The very morning I had to extend my visa for being here too long (never done that before) was the same day that demonstrated exactly why I have stayed here so long in the first place.
So the day started off pretty uneventful. I spent 5 hours sorting out my visa (which it is not sorted by the way, I have to go back at 7am tomorrow. I’m so not going in at 7am tomorrow), most of that time spent in the waiting room chatting to an Iranian guy from Canada who earned so much money he quit working and has been living abroad for 10 years. His monthly budget is $20,000 until he’s 100 years old. That’s US dollars. He spent most of the time telling me how much he earned before ($45,000 a month), how big his penthouse in Medellin is (380sqm with a 300m balcony…) and about the apartment he’s going to buy ($800,000, pool, 2 floors 500sqm). I sat there fretting over having to shell out $40 for my visa. Humph.
Anyway, that’s not the point. Visa not sorted, I headed out, belly rumbling. I got the bus to El Poblado for lunch, and ate an empanada Colombia style, leaning against the counter dipping it in hot sauce and listening to the locals laughing and joking.
I then wandered into the centre of Medellin, and this is the point at which I realised how brilliant Colombians are. To compare, my experience of Cuba was that people only speak to you to get money from you and that new, massively inflated prices are invented on the spot for tourists. My experience of Colombia today was the opposite. I was in Medellin and coming to the end of my time with my homestay family, so I wanted to buy them a gift. I decided the best thing to do would be get something for the family’s unborn baby and for the two-year-old boy.
So I went into a shop and bought a plate set for the baby and then into another shop looking for something for the kid. I told the guy I only wanted to spend $5. He pulled out a couple of toys and told me they were $10. I insisted I could only spend $5 so he said that it was ok, I could have whatever I wanted for $5. I then asked if they had any gift bags I could buy. The shop girl, Nathalia, pointed me in the direction of a girl who giftwraps toys and I left my toy with her.
Nathalia brought a stool for me to sit on, then started chatting to me. She was frustrated at first because she spoke no English, but as soon as she found out I knew a couple of rude words she got all excited, high-fived me and started teaching me more, writing them down for me too, including a new non-rude word parace – ‘best friend’. We did this until the wrapping girl was done, then I asked if she could wrap the other one too, even though it was from another shop. She took it, and Nathalia asked if I wanted ice cream. Of course! So she took me to the freezer and picked out my choice and opened it for me. It turned out to be the wrong flavour, so she put it back and got another one out for me – for no cost at all. We kept chatting some more, and then I realized I had only 20 minutes until my Spanish class. I was going to be so late. So she called her dad (the manager) over, and he let me use his personal phone to call home.
The wrapping was soon done – and to my complete surprise they only charged me $5 in total. Nathalia then walked me outside in the torrential rain where she hailed a cab for me and told the driver where I was going. We’re now friends on facebook and I hope I’ll get to see her again someday. This was just one person, but she stands for Colombians as a whole – they go out of their way to make sure you love and enjoy their country. Unlike England where we have an entire political party devoted to making sure foreigners feel unwelcome.
I also have note in my journal that I discovered months after meeting another Colombian girl with her email, number and the words in English: “you have a new friend in Colombia’.
What an awesome country.