isn’t bad.  Here are some of the things I feasted upon.

On my first foray walking around Medellin. I hadn’t researched the neighborhood restaurants, so I took advice from my book and looked for the place with the most locals eating there.
I found Mondongo’s family restaurant.  It was packed.  Probably 150+ people eating at a covered open air patio at two pm.  That’s a good sign.
I was not disappointed with my choice . My first lunch in the city.
Three large steak medallions with chimichurri sauce, a whole avocado, a sweet plantain, French fries, fried green tomatoes,and a glass of homemade sangria for $15.

 

The restaurant has been in business since 1976.  There are only 13 dishes on the menu.  The cooks can prepare each dish to perfection and get it served quickly.  I got my steak less than five minutes after ordering and it was cooked to a perfect medium level.  Good, cheap, and quick?  I’m all in.  That’s probably why McDonald’s isn’t so popular here.

 

I ate a couple more times there as well.  Food was always excellent, but occasionally when they were short staffed, it took a while to get your check.

Here’s another Mondongo dish.  This is Ajiaco.  It’s a traditional Colombian chicken and potato soup that comes with all the fixings to customize it however you like.  The two small bowls contain capers and heavy cream to thicken the soup.  The cookie-like object is a tostone.  It’s made of corn meal and is used like Americans put crackers in their soup.  It also comes with rice, lime, avocado, cilantro, and hot sauce to jazz things up to your heart’s content.

 

The ear of corn in the center could be eaten on the cob or shaved into the soup.  Peruvian corn is a bit tasteless and chewy.  It’s definitely not Ohio sweet corn.  The meal was so incredibly filling I couldn’t eat it all.   I gave my banana and tostone to a homeless street kid on the sidewalk outside.

 

The soup was $7.25.  I added a small draft beer for $1.00 more.

 

The pic above shows a typical lunch for me.   Served at a small sidewalk cafe without a website, it’s white fish ceviche with avocado, onions, red peppers, and cilantro. Accompanied by a tasty local craft beer.  Seven US dollars for water, beer, and the meal.  In the USA, a restaurant would likely charge a similar price just for the avocado alone!

 

Beef carpaccio at a higher end restaurant in the most tourist-oriented area of the city.  I expected prices to be much higher here, but they weren’t bad.  I ordered the carpaccio as an appetizer, but the plate was huge.  It ended up being my entire meal.  It cost right around US $9.00.

 

The restaurant was called Bonhomia and it was situated with prime real estate along one of the most heavily trafficked pedestrian thoroughfares in the Poblado neighborhood.  I ate quite a few meals there.  The food was universally good, but service was always slow and the waiters often had unpleasant attitudes.

 

I’d been eating a lot of steak and one evening was in the mood for something lighter for dinner. I thought I’d order a chicken Caesar salad. This is what came.

 

It wasn’t really “light” but was the best damn salad I’ve ever eaten. About a pound of teriyaki glazed chicken, bacon, corn, cheese, and croutons covering a bed of romaine lettuce and kale, tossed with Caesar dressing.  It was $7.50.

 

And if you are wondering, yes, you can eat salads in Medellin. The city has potable tap water and the veggies are washed in that before serving.

 

The picture above came from one of my favorite restaurants called Botanika.  It was right across the street from my hotel and had pleasant outdoor dining.  They also had the best sangria I drank on the trip.  I ate there half a dozen times during my stay.

 

Here’s their salmon ceviche, mango, avocado, and cherry tomato bowl.  It was $7.00.

 

There was a tremendous variety of restaurants in my neighborhood.  Middle Eastern restaurants, Kabob shops, vegetarian places, Greek, and Asian restaurants abounded.  Strangely enough, the most popular for the locals seemed to be the Hawaiian Poke bowl restaurants and gourmet hot dog shops.

 

Menu at a local hotdog joint. I had to order a “Park Bitch” just to see what it was.

Looking at the menu, I had to figure out what a “park bitch” was.  When I was feeling adventurous one night I ordered it.

This is the “Park Bitch.”  What makes it a bitch?  It lacks a hot dog!  It’s a hot dog bun filled with with cheese, about a half pound of bacon, onion, and potato straws.


