Tag: Culture

Shit on the nativity

by Alex on Jan.04, 2011, under Blog

This is well funny…

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently on, a great place to learn Spanish that also has a lovely community of people to help you with questions about Spanish language usage.

Anyway, today came up the question regarding what a caganer is. It seems that it is traditional in some parts to include in one’s nativity scene, a figure of someone just having curled out a massive logger!

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Colombian economics

by Alex on Oct.10, 2010, under Blog

Economies of scale, supply and demand – I used to consider these laws reasonably universal. I do remember years ago in Chepstow Market shaking my head at a sign declaring something like ‘t-shirts: 1-£2, 3-£6, 5-£10′. It gets much better than that here…


A box of 100 tea bags – $15,100 pesos, 2 boxes of 50 tea bags $14,320 pesos. Although counter-intuitive, it’s perfectly usual here to find larger quantities of stuff costing more per unit that smaller quantities, always worth checking the prices carefully.

I little while ago we were outside a Crystal Castles gig looking for tickets. We knew there were plenty of tickets on the door and with the number of ticket touts around, you’d imagine you’d have been able to find a bargain. Imagine again:

Me: Hello mate, how much for a ticket
Tout: $110,000
Me: They are only $90,000 on the door
Tout: There are no tickets left on the door
Clearly I did not believe this but checked anyway
Me: I’ve just asked, they do have tickets on the door, for $90,000
Tout: OK then, $100,000
Me: Why would I pay you 100 when I can pay 90 on the door, you need to sell them for less than they cost on the door
Tout: 100
I walk away, familiarly bemused

One day on bed street – a street with about 30 bed shops selling pretty much the same stuff:

Me: Hello mate, I have a price of 420,000 pesos for that bed and I’m going in to every shop looking for the best price I can get, can you do better than 420,000?
Shop bloke: I can do it for 450,000
Me: Ok, well I’ll keep looking to see if anyone can beat 420,000
Shop bloke: 430,000 if you buy it now
Me: I’ve just told you that I can get it for 420,000, why would I pay you more for the same thing…

This does tie in nicely with many sales experiences one suffers here, my best so far being when I went shopping for a shower head, not knowing the word for shower head:

Me: Hi there, I’m looking for the shower thing that goes at the end of the tube that comes out of the wall in the shower. I DO NOT need an electric one, we have gas heating so we have hot water coming out of the tube. I just need the plastic thing that spreads the ALREADY HOT WATER out
Shop bloke: Here you go (handing over an electric shower head)
Me: I just told you that I do not need an electric one. We have hot water, I just need the thing that goes at the end of the tube
The shop bloke then comes back with what looks like a wooden pear with electric windings around it supplied by a long electric cable. I guessed it was a heating element that you could throw into a large pot of water
Me trying not to go mental: What is that, that’s got nothing to do with a shower AND it’s clearly an electical appliance. What has that got to do with what I asked you for?
Shop bloke looks utterly bewildered and a little hurt
I walk away, familiarly bemused

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Since when have angels had permission to come down from heaven?

by Alex on Sep.18, 2010, under Blog

Of the many cultural differences between here (Colombia) and the country in which I grew up, one of the most blatant and in-your-face is the way that men and women interact. It is, interesting to say the least.

I recently followed a link sent to me by a friend and clicked the ‘login via Facebook’ option and lo, without warning, I had a profile on which appears to me to a hook up site very thinly veiled as some kind of social networking thing.

Flicking through public comments on profile photographs on Badoo one notices a theme. I’m not going to express my opinion though I do wonder how the authors possibly think they are going to be taken seriously. Check these out:

Hey, since when have angels had permission to come down from heaven? Don’t tell me that you’ve escaped. Well, if that is what’s happened I’d love to cut your wings so that you can’t go back and be able to look upon the beauty that you are, precious princess

An exquisite woman is not she who has most men at her feet but she who has one man that makes her really happy
A beautiful woman is not the youngest nor the slimmest, neither her with the smoothest skin nor the fairest hair, rather she who with just a smile and good counsel can bring cheer to your life
A rich woman is not her with many titles or academic honours, it is she who would sacrifice her dream for the happiness of others
An exquisite woman is not the most passionate, but she who shakes with joy on making love with the man she loves
An interesting woman is not she who feels flattered for being admired for her beauty and elegance, it is she of solid character who can say no
And a man, an exquisite man is he who values this kind of woman

Meeting people via this medium is a lottery, there are people of all types, for all types of people. The key lies in sincerity, respect and chemistry. Your profile caught my attention and if you’d like to get in touch it would be interesting to know a bit about you. I love your look and demeanour – the irony with this is that the guy has left the same comment on loads of girls’ pictures

