Adaptation Expat Life (Colombia)

Bogotá, Colombia

The word adaptation, in every sense, describes my move to Bogota, Colombia three months ago. Not a single part about the move has been easy but every day and week has been filled with small or even huge, achievements.

My first month and a half I was without an apartment and moving from place to place within the network of friends. It sucked though because nearly all my belongings, including my bike, remained at my boss´ house, so every other day I was there looking for something. The way I define my first month is: week 1- great (stayed in Airbnb); week 2 – difficult, would have been better with my bike (stayed in athletes house); week 3-5 – ok although best to keep work and life separate (stayed in another athletes house). When I finally got my place, I stayed 2 nights then went on a trip. Great start, not!

My move has presented me with many new things in life, as it should being that I see it as a new stage in life. A new life more adult has included the following big achievements thus far: –

  • For the first time I’m living alone, no more roommates (nothing wrong with them as all have been great over the years, I had luck I guess). I decided to go solo because I felt it was just time to try something new (and decorate a bit with my own style).
  • Finally I have a working visa, something that yes makes me pay taxes, and yes makes me legal (and yes I am perfectly happy paying taxes). It has been 3 years since I moved south and this is the first time I’m legally in a country (aka I have the visa for what I’m actually in the country doing, work or study). This alone has been a goal and I’m pretty excited I have achieved it this year (plus getting the visa took about a month, or 1 day depending on how you see as compared to Panama and the 6 months or longer journey). The process was quite simple: 1 – work visa first (1 day, 3 hours) – Colombia has this step correct in Panamá this is the last step 2 – ID card (1 hour, 5 day wait) 3 – Social Security (30 minutes). Impressed, and yes, my company helped me get the documents and appointments set up. – I finally have local medical insurance! In Panama it was never an issue because it was pretty cheap to just pay out of pocket, or at least that’s how I felt, plus health insurance in Panamá isn’t part of the company packet, whereas in Colombia it is required by law, not only for workers but every citizen.
  • Another huge achievement here is knowing my blood type. Yes, I know it sounds like something everyone knows about themselves, but somehow I never knew mine but here I had to find out because it is asked for almost everywhere and is part of your ID (aka no national system with this info). FYI I tried asking the medical providers in the US but they needed a form to release this info, absurd! Just with this info, as one should imagine, I feel so much more adult. 😀

In general, everything has been poco a poco y paso a paso (little by little and step by step). The apartment is coming along slowly. It started with 2 chairs and a mattress and now I have a sofa, fridge and silverware…still no plates, blender or bed frame but hey little by little. I did get another bike, another fixie, to get around this huge city, a cheap one since people here get robbed while on their bikes not just locked up on the street (generally you park in parking lots although, watch out some charge $1USD per 4 hours – ja). The other, faster fixie, I left in Panama at a friends house for work trips, as you might have seen, it was quite useful for my sprint triathlon when I visited in October :).

On the other hand I’ve also been adapting to the air here. Bogota sits at a nice cool 2,640m (8660 ft) making it the highest city I’ve ever lived in, next to Arequipa, Peru (2335m – 7661 ft) and Flagstaff,AZ, USA (2130m – 7000ft). It has definitely been tough here. Considering 2 months before moving I was injured and did little exercise, finally, just before moving, I was cleared to continue running and sports if I avoid certain movements. It has been a rough sport year for me but since I’ve moved (first 1 mile run was Sept 1, my first day here) I’ve slowly and steadily returned to the usual crazy sport friendly me. Not only did I have to start slow again but I couldn’t breath well in this thin air ;). It generally takes 2 months to adjust well, and sadly I left for 2 weeks before that happened, kind of resetting the whole process. Finally after 3 months I’ve been able to drop my times which were at a standstill for 2.5 months – for those runners that know me – my 5k wouldn’t go below 26 minutes…frustratingly a nice jog for me. Jaja Besides training, the air also made stairs impossible, fatigue set in for the first 2-3 weeks (where I almost resorted to coffee – not a bad thing in a country that has delicious coffee – but why get addicted just yet :P). So be prepared if you visit to be a bit drowsy, maybe even light headed or nautious. Also it is very dry air. Bring lotion, sunscreen and drink plenty of water!

I spent the first few months exploring via new running routes, ciclovia [one of the largest in the world – it’s every Sunday and holiday (Colombia has many) – and it’s pretty awesome  (about 3 million people take to the streets on bike every Sunday)], even challenging rides like the summit of Los Patios (at 3000m with 7%-10% steady inclines – I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many cyclists of all types taking over a whole lane of 2 all the way up a mtn) and one to Tequendama Falls (a waterfall created by the black sewage filled Rio Bogota, it’s amazingly beautiful for how disgusting the river is – lucky for me it wasn’t stinky when I went) and a few other exploratory rides on 7th out North. Through work I also got the chance to experience some awesome running routes around the city and the nearby towns of Sopó, Sisga, and La Calera. In terms of exercise I’ve been happy even while I couldn’t breath well – Jaja.

This last month (3rd) things have slowed on one end and gone crazy on the other end. What I refer to is, well many things. In particular, $ stopped moving when I realized I’m not paid bi-monthly like everyone else but monthly…so a nice 10$ in the local bank for 2 weeks sure stops you from spending (especially since I had to get a bank new card from my Panama bank which oddly takes 2 days to activate on a week day) and my normal US bank had low funds which I prefer to use for travel. So I’ve been sitting very tight you could say.

