Colombia

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/

 

Avoiding Prostitutes

Avoiding Prostitutes 1195 1593 Greg Ellifritz

I enjoy a relatively mundane existence in a generic American suburb.  In my normal life, I simply don’t encounter prostitutes at home.  All that changes when I travel in the developing world.

 

I wrote a whole chapter in Choose Adventure about dealing with prostitutes.  For the record, I actually think prostitution should be legal; but it’s not for me.  I have zero interest in banging a woman who is likely an abused drug addict.  The disease risk is too high for me.  Besides that, lots of prostitutes are opportunistic thieves as well.  While you are resting in your post-orgasmic bliss, she is taking your wallet, passport, and phone.

 

No thanks.  In more than 20 years of serious worldwide travel, I’ve never once hired a prostitute, even in places where such conduct is legal.

Some countries are prime destinations for sex tourists.  Guys schedule entire vacations around finding as many call girls as they can.  In countries like this, prostitution is far more noticeable to the uninterested traveler than in other places.

 

I’m in Colombia now.  It has a lot more prostitutes than most of the places I visit.  In fact, when I discuss “running the gauntlet of whores” in my book, I was in Cartagena, Colombia.  Other countries where it’s more obvious are The Dominican Republic, Brazil, Costa Rica (especially underage sex trafficked girls), Thailand, and the very poor countries of Africa.

 

Many other places have their various “Red Light Districts” but you don’t see many streetwalkers outside those spots.  Most of my readers likely have no experience dealing with prostitutes, so I’m going to outline a few ways you might pick up on the fact that there is sex for sale.  Why do you care?  Because where sex is sold, so are illegal guns and drugs.

 

Some Red Light Districts are easier to spot than others.
This is the “Love Time Hotel” in Rio. I wonder what happens there?

 

The same pimps running the girls are also selling drugs and organizing theft rings.  There is an entire economy based around the sex trade.  Dudes who want girls often also want drugs.  When you watch the ecosystem of a place ripe with prostitutes, you can observe the hookers, the “Johns,” the pimps, the dealers, the pickpockets, and a whole other class of folks looking to prey upon any of those people when they become distracted.

 

Two Colombian women appearing to be prostitutes approached three guys in the street and organize a deal. Viewed last weekend from my third floor hotel balcony.

 

The dudes looking for sex in these areas are perfect victims.  They are often impaired by excessive alcohol and/or drugs.  The bad guys also know that a guy picking up a hooker isn’t likely to call the police to report any type of crime out of fear of being arrested himself or having his activities outed publicly.

 

These sites are really not the safest places to be. They’re probably not where you want to spend much time unless you are looking to be victimized.

 

Many tourists are completely clueless about some of these issues and unintentionally put themselves or their families in danger because they didn’t recognize the subtle indicators.  Let me use my trip to Colombia as an example to provide an education about some of the things you should be paying attention to.

 

Amsterdam’s Red Light District

 

As I was in the taxi going to my hotel from the airport at 2:00am on a Thursday night, I saw a massive number of street prostitutes.  Probably close to 100 girls in a 20-minute ride.  I asked the cabbie about it.  He said that they were a huge problem in the city.

 

The cabbie told me that in Medellin, they call the prostitutes “mujeres divinas,” or “divine women”.  He said the term comes from an old Spanish song by the same title.  Check out the video below.

 

If you don’t speak Spanish, the song is about some guys drinking and talking about all the women who had wronged them in the past, inspiring the creation of some drunken anti-female song lyrics.  In the end, the singers declare that despite all the ways women have wronged them, all women are divine creatures to be adored, no matter their faults.

 

So if you hear the words “mujeres divinas,” the direct translation may not be quite correct. I’d never heard that particular term before.

 

I arrived at the hotel safely.  I was staying at a very trendy and expensive (by Colombian standards) place.  It wasn’t a cheap hourly rate motel in the ‘hood.

 

At registration, the desk clerk warned that the hotel does not allow guests to bring girls under 18 years old back to the room for overnight stays.  All overnight guests must show identification to ensure that people aren’t bringing back underage prostitutes.  The hotel wouldn’t need such a policy if there hasn’t been a problem with it in the past.

 

When you hear of such things, your guard should go up a bit.

 

When I got to my room, I had two more clues that there was a lot of “pay for play” going on in the neighborhood.

 

I don’t ever remember seeing condoms (extra secure at that) available right next to the M&Ms in the hotel room mini-bar in any of the US hotels where I’ve stayed.

 

I then went into the bathroom.  They have a special separate trash can for disposing of said used condoms.

 

Another thing I’ve never seen in the USA.

 

During the weekend, you might see even more prostitutes trying to sell themselves.  I’m staying at a ritzy hotel in the most expensive neighborhood in Medellin.  The security guards chase the hookers away from the entrances so they don’t harass the guests.  So then the women line up on the sidewalk just out of sight of the hotel guard and go to work.