In the beginning we were one, unknown, splendour without gaze, love without value. Then two through many reincarnations, we lost the footprints of the other without looking for each other, without finding each other. Like curious, frightened children wandering the world without destination painfully conquering fears and at last, suddenly, light is born. Aeons bear fruit, conscience lights the path brining us back together, to the one, to the same

Precious, you are the most beautiful woman in the world. I’d love to talk to you, my MSN is … sending you lots of kisses xxxxxxxxxx The sun hides itself, out-shined by the beauty of your heart

Not sure about you, but I think I’m going to chuck…

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by Alex on Jul.06, 2010, under Blog

I’ve heard a few explosions since being in our new(ish) flat. I’ve never worried that they might be bombs and the lack of any subsequent siren action has suggested that they were indeed something other than bombs.

Hearing two bangs in quick succession this afternoon, I thought nothing of it, after all from the not unusual noises one hears ’round here it seems that letting off fireworks is not infrequent… Ten minutes later in my local shop I asked Ángel, the owner, what all the police were doing – he told me that they were looking for a criminal. I asked him about the bangs and he said that indeed they had been gunshots. Apparently the police had fired (into the air), presumably to frighten the guy. To be fair if anyone fired a shot near me I’d run like shit, cops or otherwise!

The mental thing is that about 2 blocks from here is a massive police complex with plenty of guys outside sporting automatic weaponry, not the place to do crime, by any means.

Still, I guess it’s better than worse, definitely a safe part of town to live in…

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Police escort dos

by Alex on Jun.01, 2010, under Blog

Although the title of this post sounds like a shit sequel to an equally shit what ever you call the film that precedes the sequel, it pertains to a much cooler set up than was my first police escort experience in Colombia.

Having worked out that paying in cash rather than by debit card is going to be part of doing business here, we headed to the bank to withdraw ten million pesos. That’s about £3500/USD 5000. On signing receipt of my wads of currency, the teller told us that we could use one of the office phones to call the police for an escort. Clearly we were at first a little confused but we thought it over, figured why not, verified that it wasn’t going to cost anything and then called the boys in… green and reflective.

The standard two cops on a bike set up turned up, and in very friendly manner too. We’d not planned on this and had stuff to do before going home but didn’t want to impose on them, what to do… Basically they would come with us wherever we needed to go, so long as it was in Bogotá – decent! So we hailed a cab, one cop got in the front and the other followed us on his bike. Stopped off at an office to pay for an engineering survey then headed to the furniture district to sort some stuff out there. The guys were more than happy to chip in regarding what colour material to chose for the sofa although there was a little disagreement on the selection of colour for the cushions. We certainly got more looks than usual as we wandered around, the people in the beanbag shop were almost dumbfounded.

I guess that it might have been a small-scale insight into what it might be like living as an ‘important’ person surrounded by body guards and escorts, I must admit it did feel pretty cool in the taxi on the way home with a motorcycle outrider stopping traffic so that my beanbag-stuffed taxi could change lanes as it pleased.

I can’t think of a better example of acting out the motto ‘To Protect and Serve’…

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Agent Frank Patrick, FBI.

by Alex on Apr.26, 2010, under Blog

So my mate Andy, owner of Cranky Crock (hostel) had to turn down a small acting part as it was being shot on a Friday and Friday is his BBQ day. I think he wishes that he’d asked me to do the barbie, instead of giving me the part.

The week before, my friend Sarah the Barber and I had been witness to a massive drugs bust near her house, complete with guns and blood (I even managed to get a picture of the huge stash:)


being filmed as part of a new series of a popular soap opera El Cartel de los Sapos. A week later I was to be recording with the same bunch of guys…

The scene was set in a strip club brothel type place. Normally, working on Latin America time gets right on my tits – I arrived at 11:00 and we didn’t shoot ’til 16:00. This day though I wasn’t that bothered about the time – being surrounded by scantily clad and interested in the ‘gringo’ Latinas was far preferable to hanging out in the apartment working away with the only scant cladding to be seen belonging to Travis my housemate and business partner as he wanders past me betowelled on his way to the shower.

To be fayre I was a bit nervous during the first walk-through of my scenes, surrounded by professional actors, some of whom had travelled from Mexico for the filming, film crew, director etc, even the mostly nekkid laydies didn’t have much of a calming influence. After a couple of goes though I got into my stride, as it were – it seems to me that Latin soaps are mostly about holding massively exaggerated facial expressions for overly-long periods of time, which I think I’m quite good at.

It’s due to air in a few weeks and although I’m sure I’ll look a proper spaz, I’m quite looking forward to it. I wonder how many of the natives will question why an FBI man has a Brit accent. Far more I’m sure than those who will pick out the double entendre in my fave line: ‘You’re very good looking. You can pull it off.’