Also in November, I signed up with a Triatlon training team, my first coach in forever, and he’s kicking my ass, arms, and legs every morning at 5 am and some evenings at 8 pm. Basically weekdays I do a triathlon a day before work even starts (given I bike 12k just to get to the trainings and then back). I joined to meet people, try the coach option (i´ve always done my own planning and training), and  well get the s*** kicked out of me before my competition in January. You can expect to hear about my suffering and tired self for another month and 10 days!

Work has also been busy busy lately. I mean it´s always been busy, When I moved, I started working the next day only the excuse of my flight gave me a day off. In general at work I have lots of big projects in the works not to mention the ever pending challenge of a big market and gaining the attention and awareness of consumers in the running world. Just last week I had my first event…it was highly successful but tiring! I set up a product trialing of a newly released shoe in the center of the most popular shopping, dining, and party area of Bogotá and opened the doors to everyone to test and learn about them, the technology and our running app for 3 days; something the brand has never done locally and generated lots of awareness to new consumers with good comments and even purchases. Something very necessary here and a good first step toward the goal. In general it’s been a good first 3 months, always hard the first 3 but I knew that coming in – hence the 3 month update ;).

Bogotá is a huge moving city, it seems well put together in many aspects, speaking of sidewalks and neighborhoods, not 2nd worst traffic in the world (by waze), and feels pretty modern and advanced, I mean they have medical insurance included and a 0 tolerance alcohol law that they support by offering a free chofer for your car and you in your auto insurance plan. What a great idea! At the same time it´s chaotic and interesting with its trash collectors hauling recycled items on the streets by foot and the motos, bikes, cars, buses, trucks, taxi and others among walkers (the average person here I think walks an hour a day or more – its usually quicker) and vendors.  Coming from a harsh past people scare often especially if you run by them (outside of a known running route) or stop to ask a question. In general Colombians have been very friendly and helpful. Although having so much security just in ones own office bothers me a lot (always with a key card or two) and I find it odd that with 8 million people there is no one on the streets between 12-5 am (this doesn’t apply to bar areas) but maybe it’s the safety thing again. It has been fun trying new things daily of weekly if only a new bike route, park or store.

Some favorites and tips:

Transmilenio (bus metro system) at peak hour doesn’t move far and is stuffed to the brim, also it has a high potential for robbery. I prefer the bus but you might test the system on non peak times when there is more room just for the experience.

La Calera is a town on the other side of Los Patios, it’s colder, beautiful and I really like it. I’ve run and biked around the area and it’s always amazing even if the hill coming back is harder! Last weekend I rode la vuelta de la Sabana (60km) highly recommended even if I highly suffered.

Touristy centro with it’s museums (oro, botero, etc) and plaza bolivar and candelaria are worth a trip…even Monserrat (which I have yet to summit – but soon as my family is coming next week) but I still prefer a grafitti tour (special because here there are no regulations for grafitti so you get very creative beautiful pieces anywhere – I’m always looking out)

Being a diverse city you can also hike right in town, I recommend quebrada de la vieja (open and secure from 5am to 10 am). It’s got a great view of the massive city through pine trees. (free, just off Calle 71)

In terms of neighborhoods, I really like La Macarena (cute small hill community with bars and restaurants, take a stroll around it’s streets – try to not pass the market – it gets sketchy.); Rosales, a chic hillside, mainly brick community, with eclectic restaurants and shops plus some nice parks. Great fresh air stroll with a yummy lunch or dinner; Usaquen – a city that once was ritzy farm land houses but Bogota kind of ate it upon expansion. Has a great night life, restaurants, architecture, and Sunday market. I live in El Chico, I enjoy the abundant parks, and restaurants on calle 109 and 112 and maybe 19th…but it’s pretty laid back here – except the Friday night disco – Jaja. There are so many more and soon I’ll get to know them too ;).

If moving, good to know that Bogotá is a massively dog friendly city, I swear almost everyone has a dog and guess what, apartments don´t charge a cent to have it.

Traffic and how it got so bad:

Each apartment comes with 2 spots or more for cars. Absurd to have 2 spots coming from my origins where they try to eliminate spaces and car usage. No worries, there is rhyme and reason to this! To help Bogotá with its traffic problems, something called Pico y Placa was invented, meaning on certain days a license plate ending with certain numbers doesn´t have the right to be on the road, intelligent, not! This only meant that people bought more than 1 car so they can always drive!!!….Messed up, right? To this point I even asked someone in the Transportation Department of Bogotá why they didn´t just put the same last number with a letter or something showing the cars to be from the same owner, their response, ¨well, we had to support the car industry too.¨ Hope they eventually fix this problem they created, I believe the bike is the answer…and it might be, there is a day during the week 2-3 times a year when no cars are allowed on the streets, just bikes and public transit, well maybe taxis too.

Bogotá is not dangerous per se but it is a huge city and not everyone is doing so great, and like any big city things happen. Stay aware of your surroundings and belongings and don’t walk alone at night especially on empty streets. Uber works well and is highly popular (they even offer uber bike – transport for you and your bike) or easy taxi (safe, you just pay cash instead with a card). Also try not to look lost or an easy target. Thought: It feels safer then when I lived in Santiago, Chile.

I recommend you try some chicarron, arepas de choclo, fruit on the street (the light green one is mango biche, it’s sour but yummy), have a tinto (cafe) or jugo de mandarina (fresh squeezed mandarins) on the street, oblea, a flat waffle looking thing is yummy, pan de yuca or bono (is a soft cheese baked delish bread also found in Brazil and other countries with different names), and meat.

Bike, run or skate on Sunday, well worth you time and breath. Run in Simon Bolivar Park. Anytime but early am is gorgeous!

I think that is a pretty good start to my new world. I´ll be here at least a few years, so come on over. So far I have had 3 visitors! (yes, even with no furniture – jaja)

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