Last month I spent 17 days in Medellin, Colombia. 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.
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.
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 ones listed 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.