The “Park Bitch”

 

I also tried one of the local Korean restaurants.  The photo below is a sushi roll, but instead of fish, it’s stuffed with bulgogi, and fried egg. I thought that was unique enough to order. It was pretty good for $9.00

 

One of the restaurants that ranked well in the tourist guidebooks was La Revuelta.  It was a fusion Mexican place owned by Colombians.  It was always busy.  I had lunch there once and it was excellent.  They had a large and interesting menu.  I wasn’t that hungry, so I had three tacos with fish and shrimp ceviche, pickled onions, cilantro, and black beans for $5.50.  I accompanied it with one of their signature margaritas.  It went down quite smoothly.

 

 

A restaurant that was also popular with the tourists was Masaya.  It was a large hostel/hotel in a neighborhood popular with ex-pat remote workers.  The hotel has a killer rooftop pool and supposedly good cocktails.  I went twice and wasn’t impressed.  The cocktail on the rooftop was only average and the servers seemed quite haughty and easily annoyed.

 

They also have what is supposed to be the best hamburger place in the city.  I went during a slow lunchtime when there was only about six other customers.  It took 10 minutes to flag down a waiter for my order.  The wait staff and the kitchen crew were too busy screaming at each other to serve the customers.

 

I ordered.  After waiting 30 minutes, I still didn’t even have my drinks.  I left.  It might have been a good hamburger, but it wasn’t worth that hassle.

 

The richest part of the Poblado neighborhood was called Provencia.  It had several streets blocked off from traffic that served as outdoor dining and entertainment venues.  It was fun and always crowded.  See the video below for an idea of what it looked like.

 

 

I was in the mood for pizza on the first time I walked up the hill to visit.  I had a medium, thin crust “artisanal salami,” three cheese, and onion pizza.  It was really good and just the right size for one person’s dinner.  It cost $8.00.

 

The restaurant was called Hasta la Pizza, Baby and also rented shisha pipes.  I was in heaven.

 

My favorite Colombian dish was Bandeja Paisa. It has chicken, blood sausage, fried pork belly, and sausage with cheese accompanied by some mashed and fried plantains, a couple potatoes, and a small salad for $9.00.

 

 

Not all of my meals were opulent.  I often had simple lunches.  This one was a steak salad with plantain for $8.00.

 

I also ate the yummy empanada shop right around the corner from the hotel.   On nights when I didn’t have time to sit around, I’d pick up some empanadas to go.  Three chicken empanadas and a craft beer cost less than $3.00.

 

There were some surprisingly tasty Colombian craft beers that were often available in both restaurants and convenience stores.  My favorite was the Tres Cordilleras brand.  They had several styles of beer (including a strange “Rosada” that only contained 3.8% alcohol and tasted like strawberries).  I liked them all.  In upscale restaurants they cost a little less than $2.00 US each.

 

Some local beer options

 

One more thing for you foodies to understand if you ever go to Colombia.  Tipping more than some pocket change at a restaurant is a uncommon idea for the locals.  If you pay with a credit card, a tip of 10% will automatically be added to the bill.  If paying by cash, many places will ask tourists if they can add the tip directly to the bill.

 

Before giving your waiter a big tip, check the bill.  It was likely automatically included on your bill.  There’s lots of competition for server spots in the tourist areas.  The tourists don’t know the tip is already handled and then leave a cash tip on top of the bill.  Therefore waiters get to double their tip money as compared with their fellow servers in more local restaurants.

 

Colombia isn’t known for its food, but I ate really well when I was down there.

 

Travel Log- Colombia 2022

Travel Log- Colombia 2022 620 827 Greg Ellifritz

I just returned from a 17-day trip to Medellin Colombia.  I made the trip for two primary reasons.  The first is that it is as hot as Hades in my new Texas home.  It’s been 100+ degrees here every day for the last couple months.  I knew it was going to be hot when I moved to Texas.  I also know that I have a flexible work schedule and can temporarily re-locate elsewhere if I want to get out of the heat.

 

When I lived in Ohio, I’d spend a lot of the winter months someplace warm.  Now that I’m a Texas resident, I can do something similar by spending time in a cooler environment during the summer heat.  Medellin is known as “The City of Eternal Spring.”  It’s near the equator, but up in the mountains.  High temperatures are between 70  and 80 degrees with generally sunny weather year around.

 

The other reason I went there is that I wanted to do some more research for my upcoming book on travel scams.  I stayed in an area of Medellin that is full of expats, digital nomads, and foreign travelers.  This neighborhood (Poblado) has a lot of money.  Therefore it also has a lot of thieves and scam artists trying to separate the wealthy visitors from their cash.