Bit embarrassing but if you want to see my 5 seconds of TV stardom then click here and go to 18 minutes…

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Cos I’m the unknown stuntman that makes Eastwood look so fine

by Alex on Mar.20, 2010, under Blog

So, we’re sitting around on a normal ‘work’ day, chatting about architecting and the like when our mate Andy (owner of Cranky Croc, best hostel in Bogotá) calls. It’s not difficult to get involved in TV in Colombia as a westerner – the look is in demand and there are not many of us here. Andy is in a mall doing extra work for a telenovela (soap opera) and one of the agents there is looking for some white boys to attend a casting for a Timberland advert; they were after a rugged look.

Convinced of our suitability based solely on not having shaved for a couple of days and having done a fun run some time in the mid nineties we headed for the casting, arriving some time later to be greeted by a rather frisky agent and noting that we were standing out from the rest of those waiting not so much due to our western looks rather due to our lacking of tight t-shirts, large biceps and other stereotypical model-esque qualities. Oh well, it was all good banter.

A little while into the obviously long wait we noted that we were outside G d G Stunts, this would explain the noises of people being beaten up that we could hear coming from inside. I didn’t think that this had anything to do with our being there reasoning that there were castings for various things going on, us being 99% sure that the two girls that had recently entered the building were auditioning for porn (mum, obviously I’ve never watched porn, Travis told me they looked like pornstars)!

Our turn came and Travis, Lee and I went into the building along with a handful of westernish-looking Colombian lads; we were expecting some kind of photo shoot thing and to be probably trying on some Timberland boots…

…and found out that the noises actually had everything to do with us.

We enter a room with a matted floor and large scaffold set up at one end. I’m pretty sure that none of us had a trepidation level of lower than 4/10. One of the stuntmen then tells us that all we need to do is ‘this’. He then runs and at the scaffold, vaults over a bar, jumps up to grab a pole along which he swings hand over hand to the right-hand scaffold tower. Defty climbing up the side of the tower he steps down to the horizontal pole that links it to the left hand tower at a height of about 10 foot. On crossing the pole he stops half way and does a comedy look left look right combo before jumping to the left hand tower, sliding down a diagonal pole to the next platform, running to the edge, doing a 180 degree jump to the floor, commando role and then giving us his ‘victorious gesture’ (I love it how so many phrases in espanish could come directly from an Austen novel).

Travis and I gave each other a nervous look. To say the least.

In the end it was a good crack. The Latinos took it all very seriously but then they were proper models and it was their job, we were just there for the banter. We clapped our encouragement and dicked about where possible. After a practice go each we did it for the camera and then shot another ‘scene’ diving to catch a bottle of ‘Pony’ a quite aptly-named (if you know Cockney rhyming slang – pony = pony and trap = crap) local drink as if it were some object of great value. We then had to vault a waist-high pile of mats that was supposed to represent a moving car, look back in relief at our near miss and then turn to the camera holding that look of relief. Needless to say I found it hard to effect looks of victory and relief without pissing myself, I am glad that I’m never likely to see the footage.

Lucky though, Travis was caught on camera. Enjoy:

Trav we’ll call that one all for that very gay photo of me that you put in the Tiësto montage x.

For those wondering, the title is a reference to the early 80s show The Fall Guy.

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Police escort

by Alex on Jan.16, 2010, under Blog

On Friday Travis (my mate and business partner) and I headed to Cazucá in the south of Bogotá with our friend Inge. Inge works for Touch of Love, offering loans to disadvantaged people so that they might set up businesses or expand the scope of their current enterprise.

We’d heard that Cazucá was a very poor part of town, built illegally and full of displaced people – displaced usually by paramilitary and guerilla activity from parts of the country that are not as safe as the large cities. Until recently water was brought in by donkey and it would be usual for children to discuss how many dead bodies they’d come across on their way to school – violence is a big issue in this part of town.

Paved road turned to dirt as the bus climbed the hillside, pedestrians protecting their faces from the dust as we pass them. There are shops and business, ‘phone and electricity cables feed the bare brick houses with ‘tin’ roofs, gas meters in cages adorning the front walls of buildings – not the kind of poverty you might see other parts of the world but then not a living situation that you’d wish upon anyone either.

