Sunday, July 23, 2017

The 9 Types of People You Meet Backpacking South America

Pringles can in hand
1. Pringles Girl: she lives off of grocery store pringles and nutella because she is scared to get sick from the local food, all her gear is brand new, her parents call her every night to ask if she wants them to put more money in her bank account - she usually says no. She carries two backpacks (one on her back and one on her stomach).

Note the Vetements hat
(this guy had a Singaporean passport)

2. Wealthy Asian Guy: probably from China or Singapore, speaks perfect English but only a couple words of broken Spanish. Wears designer clothes, and clings to his cell phone and leather wallet like a life raft. Is usually eating at the restaurant that locals go to for weddings and quinceañeras.

3. The big group of loud Americans: their main focus is going out at night and taking good pics for Insta. They sleep until noon unless they're talking the free walking tour. They crowd into souvenir shops and ask about the prices in broken, heavily accented Spanish. There is usually one dehydrated straggler sitting on the curb fiddling with the straps of their too-big hiking backpack.
true to life model

4. The big group of loud Brazilians: they speak in Portuguese to the waiter, and if he doesn't understand, they just say it again louder.

5. Two blonde European girls: traveling together for at least a month. They've been best friends since high school but by this point are really getting on each others nerves but are too polite (or too German) to say anything. Only one of them speaks Spanish, and one of them is constantly getting sick.

#6/#7 may resemble this creature

6. Recent graduates: can be either the high school kid on their first solo trip (this is really cool, actually), or a post grad master's student (lol me) who is a bit cynical about everything but has never actually experienced the full time working world despite the fact that they are in their mid 20s. They either don't have a job lined up when they go back home and plans to work at a restaurant until something worth their time comes up, or they have a consulting job waiting for them and are trying to balance the soul sucking corporate job with something more organic.

7. Guard-up solo traveler: maybe gives a head nod as they pass another solo traveler but rarely makes contact. Keeps to themselves in the hostel, seeking a more authentic local experience. Is afraid to leave any of their stuff unattended, often has a pouch full of locks. Angles their passport away from people, as if their giant backpack and sunburned paper white skin doesn't give it away that they're a foreigner...
This guy was selling some homemade
power balls or something

8. The permanent traveler: at this point, he's out of money but not willing to call his parents, so he's stuck here. He usually has dreadlocks or half his head shaved. You can find him selling handmade jewelry off a sarong on the sidewalk next to local craftsmen, or juggling at stop lights. 

#9 crossing the Bolivia/Peru border -
their backpacks were on the bus

9. The couple: their love sustains them through the challenges, they can huddle for warmth on Bolivian buses, split that weird chunk of meat, and look out for the other one's stuff if they have to go to the bathroom. They are both equally dirty, and don't care anymore, but are really sick of trying to sneak in sex on dorm room bunks while other hostelers are away. They carry two backpacks each.

Most backpackers on the Colombia-Ecuador-Peru-Bolivia circuit (they almost always go north to south) are from Canada, France, Germany, The Netherlands, or Australia. The rest are from other South American countries (Chile, Argentina), and a tiny handful from Asia. There are hardly any people from the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, or South Asia.

The Perfect Latin American Country

After a month of traveling in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Panama, I have decided to build the perfect Latin American country. I have written a couple of posts about my trip so far, with lots more coming!

Rough Introduction to La Paz
La Paz Grows on You
Jungle Horror Story
Bogota Days 
The 9 Types of Backpackers you Meet in South America

So check those out for now if you haven't already, after this little wrap-up post.

The perfect Latin American country would have...

the connection to, appreciation of, and social/political integration into the mainstream of indigenous culture and people of Bolivia*

the food of Peru
the natural diversity of Peru (Andean highlands, wide deserts, coastline, and jungle)

the warm people of Colombia
the resilient spirit and joie de vivre of Colombia 

the ease of access and simplicity of Panama

*I know that was a really hard sentence to read...bear with me

Should I explain a bit more...? Here are the best and worst of each country in my personal, very limited, experience:
(Below each section are the best pictures from my trip from each country - sorry my iPhone photography skills are so lacking) 


Cold and cold. The record high in La Paz ever was 25.4 C/77.7 F...the mountains around La Paz are beautiful but the altitude really kicked my butt.

Bolivia was the least developed country on my trip, and I saw the most poverty here. The people were generally cold and unfriendly, unhelpful, and (perhaps understandably) quite unhappy to interact with or even see tourists.