 

I speak conversational Spanish and can get by in any Latin American country without problems.  Colombian Spanish is one of the most clear dialects I’ve heard.  The Colombians fully pronounce and annunciate every syllable.  They also speak slower than the residents in other Spanish speaking countries.  I find Colombian Spanish amazingly easy to understand.  That was critical for my research efforts.

 

I spent every night walking for a couple hours in the streets pretending to be a clueless tourist.  I chatted up all the hookers, thieves, hustlers, drug dealers, and scam artists I could find.  I was trying to learn how they worked their scams from direct experience .  Understanding their language was critical to this effort.  I could get scammed in hundreds of places around the world, but I wanted to be able to understand how the scams work in order to share them in my book.  I could only do that if I could talk to the scam artists.  In Colombia, I was able to do that fairly easily.

 

To better describe the area, here is a video of the area I frequented nightly.  Lots of fun.  Lots of music.  Lots of good food and drink.  And lots of hustlers/scam artists.

 

I like Medellin.  I last visited in 2012.  It’s a generally civilized place.  Most things work the way you want them to.  There is reliable electricity, potable tap water, and internet everywhere.  But there is still a very edgy Latin American vibe that keeps things interesting.  There is a lot of wealth disparity.  Both the ultra rich and the homeless share the same neighborhoods.  The streets are lined with homeless people for begging money as the wealthy folks visit the high end restaurants and night clubs.  It’s an interesting place to be.  I’d liken it a bit to Rio de Janeiro, but with a higher percentage of homeless.

 

An aware American can truly enjoy himself/herself here, but one must always be alert for pickpockets, robbers, hookers, and scam artists.  Medellin has just enough shadiness to keep things interesting, but not enough to be really dangerous (at least in the nicer neighborhoods).

 

They say a picture is worth 1000 words.  Take a look at the photos below to better understand the wealth disparity in the city.  The first shows a taxi driver stopping to dumpster dive for recyclable bottles to turn in for extra cash.  Every dumpster and trash can in the city is constantly being searched for recyclables by the poorer residents.

 

Taxi driver stopping to dumpster dive for recyclables he can turn in for extra cash

 

But there is also a baseline level of prosperity not seen in much of South America.  There is a lot of money here.  The wealthy live an amazing life.  The picture below is of a Harley Davidson store in the neighborhood where I stayed.  Unlike many poorer countries I’ve visited, business owners in Medellin use proper concertina wire (rather than embedded broken glass bottles) to secure their property.  All the high dollar businesses had razor wire like this or electric fences protecting their property.  That tells you that there is a real concern for theft, but also that many folks have the resources to minimize their losses.

 

Unlike most Latin countries that embed broken glass in the top of walls for security, in Medellin, proper concertina wire is used everywhere.

 

 

I stayed in the Charlee Hotel on the recommendation of friend who lives part time in the city.  It was a great place.

 

Here are some pictures of my room, which cost a little more than $100 a night.  It was huge and had a sitting room with large windows that open to give it an open air patio feel.

 

 

More like an enclosed balcony than part of the hotel room

 

My writing area on arrival (and that was the last time the TV was turned on).

 

 

Bathroom. The shower ceiling was mirrored. That was a bit odd.

 

View from the sitting room window

 

The hotel was centered right in the middle of the night life capital of Medellin.  It literally say between the two busiest party streets in the city.  It was noisy at night with the windows open, but the hotel soundproofed the door to the open air sitting room.  With the door shut, you couldn’t hear any noises from the outside.  For an idea of what it’s like at night, check out this video  shot from my open window on the third floor of the hotel.  This was a Friday night at about 2:00 AM.

 

The place had the best Latin American gym I’ve ever seen.  It was small but had a lot of great equipment.  The gym was on the top floor of the hotel and had large open windows overlooking the city.  To be honest, the gym and the rooftop pool is what sold me on the place.  I was happy with my stay.

 

View from the hotel gym

 

The hotel had a nice touch of hospitality in that every evening a hotel bartender would knock on your room door while pushing a drink cart.  He offered completely free cocktails to each guest every night.  I often ordered a mojito.  The bartender usually said “You’re big.  You need two.” and would make me an additional mojito or margarita.  It was a nice touch, but daily free cocktail deliveries may have diminished my writing production a little bit.

 

Every night at about 6:30 pm

 

One of the outside walls of the hotel. An appropriate destination for a Gorillafritz.