 

Last Saturday night I walked to a restaurant about five minutes away from my hotel to eat dinner.  On my short walk home, eight different hookers directly offered me their services.

 

Another clue that there is a lot of prostitution going on is seeing old Gringo tourists walking hand in hand with very young local girls.  As I strolled the city yesterday I saw an American guy who appeared to be between 65 and 70 years old.  He was holding hands with a local girl who looked to be about 15 as they were walking down the street.  He stopped at a street vendor and bought the little girl a long stemmed rose.  This is very common in Thailand as well.

 

Besides the street-walking prostitutes, a lot more women meet their “clients” on dating websites.  Guys who get a sudden burst of online attention from young, hot women want to believe that they have stumbled upon a dating paradise.

 

Sorry, dude.  That hot 20-something doesn’t really think you are cute, she’s just looking to get paid.  A high percentage of women on dating sites in busy South American tourist towns are working prostitutes.

 

Take a look at the photo below.  She liked my Tinder profile.  It’s funny.  I never have 24-year old girls interested in my profile at home.  I’m more than double her age and live in another country.  Do you really think she’s looking for a relationship with a dude like me?

 

At least this one is honest about what she’s doing.  Read her bio.  “Busco” means “I’m looking for” in English.

 

A lot of your online dating matches will be prostitutes. Not all of them will be this obvious.

 

The issue is so common down here that the locals have a term for a woman who trades sex for favors, travel, or expensive presents.  They call that girl a “prepago.”  It means “pre-paid” like a pre-paid credit card.

 

It denotes a woman who doesn’t directly demand money for sex like a regular prostitute, but instead will gladly provide sex to a man who “pre-pays” her with expensive dinners or gifts.  “Prepagos” are so common that women who are not prostitutes will often note they aren’t “pre-paid” directly on their dating profiles.

 

Here is another woman who swiped on my Tinder profile.  Note what she says in her bio: “no soy prepago o amigos con derechos.”  It means “I’m not “pre-paid” and will not be a “friend with benefits.”  That shows exactly how common prostitutes are using dating apps to get their clients.

 

 

If you are single and in the dating market, be extra cautious about your online dating matches.  Down here some of the girls use scopolomine to knock out their dates and rob them blind.  Others will lure them to a secluded location where they are robbed by the hooker’s friends.

 

Meet all your dates in a public place.  If you are going to get intimate, take your date back to your hotel or rental rather than going back to your date’s place.

 

One other good thing to do is to ask your date if he/she has identification.  You can tell them (whether true or false) that the security in your building is strict and won’t let anyone in without an ID.  Criminals don’t want you to know their true identity.  If they don’t have an ID, that should be a real warning sign.  If the name on their ID is different than on their online profile, that should also worry you.

 

Dating in other countries can be really fun, but there are a lot of pitfalls to avoid.

 

Here’s the bottom line.  Even though I don’t partake in prostitution, I don’t judge.  I think consenting adults (not trafficked children) should be able to make an agreeable business relationship, even if it involves sex.  That doesn’t diminish the potential dangers of being around a bunch of prostitutes, pimps, and drug dealers.

 

Where people are openly selling sex, it’s an indication that the people in your location likely abide by different social norms than what is common in the place where you live.  You should be alert to the fact that if some social norms are drastically different, it is likely that other norms are different as well.  That makes social situations harder to judge and places you in a bit more danger.

Be extra careful in these areas.

South American Crime Prevention Advice

South American Crime Prevention Advice 620 465 Greg Ellifritz

Everything you need to know about keeping safe comes down to recognizing toads and papaya.

 

I was reminded of this fact when I read the article linked below.  Check it out.  The woman’s partner won a lawsuit settlement.  He posted some pictures of the cash settlement on social media.  Some bad dudes saw the money and decided to rob him.  Three people broke into the man’s house, killed his female partner and stole all the money.

Woman shot dead after money flaunted on social media

 

What does that have to do with toads and papaya?

 

I spend a lot of time in South America.  Each country down there has its own cute or funny sayings.  They are called dichos in Spanish.  These dichos are usually witty statements that offer life advice.  I’ve grown fond of learning some of the dichos from the countries I visit.

 

In Peru there is a saying; “Hay sapos.”  Literally it means “There are toads.”

 

The “toads” my Peruvian friends are talking about are people who silently observe your activity and provide that information to others.  There are always “toads” watching your every move.

 

Peruvians use “hay sapos” as a caution to people handling money in public.  There are always “toads” watching for easy victims.  You may not see the sapos, but rest assured that they will be present.  Exercise caution.  The toads may not rob you, but they will certainly provide your information to someone who will for a little bit of cash.