Indigenous cultures are strong and visible, which is the best thing about the country other than perhaps the nature - Lake Titicaca, the Andes, and the Salar de Uyuni (salt flats) and territory south towards Chile (which I didn't see in person but pics and stories assure me it's incredible). 
There is some food that is really unique, but almost everything you can get in Bolivia, is mirrored (and improved) in Peruvian Andean/Quechua cuisine.  

A month ago, I would have told you to skip Bolivia entirely and go to Ecuador instead, but really, as I moved north, the negatives of Bolivia have faded a bit from my memory, and I retain how awesome it was to experience a very isolated and unique culture, and it's hard to see that in other countries apart from maybe Amazonian peoples. So, maybe give Bolivia a few days, but steel yourself for the hardships - no English, horrible infrastructure, little organizational support for tourists, barely there wifi, and awful coffee. If you embrace the reality, though, I think you can have a really memorable trip.

(much more on Bolivia, which was definitely the most interesting and different country of my trip, in the forthcoming post Goodbye Bolivia - this will be a link when the post is released!

A popular style of architecture in La Paz, Bolivia

La Paz, Bolivia

Bus terminal, La Paz, Bolivia

Tiwanaku/Tiahuanaco/Tiahuanacu, Bolivia
at least 200 BCE - 200 CE)

Sunset, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Train Cemetary, Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

View of Lake Titicaca from Cerro Calvario, Copacabana, Bolivia

Crossing Lake Titicaca, near Copacabana, Bolivia


Before coming I was already biased in Peru's favor, since I visited with two of the loves of my life (@elyse_atpeace, @rebeccajvogel) in 2015 to hike the Inka Trail to Machu Picchu. This time, I wanted to spend more time in Lima and to see the selva (jungle)- mission accomplished.

Peruvian food is indisputably the best in South America, mixing flavors and styles from highland, coastal, and selva regions.
Lima has terrible weather in the winter - grey skies, drizzly rain, too cold for the beach - but I still loved it (blog coming on Lima!). From ritzy Miraflores to hipster cool Barranco to working class La Victoria (lol don't go there, I was just lost), Lima has a ton to offer, is very walkable, and incredibly diverse. 

Peru's history is fascinating too, as Cuzco was the "bellybutton of the world" as the capital of the Inca Empire, and Lima was the capital of the Spanish conquistadores. Maybe it's just me after reading Turn Right at Machu Picchu with the besties before our Peru trip, but I am obsessed with the Inca Empire and its history - on the Inca Trail, our guides knew I loved the history, so before letting me into our camp for lunch or the night, they would quiz me with an Inca history/Quechua culture trivia question. South America is loaded with the remains of pre-Spanish civilizations, but the Inca is one that we know a lot about, and the story of the last Incas has a very real and personal feel to it.
Peruvian people are not the hug you on the street type, and they don't shower you in sweet nicknames, but you can open them rather quickly with a smile and a greeting, and no one was really rude to me. 

The selva of the Amazon basin (I was only at Iquitos, but there is also access at Puerto Maldonado where most organized tour groups go) is incredible. I had quite a few Indiana Jones/Lara Croft Tomb Raider moments, although I was not a fan of the food (I hate the plasticky taste of the bijao leaf that a lot of food is wrapped in, and many of the rare Amazon fruits have a vomit and/or old socks flavor to them). I loved riding on moto taxis (as Iquitos is only reachable by air or sea, cars are fairly rare), even as their unfiltered exhaust stung my eyes and shriveled my lungs, and loud road noises is my number two most hated thing...It's really a must-visit, even if you don't see any sloths...

Peru is home to so many must-see-before-you-die places, from the Amazon rain forest, to Machu Picchu, to the oldest town in the Americas, Caral, to the Nazca lines. It's affordable, has tourist infrastructure, but doesn't feel like a fakey tourist trap. Go to Peru as soon as possible - and don't skip Lima! 

Puno, Peru
High alert during a protest in Lima, Peru
Arriving to Iquitos, Peru from the airport by motokar

Raspadilla cart in Iquitos - machine is 40-50 years old
Young woman prepare palm hearts at Belen Market in Iquitos

Iquitos, Peru

A child helps us load our boat in an Amazon village near Iquitos

The best things about Colombia are the landscape and the culture/people. While not as diverse as Peru, the country is filled with lush green hills growing coffee and bananas - it really is sort of the quintessential Caribbean South American destination, especially in places like Cartagena and Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast. 