 

A Deeper Look at Colombian social Issues

 

I saw lots of shocking things during my stay in Medellin.  My entire experience was quite educational.

 

The craziest thing I saw were boxed babies.  While walking to lunch one day, I came across a naked little girl (I would say around two years old) sitting in a cardboard box on the sidewalk. There was a dish sitting next to the box with a few coins in it.

 

I looked around and found mom about 50 yards away. She had two other kids less than 5 years old, each naked in their own cardboard boxes strategically located at various places on the sidewalks along a popular tourist walking route.

Mom was sitting in the shade watching her naked, boxed kids generate income for her.  I didn’t take photos for obvious reasons.  That level of poverty and abuse is abhorrent in America, but is considered “everyday life” in the developing world.
I mentioned that I spent most evenings strolling around the popular tourist spots trying to get scam artists to engage me for book research.

 

One night I finished my stroll and went to a corner grocery store to buy a couple beers to fuel the night’s writing effort. Two little girls followed me into the store and approached me begging for me to buy them food. That’s really common in Medellin.

 

I would guess that these sisters were 12 and 10 years old. When I refused to buy them food, the older one pointed at her little sister and said in English “You can have her. She will do anything you want. Cheap. Cheap.”

 

A 12-year old was pimping her 10-year old little sister. I’ve traveled a lot in places like Thailand, Brazil, and Cambodia where underage prostitution was rampant but I’ve never seen anything like that.

 

Most people have zero idea about the level of depravity that makes up everyday life in many parts of this world.

 

I would have loved to help these little girls (and the kids in boxes), but there are significant hurdles in doing so.

 

1) The scale of the problem. While on my two hour walk  one night, I passed several hundred starving kids begging for money in the streets. I was solicited by probably 20 underage prostitutes in the same time frame. None were as young as these, but being hit up by 14-16 year old girls selling their bodies on the street has happened dozens of times a day for my entire trip.

 

With so many kids needing help, how do you triage your efforts? It’s impossible. I would be bankrupt in a week if I tried to help all the kids down here who truly needed it.

 

The other issue is that my helping them in any way is a tacit reward for the choices they are making. If they successfully appear weak and helpless they get more money. That only encourages them to prostitute themselves/beg more.

 

It’s harsh, but if there were no one down here trying to “help” these kids by giving them food or money for sex, the kids would have to do something more legitimate to generate income. The kids need to be going to school rather than begging/prostituting themselves on the street. If tourists keep giving them money, they have minimal incentive to improve their lot in life.

 

Remember that a lot of parents force their kids to beg because tourist donations are an easier way to make money than picking up a minimum wage job. Many of these kids’ parents don’t want to improve the lives of their children because those kids are often the most reliable sources of household income.

 

2) Zero community support networks. There is minimal government assistance going to the poor. There are relatively few charities. There are no resources locally to refer these people to.

 

The hotel employees despise these kids because they often steal things to get money to eat. The hotel staff don’t want their customers ripped off by the street urchins. They run these kids off their property mercilessly. They absolutely wouldn’t be helpful if I showed up with these two kids. They wouldn’t let the kids inside and would probably evict me.

 

There is simply no place down here that helps these kids.

 

3) Personal risk. What does it look like when a 50-year old man brings two pre-teen prostitutes back to his hotel room to “help” them? The hotel staff would likely call the police and kick me out of the hotel.

 

These kids aren’t dumb. Even if your intentions were nothing but honorable, there is nothing to prevent them from lying to get paid.
In countries like this with overtly corrupt police forces, some of the local girls are in cahoots with the police to scam tourists. If I help the girls by getting them off the street, they can call the police and claim I raped them.

 

The cops will show up and demand a $10K bribe to avoid jail. Of course you’ll pay because you don’t want to end up in a third world prison. The cop will give a little money to the kids and pocket the rest. The kids hop back out to the street to work the scam on another gullible tourist.

 

While I would really like to help all of these kids, it’s logistically impossible and places me in great risk of false accusations that could potentially ruin my life or completely drain my bank account.

 

There’s no way someone like me can realistically help these kids. The only thing I can do is to support the “Mom and Pop” groceries, restaurants, and vendors with my money. If those proprietors are successful, there’s less of a chance that their kids will end up on the street.

 

Beyond the beggars and hookers, there was a tremendous problem with homeless folks called “indigentes” or “gente de la calle” in Spanish.