 

If the guy in the link above had recognized that there are always “toads” watching, he probably wouldn’t have carelessly flashed his wad of money on social media.

 

A second pertinent dicho comes from Colombia.

 

The locals there have a descriptive term for people who do things which make it easy for a criminal to victimize them. Colombians call it “dar papaya.”

 

The term literally means “to give papaya.” In other words, you are so vulnerable it’s like giving the criminal a sweet treat. It’s the Colombian equivalent of the term “like taking candy from a baby.”  You are making it exceptionally easy for a criminal to target you when you “dar papaya.”

 

That’s what the guy did when he flashed his money.  The sapos saw his post and informed the robbers.  The robbers thought he was an easy target.  He gave them some papaya.  They took it and ran.

 

 

The next time you post on social media, think about the toads.  Don’t give them any papaya.

 

 

 

South American Gun Laws

South American Gun Laws 702 501 Greg Ellifritz

Many of my readers are interested in firearms and self defense.  I regularly encounter Americans who believe that citizens of other countries can’t legally own defensive firearms.  That opinion is incorrect.

While gun ownership in countries outside the USA is generally a for more involved process than what is required to buy a gun in the USA, citizens of many other countries can own (and sometimes carry) firearms if they jump through all the right hoops.

I found the article below to be an informative comparison of gun laws in six large Latin American countries.  If you are interested in the gun laws in South America, check it out.

 

Gun Laws in Latin America’s Six Largest Economies

 

You may also enjoy Revolver Guy’s article Guns in Brazil.

 

Travel Log- Colombia

Travel Log- Colombia 2560 1920 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip to Colombia in 2013.

 

I just spent the last couple weeks doing some adventure travel through Colombia.  It had been one of the few South American countries that I hadn’t visited.  While there I checked out Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta, the Tyrona National Park, and Cartagena.  I paraglided for the first time, hiked, swam, body surfed, and attempted to experience as much of the local culture as possible.

 

Colombia has changed drastically from the days of FARC and Pablo Escobar’s narcotraficantes.  It is one of the safer Latin American countries I’ve visited.  The people are very pleasant and the police are professional.  I would highly encourage those of you with an adventurous spirit to check the country out.

 

Since this website is primarily about self defense, firearms, and training issues; I’ll stop rambling about my travel adventures.  I will share some photos that you might find interesting….

 

From the National Police Museum in Bogota, some guns you’ve probably never seen:

 

The most obscure collection of break-top revolvers I’ve ever seen.

 

The local slang for this one is “chongo”…a home made pistol. One of the reasons why gun control laws will never be effective.

 

Custom stainless steel Iver Johnson Enforcer with an M-2 full auto switch

 

A 28 gauge revolving shotgun

 

Since we are talking guns, you may be interested to know what the locals carry.  The national police carry SigPro 9mm pistols in Blackhawk Serpa holsters.  More than half of the National Police (there are no local police forces) in Bogota also carried Galil (an Israeli version of the AK-47) rifles.  The cops in Cartagena carried M-16 A-2s as a supplement to their Sigs, but the M-16 had an empty magazine inserted and a visible yellow empty chamber flag!

 

All the cops are also armed with a PR-24 style baton, handcuffs, and a radio.  That’s it.  Most of them carry empty spare magazine pouches at the small of their backs.  I never saw any cops with full magazine pouches.

 

Explosives Detection cops on random patrol in Bogota. Note the empty mag pouches on the belt of the cop on the right.

 

The national police around the Presidential Palace carry HK G-36 rifles instead of the Galil.

 

I saw several citizens walking the streets of Bogota with pepper spray in hand and even saw one young man working the front desk of a hotel with an ASP baton sticking out of his jacket pocket.  Security guards were almost always armed with 4″ S&W revolvers, although I saw a few 3″ round butt J-frames on some security guards’ belts.  All the security guards had cartridge loops sewn to the outside of their nylon belt holsters.  The loops were full of round nosed lead .38 special ammo.

 

According to the police with whom I spoke, it is relatively easy for a citizen to get a gun permit down there.  The guns are limited depending on geographical location.  In the cities,  people can get permits only for handguns.  Rifles and shotguns are not allowed.  In the rural countryside where hunting is common, “almost everyone” has a long gun, but pistols are prohibited.

 

Very different gun laws as compared to the USA, but unlike many foreign nations, in Colombia there is some ability for the “average Joe” to at least own (if not carry) a firearm.

 

 

 

Medellin, Colombia

 

 

First Aid for Sand Fly Bites

First Aid for Sand Fly Bites 960 720 Greg Ellifritz

If you travel to tropical environments (especially to beach areas in those environments) you are likely to encounter various insect bites.  The article below describes some of the likely suspects and goes over some useful treatment protocols.