I loved being called sweet names, such as: princesa, reina, mi amor, amorcito, corazon, nena, muñeca, mami (this one just drove me wild). However, as much as people you interact with will be sweet to you, street harassment is intensely real and the worst I faced on my trip (also maybe compounded by the fact that I got my hair and nails done in Bogota and was looking the most clean and female like that I did on my trip...but check out the narco beauty section of this post). I will admit that I couldn't help but smile when some guy called me Jennifer Lopez, though...
Colombianos use a lot of slang and unusual expressions in general, and it's great fun trying to decipher them! It also makes it pretty easy to spot a Colombian in other countries.

Colombia has the best music and (non-indigenous) cultural scene, from reggaeton and bachata to the more respectable vallenato and salsa, Colombianos love to shake their tail feathers (omg can't believe I just used that expression...), and it's great to explore the different musical styles throughout the country.

Leticia is a small jungle town at the "tres fronteras" (three borders) of Colombia, Brazil, and Peru - it's basically a smaller Iquitos, but you can sneak into (the least interesting town in) Brazil for a bit from here, so maybe worth a stop just for that! 

Bogota is fabulous, despite the weather, and Medellin (which I didn't visit) has the perfect weather year round! Bogota is extremely walkable (really, like, too walkable - you'll just be strolling for hours through the urban jungle if you don't stop yourself), which you need because public transportation is pretty bad. Medellin has excellent public transportation, though! Bogota has an excellent nightlife scene, and in a city that size (maybe 10 million!) you will never run out of places to explore. 

Parque Tayrona near Santa Marta is a veritable playground for adults, a natural theme park, and early on a weekday morning in shoulder season it feels quite secret. Cartagena is a magical fairytale and I hate that I was only there for one day. It's hopelessly sultry and romantic (there is a chance I only thought this because everything ever written on Cartagena describes it as 'sensual'), the history of conflict between the Spanish empire and pirates after its stolen treasure is palpable, and the people watching is fantastic as it a vacation destination for people from all over Colombia and Latin America.

I could definitely have spent the whole trip in Colombia, there is so much to see and do and the people are generally so laid back that you don't feel guilty just spending the day lounging on a beach or writing in a coffeeshop. The coffee here isn't what you might expect from one of the world's largest coffee producers (the traditionally have exported the choicest beans), but especially in cities, Colombianos are beginning to develop a taste for great coffee and as demand rises so does quality. 

The biggest drawback to Colombia is probably the safety issue...while there isn't much reason to concern about guerillas anymore (and hasn't been for many years in the cities), FARC's disbanding is still being negotiated, and other small groups such as ELN still exist. Just double check the security situation before venturing somewhere remote, and in cities like Bogota armed robberies aren't as rare as I would have been led to believe through my own experience. I felt really safe overall, but in the 4 days I was in Bogota, a kid from my hostel was mugged at knife point and a hostel worker was threatened by a guy with a metal pipe. Homelessness is a big problem in Bogota, as well.
Arrival in Leticia, Colombia (international border)
Arrival in Leticia, Colombia (international border)
Chapinero, Bogota, Colombia

Bogota, Colombia

La Candelaria, Bogota, Colombia

View over Bogota from Monserrate
Foggy the cat, Santa Marta, Colombia

Gaira, Santa Marta, Colombia

Parque Tayrona, Colombia

Parque Tayrona, Colombia

After riding a horse for 1.5 hours out of Parque Tayrona

Heading back to Santa Marta from Parque Tayrona
Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