 

Hookers approaching dudes on the street

 

Medellin is a city of contrasts. Right by my hotel there is a beautiful urban park with trails and waterfalls. That’s unusual in many Latin American cities.

 

The beautiful little creek in the park near my hotel

 

But walk a little further upstream and you see that this beautiful little river is also where all the homeless people bathe.

 

 

It’s stunning to see such abject poverty in an area where the richest people in the country live.  I think that’s part of the reason I like Medellin so much.

 

Police and Security Interactions

 

I didn’t see many police on patrol  during the daytime.  The national police carry SigPro 9mm pistols in Blackhawk Serpa holsters.  Unlike the cops in Bogota, I didn’t see any cops carrying long guns in Medellin.  All the cops are also armed with a PR-24 style baton, handcuffs, and a radio.  They wore external plate carriers and always patrolled in pairs.  They generally looked fit and alert.  They weren’t hassling folks or shaking down people for bribes.

 

Police patrol in pickup trucks here. If I had ever become a police chief, I would mark all police cars like this. “Tactical Black” is stupid. Cop cars should be visible like this.

 

Despite the lack of daytime police presence, there were, however, lots of security guards.  Some were armed  and some were not.  Whether or not they were armed seemed more to be dependent on the individual rather than the job.  The daytime hotel security guard was about 35 years old and wore a nickel-plated four inch S&W Model 10 in a nylon flap holster with five extra lead round nose cartridges in loops on the outside of the holster body.  The late night guard was younger and only carried a PR-24 baton.

 

The security guards could be sharp.  On my second day, I ate lunch at a large outdoor restaurant frequented by mostly locals.  I had my flashlight in my front pants pocket (not clipped, that draws too much attention).  It was daylight, so I was carrying it primarily to use as a small impact weapon.  As I was eating, the guard walked over to me and bent over to better inspect the bulge in my pants pocket.  He quickly determined it wasn’t a pistol barrel, smiled, and moved on.

 

I suggest that you become friends with the security guards at your residence in Latin America.  My hotel had a very high end rooftop bar that attracted a lot of prostitutes and other shady characters.   It’s almost exclusively rented by wealthy foreign travelers. All the local hookers and hustlers try to get inside to run game on the clueless Gringos.

 

As such, security was tight. Three security guards at each door. Metal detector wands for everyone going in at night. If you know me, you know that going through metal detectors is hazardous to my health.  Social engineering is a thing.

 

On my very first morning there, I brought coffee back from a local shop for all the guards and front desk staff. Every time I walked in and out, I talked the the guards in Spanish for a little while, asking about their lives and families. All of the other Gringo guests ignored them.

 

Within a day, they no longer wanded me with the metal detector and waved me in without any security screening. I was a good guy and no longer considered a potential threat. Over my stay I brought the door guards some food, coffee, and soft drinks. My total investment during my time there was about $25.

 

Near the end of my stay, the hotel staff upgraded me to a much more expensive room. The door guys got me the “local” price for a haircut at the barbershop down the street. They took me to a laundry place that only locals know to get my laundry done for half the Gringo rate.

 

They all called me “Mr. Marine.” I kept telling them that I’m just a writer who likes to work out. They didn’t believe me, but they played along. It’s was fun.

 

For the cost of a couple coffees and hotdogs, I became friends with all the staff and they were more than willing to take very good care of me.  Personal relationships are far more valuable than money in much of the world. I urge you all to cultivate these relationships when you travel. They will enrich your life and make your stay much more enjoyable.

 

Outside of the hotel, I was staying in one of the safest parts of the city.  Lots of security guards everywhere.  At night, plenty of cops on foot and motorcycle patrol.  Unlike many South American cites, the locals don’t seem to be too concerned about getting jacked.  People count money out in the street and walk around holding expensive cell phones with no worries.

 

The security guards all carried very strange weapons in my neighborhood.   I made friends with a local security guard and he let me take a photo of his shotgun.

 

It was a 16 gauge break top single shot cut down with pistol grips. Loaded with birdshot.…in a super crowded outdoor dining venue.   This video gives you an idea of the area the guards were patrolling.  It was two blocks away from my hotel.

 

The sticker on the gun says “Royale Express” with a logo of a bull.  I saw lots of these, some nickel plated.  I only saw one other pistol gripped shotgun.  A convenience store guard near my hotel carried a chrome plated Winchester 12 gauge pump with pistol grips. It reminded me of the store guards in Honduras.