We were warmly welcomed at the little shop in which we met the local ladies. It had once sold only empanadas and now, after a micro loan, offered a more varied range of produce. Chairs dusted down, we sat separated from the shop behind a wooden divide. I looked at the simple brick walls, half painted with steel reinforcements jutting out at random angles. Again, not the type of living set up that I’m accustomed too but shelter, water, ‘phone, gas and electricity is a lot more than many have. Saying that, I hear they only get water for a few hours a week. We chatted with some locals who were after micro fiance, Inge explaining the concept and terms and the locals expanding on their business ideas. We then heard that there’d been an armed robbery outside the shop and that the attackers were in the shop, just behind the wooden divide buying empanadas with the money they just taken at gun and knife-point. Time to keep the voices down – not time to be standing out as foreigners…

Apparently the police don’t often go to Cazucá and you need contacts to demand their presence. After a few ‘phone calls our extraction team turned up – two police motorbikes sporting two armed men per mount. We drew a little attention and one cop’s declaration to an old lady that she can call him if she needs anything, even if it’s only her cat or dog dying drew my attention being somewhat at odds with what we’d heard about police presence in Cazucá – empty words or had there just been a policy change? The ladrones had moved on by that point but we were under no illusion that they weren’t near and felt much safer than moments before with an armed police escort.

We wandered up the hill with the police and met another lady by a basketball court who’d used micro finance to buy a sewing machine. A truckload (literally) of cops then turned up, a few different police contacts having been called, and we stood about chatting for a bit eventually leaving the cops to wait for us whilst we went to the sewing lady’s house for a meeting. Another rustic abode with bare walls, a single ‘chair’ made from cover-less folded foam and a dog running about on the tin roof gret us and we discussed duvets. The only duvets I’ve seen for sale here were in an expensive mall and cost over £100/$160 each. We need duvets for our hostel and also think that if we make them, we’ll be able to sell them easily, in vast quantities – them being warmer, lighter and potentially cheaper than the here ubiquitous blanket. What better than to be able to give the work to a women’s collective in a poor neighbourhood?

Business discussed we regrouped with our escort then jumped on a bus to get back to the main road, one cop riding shotgun (well, revolver) and the other following the bus on his bike, the rest of them must have got bored and left whilst we’d been discussing duvets. And that was our visit to Cazucá – interesting, productive and potentially pant-shitting. I’m just glad for the wooden divide!

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Twelve grapes and a stuffed pig

by Alex on Dec.31, 2009, under Blog

Apparently I have to find twelve grapes for this evening. And then I’m to eat one in time with every strike of midnight’s bells. If I succeed (and I read it’s quite difficult) then I’ll enjoy a prosperous two thousand and ten. It’s a Spanish tradition of about one hundred years and it seems that it’s made its way to Colombia, I’ll let you know how I get on…

A celebratory thing that is one hundred percent Colombian is lechona. It’s not Yuletide-specific but one was served on Christmas eve when we went with the guys from Cranky Croc (hostel) to Destino Nómada (hostel) for our Christmas dinner.

lechona-2 lechona-1 lechona

The meat is first removed from the pig and mixed with garlic, onion, peas and rice and seasoned with salt, pepper and cumin, shoved back in the pig which is basted with bitter orange juice and roasted for ages.

It sounds pretty tasty though didn’t have any, being a veggie and all.

Well, it’s a few minutes before midnight in the UK so HNY to all over there, we’re still wondering what to do this side, am sure we’ll come up with something good though wonder how I’ll fayre being four days into my month (or so) off booze!

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Día de las velitas

by Alex on Dec.08, 2009, under Blog

I was both surprised and happy to find out that the ‘day of the candles’ is a specifically Colombian thing. Surprised as being of Catholic origin I’d have thought that it would be celebrated in other Catholic countries and happy as being specific to Colombia means that you probably know nothing about it.

It is said that celebrations vary across the country but it seems they mostly consist of lining the streets with millions of candles and hanging lanterns from everywhere, either on the eve of the 7th or morn of the 8th of December. My friends told me that the tradition is one of celebration of love and friendship and that on their balconies and from their eaves, on their doorsteps and on their streets, people place and hang the candles and lanterns as individual dedications to those for whom they care and it’s pretty. For me the candles will always mean this – I’m quite happy to ignore the alternative (religious) explanation.

From our apartment, we watched the fireworks explode from the top of the Colpatria building then went out for a wander. The streets were lively and indeed were lined with lanterns made from paper bags, sand and candles with paper lanterns hanging all over the shop. Front doors were open with families hanging out on what would be their stoops were they a little bigger – this in itself is unusual as doors are normally securely locked in this part of town. Septima, the main street, was packed to bursting; I’ve never seen it so full, nor Plaza de Bolívar. Rammed with sightseers and vendors selling hot drinks food and stuff with flashing lights on, the massive Christmas tree was lit up as were the buildings around the squares as you can see from the pics below:

[imageflow id="37"]

I couldn’t find anyone selling (cell phone) minutes though, which seemed odd as you can go there on a day when it’s mostly empty and find at least 30 people selling calls. I’ve dug around on the interweb and found these pictures from around Colombia.

Well, they certainly like to celebrate here. So far not a week has gone by without learning of a new festival or celebration or at least a big event of some kind, which is great as far as I’m concerned!

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