So, my experience here is quite skewed because a) I stayed only in the capital, and b) I spent a lot of time with my family and not so much sight seeing. So I can only speak to Panama City,'s not a great city for relaxing or exploring, and certainly not for backpacking/budget travel. There are some amazing things to see and do here - the Panama Canal being number one must see. Apart from the Canal, Cerro Ancon look out point (which comes with a pretty nice short hike), the historic and charming Casco Viejo, and the skyscrapers of Punta Paitilla, there isn't much. It is extremely car-focused, and walking is a challenge outside of Casco Viejo. If you lived here, I am sure you would love it. Although half the year you're inundated with frequent rain storms, the country is beautiful and the city's location surrounded by water and forest is excellent. There are many upscale bars and restaurants, with nearly any type of food you're looking for. There are also several nice cafes (though not as many as I would hope), lots of cheap beauty salons (a blow out starts at $5!). My biggest takeaway from Panama City is that it's really similar to an American beach town - it reminds me a lot of Virginia Beach if you added a cosmopolitan downtown. They use the US dollar, many people speak English (but not everyone, so brush up on your Spanish!), there are colossal malls with all the big US chains. Many parts of the city look like a mid sized US city, with infrastructure that hasn't been updated since the 70s or 80s, but there is also a major housing boom as both domestic migration to the city and immigration from countries like Venezuela (a huge topic of debate here) are on the rise. Street pavement is broken and cracked, traffic jams (tranque) clog the city during weekday rush hours, and frequent strikes with unhappy workers blocking main thoroughfares bring the city to its knees. Local food has its high points in a hearty plate of arroz con pollo, empanadas, chicheme (a creamy corn drink) fresh fruits, and raspado (shaved ice), but Panamanian food is generally fried and greasy. 

The best of Panama is the people! Friendly and helpful, and diverse - I saw a Guna woman wearing a traditional mola blouse shopping at the mall, and the San Francisco neighborhood where I was staying is full of expats and upper class locals. Panama has a lot of cool music, and local slang is worth getting to know. It's really fascinating how much the Spanish can change even just between Colombia and Panama, two countries that (as every Colombian would remind me) used to be one! 

Casco Viejo (the old town) is really cute - it reminds me of a mini Cartagena - but it doesn't have as many sidewalk cafes or casual bars as I would expect. Even the nightlife (everyone claims this is the heart of it) is sort of lackluster from street view. There are a lot of shuttered buildings, maybe being renovated, and lots of scaffolding. It seems like a space in transition. 

You can have a really high quality of life in Panama City, but as a tourist, I suggest getting out of the city - it really doesn't have more than 2-3 days of traveler entertainment in it unless you're a high roller going to casinos every night and the Trump Tower spa every afternoon.
Monument to history in Casco Viejo, Panama City, Panama

Hiking in Cerro Ancon, Panama City, Panama

SLOTH/MONO PEREZOSO, Cerro Ancon, Panama City, Panama
View of outside Panama City from the Templo Bahai'i, Panama City, Panama

So, that's it! 

More posts to come, but on my last day in Latin America for who knows how long (tickets from Tbilisi to Panama City start at $1,300!!), I wanted to share a wrap up overview of my thoughts.

From being so sick and miserable and cold that I was in tears in a sketchy Bolivian hostel, to watching a breathtaking sunset over the Salar de Uyuni, to taking a boat 11 hours down the Amazon River, to dancing to my favorite reggaeton songs (I can never find in a Charlottesville bar) in Lima and Bogota, to eating three breakfasts because I keep finding better and better food, to spending the whole day on a locals-only beach outside Santa Marta or a secret hidden lagoon in Tayrona, to seeing TWO sloths on one hike and reconnecting with my extended family in Panama - this trip is something I will never forget. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Always Carry Sunscreen and an Umbrella: Bogota Days

I should definitely be writing about La Paz or Lima or the jungle, but I was struck with inspiration in Bogota on my favorite kind of warm overcast day, at a charming cafe, and I just wanted to write about the city!

Bogota, Colombia is wonderful.
I made the decision to spend four days there instead of trying to squeeze in 2 here and 2 in Medellin. I really loved my experience in the Colombian central mountainous region.

The title of this post comes from something my walking tour guide said - the weather here is so unpredictable and fast changing that a good Bogotano always carries both sunscreen and an umbrella. You really do need to wear sunscreen everyday, though. The sun easily penetrates the clouds and I ended up looking like a totally unsophisticated n00b with a rosy sunburn after my first day in the city. There aren't really seasons in Bogota. The city is up in the mountains at 2,644 m (8,675 ft), and the weather is mostly defined by cycles of rain and dryness.
how to dress for Bogota (joking -
within 5 mins of being outside
scarf and jacket were off)
"The driest months are December, January, July and August. The warmest month is March, bringing a maximum of 19.7 °C (67.5 °F). The coolest nights occur in January, with an average of 7.6 °C (45.7 °F) in the city; fog is very usual in early morning, 220 days per year, whilst clear sky sunny full days are quite unusual. The official highest temperature recorded within the city limits is 30.0 °C (86 °F), and the lowest temperature recorded is −7.1 °C (19 °F). The rainiest months are April, May, September, October and November, in which typical days are mostly overcast, with low clouds and some winds, bringing maximum temperatures of 18 °C (64 °F) and lows of 7 °C (45 °F)." - Wikipedia
Don't let this forecast scare you! Bring a jacket and closed toed shoes, and you can have a lovely time in Bogota. It's no Medellin, "city of eternal spring," but you can definitely work up some heat traipsing up and down the city's hills!