 

I needed help identifying the pistol in the guard’s flap holster.  My friend Will Peck and some of the other authors from The Firearms Blog helped me out.  They did a great job of identifying the pistol as an early model of the Colombian Cordova 9mm auto.

 

That was the only semi-auto pistol I saw security guards carrying.  Almost all the guards in my neighborhood carried the sawed-off single shot shotguns or .38 revolvers.

 

My weapons

It’s important when you are outside the USA not to have any visible indications of carrying a weapon.  Having a pocket knife clipped to your pocket goes unnoticed in America, but will attract a lot of attention in the developing world.  I mentioned my flashlight earlier.  I carried it in my right front pocket, next to my money clip.  The money clip contains less than $100 in local currency and one credit card.  I don’t take my wallet with me when going out in public.

 

I had my Spyderco Salt knife clipped to the waistband of my pants in the appendix position.  If going to a bar or club with pat down searches, I moved it to my underwear just behind my belt buckle.  I carried my POM pepper spray in my left front pocket with my cell phone.

 

The most common attacks here are street robberies.  In the event of multiple attackers or loaded guns, my plan was to give up my money clip and phone.  But a lot of these robberies are committed by unarmed punk street kids.  In that case, I had a weapon right next to each valuable item I carried.  If they demanded my phone, I feign compliance and go for the pepper spray.  If they ask for my money, I feign compliance and then hit them with my flashlight.

 

The knife is a last resort.  No one will care if you beat the hell out of a criminal down here, but if you stab someone, you’ll be in a lot more trouble.  Besides surviving the attack, you’ll also want to avoid a long prison sentence in the developing world.

 

Activities

I did one tour while in Medellin.  It was a free tour of Medellin’s Poblado neighborhood provided by Beyond Colombia.  The tour guides work for tips.  These are a bit of a crap shoot and really depend on the individual tour guide.  I’ve had good ones and bad ones.  This one was horrible.  The guide gave us a little history of the neighborhood and the park where we met.  He then showed us some graffiti walls before taking us to the rooftop bar at Masaya for “a break.”  After 40 minutes in the bar, I grew bored and left.  I can go to bars on my own.

 

I also took an Uber (20 minutes, $3.00) to the Medellin botanical gardens for a stroll one afternoon.  Entry was free.  It was more like a large, well maintained city park than a nature exhibition.  There were tons of plants, but none of them was labeled.  When I was there on a Sunday afternoon,  hundreds of families had  just thrown down blankets and were spending a lazy afternoon in the garden eating picnic lunches with loved ones. I wish more Americans would embrace that lifestyle.

 

 

After strolling through the gardens, I wanted to visit the downtown park where all the Botero statues are. According to my phone, it was two miles from the gardens. I wanted to walk, so I asked the garden security guard if it was safe.

 

His reply? “More or less. The neighborhood is ugly. Lots of homeless and street people. Guard your money and your cell phone.”

 

The perfect challenge. I made the trek. The guard was right. It was ugly. I would have taken photos on the traverse, but my phone was hidden down my pants. Lots of poverty and chaos.  A fascinating piece of abandoned land that was taken over by shade tree motorcycle mechanics.  Only there was no shade. so each group of mechanics set up a big blue tarp for shade and worked on the motorcycles people brought them.  There were dozens of these “shops” on a piece of abandoned property about two acres in size.  Lots of them were keeping busy.  The true “underground economy” at work.

 

I was most certainly the only gringo around. I got some strange looks, but emerged unscathed.   The picture below is the famous downtown park.  While there, I was treated like a wallet with legs.  It was great practice for improving my situational awareness and learning some more scams run against travelers.  Hustlers everywhere.

 

 

Then I got to see the only artistic statues that reinforce my positive body image.  I love Botero.

 

 

 


 

 

 

One of the reasons I enjoy third world travel is that lots of things are amazingly cheap.  I stayed 17 days and needed to do laundry midway through.  I went to a wonderful place called “Laundry and Beer”  recommended by my hotel security guards.  They took a week’s worth of my dirty laundry, washed, dried , and folded it in less than two hours for the equivalent of $4.50 US.   I got a haircut for $5.00 and an hour-long massage for $20.00.  Most of my meals were less than $10 each.  Draft beers at a bar were about $1.25 US.  It was a nice escape from the ever increasing price inflation in the USA.

On travel in general

 

I can confidently state that travel is continuing to get worse. While waiting on airport delays during my flight home, I looked back at this year’s travel. I’ve thus far flown 36 flights in this calendar year. Twenty-eight of those flights have been delayed or cancelled.