 

Sand Fleas and Flies

 

I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with sand fly bites in the Caribbean, Egypt, and South America.  Besides the advice provided in the linked article above, I have a few more suggestions.

 

If the hydrocortisone cream recommended in the article isn’t stopping the itch, you could also try a topical corticosteroid called triamcinolone.  It is commonly sold in foreign pharmacies and is more potent than the OTC hydrocortisone you can buy here in the States.  The triamcinolone shouldn’t be used on sensitive areas of the body (genitals, face, etc.) because it may cause irritation or skin thickening.  I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice, but I’ve had good luck with this product if OTC hydrocortisone fails.

 

If the rash persists for more than a couple days, visit a doctor.  You may also check out the local pharmacy.  In most countries in the developing world, pharmacies sell tubes of combination steroid/anti-fungal/antibiotic creams over the counter.  That makes a precise diagnosis unnecessary if you can’t make it to the doctor.  No matter what is causing the skin irritation, these multidrug creams take care of the problem.

 

If itching insect bites or rashes are driving you crazy and you have no medication, try hot water. Place the affected area under water (as hot as you can stand) for three to five minutes.  The hot water might neutralize the toxins that cause the rash.  The effect is only temporary, however.  You may need to repeat the process every couple hours.  Ammonia may also work to temporarily relieve the itching from some bites.

The author of the linked article wrote a book called Survival Medicine.  Check it out if you are looking for more medical information.  It is an excellent reference.

 

 

My arm after sleeping on the beach in a hammock in Colombia.  Unfortunately the hammock’s mosquito net was made for Colombian-sized people. When your limbs touch the net, the sandflies just chew right through…and yes, I was wearing DEET.

 

 

Some of the above links (from Amazon.com) are affiliate links.   As an Amazon associate I earn a small percentage of the sale price from qualifying purchases.

Travel Log- Colombia

Travel Log- Colombia 300 225 Greg Ellifritz

*My Travel Log series describes various past travel adventures and provides perspective about living and traveling in different countries.  This particular segment covers a trip through Colombia in 2012.

 

I just spent the last couple weeks doing some adventure travel through Colombia.  It had been one of the few South American countries that I hadn’t visited.  While there I checked out Bogota, Medellin, Santa Marta, the Tyrona National Park, and Cartagena.  I paraglided for the first time, hiked, swam, body surfed, and attempted to experience as much of the local culture as possible.

 

Colombia has changed drastically from the days of FARC and Pablo Escobar’s narcotraficantes.  It is one of the safer Latin American countries I’ve visited.  The people are very pleasant and the police are professional.  I would highly encourage those of you with an adventurous spirit to check the country out.  If you are interested in a local guide, shoot me an email.  I can heartily recommend the services of a friend who is a professional tour guide down there.

 

Since this website is primarily about self defense, firearms, and training issues; I’ll stop rambling about my travel adventures.  I will share some photos that you might find interesting….

 

From the National Police Museum in Bogota, some guns you’ve probably never seen:

 

The most obscure collection of break-top revolvers I’ve ever seen.

 

The local slang for this one is “chongo”…a home made pistol. One of the reasons why gun control laws will never be effective.

 

Custom stainless steel Iver Johnson Enforcer with an M-2 full auto switch

 

A 28 gauge revolving shotgun

 

Since we are talking guns, you may be interested to know what the locals carry.  The national police carry SigPro 9mm pistols in Blackhawk Serpa holsters.  More than half of the National Police (there are no local police forces) in Bogota also carried Galil (an Israeli version of the AK-47) rifles.  The cops in Cartagena carried M-16 A-2s as a supplement to their Sigs, but the M-16 had an empty magazine inserted and a visible yellow empty chamber flag!

 

All the cops are also armed with a PR-24 style baton, handcuffs, and a radio.  That’s it.  Most of them carry empty spare magazine pouches at the small of their backs.  I never saw any cops with full magazine pouches.

 

Explosives Detection cops on random patrol in Bogota. Note the empty mag pouches on the belt of the cop on the right.

 

The national police around the Presidential Palace carry HK G-36 rifles instead of the Galil.

 

I saw several citizens walking the streets of Bogota with pepper spray in hand and even saw one young man working the front desk of a hotel with an ASP baton sticking out of his jacket pocket.  Security guards were almost always armed with 4″ S&W revolvers, although I saw a few 3″ round butt J-frames on some security guards’ belts.  All the security guards had cartridge loops sewn to the outside of their nylon belt holsters.  The loops were full of round nosed lead .38 special ammo.

 

According to the police with whom I spoke, it is relatively easy for a citizen to get a gun permit down there.  The guns are limited depending on geographical location.  In the cities,  people can get permits only for handguns.  Rifles and shotguns are not allowed.  In the rural countryside where hunting is common, “almost everyone” has a long gun, but pistols are prohibited.

 

Medellin, Colombia