The people of my South American journey just keep getting more open the further north I go! Bolivians, as you may be aware, were as cold to me as the weather. Peruvians in Lima were helpful and kind but not necessarily friendly en masse. Peruvians in the small jungle city of Iquitos were outgoing and warm but not aggressive. As soon as I crossed the border into Colombia, to the jungle town of Leticia, I noticed the difference. *Post comparing Iquitos and Leticia coming soon!* I got the up-down looks, the stares, the comments, and by the time I got to Bogota it was in full swing. Bogotanos are charming and friendly. Despite the often chilly and drizzly weather, you can open them up easily with a big smile and an "Hola, !buenos dias! ?Como estas?" If you look confused, people will explain you anything from the type of fruit they're selling to the seasons (or lack thereof) of Bogota. They use cutesy names like mi amor, amorcito, and muñeca (doll). They always say good morning/day/evening, and you should greet them back! Except when the person greeting you is a guy driving slowly by in his car, or a pair of constructions working who whistle at you before saying it, or a creepy guy standing in the shadow of a doorway who whispers hermosa (beautiful) as you pass...those guys you can ignore. I think perhaps the more aggressive attention from men comes from the idea (see Narco Beauty below) that women are objects, not only according to men but according to women themselves who commoditize themselves, seeking a better life or in accordance with heavily prevalent standards of beauty. 
Bogotanos often get a reputation for being plain and boring compared to other parts of the country (and they may be relatively true), but compared to North Americans or western Europeans, they are full of energy, friendly to strangers, and most people are excited to strike up a conversation with a foreigner. 

A hot cup of aromatica is perfect on a cold Bogota night

Narco Beauty
We can't talk about Colombia without mentioning two of the most prevalent stereotypes: drugs and beautiful women. Colombian women are often characterized by their beauty - their voluptuous figures, their daring necklines, skin tight clothing, and the prevalence of plastic surgery. Stemming from the drug related violence of the 1970s and 1980s, a culture of narco beauty dominates the country's fashion and beauty industry. The drug lords who dominated the economy favored a certain kind of women - big boobs, fat booty, tiny waist, light skin. The women who gained the attention of traffickers were pampered and protected. At this time of violence and unpredictability and widespread poverty, this was a coveted prize. So women squeezed themselves into the standards of narco beauty in the hopes of achieving some degree of comfort or protection for themselves and their families.

“Contemporary society has told the woman that everything lies in her body. They themselves assume their role as an object … They want to have the body that is desired, otherwise it won’t have people providing them with economic prospects.”

Some examples of the influence of narco beauty standards:
  • Plastic surgery here is some of the cheapest in the world - a boob job can go for around $1000 - and it's both common among Colombians and for medical tourism.
  • In some cities (markedly Cali and Medellin) girls are gifted plastic surgery (generally breast implants) for their 15th birthday.
  • When a family has a beautiful daughter and "invests" in her beauty through surgeries and expensive clothing and makeup, they often expect a return by her marrying a wealthier man, raising the status of the family. In rural areas, it's still common that young brides have a bride price that is often paid in livestock.
  • Much more than in the US or other countries, "alternative" looking women are at a severe disadvantage when it comes to finding work. The definition of alternative is broader here, encompassing not only tattoos and piercings but also more natural looking women and women who don't take much interest in fashion or beauty.
  • A style of jeans called "sin bolsilllos" (without pockets) is very popular. These jeans don't have back pockets and often incorporate strategic shading to make the wearer's butt look as plump and perky as possible.

  • The commodotization of women and women's bodies makes many men feel like they have the right to common on women, to call out as they pass, and, in the extreme cases of actual drug traffickers, kidnap (or lure) women out of small towns and villages to be operated on and turned into their personal toy.
The women of Bogota are noticeably less influenced by these narco beauty standards than in other cities. As guerilla forces took over the jungles and farmland, many farmers were forced to either work for the guerillas or flee - and most who fled ended up in the capital. The outskirts of Bogota were soon choked with poor farmers and their families from all over the country, creating a more diverse and more practical city. A Bogotana friend of mine told me that women from the capital are often mocked for being too "simple" - not wearing enough makeup, not wearing fashionable enough clothing, not investing enough into their beauty. The excellent education (public and private) and greater number of professional and economic opportunities in this metropolis of 8-10 million people (number vary) also provides many women another option to prosperity than their bodies.