 

Flying to and from Colombia in the last few weeks has been illustrative of the entire process.

 

My flight down to Medellin was delayed 2.5 hours, meaning I didn’t get to into my hotel until 3:00 am.

 

Coming home, my flight left Medellin on time. I arrived in Miami with a two hour connection to go through immigration/customs and board my plane to Austin.

 

I was flying at the front of the plane and had Global Entry, which meant I entered the country with a line of only three people ahead of me. It took less than five minutes to get processed through immigration. The folks that didn’t have Global Entry were looking at a 90+ minute wait in line.

 

Then I had to collect and recheck my bag. It took 1.5 hours for my bag to arrive on the conveyor belt. When the bags arrived, there were only four of us from the flight (all with Global Entry) who had made it to the baggage claim area The rest of our flight was still waiting in the immigration line.

 

As I was picking up my bag, I got notification that my connecting flight was delayed 30 minutes. I was glad. I wouldn’t have made the flight if it had left on time. I had to walk/sky-train 50 gates in Miami’s D-terminal to get to my connection. I arrived four minutes before my flight boarded.

 

The flight landed in Austin. We sat on the runway for 50 minutes after arrival. The pilot explained that the airport was operating with a “skeleton staff” and there were not enough employees on the ground to guide the plane to the gate.

 

That “skeleton staffing” was also evidenced in the baggage handling. After deplaning, it took another hour for the bags to arrive on the baggage carousel.

 

I’ve been traveling a bunch in the last nine months. Most of it has been flying around the country to teach classes, but I’ve made a couple international trips now. All have been utter chaos and getting continually worse.

 

Things don’t seem to be improving.

 

Despite the travel delays, I enjoyed Medellin.  I think I will spend even more time there next summer.  If you are interested in some more information about my stay, I will be posting some more articles about my trip on my Choose Adventure website next week.

 

Even though travel right now is a massive hassle, it still beckons to me.  I hope articles like this one make you more interested in seeing the world as well.

 

 

 

 

Medellin at dusk during a thunderstorm edited by my friend at Magellen Photography https://www.facebook.com/magellanphotos/

 

Drugs in Foreign Countries

Drugs in Foreign Countries 532 496 Greg Ellifritz

American media has been reporting incessantly about the American basketball player who has been imprisoned in Russia after authorities found some marijuana vape cartridges in her luggage.

This is far from the only case when Americans have been punished in foreign countries even if they did not bring or consume any illegal drugs in the country in question.

 

Read this article.

American Arrested In Dubai For Smoking Pot Before His Trip – In Las Vegas

 

This guy smoked pot legally at home before flying to the UAE.

“The 51 year old was a day into his visit when pancreatitis sent him to the hospital. His urine sample showed traces of pot in his system. And the hospital reported it to police. After 3 days in jail the man is confined to his hotel, pending charges.”

 

You should also read the linked article about the flight attendant going out on a date on a layover in the UAE.  Police raided her date’s apartment and arrested both of them after they found two joints.

 

“People can still be charged and convicted in the UAE even if substances were taken outside the country, “as long as traces are still present in the bloodstream upon arrival in the UAE.”

 

Even worse, you can be arrested for having a speck of weed on your shoe.

Dubai Jails British Man with Bit of Marijuana on Shoe

 

I’ve also seen tourists rounded up in Bangkok bar areas and forced by police to submit to instant urine drug tests.  If any level of drugs is found in the urine the tourist is either arrested or fined.

I don’t care if you use drugs, but I don’t want my readers going to jail.  Be very careful with your drug use if you are going to be visiting Asia or the Middle East.

 

 

Where to Travel Based on Your Myers-Briggs Type

Where to Travel Based on Your Myers-Briggs Type 1854 2560 Greg Ellifritz
This is kind of a fun idea that I haven’t seen before.  Have you considered matching your travel goals with your personality type?

 

I’m an INTJ and I would certainly enjoy their recommendation of a solo drive around Ireland.  I haven’t done that yet, but would book that trip in a heartbeat.

 

Interestingly enough, I’ve done about 3/4 of the trips she suggests for other personality types and I enjoyed all of those as well.

 

So it might all be crap, but it’s an interesting amusement for travelers.  If you know your personality type, check the link below and find out where you should be traveling this year.

 

 

Where to Travel Based on Your Myers-Briggs Type