Friday, August 30, 2013

Culture Clash (guest written by Jarrod)

In a country filled with striking landscapes and dramatic changes in every direction you look, I was surprised to find the most stunning contrast I have seen here is that between the classes  in Colombia.  
As I am writing this, we have completed a loop around the country and are currently staying in a ritzy apartment in the Parque 93 district of Bogota.  

If the signs weren't in Spanish, you would assume it was Chicago or any big city in the states. Brand new cars fly by immaculate parks and high rise apartments on their way to chic restaurants and expensive stores.  Its hard to believe that two days prior we were walking through the dirt bus terminal in San Gil.

We were forced to fly to Bogota because the agricultural workers, called campesinos, organized a nationwide strike that closed many roads leaving us without possibility of ground travel to the south.  The campesinos have legitimate demands for their government, and despite their interference with our plans, I hope they are successful.  We have had the pleasure of meeting several of these farm workers throughout our travels and they are all hard-working, genuine people.  While in Solento, we learned from the caretakers of the finca we were staying at that the minimum wage in Colombia is about 600,000 pesos a month. This may sound like a lot, but it's actually about $320 US.  Considering that gas costs about 9,000 pesos per liter, it's easy to see why few rural families have cars and rely solely on public transportation.  

Nowhere is the disparity between classes more evident than the transportation they use.  In the small mountain town of Cordoba, it was common to cram ten or more people into the back of a jeep.  We rode in one with thirteen people! Even our 60 year old host was standing next to me on the bumper as we jostled down the rocky dirt road that served as the main thoroughfare between the fincas and the town.  The following day we were met in Armenia by our next host who had owned a very successful clothing store in the city. It was shocking to step into her brand new SUV after our prior transportation.   However, our travel from place to place was primarily accomplished by bus.  There were some nice busses, but most were old and very crowded.  Our fellow bus riders were primarily campesinos and working class people on their daily commute. On the airplanes however, the clientele could have been from a different planet! They were all well dressed, affluent families that probably rarely ever set foot on a bus. 

The disparity between classes is not just between rural and urban lifestyles.  Here in Bogota, we have witnessed the striking change in cultures just by visiting different barrios in the city.  We spent the morning jogging through a park where the high class citizens of the north side walked their dogs and participating in organized recreational classes.  A short bus ride later and we were in "La Candelaria" where the buildings were covered in graffiti, trash was strewn about the streets, and panhandlers would harass you on most corners.  It was hard to believe that this could exist in such a modern city.

The one common characteristic that all the different people in Colombia possess, regardless of social class, is their overwhelming friendliness and the desire to go out of their way to help out others. They truly are wonderful people and I hope to have learned a great deal from my experiences here.

The massive indoor market where the working class of San Gil purchased their produce was a very different scene from the brand new shopping mall just a few blocks away.

Street in La Candelaria 

The more modern, affluent side of Bogota.

Below is a typical campesino meal.  This was from a delicious restaurant in Rio Verde Bajo within the coffee region.  This meal cost about 3 US dollars and also included soup, lemonade, coffee and a fried plantain!

Hard to believe the deserts below came from the same country!


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