Bogota is a huge city and there are too many barrios (neighborhoods) to count, so I'll just mention a few here. The most popular barrios among tourists/ex-pats, and most accessible, are probably La Candelaria, Chapinero, and La Zona Rosa.

La Candelaria is basically the furthest south of the barrios (further south you have Tunjuelito, Usme, and San Cristobal - mostly poor residential neighborhoods). You can stroll up and down the hills of La Candelaria for hours. 
This is oldest part of the city, made obvious by its narrow cobblestone streets and colonial facades. The upper half of La Candelaria is stuffed with hostels, so this is where most backpackers stay. There are also several boutique hotels for the more discerning visitor. Here is where you'll find the Museo del Oro (the best gold museum in South America), several government buildings like the Palace of Justice that has been infamously blown up three times by guerillas, and the lively pedestrian section of Carrera 7 (or just la septima as the locals call it).
There are seemingly endless bars, restaurants, lounges, and boutiques, most pretty modern and nice - I wondered how they all could simultaneously stay in business. The entire barrio is covered in beautiful street art (learn about it before the new mayor power washes it all away on the Graffiti Tour if you can stomach being part of a 50 person tour with a microphoned guide - pics at the end of this post!). Even the amateur graffiti tags are usually a little bit artistic - nothing like the rough scrawls of, say, La Paz...

Plaza Bolivar in La Candelaria

A couple dancing the tango on Septima

Shoe shiners are the neighborhood gossips in Bogota

Street performers on Septima

View of Monserrate

a quiet morning

From La Candelaria, you can walk north (about an hour and a half, sort of interesting if you slide around the side roads but if you're on Carrera 7, which is the most direct route, it's mostly just concrete buildings and bus exhaust apart from the large, green Parque Nacional Enrique Olaya Herrera and the line of gorgeous European style houses right before it) to Chapinero

those unexpected European style houses
Parque Herrera

Chapinero is less about historical charm and more about trendy bars, impressive restaurants, and a hipster meets street kid vibe. If I lived in Bogota, I'd probably try to live here. It's really cool and definitely worth checking out. If you can go to one neighborhood outside La Candelaria, I recommend Chapinero.

Chapinero at night

A young guy selling his work on the street in Chapinero

Continuing north a bit, there is La Zona Rosa. One of the hottest spots for Bogota nightlife, I went out here and had a blast. Make sure you look sharp, though, because most of the bars and clubs here are more on the preppy side. The nightlife people watching is also excellent. If you're in the mood to shop, there are two large malls here - Andino and Atlantis.

Even more north (yes, this city goes on forever) is Usaquen. Lots of expats live in swanky apartments up here. There is also apparently a cool market on Sundays that you should try to hit if you're in town. Usaquen used to be a separate village and it still has a quaint villagey feel.

Bonus Points
You'll see everywhere written "Bogotá, D.C." I came up with dozens of potential things that the D.C. could stand for - District of Columbia (hell, I don't know why Washington DC is called that, why couldn't another American city have the same moniker?), Bogota D(epartament), of C(olombia), something to do with colonial times, something to do with the civil war? The reality is that D.C. is Distrito Capital (capital district) which really makes plenty of sense.

As with most countries, people here run on their own schedule. "Colombian time" is usually 10-15 mins late. I had a hair appointment at 11, my stylist arrived at 11:20. I was supposed to meet a Colombian friend at 7, and I was running late - I arrived at 7:10 and she hadn't even texted me to ask where I was. The free walking tours always start late as a courtesy to those running on Colombian time.

A phrase you'll here a lot on the street is "a la orden" literally "to the order" and better translated as "at your command." It's used in the military and by vendors of all sorts. If you walk by anyone selling something, chances are they'll shout an a la orden to you as a way to invite you into their business and show that they are ready to assist you with fulfilling your gastronomical or material desires "con gusto." It's so common that people don't really consider their words when they say it, but as my walking tour guide explained, the roots of the phrase go back to the colonial masters of Colombia's indigenous and mestizo population. Another rather subservient phrase your might hear is "para servirle" - to serve you/at your service.

and finally, some pics from the graffiti tour: